Diversity Is Everywhere at Moraine Valley Community College

Jessica Crotty
Innovation Showcase

Faculty and staff at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Illinois, will join students, community members, and area high school students for a full day of open dialogue about diversity in February 2018. The Empowerment Through Diversity and Inclusion Conference will bring awareness about diversity to participants who will have an open platform to share their thoughts on the topic.

Diversity wasn’t always a core value at Moraine Valley like it is today. In 2005, the school brought in a diversity and inclusion consulting firm to conduct a self-study and focus groups that would gauge how diversity was perceived on campus. The college learned it had some work to do to change the campus culture, so administrators and staff rolled up their sleeves and got to work.

To support this commitment to diversity, Moraine Valley added diversity to its core values, rounding out integrity, responsibility, respect, and fairness as the ideals it promises to abide by. Further cementing its place in the campus culture, diversity initiatives were incorporated into the strategic plan, and a Diversity Definition and Vision Statement were created and posted to the website. Over the next decade, a Diversity Manager was hired, an award was created, committees focusing on the effort were assembled, and student conferences were organized. After 12 years, diversity and its importance to student success have become ingrained in daily life at the college.

Diversity on Moraine Valley’s campus cannot be ignored. About 40 percent of students identify themselves as a minority, which means, on average, in a class of 32 students, almost 13 bring a different set of cultural beliefs into the classroom. The diverse makeup of Moraine Valley’s student body is a true picture of the 26 communities it serves. Chicago’s southwest suburbs are known for their “Southside Irish,” but they also are home to a mix of Eastern European (particularly Polish and Lithuanian), African American, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern residents.

In fact, Chicago is in the top five metropolitan areas in the country with a significant Arab population, which is estimated at 170,000. Within Moraine Valley’s district, two communities have large mosques, and the college is affectionately referred to as “Little Palestine” by the local Arab community.

Efforts to attract and retain Hispanic students have paid off, as well. Latino student enrollment is up to 23 percent, a 10 percent increase since 2010. Membership in the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, a Latino Empowerment Conference, and an active Alliance of Latin American Students campus club are helping to further attract Hispanic students to Moraine Valley.

African Americans make up 9.9 percent of the student population at Moraine Valley. Retention of these students is up 3.5 percent from fall 2015 to fall 2016, a percentage the college is working to increase. In 2016, the college hosted the Be Me: Black Minds Empowered Student Conference to collect first-hand insights from African American students on the challenges and barriers they face as well as services the college can provide to help them be successful. That information is being used to create programs such as BOSS, a mentoring program for male minority students to help them successfully navigate and ultimately graduate from Moraine Valley. The Black Student Association helps bring awareness to the campus about African American history and is a resource for African American students to discuss relevant topics such as health, barriers and challenges in the community, and how to be successful in college.

Diversity is not only about being open to different races and cultures, but creating a welcoming environment for all people. Safe zones inside faculty and department offices and gender-neutral bathrooms in every building are helping to meet the needs of LGBTQ+ students. The college’s human rights statement includes gender identity and gender expression in college policies, and the GASP! student club continually advises the college on ways to make LGBTQ+ students feel more comfortable on campus.

The focus on diversity is important to faculty and staff as well. Every year, Moraine Valley awards the Embracing Diversity Award to those who actively and consistently demonstrate the core value of diversity by fostering programs that make others feel welcome, providing services that meet the diverse needs of individuals, and supporting or volunteering for activities that increase diversity awareness. Past recipients have been recognized for their work with Latino, LGBTQ+, and Arab students. The Center for Teaching and Learning offers training to faculty and staff on ways to work with various minority populations. Past courses have included Arab 101, DREAM Act information sessions, diversity awareness, and others. The college also held a Women’s Leadership Conference and Men’s Leadership Conference last year that focused on issues relating to each gender.

Since 2010, the college has hosted an annual Diversity Dialogue that joins the campus community with invited guests from local schools, organizations, police departments, churches, and other community businesses for an open conversation about creating opportunities that foster and advance diversity and inclusion throughout the 26 communities in the college’s district. 

“Over the years, hundreds of people of varying ages, races, backgrounds, and religions have talked openly about understanding each other’s differences in a safe space that allowed them to honestly share their thoughts and walk away with a better understanding of their neighbor,” said Charmaine Sevier, Moraine Valley Diversity and Employment Manager, and event organizer. “Higher education institutions should be the catalysts for these types of dialogues, and I’m proud Moraine Valley embraces that responsibility and creates opportunities for others to do so as well.”

