Diversity coordinator shows it’s important to step outside of yours
February is Black History Month, but just because March is upon us doesn’t mean African-American issues and diversity are out of mind. In fact, one man in particular is dedicated to bringing diversity to Chico State year round.
Tray Robinson is the coordinator of university diversity efforts, focusing on educating, discussing and celebrating diversity in order to develop a tolerant atmosphere.
“I want to create an inclusive environment for all students, faculty, administrators and community members,” he said.
Robinson’s duties include running the diversity Web site, coordinating special events, serving on committees, and building a relationship with the community. Some projects are special to Robinson, one being his involvement in National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, which was held in early February.
Butte County’s health department collaborated with the university to offer free testing on campus, and people of all backgrounds were encouraged to get tested.
There was also a candlelight vigil for those who have passed and those still suffering from AIDS.
“To see all those people in the cold, and it was cold, in the Free Speech Area with their candles paying tribute, it was very emotional,” Robinson said.
The issue is personal for Robinson because he lost a brother to AIDS a few years ago.
“After he passed away I was pissed at myself and that my family and I didn’t support him more,” he said.
To this day, he and his family do not talk about the issue, he said. This is one reason he strongly promotes the idea of controversial conversation to help break the barriers of racial tension.
“Talking about different issues sometimes gets really intense and people get uncomfortable,” Robinson said. “I think it’s important that people allow themselves to step out of their comfort zone.”
Diversity has been a huge part of Robinson’s life, dating to his first years in Chico. Robinson was raised in Compton, a city in L.A. County, which is rich in diversity. In 1989, he was recruited by the Chico State Athletic Department and found the Northern California town to be quite different from the place of his roots.
“It was a complete culture shock for me,” he said. “The only diverse groups I was familiar with were through traveling with the football team.”
Although the campus appeared uniform, Robinson found plenty of opportunities to learn and interact with new cultures, he said. The people he met, the classes he took and the activities he became involved with introduced him to new ways of thinking.
“I just enjoyed learning about the diversity between us all; it was like a whole new world opened up,” he said.
Robinson has been employed by Chico State since his undergrad years, working his way up from a resident dorm director to an academic and admissions counselor. In 2005, the position of diversity coordinator opened up, and Robinson was thrilled to take the job.
“I want to make sure diversity is interwoven in everything we do, in and out of the classroom,” he said.
He is now working to create a university-wide definition of diversity that includes all types of people.
“There is a general misconception that diversity only involves race and ethnicity, but it’s much broader than that,” he said. “It encompasses sexuality, gender, age and disability, too.”
Robinson works facilitating conversation. One way he does this is serving on the campus’ Diversity Scorecard Committee. The committee’s chairperson, Gayle Hutchinson, said Robinson is a valued and active member and completes all parts of his job with dignity.
“Tray brings experience, expertise, passion and commitment to his position as diversity coordinator,” she said. “He understands the issues associated with diversity, equity and social justice.”
Hutchinson also credits Robinson for helping recruit faculty and staff from unrepresented minority groups and connecting them with the community.
Although only 2 percent of Chico State’s students are black, Robinson believes the university is making progress in facilitating diversity.
“I think sometimes people look at percentages and criticize because they are not that high,” he said. “But there are reasons for that, and we really need to look beyond ethnicity.”
Robinson points to the campus’s rural location as one reason the university attracts mostly white students. He also believes diversity is more than skin deep, and there are actually a lot of diverse people walking the campus.
As far as Black History Month is concerned, it brings attention to the often under-appreciated contributions African Americans have made in the United States.
“It’s embarrassing that our history books don’t highlight achievements by all people,” Robinson said. “We need to acknowledge our differences and celebrate them, not just pick a month out of the year to pay tribute.”