By Elisabeth Willner
The Rocky Mountain Collegian
Collegian: Let’s just start with a big question, and I know this is big. What do you think the state of the diversity is at the university right now?
Mary Ontiveros: That is a very big question, and I guess I’d have to answer on a number of different levels, because when you talk about the state of diversity, the definition of diversity is pretty broad. Colorado State University includes lots of categories of individuals. It’s not just racial and ethnic diversity, which is what I think visually the first thing that comes to mind.
It also includes women and veterans and people from different geographic regions and different sexual preferences and ages and people with different familial situations who are coming from a foster home versus non-foster pair. All of those kinds of things. In one sense I’d say the state of diversity is different simply because we have redefined diversity, because we look at diversity in a different way.
When I came to Colorado State University, not just as a student but when I was first employed, I was employed as the assistant director of admissions in charge of minority recruitment because that’s how we defined diversity: trying to get more students of color. We knew that historically groups of individuals particularly race and ethnicity had been disenfranchised access to the university in the way that we are trying to change that now. The focus was really on race and ethnicity and then over time.
For me in my personal experience, it was very odd to go into a school and say you want to talk to students who are hispanic and black knowing that there were individuals from impoverished backgrounds who had also been denied access. Or there were students who had learning disabilities who also had been denied access. You know that broader definition I think helps, so in that since Colorado State University is ahead of we have been.
In terms of numbers, one of the committees that we have for diversity has talked about how we cannot ignore populations just because it’s difficult to count, just because it’s difficult to assess whether we have made progress or not. Instead we have to look at the total campus climate, and do all people feel that they are welcome on this campus, whether we can count them or not? We’re moving in that direction.
If you’re talking about numbers, just numbers, we need to make more progress. We need more faculty of color. We need more administrators of color. It would be great to sit around a table where you can see more disabled or differently-abled people. We know that throughout campus there are people with different sexual orientations and that’s great because they bring something different to the table, but at all of our venues where policies are being made, we need to do more work to make sure that there is representation from different groups.
Are we moving in the right direction? I would say, ‘Yes. Absolutely, positively.’ Do we have setbacks on occasion? I would also say yes. Are people genuinely interested in going forward? I would also say Yes to that.
Collegian: What are some other ways that CSU can improve the situation with policy makers and students having more diversity there?
Ontiveros: I think with policy makers, we have to recognize first and foremost that it’s important to have them at the table. I believe that when you look at deans, we have more (we just lost a couple of female deans) but we now have female deans at the table. I’ve been here for a long time so and I know for a fact that there was a time when there were no females at the table. The cabinet clearly could benefit from more cabinet members of color but now there are women here and there are a couple of us who represent racial and ethnic backgrounds. But can the university acknowledge it? We want to be more proactive and, if ever possible, to reach out and identify people who are qualified to be at those tables.
Collegian: So you mentioned that when you first started working here, there weren’t that many women working in the cabinet.
Ontiveros: There were nine.
Collegian: How did change happen and what do you think caused that?
Ontiveros: At the cabinet level?
Ontiveros: I‘m trying to remember who the first female cabinet member was. There was a president who brought in an executive vice president and she was female. She might have been the first cabinet-level person. Then we had a provost that was acquainted who was female who had a pretty high level position on cabinet as a provost. And then Blanch is a VP for Student Affairs. Women started advancing in professions. That made them available to be selected to be Vice Presidents. I guess I would take my example, I have been on campus for a long time. They talk about having a career ladder where are you going up the ladder or are you going forward or have to move over because you have to change professions. I have been fortunate to be able to go up a career ladder, but it takes lots of experience obviously and you need to understand the university, but it takes time. I think nowadays more and more women are expressing interest and obtaining the kind of training they need in order to go into administration. And being encouraged to do so by mentors, and often male mentors.
Collegian: So could that be a model for including different identities.
Ontiveros: Absolutely. And mentorship is critical. And often it is the people who are already in position reaching back to pull other people up. Training- we have situations, we have women faculty, diverse faculty, and they get very involved in their particular discipline. They may aspire to become administrators, they may aspire to deans, but you need to have somebody help you enter that process. And there are seminars/institutes where you can go to learn about higher education and the bigger picture. We need to do more to ensure that promising young faculty members and people who want to become administrators understand how that process works. Sometimes we fall into it and we’re pretty lucky, and other times not so much. So we need people to guide them through.
