Diversity at Daemen College to an International Student

Dr. Heike Peckruhn poses for a picture with Junior Psychology Student Dung Dinh, prior to a class held at Daemen College.

Recently, Student Affairs have been organizing meetings with the Student Government Association and members of many student clubs and organizations every week to allow more students’ voices to be heard.

Due to feeling unsupported regarding certain issues, some minority students had heated conversations with some of the school personnel, whose responsibility is to promote diversity on campus.

Being a minority student myself at Daemen, I feel their concerns, and also want to express my insights, experiences, and opinions on the topic.

I am one of the international students at Daemen, and according to the statistics, there are only about 2% of the students that are international (https://www.daemen.edu/about/fast-facts). On top of that, specifically to my country of origin (Viet Nam), I am the only one that is from this country. Not to mention, less than 10% of students share the same race as me.

Additionally, most international students came to Daemen to be on sports teams, so that makes me, who is not playing any sport professionally, even more different.


Basic demographics


Statistically, Daemen is not considered a vastly diverse campus, ethnically, racially, geographically, and even in terms of gender.

Some information I see on our website supports this argument: we have 22% of students who are in the racial minority groups.

According to College Factual, our diverse score falls a little below national average (https://www.collegefactual.com/colleges/daemen-college/student-life/diversity/), around 70% of students are female, around 95% of students are from New York, and as I mentioned 2% are international students.

The faculty population is even less racially diverse. Around 90% of faculty are white.


What are the issues?


From my personal observation, students at Daemen are often socially segregated based on race, ethnicity, and even major. If you look any public places at Daemen, you can quickly understand what I mean.

Sometimes I have frustrations about how events and decisions are made based on the majority of students. For example, orientation is always organized during the summer around July, and this makes it impossible for international students to attend.

Legally, we are not allowed to arrive to the US more than 30 days before school actually starts. Orientation is the event in which, you normally have a chance to connect with students within your class, upper class students, students who are within your major, school essentials, and you will also get necessary information about the campus and available resources.

We missed all of that, and ironically, international students, who probably know less about Daemen, and who might not fit in as easily, will need this kind of opportunity the most.


My other international friends would say that in class, sometimes they can’t even find partners for group projects because classmates are not willing to be in a group with them. During group projects, I felt as though my opinions were not appreciated because of my accent.
Daemen senior and Political Science major Gabrielle Sinnott has brought to my attention, a lack of recognition of different religions. We have days to celebrate Catholicism, but we do not celebrate Jewish holidays.

Professors are sometimes too used to teaching traditional college students that they would leave out the minority ones. My personal examples stem from not being able to understand examples they provided because they are culturally specific to the US. Many professors or instructors pronounced my name incorrectly or even avoided calling on me.

Last summer, another close friend of mine told me a story in which a classmate made fun of the language she was speaking.

These are just the issues that have been brought to my attention. According to the campus climate survey, although some improvements have been made, a lot of students still feel unincluded and unsupported
(https://www.daemen.edu/sites/default/files/2018%20Diversity%20Campus%20Climate%20Surv ey.pdf).

Changes are being made


I’m not the only one who has noticed the issues. Administrators, staff, faculty members, and most importantly, students are making efforts every day to make Daemen more inclusive.

We now have diversity ambassadors for orientation to accommodate diversity activities for new students, we have a student committee to organize events that are inclusive of more students with different backgrounds, we have private or public meetings to hear what students say, and we have a faculty council to promote diversity and inclusion (
https://www.daemen.edu/student- life/diversity-and-multicultural-affairs/about-director ,
https://www.daemen.edu/student-life/diversity-and-multicultural-affairs/council-diversity-and-
inclusion
).

More recently, after the SGA open forum, school essentials, Dr. Greg Nayor of Student Affairs, Alvin Roberts of Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, and Kim Pagano, the Assistant Dean for Student Engagement, send out apologetic emails to minority students who feel unsupported.

Alvin Roberts has organized open office hours to discuss diversity with students.

