Numbers show campus diversity increasing overall

(Devon Nitz | The Oswegonian)
(Devon Nitz | The Oswegonian)

While student ethnic diversity has been increasing at Oswego State over the last few years, Oswego State has an adequate ethnic diversity among its faculty as well.

According to the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, the number of white non-Hispanic students at Oswego State has decreased 8.3 percent between undergraduate students enrolled between the fall 2009 semester and the fall 2013 semester. Black non-Hispanic undergraduates at the school have increased 1.6 percent and Hispanic students have seen an increase of 3.9 percent in the same amount of time.

While black non-Hispanic undergraduates make up 5.9 percent of the student population at Oswego State, black faculty make up 2.6 percent of the faculty members, according to College Factual.

Asian faculty make up 2.2 percent, American Indian or Alaska Native make up 0.3 percent and Hispanic/Latino faculty has the highest minority count at 3.8 percent.

“I would say yes, Oswego does have a diverse teaching system,” senior creative writing major and Spanish and English minor Desiree Alcalá said. “I’ve seen a number of different people from a wide range of backgrounds and I think it contributes a great deal to their way of teaching. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing a number of teachers from Canada, China, Syracuse, South America, the Mid-West, etc. When I first came here I assumed there would be people strictly from Syracuse or Oswego, but I was wrong and I’m glad of it.”

Graduate student Kajuan Smith said he knows the amount of diverse educators is low, but sees a relative increase.

“I don’t think that Oswego State has enough of a diverse teaching system at the moment, but there has been an increase in a diverse teaching staff,” Smith said. “I’ve started noticing this throughout my junior and senior year of college. Now that I am a grad student, I notice it much more.”

Alok Kumar of the physics department at Oswego State is Asian-Indian. He completed his Ph.D. in physics in India and started teaching at California State University at Long Beach. After teaching there for 11 years and working for a year in Technische Hochschule at Darmstadt in the Federal Republic of Germany.  After Long Beach, Kumar came to teach at Oswego State in 1992.

“It is a general misconception that, by promoting diversity among faculty, quality of instruction is compromised,” Kumar said. “This is simply not true.  Let me provide you my own example.  I have received President’s Award for Scholarship, Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, and NOVA/NASA Award.  I have also received grants from the National Science Foundation, NASA, and several other national and international funding agency.  These grants reflect the approval of my academic scholarship by these acclaimed agencies.  I have collaborated with a wide variety of scholars from all over the world for my academic research. And, I am not an exception.  There are multitudes of similar examples on our campus–diversity and quality are not mutually exclusive.”

Oswego State is located in a demographic that is not exactly ethnically diverse. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 96.6 percent of Oswego County residents are of white descent as of 2012 estimated data.

“It is true that the general population in Oswego is not so diverse by any standard in comparison to other places in America,” Kumar said. “However, we train our students to meet local as well as global challenges. Learning about other cultures, customs and value system is an essential part of the learning process.  It allows us to coexist with others in the global village we live in—a coexistence that is based on mutual respect and appreciation. As teacher, we not only teach content-based information, we also serve as a role model to our students. It would be nice to have even more diverse faculty and consequently more diverse role models.”

According to Teach For America, the effects of educational inequality are demonstrated by the under-representation of African American and Latino students.

“I think ethnically-diverse teaching is very important to students because having a wide range of educators from numerous backgrounds gives perspective,” Alcalá said. “Everyone has a different opinion, a different style and a different voice. If you have the same people from the same background teaching you, you lose a sense of uniqueness that comes from an individual born of a different ethnicity. You also potentially lose a new idea or teaching method that could have been better. Repetition of the same idea, the same method over and over, looses its flavor after a while, along with the attention span of your students.”

Kumar said there are a lot of resources on campus where students can observe faculty that practice different religions, speak a large number of global languages and have had practical experiences in different parts of the world.

“It is not a coincidence that SUNY Oswego is becoming so successful in establishing partnerships with universities in Korea, Taiwan, India, China, Benin, Brazil, etc.,” Kumar said. “It is a result of strategic policies instituted at SUNY Oswego and our diverse faculty is a tremendous asset in its implementation.”