Paving the way
Diversity guide aims to make the transition to Chico smoother for minority students
Tray Robinson knows what it’s like to be a member of a minority group in Chico. When he first came here 22 years ago, he was forced to blaze his own path when it came to seemingly simple tasks like meeting people, shopping and even getting his hair cut.
“I couldn’t just go to any barber. I needed a barber who could cut black hair,” said Robinson. “Nobody really knew where I could find one.”
In a community that is predominantly European American, minorities at Chico State have long struggled to fit in. Finding a barber, student club, radio station or place of worship that meets their needs can be challenging. So, as diversity coordinator at the university, Robinson spearheaded the development of the Diversity Resource Guide to help students from different backgrounds feel more comfortable in their new home.
The Office of Diversity at Chico State introduced the guide this month hoping to connect minorities to different outlets in the Chico community.
The guide focuses on seven minority groups that have the lowest population percentages at Chico State—Asian, black, people with disabilities, gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered, Latino, Native American and veterans. The ethnic groups combined make up less than 25 percent of the student population, according to a fall 2010 survey released by the Office of Institutional Research at Chico State.
The gap between what is available to minorities and what they know to be available is significant. Leila Rodriguez, a Latina journalism student, said moving to Chico last fall was a major culture shock. Her approach to the lack of available resources has been an independent campaign, she said.
“What I need, I’ll find,” Rodriguez said, “but I definitely didn’t know what was available when I moved here.”
The guide doesn’t just list clubs on campus such as Straight But Not Narrow, an LGBT club, or the fraternity Gamma Zeta Alpha for the Latino community; there are staff listings in each section that relate to each group of minorities. Specialty food markets, doctors and specific churches are laid out for students as well. The interactive guide even has video introductions from Chico State faculty members and club advisers.
One of the video introductions is from Sandy Parsons, the director of Disability Support Services. Parsons said she felt it was important to be a part of the guide to ensure students and faculty with disabilities were represented.
“I hope they feel welcome,” Parsons said. “It’s intimidating to be marginalized and walk into a community where they aren’t being represented.”
Parsons also praised Chico State President Paul Zingg and the Office of Diversity for putting so much energy and time into recognizing and spreading the message of diversity.
“We are well-supported, well-funded, and we have adequate resources,” Parsons said about Robinson’s work in the Office of Diversity. “Chico State has a lot to offer, and I appreciate that disability is recognized at this institution.”
Robinson began the daunting task of researching the many different outlets for these different groups in January 2010, dedicating an entire semester to interviews alone. Even after all the work and time Robinson put in, the Diversity Resource Guide is not a comprehensive list and still needs a lot more work. There are still many small groups that are not included in the guide, Robinson said.
While the guide is geared toward minority groups on campus, Robinson hopes others at Chico State and in the community use it as a resource.
“I hope people utilize it,” Robinson said with optimism. “It’s for everybody, not just the populations listed.”
Chico State continues to become more ethnically diverse, as the percentage of white (non-Latino) students has dropped from 65.45 percent to 62 percent since fall 2007. In the same demographic census released by the Office of Institutional Research, the only group of students that has seen an increase is Hispanic students.
Creating a more diverse community at Chico State requires a committed effort to the cause, but the cause will be pointless if you cannot maintain the students you have engaged in the Chico community and on campus, Robinson said.
“You can recruit [almost] anyone,” Robinson said, “but retention is the key.”
Now, when a black student comes to Chico State and needs to get a haircut, finding a barber or hairstylist—there are three listed in the guide!—won’t be an issue. By providing a more comfortable college experience in Chico, the Diversity Resource Guide will continue to grow, Robinson said, and feedback is always welcome.
“Now when people ask, ‘What does Chico have to offer?’ I can tell them from personal experience and then point them to the guide,” he said.