All of these examples show that Daemen increasingly pays more attention to diversity, and is working to make students feel comfortable and included while studying at Daemen. Changes are being made slowly, and our voices are being heard.


What can you do?


As a student, I think it is important to know that your voices matter. On multiple occasions, I have reached out to school administrators and professors about my frustrations. This has given me opportunities to discuss issues with them listen to their side of the story, and potentially make changes.

Most professors I have familiarized myself with, now know how to pronounce my name. Some professors were willing to make adjustments to exam schedules so that I could fly home during break.

Dr. Heike Peckruhn is a member of faculty Council on Diversity and Inclusion. She is one of the first professors around campus that learned how to correctly pronounce my name.

She has asserted a sense of care for my academic and social life at Daemen as an international student, even before I had a chance to take a class with her. She is also a faculty advisor for Pride Alliance, which is an LGBT support club on campus.

She is constantly making fruitful conversation with students on campus about discrimination, and what we should know and do. This semester, she is offering a Philosophy/Religion/Women Studies course on Sex, Love, God, and Religion.

The class fulfills the institutional requirement for upper-level class, and involves many levels of information ranging from the philosophical, social, religious foundations of topics like sex and gender, racism, sexism, and many more phenomena to the modern problematic practices in America.

I think all students should be aware of this, and know that what they do can contribute to making Daemen a better place. So step out of your comfort zone, make friends with people you do not normally make friends with, join events and activities, talk to the person sitting next to you in class, be a member of clubs and organizations, be a part of the change.

Last but not least, we should also be understanding and appreciate that school essentials are doing their best to fix the problems, and spare them the blame.


Why should you care?


The problems that I mention above might not be your problems. You may not pay attention to diversity at all because you are not in the minority groups.

Firstly, group cohesion and sense of community are everyone’s concerns. As a psychology student, who pays attentions to topics like social interaction, mental health, and ostracism. I understand the harm of isolation.

It can be psychologically damaging to be socially isolated. Thus, feeling a sense of community and feeling included could influence students’ mental health greatly. Promoting diversity is to help others and yourself.

Secondly, diverse and cohesive communities flourish. I like bringing people together and connecting every member of a group. It makes it easier to learn from different perspectives, to feel a sense of belonging, to feel comfortable to live and to learn, to develop professionally, and
to be culturally sensitive.

Thirdly, sometimes in life, at some point, you can find yourself in some kind of minority group. I am not talking about the traditional categories that you are familiar with. You can be in one of the smaller academic departments, you can come from a non-traditional family, you can have a unique interest, you might have a different personality, etc. And in those situations, you need the majority to care for your needs. Thus, in situations when you are in the majority, pay attention, appreciate differences, and crush barriers.


Conclusion

There will be difficulties along the way when you are the black sheep of the herd. Things can get frustrating and even depressing. I am speaking as someone who is thousands of miles away from all of the most important people in her life, has little social support, is not familiar to the culture and the language, and enrolls in a non-ethnically-diverse school.

However, my personal motto to live by is that if you are not happy with your present, do something about it.

There are people at Daemen that are willing to support me in practical terms and emotional terms, like Global Program Office, my academic advisor, Dr. Shannon Lupien, and the chair of the department, Dr. Denise Emer and some other professors, like Dr. Mary Wolf of the Art department.

Small, close-knit communities like the Honors Program and Toastmaster club are very cohesive and inclusive, and they have benefited me greatly.

As someone who came from a different country, people always ask me, among all the schools in the US, why would you pick Daemen?

Honestly, I cannot say that I “picked” Daemen. In fact, I only looked at 2 different schools in the US closely, and I only applied to one. I decided I would pick a school randomly that seemingly met my wishes, and leave it up to fate. I can’t say that other schools in the US are better or worse than Daemen in term of diversity, as Daemen is the only school I have attended, in America.

I can say that, attending Daemen has been an overall positive experience for me. It has helped me grow personally and professionally in ways that I could have never imagined.

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