Collegian: I know that the university is under a lot of stress right now with funding since Colorado is continually cutting funds to higher education. Do you think that we have the resources that we need to create the programs to support diversity at CSU?
Ontiveros: I think the university right now has quite a number of programs and has dedicated resources to diversity. Can we always use more? Of course. It would be great to have more money available to put towards that effort. But I guess, in some areas, there is no question at all that diversifying the university would mean more money. But is more money absolutely necessary to have a diverse environment? I would say no. What it takes is a commitment to getting it done. But is money required in scenarios? So, but not in every situation.
Collegian: What are the areas where we don’t need to contribute money?
Ontiveros: For example, changing campus climate to ensure that people are welcome. It doesn’t take money to create a campus climate where people are welcome. You just need to do it. Does it take money to fund faculty members who are being pretty well paid at other institutions? Will it take money to get them to come here? Yeah, no question. But, if everybody made a commitment to diversity and recognized that diversity can contribute to excellence in the classroom does that always cost money? No.
Collegian: What are some of the programs that we have now that are creating that climate and what might we need to add to improve on those?
Ontiveros: I think some of the programs we have are cultural centers for example. I think a great example is at the beginning of last year and this year when new students arrived on campus they all attended a session where all of the students were in Moby Gym and the focus was on diversity. The keynote speaker talked about diversity and then all of them broke up into smaller groups where they could discuss what that means for you. We have to recognize that people on this campus, 40,000 plus 4500 freshman come to campus and everybody is coming from a different perspective. Some students come here and look around and think, “ Oh my gosh this place is not diverse at all,” because they have come from Chicago or even downtown Denver. Other students come from rural Colorado and they say, “wow look at the diversity on this campus and you know they walk by this building and they see a few students in burkas and they see Chinese and they see black students and so we’re not all at the same place. And to presume that there is one thing that fits everyone – there just isn’t. So being able to have discussions so people can share their individual perspectives I think is very important and I think the orientation staff recognizes that and they kind of approach it in that way.
We have programs like Black Issues Forum in the admissions office and LDZ program. There are a number of programs coming out of the cultural centers. If you look at programs like SLiCE and their commitment to diversity, and if you look at some of the things that the housing department does when they’re training resident assistants, they include a diversity component as well.
We’re going to be initiating a new version of the university diversity plan. Historically, the university required all units to have a diversity plan. When I started in this position it was really fascinating because I would go to visit the deans and they would say ‘I found our diversity plan’ and really I wanted to chat with them one on one and they felt it was important to show me their diversity plan. And in some situations these diversity plans were voluminous, but they never knew what was in it. Everyone worked on it. Everyone contributed, which was good, but it was not a living document. It was just an assignment.
So our committees have decided that we’re going to ask all units to identify one item, just one. What are you going to work on to contribute to the diversity of campus, and it needs to relate to our strategic plan for the university and there are three components in the diversity section: the recruitment and retention of students, the recruitment and retention of employees and campus climate. So whatever you identify, unit A, it needs to relate to one of those three things. You only need one.
And then we are going track all of that on a university tool and then over a year we can see did you make progress or not?
We are convinced that we will make more progress with everybody working on one thing, which will be different for everyone, than having a diversity plan that sits on a shelf and nobody looks at that.
Collegian: When did that change happen?
Ontiveros: We discussed it last year and we’re moving forward with it this year.
Collegian: Is it already in place?
Ontiveros: The diversity strategic planning committee knows about it. At our next meeting, we will be talking about details related to it. It could be pretty exciting, because after a year you would know, did we do it or did we not?
Collegian: What are some of the ways that the effectiveness will be measured?
Ontiveros: Funny you should ask, because at our meeting we were talking about how do you measure it? This tool requires you to identify what the assessment is going to be, so in a situation for example, a department says they want to increase the number of diverse students that they have, then they have to identify what diverse students. Are you talking about race, ethnicity, whatever that is. The tool in that sense, did you do it or did you not? Did you have more diverse students at the end of the year or do you not?
