“I wish that the position such as mine [Chief of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion] didn’t exist,” said Narce Rodriguez of Pacific University. During a zoom interview, Rodriguez opened up about the Pacific’s location and history. She explains that the school was not always the most diverse university, and she is now part of the team whose role is to reverse that.
“I wish things would have started right from the beginning, but they weren’t. So here we are, trying to make it right,” said Rodriguez.
In February of 2021, the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (OEDI) released the 2020 report which included a letter from Narce Rodriquez. Her letter laid out the office’s mission, values, and vision for the future, including a statement on their support to the Black Lives Matter movement. “The primary role of this office is to lead and manage an institution-wide effort to support and further develop a diverse community,” reads her letter, which can be found here.
Pacific University was founded in 1849 and around that time it was uncommon for universities and colleges to have a diverse student body. Diversity has been growing in schools around the US since the 1960s. When these universities were established, including Pacific, they were not established with people of color in mind, nor were they even taken into consideration. Now, 172 years later we are seeing the push for a diverse support system in colleges and universities for the growing diversity of the student population.
According to College Factual, our Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) student body population is about 50 percent of the entire school population. Both the OEDI report and College Factual state that about 80 percent of the professors are white, but the report explains that it has now decreased to 70 percent over the past five years. This shows how the rate of diversity in students is growing at a faster rate than instructors. The OEDI report mentions how this is and will be a very slow change.
“It’s kind of discouraging sometimes because there’s not really any role models at Pacific, especially teacher wise. I’ve only had two teachers that are not white,” said Jannella Perez, a political science major at Pacific who is also on the school’s wrestling team. She explains how one of the main reasons she chose Pacific over other universities was because of how diverse the school looked, “The only kids that they would show on social media were the same brown people just being recycled over and over again,” said Perez. She goes on to express that she sees where they’re coming from and understands the school’s efforts considering the history of the school, which was even more predominantly white than it is now.
“I think Pacific still has some work to do, inclusion wise,” said Perez.
One example of Pacific’s efforts towards improving inclusion is including Land Acknowledgement statements at different types of events. The Land Acknowledgement efforts are also included in the OEDI 2020 report.
Presentations sometimes start with a Land Acknowledgement, and in 2018, the Undergraduate Student Senate requested that Pacific’s President Lesley Hallick make the first Land Acknowledgement statement at specific meetings, including commencement. In the Spring of 2019, a Land Acknowledgement task force was established.
Hillsboro and Forest Grove, which are the homes of Pacific’s two main campuses, are located on the land of the Tualatin Kalapuya, also known as Atfalati, explains Eva Guggemos, an archivist at Pacific who is part of the Land Acknowledgement team. The Atfalalti were forcibly removed from this land in 1856 and moved into a reservation called The Grand Ronde. The committee at Pacific spent months educating themselves so that they could educate others how to create a Land Acknowledgement while also staying in contact with The Grande Ronde reservation.
These Land Acknowledgements are statements that are announced in the beginning of a meeting or ceremonies to acknowledge that the land in which they are speaking on belongs to indigenous people, specifically naming the tribes of the people. Eva Guggemos explains that this task force has transitioned now into the Indigenous Engagement Committee.
“There are so many issues involved in connecting with indigenous communities for Pacific,” said Guggemos, “It’s not just the Land Acknowledgement, there’s a lot of other things that need to be worked on.” The Indigenous Engagement Committee is now a permanent committee at Pacific University to continue supporting and educating the university.
“We would really fall behind if we didn’t pay attention to the diverse student population that’s coming to us,” said Narce Rodriguez. She landed her role about four years ago and Pacific’s efforts towards diversity, equity, and inclusion have been improving ever since. — Ashley Meza
Photo: Hidden Voices messages outside the OEDI (Ashley Meza)