VPSA to Add Diversity Office

The Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs recently announced the creation of a new position aimed at providing additional support for first-generation students at Stanford.

The Associate Dean and Director of Diversity and First-Generation Programs—as the office will be titled—will work to synthesize the efforts of campus organizations into fostering a support community for first-generation and/or low-income students. A search committee, made up of students, faculty, staff, and alumni, was also created and has already begun reviewing applications for the new position.

“We’re looking for someone who understands the experience of the student population, someone who is interested in creating a collaborative approach, someone who has experience in addressing the issue of diversity in the 21st century on a national and international level,” said Sally Dickson, Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs.

A similar office, operating under the name “First Generation Program,” had existed two years ago under the direction of Stanford graduate Siobhan Greatorex-Voith. However, that office was discontinued as part of a university-wide spending cut that coincided with the economic downturn.

“There was outcry from our community when the [previous] position was revoked,” said Michael Albada, a current senior and head of the First Generation Low Income Partnership.

In contrast, an anonymous, unsolicited donor is funding the new position. And according to Dickson, the donor made the donation as a direct response to the closure of the previous program.

Regarding the responsibilities of this new position, the director will be expected to not only help ease the transition to college for first-generation students, but also to foster a more supportive atmosphere for socioeconomic diversity.

Dickson holds that—although there is still improvement to be had—racial, ethnic, and gender diversity are at least being actively discussed on campus. Meanwhile, she holds that students are far more reticent to discuss their socioeconomic backgrounds.

“It’s not something students generally want to bring up,” Dickson said.

The new position is intended to provide a support structure for bringing socioeconomic awareness and issues into the mainstream of campus-wide discussion.

Already under the domain of the Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs, there exist such resources as the Black Community Services Center, the LGBT Community Resources Center, and the Women’s Community Center.

Nonetheless, both Dickson and Albada maintain that while these resources provide support for specific cultural or identity groups, sufficient attention is not given to diverse socioeconomic groups.  Thus, one goal of the new director of Diversity and First-Generation Programs will be “seeing that fewer students fall through the cracks,” states Albada, who has been working on similar issues with the First Generation Low Income Partnership for a few years already.

“[The First Generation Low Income Partnership] can’t do it alone, though,” Albada  cautioned.

Some students, however, have expressed satisfaction with the wealth of resources already present in VPSA and elsewhere.

In an interview with the Review, Bavin Ondieki ‘14, a first-generation international student from Kenya, conveyed a general feeling of satisfaction with the organizations Stanford offers today.

“There is more than enough,” Ondieki stated, before proceeding to list off the multitude of community organizations he has joined thus far.  “We have plenty of resources on campus.  Everything is adequate.”

“I feel really supported by Stanford…I feel like I have a family,” continued Ondieki.

Still, supporters of the new program contend that it will benefit and cater to those students who did not previously have student organizations devoted specifically to issues of socioeconomic diversity.

“Community centers serve an important supportive resource for students, and this new office will be working collaboratively with them and other units across campus,” noted Dickson.

Dickson also expressed hope that the position will be able to continue beyond the allotted time as set out by the anonymous donation, and that students will come to see it as a strongly unifying element, not a divisive one.

“Diversity is not for certain populations, but for all.”

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