In another situation it may be, we want to insure that all of our staff have been exposed to some sort of diversity training, because that will help to improve the campus climate. In that sense, the model might be different. In another situation, a department might say we want to introduce multiculturalism in our curriculum, in all of our classes. In that situation the measure is going to be different. Show us how you introduce multi-culturalism in a design class and that’s different from showing us whether you have more students or not. So it’s going to be different for every element of the diversity plan.
Collegian: Will you be overseeing that as the VP of diversity?
Ontiveros: Ultimately, but it’s also the committee. The strategic planning committee, also called our internal advisory committee for diversity. We will identify individuals from that group who will be responsible for the measurement and everything else. But also, and this is the exciting part, the whole university will be, because this tool, PRISM, we have a director of assessment on campus, Kim Bender, and this tool tracks progress that the university is making. So anybody on campus can go on and see. Ultimately, that’s the goal so we all start to hold each other accountable. Instead of saying ‘that department seems to be doing a good job,’ we want to see how everybody is doing.
Collegian: It sounds like it’s specific to each college –
Ontiveros: Unit. Unit is something that we spent a lot of time discussing. How do you define a unit? For colleges we’re saying it will be the departments within a college. In student affairs, you have housing and Lory Student Center, so each is going to be a unit. It won’t be as big as just the college, it will be departments in it.
Collegian: How many units are there? Do you know yet?
Ontiveros: We were trying to count that up. There are 60 or so academic departments, and we’re thinking there are probably going to be about 120 or 130 – that approximate number – so that there will be that many different elements in the diversity plan.
Now the thing that will change that is that we’re saying a minimum of one. It’s possible that a department will say we want to do one each: one for students, one for faculty and one for climate. If they want to do that, that’s okay, so there will be more. The other thing that would change that – and this will be determined when I meet with each of the VPs about it – in housing it could be one or housing might say, we could separate it into halls. So then instead of just one, you’re going to end up with more. I don’t want to say, no you can’t have more, so that’s why I’m kind of waffling on what exactly the number will be.
Collegian: So how did this come about? Why this method of approaching diversity and what led up to it?
Ontiveros: There is a committee. There are number of sub-committees or committees. When I got the job, and you know that it’s a half-time position right now, and Tony has asked that I submit a proposal to make it full time so we’re moving in that direction to have it as a full time position. As a half-time position, I knew that the success of this position was going to be determined not just by what I could do in a half-time position, but by the contributions that others across campus would be able to make towards diversity. So I immediately tried to build an infrastructure that included people from across campus. I did that by identifying areas that I thought were of greatest importance: the recruitment and retention of diverse staff. There is a consultation team for incidents of bias. There is an advisory committee that meets regularly. The diversity symposium is another committee. The diversity conference is another committee. And then there is a committee that deals with assessment that deals.
That committee sent out a survey about diversity climate that was just completed and is on the web now. We did that because we needed to know what is the climate and how do people view diversity on campus generally, and there’s a whole story behind this survey for another day. And then, that committee, I was sharing with them my experience in visiting all of the colleges… (23:00) and as we were chatting about it, Kim was the one who said really with these diversity plans we need to figure out a way to hold people accountable, and because he had developed the PRISM system, he knew there was a way to do that, and he threw that out as a recommendation. The committee discussed that and thought that could work.
We chatted and we talked about how would we define a unit? How would we track it? It had to tie into the strategic plan because you don’t want to be working in opposing directions, so we thought we need to pull this together so that as a university we were all moving together in the same way. Instead of having all of these diversity plans going all over the place and you have the strategic plan that nobody pays attention to. We were very deliberate about what we wanted to do.
Last year we worked primarily on the campus climate survey. We were talking about the diversity climate, and then the climate survey was done, so that’s we’re now focusing on the diversity plan.
It wasn’t just me.
Collegian: What was the most interesting thing in the campus climate survey?
Ontiveros: I think the most interesting and the best thing is that as a population, people really like working on this campus. They like being a part of this institution, so there was no statistical difference in terms of employee categories… (25:11 names categories) on and off campus. We made sure that the survey was translated into Spanish. We made a hard copy, because there are some people on campus who do not have access to computers and we worked with their supervisors to let them know that it’s available, because we know what employee categories there are that we need to reach out. So we did all of that, and we feel that it was really pretty representative of people on campus and yet there were no statistical difference by employee categories and by different populations.