Celebrating diversity is so pervasive throughout the college, one would be hard pressed to avoid it. In fact, two campus committees have been assembled with the goal of creating diversity-themed events and programs. The Celebrating Diversity Committee and International Education Committee are composed of faculty and staff who are tasked with finding ways to promote campus diversity. While some of their work overlaps, they each serve a specific function.

For the last 12 years, the Celebrating Diversity Committee has exposed the campus community to various cultural beliefs, practices, and food. Over the summer months, the committee meets to select 10 diverse cultures to feature throughout the next academic year. Some celebrations are repeated annually because of their status on a national level. For example, October is Hispanic Heritage Month, November is Arab Awareness Month, February is Black History Month, and March is Women’s History Month.

Weaved throughout those mainstays are one-day celebrations that allow the college to recognize other cultures. Some past events have been:

  • West African and Caribbean Cultural Day: Students from those countries held a fashion show wearing authentic clothing native to their land.
  • Irish Heritage Day: Three Men in Kilts, a local musical group, and storytellers entertained those on campus.
  • Asian Heritage Day: Students of Asian descent gave henna tattoos and wrote students’ names in Chinese lettering. They also played games from their home country and displayed cultural items of interest.
  • Day of Silence: LGBTQ+ students have brought awareness to the effects bullying has on that population.
  • Disability Awareness Day: Students have rotated through various stations that helped them empathize with disabled persons.

Many of these celebrations are meant to be fun—Italian and Greek trivia, learning to debka (an Arabic folk dance), tea parties, and making Native American dreamcatchers—but are primarily educational. They often feature guest speakers such as clergy who present their religion’s beliefs on topics like death and dying or marriage during an Interfaith Dialogue or faculty panelists who can speak about their area of specialty.

One of the highlights of the Celebrating Diversity Committee’s work is offering food samples from various countries, including Lithuanian kugelis, soul food, French crepes, sushi, and so much more, for faculty, staff, and students to try. The Taste of Moraine was an annual event open to the public that featured food from a dozen local ethnic restaurants. People bought food tickets and could try food from all over the world.

“We’ve had a lot of fun organizing these days for the campus community, thinking up new ideas and ways to showcase the diversity on our campus,” said Adrienne Stewart, Director of Multicultural Student Affairs and chair of the Celebrating Diversity Committee. “These celebrations are a great way for our students to experience a culture they may not otherwise get to experience. Some of them have barely left their hometown, so we bring the world to them.”

The International Education Committee intentionally cultivates students to become globally competent and actively engaged participants in an interconnected world. It does this by developing curriculum and programs that increase students’ international knowledge and fosters global awareness and understanding.

This committee oversees things like the Study Abroad Program, international college/university linkages and exchanges, international partnerships, on-campus events and programs that have a focus on international education, and more. Through this committee’s work, the college has:

  • Signed a Memorandum of Understanding Partnership with Universidad Español, which authorizes it to be Moraine Valley’s representative in Acapulco, Mexico.
  • Welcomed a United Kingdom delegation on campus.
  • Partnered with the University of Toledo to conduct an international survey to document domestic and international student involvement in activities/programs. The survey was sent to approximately 13,000 students with a 12 percent response rate.
  • Created the Campus Conversation Partners group, which gives students and community members learning English as a Second Language several options to practice their speech, and the ESL Friends Circle, a support group for non-native English speakers from the Adult Education Program.
  • Hosted advisors from 21 countries as a participant in the U.S. Department of State’s Education U.S.A. Advisors Training Institute.

“This committee works on big picture projects that expand the college’s global reach both on campus and abroad,” said Chet Shaw, Dean of Student Services and co-chair of the International Education committee. “When I hear about students winning national scholarships to study abroad or our faculty members traveling to their home country to build schools or our campus departments creating more opportunities for residents to learn English, I know Moraine Valley is making an impact across the globe, and that’s what we are working toward. We’re making the world a little smaller and a whole lot better.”

The college is proud to be recognized for its award-winning diversity efforts. The American Association of Community Colleges awarded its Diversity Award to Moraine Valley in 2015 and Insight Into Diversity magazine has presented the college with the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award for five consecutive years.

Moraine Valley has created a culture of acceptance throughout its classrooms and campus departments. The work that has been done deeply embeds diversity as a core value at Moraine Valley—it’s guiding the way for every student, every employee, every person who visits the college to feel like they matter. And simply put, Moraine Valley Community College thinks they do.

Jessica Crotty is Assistant Director of Communications at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Illinois.

Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author(s) and/or submitting college and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.