UP’s administration has approved funding for a new DEI staff position: Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The decision fulfills a recommendation made in the Ortiz report, a recent assessment of UP’s investment and climate related to making the University more inclusive.
Associate Provost for International Education, Diversity and Inclusion Eduardo Contreras is expecting the position to be filled this summer.
“(I’m) very hopeful and excited that we have a new staff member coming on board,” Contreras said. “I’m working with others, whether it’s the Budget Working Group or staff colleagues, to find ways to support diversity, equity, inclusion initiatives.”
Summer plans also include the Diversity Center in Buckley being remodeled over the summer. One wall will be knocked down to expand the center into the next room, and new furniture will replace what’s there now.
These changes come as some students, faculty and staff are demanding the University increase funding and staff for programs serving students from historically marginalized backgrounds.
At the beginning of April, 10 student mentors from UP Connections – a mentorship program to support first-year, transfer, QTBIPOC and historically underrepresented students – resigned.
Their departure was triggered by the resignation of their adviser, former Diversity and Inclusion Program Coordinator, Yuri Hernandez, who managed nearly all of the DEI programs on campus, including UP connections.
The student mentors, seven of whom are graduating next week, told The Beacon that UP should put the UP Connections program on pause until it can invest in a larger budget and dedicated staff person without multiple roles like when Hernandez was at UP.
“They are hiring a director and a coordinator for the DIP program although not specifically for UP Connections,” UP Connections Organizer Daniela Gutierrez said. “We just asked for the program to be paused because none of those people are hired right now, and we can’t continue the program without those people as supervisors.”
UP Connections also voiced concerns about their lack of compensation for what is considered unofficial hours they won’t be paid for. This stems from a deeper concern over the lack of funds found in the DIP budget as well as support, resources and guidance.
Currently, the DIP budget has approximately $10,000. Requests for any type of budget increase are done through the University’s Budget Working Group (BWG). However, because the BWG receives a great number of requests, it is difficult to fulfill all of them.
Knowing this, Contreras, who oversees the DIP budget, only put in a request for the director position and not an additional budget as he “felt that staffing was the area that we really needed the most support in.”
In their resignation letter, UP Connections pointed out that the DIP budget has not changed in over two decades, limiting how much funding each program that falls under DIP receives.
“Reallocating money from DIP to separate groups is not the solution,” UP Connections said in their resignation letter. “The solution is a bigger investment and funding to go to the Diversity and Inclusion Program which will equally increase the funding of various programs that students of color benefit from.”
Contreras says that the UP Connections program will continue but admits it will be “a very difficult transition.”
Diversity collaborators who also worked under Yuri Hernandez raised similar concerns about the mistreatment of minority students and staff in an opinion piece submitted to The Beacon.
“We want our student leaders to be recognized and better supported for the amazing work they are doing and have that reflected through acts such as compensation and sufficient resources to operate in our respective departments,” Diversity Collaborator Peytynn Kubo said in the opinion piece. “If the foundation of DEI work relies heavily on students, it is not sustainable and reflective of an institution that is wholeheartedly creating an inclusive environment for its students.”
Some faculty assert that a director level position for DEI is not enough and the University should create a Vice President for DEI. The Academic Senate passed a resolution on April 19 calling on the administration to create that VP position.
Acting President and Provost Herbert Medina told the Senate that plans to hire a new Director of DEI this summer would move forward regardless of the resolution.
The frustrations being shared about the lack of support and resources provided for DEI on campus are not recent, and the dialogue between students, staff and administration is far from over. The funding for a director of DEI is just one of many concerns being satisfied.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion work is fundamental to what we do at the University of Portland on a daily basis,” Contreras said. “I’m working with others, whether it's the budget working group or staff colleagues, to find ways to support diversity, equity inclusion initiatives.”
Janea Melido is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.