However, we did note that as a group certain populations tended to answer slightly – it was a scale and instead of answering closer to 4s and 5s, they as a group answered between 3s and 4s so even though it’s not statistically significant, it’s enough for us to look at and ask what is causing that. As a population people enjoy working on campus. So now begins all of the work of really going through the data and trying to pull it apart.
About 37 percent of the population answered the survey and then beyond that we asked people would you be interested in being part of a focus group and 120 people said yes. So all this summer we did focus groups. Two things came out of that that were great. One: the people who were involved with that as a group their motivation for it is because they really like Colorado State University and they feel that there are some areas where we can improve and they wanted to bring that to the attention of the focus group. So that was one thing, and the other is that people commented that it was in some cases some of the best couple of hours they’ve ever spent on campus because they felt that they had a voice. That is also something we’ve been discussing in our committees: how do ensure that people always have a voice? Because it’s not necessarily that they want to complain, but people want to be heard. So how do we insure that those kinds of efforts are not only available but advertised and all of that.
So all the focus group information is now being compiled and a report is being written. We just finished all the focus groups in the last couple weeks because we needed to wait for faculty to come back, but in the summer staff were available. We will share all that with the people who were involved with the focus group, but confidentiality is very important in this kind of a process, so I honestly can’t tell you the names of the people who were part of the focus group, because we had somebody who did that independently for us. I would keep meeting with her and she would share what we were learning and we shared it with the committee.
Collegian: Will that information still be available without names?
Our goal is to one: make the campus climate surveys available to campus. Two: the same thing with the focus groups. So one is to be pretty transparent about what we found out and two start addressing and areas of concern and three start celebrating all those areas where really we’re doing great. Because there are those things on campus that are like ‘Wow, that’s really cool.’ that a lot of people don’t know about, because we’re so decentralized and we’re so big that people don’t hear about it.
Collegian: To go back a little bit – you mentioned that were some groups that consistently answered lower as a group. Can you identify some of those groups?
Ontiveros: Just generally, classified staff. And there are some reasons for that. The university had not experienced salary increases for four years or so and administrative professional staff received a salary increase that was added to our base salary and classified staff also received an increase, but it wasn’t added to the base, so it was more like a bonus, if you will. Well, if it’s not added to the base then the following year, your base is still the same that it had been and what’s important to understand though is that if the university could have added it to the base it would have. Classified staff are state employees, so they’re bankrolled by the state system. Often people do not know that there are different rules if you’re a state classified employee compared to a faculty and a pro-staff member and in some ways I think that’s one of the reasons that their responses as a group were lower.
Collegian: Would you give a basic explanation of what classified staff is?
Ontiveros: At the university there are three general classifications of employees. There are faculty, and I think we’re all familiar with faculty, they’re the ones who are generally in the class room, but even within that group there are tenured faculty and there are adjunct faculty. So within each category there are also different groups. Administrative professional staff are hired by the university, and then there’s classified staff who are really state employees assigned to Colorado State University.
Collegian: Was there a space on the survey where they mentioned why they felt uncomfortable or that is your take on it?
Ontiveros: What I did was I met with the classified staff council and the AP staff council afterwords. And this was something that the committee recommended. When we get results from a survey, it’s easy for somebody to look at the numbers and just interpret based on our own experience and we thought, No, we need to have some of the employee groups inform us, so that when we’re saying why we think that there’s a difference then there’s some agreement from the employee participant.
Collegian: Another thing that you mentioned is that people were really grateful to have a space to be heard. What kind of spaces do we have currently or are we going to establish so that that can continue to happen?
Ontiveros: The kinds of things that we’ve been talking about are, and none of this has really gone beyond our committee discussions, is really working with supervisors to create environments where that can happen. Because people want to be heard not just by, as a colleague sharing whatever they want to share. I want my boss to hear, and for my boss to be able to respond and acknowledge what some of the issues are, some of my concerns are.
We noted that there are some people become supervisors without having the appropriate training to be a supervisor and so we have as committees talked about how to provide opportunities for people who are supervisors to be able to say ‘I need some help.’ How do I do the kinds of things I need to the things I need to do, without individuals assuming that because they’re supervisors they know absolutely everything there is to know. So, providing more training options so that supervisors can make those things available. Some people have said that they try to do is make sure that they have occasional lunches with staff so that they can start to relate in a more, not a hierarchical way, but more as kind of the same team.
