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February 04, 2013

A More Welcoming Place

President Cohon Looks Behind the Numbers

By Bruce Gerson

President Jared L. Cohon has been a champion for increasing diversity at Carnegie Mellon. And the effects of that are evident.

Statistically, there have been successes, notably in undergraduate enrollment, and Cohon admits there have been struggles and challenges, which will continue, he said, but it's behind the numbers where the university seems to have taken the biggest step forward.

"We've made a lot of progress. Some of that progress is very hard to measure, if it's even measureable at all. Much of it is anecdotal, but when I talk to faculty who have been here for the 16 years I've been here, staff as well, they will say to me we are a more welcoming university than we were 16 years ago.  And I'd like to think we are a better university for that as well," said Cohon in his annual State of Diversity address during CMU's Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.

"We're a university where students and faculty and staff are more likely to say today [than 16 years ago], 'I feel comfortable here. I feel welcome here. I feel that I have as much of a chance to excel, to realize my potential as any other member of this community.' Which I believe is true, and of course that's the way it should be," Cohon said.

Students, faculty and staff agree.

Student Body President Will Weiner (DC'13) said he's found "many great experiences and great people from all over the world" at Carnegie Mellon. And he's seen many students from different backgrounds and cultures working together.

"Everybody has a place in this place, which I think is somewhat the definition of inclusive. Everybody can find a home, find a friend group. There's a lot of acceptance between groups," he said.

History Professor Joe Trotter said he would "unequivocally" say Carnegie Mellon is a more welcoming environment today. He praised President Cohon for making diversity a top priority of the university.

"I'm especially appreciative of the tone he set for diversity," said Trottter, who's been a faculty member for more than 25 years. "I've not seen a president who has been as committed to put himself out on the line to say that he will articulate this as an agenda. Since he's been here, year in and year out, he's been willing to come here and talk to us about the good and the bad news of diversity. And that means that he's willing to embrace the issue."

Don Coffelt, director of Facilities Management Services, said working with a diverse group of individuals with different perspectives is more expected today. He calls it the "new normal."

Suzanne Laurich-McIntyre, assistant vice provost for graduate education, has been at Carnegie Mellon for 10 years.

She said she's seen "great change" and credits President Cohon, faculty and departmental initiatives for making a "world of difference."

"The graduate student organizations have grown. We've got a strong black graduate student organization, but we've also in the last couple of years had tremendous growth in the Latino graduate student association and the Asian American Pacific Islander Caucus. We've been open for those organizations to start and I think that's made a huge difference," she said.

University Center Director Marcia Gerwig said the university community has become more educated about how to welcome others, particularly international groups.  "I believe we've grown over the years. We've become more educated on how to be more inclusive and sensitive," she said.

Perhaps Kenny Blair of Network Media and Events in Computing Services, who has been a member of the CMU community for 21 years, expressed it best.

"You interact with everybody. You see everybody. You talk to everybody and everybody wants to talk to you. It's nice," Blair said.