Collegian: You also mentioned one of the things that came up in my interview with Blane Harding which is that your position is part time. You said that it will eventually be full time. Is that for sure? And do you know when that will happen?
Ontiveros: Here’s what I know. The strategic planning committee, which is the diversity strategic planning committee has made a recommendation that it needs to be a full time position. There have been other groups also who have recommended that the position needs to be full time. Full time, not just, for the symbolic value of it – and that is important. That really is very very important because on the surface and here is a statement that had been made once: half-time position feels like half-time commitment. That is a perception. Do I believe that’s true? No. I do not believe that that is true. I do not believe that because it is a half-time position the administration feels that they only have a half-time commitment to diversity. But as people look at it, they question it, so it is important symbolically for it to be full time.
It’s also important for it to be full time because there is a hell of a lot of work. There is so much work, because we’re talking about not only issues related to diversity amongst the faculty and staff, but student efforts and community efforts and making people see that Colorado State University as an institution is committed to diversity. One of the questions I was asked when I applied for this job was ‘How will you know you’ve been successful?’ and I said ‘When I was in admissions, there was always this marketing tool that is used, and that is that you ask about an institution, so if you were to say Harvard, what three words come to mind when you think of Harvard?’
Collegian: It’s prestigious, it’s historical, it’s a really good school.
Ontiveros: Yeah, so immediately something came to mind, right? I said my goal would be that we will know we’re successful when we ask what three words come to mind when you think Colorado State and one of those words would be access or diversity or commitment to diversity or something like that in addition to land grant and maybe land grant would be the word because you committed to providing access. So in order to get there we need to have a presence across the state of Colorado. One half-time person can’t do that. So that’s why it’s important. There is a lot of work to do.
And I can tell that with the establishment of these various committees and such and meeting with them and following up on all the work that is being done, it just takes a lot of time. The other thing is the visibility and I said that symbolically it’s important, but just visibly there have been people who have shared with me that they thought I was half-time so they just weren’t sure where to find me. They thought literally that I was only on campus half time, even though I have a full time job with the other half of it. [***]
Right now we are physically in a location that is not accessible. So little things like that. But I do not believe for one instant that the half time position means half-time commitment. It just happened that Tony, when he became president, his decision to even create the position was really outstanding, because historically there had been other presidents who had been asked to create a position and they didn’t. It was a very very difficult time financially for the university, for the state, so that half-time commitment, in fact, represented a lot. Now we need to move forward.
Collegian: Is it just the funding that’s standing in the way of it becoming a full-time position or is there another reason why it hasn’t become full-time?
Funding and the request for the proposal is just needing to know how much. That’s what we have been working on this summer.
Collegian: So the status of that – just to make sure that I understand – is that there is a request that has been put in and is being reviewed?
Ontiveros: Not yet. I meet with Tony this October… I will present the proposal, and I’ve already starting doing some of that because earlier this month, we had to present our proposals for additional space, so I did that part of the process. If this position became full time, I need space. I need a conference room and I need a place for Rod Higgins, my assistant. The process has already begun to advance the proposal.
Collegian: I wanted to ask you as well, since this interview is in response to the Blane Harding piece (that ran in the Collegian [***]). Was there anything specific that you wanted to respond to in that interview?
Ontiveros: I saw Blane when he was here [***], and his wife, and she said ‘Oh my God, Mary. Blane said that he responded that way because he wants your position to be full time.’ I had not yet read that the article, because it came out that morning when he was on campus. When I read it, they also shared that he did that article in May right before he was leaving.
I would say one, I think he was accurate in that Colorado State does have work to do related to diversity, so I think that was certainly – it’s not just his view. I think that we all would agree that there’s work that we need to be doing.
There was a section that was interesting to me. Something about “If we wanted it, it would just be done.” And he talked about INTO and he talked about some of these other things. The characterization of those decisions seemed somewhat simplistic, is perhaps not the right word. Being a member of the cabinet now I know that there is a lot of thought and effort and conversation and discussion that goes into a decision. It’s not something that somebody thinks ‘Hm, I should just do this’ and then you spend all this money to move in that direction. There are conversations that take place and Tony asks for feedback before something is moving forward, there are discussions about it. Decisions are not necessarily made in a vacuum.
Am I saying that that’s the case in every situation? Obviously as president he has to make decisions, but I think it characterized it perhaps a bit too simplistically because there really are many many conversations that take place before a commitment is made on behalf of the institution.
Collegian: Do you think that that’s happening now with diversity? I mean you have these programs that you’ve been talking about and the new diversity plan. You mentioned that there’s a lot of discussion that goes into these decisions like INTO and the stadium. Do you feel like that’s happening around diversity, so we’re moving in that direction?
Ontiveros: I would say Yes. There’s lots of discussions and lots of people involved, and people at all levels. Many many units on campus. And what’s really heartening is that people continue to come to me and say ‘I heard about these committees you have and I’m interesting in being part of this.’ Sometimes it’s graduate students. Sometimes it’s staff and sometime it’s faculty members, saying I’m a first time faculty member and I hear you’re doing whatever with first generation students. How can I be involved? So people are coming forward and that’s fantastic because it really is a university effort.
Collegian: I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about affirmative action, since that’s coming under review next week with the supreme court. How will that decision impact CSU if affirmative action is declared unconstitutional?
Ontiveros: Colorado State University, Colorado once had an attorney general who declared that we could not use race or ethnicity in admissions decisions. This was years ago. I remember when I saw the headline and at that point I was director of admissions and I thought holy smokes we’re supposed to diversify the campus but we can’t look at diversity. How are we going to do that? I remember we met with the university attorney and he said you can’t do this because it’s illegal and I said ‘What if we want to do it anyway?’ and he said well, because I have shared with you that you can’t, you could be sued, individually, not just the campus but you could be sued. Well, when you hear that kind of stuff, then you start thinking ‘Okay, I need to do things differently.’ So we started trying to figure out how do we start doing things differently so that we are in compliance with the law and yet we are still meeting our institutional goals. You have to start being creative about stuff.
And then, after the attorney general thing, what we did as a university is we looked at all of our policies and procedures and tried to figure out ‘What do we have in place right now that could be viewed as illegal?’ What scholarships do we have just for people that are of color or women or what programs do we have that are just for individual groups that could be viewed as an illegal activity and we cleaned it all up. So for example, Black Issues Forum, even though its called Black Issues Forum, all students are welcome and we have have non-black students participate in that activity because they want to know about issues related to the black community, but you have to be black to be involved with Black Issues Forum. Same with LDZ – you don’t have to be hispanic to be involved with that program, so those are two examples of things we cleaned up in admissions. You don’t have to be hispanic to get a particular award. We said you have to have contributed to the hispanic community, and anybody can do that – whether you’re of color or not whether you’re hispanic or not. We cleaned up all of the language in our policies and things that we have at Colorado State.
And then time goes on and about four or five years ago there was an individual, he was from California and they passed an affirmative action law in California and he was going to other states to pass similar legislation in other states and we, again, were concerned. What if that passes? If it passes that means that we can’t even look at a person’s name because chances are, if your name is Elisabeth, you’re going to be female, but we can’t use that in making an admissions decisions.
Well, for us, we would like to see more Elisabeths in engineering and we would like to see more Laurences in OT (Occupational Therapy). Well, we were concerned that we weren’t going to be able to do that. Again, the university looked at everything to try to figure out what are we doing, because if this law passes, we need to be prepared.
Every time that there’s a piece of legislation that comes up like that. As a university, we have been incredibly diligent about looking at what we have in place in the event that the law passes we’re not playing catch up. Given that, we’re really in a good position. So if that were to happen, the university really is in a pretty good position without a doubt. I don’t expect that it is going to be harmful to Colorado State University.
Collegian: And that’s just because we’ve already made our language so we’re not excluding anyone?
Ontiveros: Yeah and here’s an example. When I was in admissions and again when we were hearing that these things were coming and we were trying to figure it out, we met with legal counsel and we said how do we do this? How do we recruit students of color when we can’t recruit students of color? And one of the examples was ‘Let’s start talking about working with entities. So we looked at all the data for all of the high schools in the state of Colorado at the time, and we identified the schools that were the most racially and ethnically diverse, those that had the lowest socio-economic numbers identified by those that had the most free and reduced lunches in the school. We asked questions about how many students were first generation, because those were important populations to us, and then our statistician at the time put together this algorithm, and we ended up with a list in order of the most diverse schools all the way down to those that were the least diverse and the most poor and we targeted those schools.
So now we have some programs that are aimed at particular high schools because we know if you come from that high school. We have a couple of schools in one of our programs for example where are 100 percent of the kids are on free and reduced lunch and 85 percent of the kids are hispanic or whatever. And so we work with those schools and somebody says, well what if we get a white student from that school? And our response is hallelujah, because that student has a diverse perspective because of the school they grew up in. The way they think about the world is very different from a student come Cherry Creek High School. So for us that student is as diverse as a hispanic student that is in that population.
That’s what we started doing. We started figuring out how we could comply with the letter of the law but make sure that we still meet our goals. So those are the kind of things that we started doing.
Collegian: When you say that you targeted those schools, do you mean that you had programs to recruit students from those schools to come to CSU?
Ontiveros: Exactly. In this case the program we’re talking about is called the Alliance Partnership. We decided that we’re going to work with that school, not just the school but the community. So we work with the community. For example, Fort Luptin High School is one. We met with the Chamber of Commerce. We met with the school. We provide programs for the teachers. We provide programs for the students. We do a number of things, because our goal is to get those kids to come to college. Our goal is to get them to come to Colorado State, but if they decide they want to be a buffalo, fine. They’re going to college. Ultimately our objective is access to higher education and we can’t just be thinking about Colorad State, we have to think of the greater good, if you will. But by providing appealing programs, students will be attracted to come here.
Collegian: It almost sounds like you made your own affirmative action. Is that mischaracterizing the way that the university looked at that, because you’re not giving a quota, you’re just trying to encourage people to apply. Is that the distinction?
Ontiveros: Well, quotas we know are illegal and have been for years and years and years. We’re just saying we’d like to provide access to populations who have historically not had access. We’re not changing our admissions standards at all. We’re saying that you have to work hard, and if you work hard, we will help you come to a world-class university.
If you’re black or white, it really doesn’t matter. We know that you have been disenfranchised in the past because you’re poor, or in some cases because you are racially or ethnically diverse. We just figured a way to get around some things and to make them open. Because if you have a student, for example, who really really really wants to attend the Hispanic Institute – because we have students at these students at these schools who their whole life they’ve grown up in a community that is hispanic. They’re not hispanic, but they understand the issues. A student like that may want to go to the national hispanic institute and they want to learn more how to help the community and for them the community is the hispanic community, but they shouldn’t be excluded just because they’re white. Their experience is very very different than it is for other students. We recognize that everybody is at different levels and different places and that they contribute.
Collegian: When did that program start?
Ontiveros: That would have been the legislation right after the attorney general. It was the Michigan Cases that caused that. It was in response to we didn’t know how the supreme court was going to rule on those cases so it was preparing the university should the Michigan cases not allow us to recruit based on race and ethnicity.
Collegian: Has there been any preparation this time?
Ontiveros: We talked about it in our enrollment and access leadership meeting and talked about ‘what do we have that we have not paid attention to?’ Right now we’re feeling pretty comfortable.
Now, it all depends on what the ruling is. We don’t know if there will be some element to it that we have not anticipated, but yes we’ve had some discussions in our groups.
Collegian: Have the programs that you put into place after the Michigan cases been effective in getting more diverse students to come to CSU?
Ontiveros: Yes, they have. That would be the Alliance program, and then we have built upon on that on campus because we have come to realize that have done some really outstanding work in trying to get students on campus. We need to make sure that they stay and they graduate, so that’s the second part that we have been working on.
Collegian: Are there any other things you would like to add about affirmative action, about diversity or other things we’ve talked about?
Ontiveros: As I reflect, over time. I think I mentioned early on that the university has been really diligent in doing things. I think if there’s a way to characterize Colorado State University, it’s not just diligence, but it’s integrity. We want to do the right thing. We want to do what’s right, not just because we are Colorado State University and we want to do what’s right because we have an obligation to do that, but also we want to do what’s right that will assist students. We don’t want to use legislation, for example, legislation as an excuse for not doing what we have to do. And there’s great comfort in that. There’s great comfort.