February 23, 2007

Purdue Provost Sally Mason made these comments on Feb. 23 as part of the Mosaic celebration dinner.

Purdue people key to making true diversity an attainable goal

I believe Purdue is among the best universities in the nation and world. I am very proud to be the first woman to hold the position of provost at Purdue.

But like many women and minorities who are with us tonight, I was not always encouraged to succeed along the way. In fact, early on, I was told that my career goals were inappropriate and impossible for a woman.

My story sounds almost hard to believe as I retell it today. But it happened. And it happened not so many years ago.

When I was an undergraduate sophomore in the 1960s, my male adviser told me my passion for field biology was inappropriate for women. He strongly encouraged me to go in another direction. And so I did.

My first day as a graduate student, I was one of about 20 young women admitted to the program. That was a large number of women admitted to graduate school to study science in those days.

One might think that it spoke to the university's commitment to diversity. But that commitment did not reach into all corners of the campus. It did not reach all people.

The male biology graduate advisor took it upon himself to inform each of us women, individually, that we were not expected to succeed. He said the university was in danger of losing its federal funding if the biology department didn't accept more women. And that was the only reason we were there.

The university where I was a graduate student and where I was told that women were not expected to succeed — was Purdue.

The Purdue we know today is far different from the one I encountered as a graduate student. The faculty member who told me I was not expected to succeed has long since departed from Purdue.

But I am here as head of all the faculty.

I don't tell this story to complain about the hardships I have faced in my life. Many of you have faced far greater hardships.

I don't tell this story to praise myself. Many of you are far more worthy of praise for what you have accomplished in your lives and careers.

I tell this story tonight as a reminder of where we have been. I tell it to inspire us to where we now must go. And I tell it to illustrate the importance of embedding diversity in our campus community.

It is not enough for diversity to be a focus of the university alone. Diversity must be a focus of the people who are the university.

Diversity has been an important goal of Purdue. What we must do now is move from the days when diversity was seen as an institutional goal to a new era when diversity will be a driving aspiration in each of our lives.

Purdue policies can only go so far in making this a more open, diverse, caring, welcoming university. The real impact must come from each of us as individuals in our everyday life and work.

When I was young, there was a popular political slogan: "Power to the people."

We have the power. People have really always had the power. We often just don't recognize it.

We have the power to make a difference. Each of us has the power within us to make this campus fulfill the promise of diversity for those around us and for every person whose life we touch. What an incredible power that is.

The power of diversity starts in the heart of every person at Purdue.

This evening I have some initiatives to share with you.

We often talk about what we are planning to do. This evening I am going to spend some time discussing what we have already started doing to advance our Mosaic.

This is all about people. So let me tell you about some of our people.

You all know we have an outstanding new dean for our School of Veterinary Medicine. He has been on the job for not quite two months now. He has returned to Purdue to assume this position. I am going to ask him to stand. Please join with me and welcome Dr. Willie Reed.

Dr. Reed returns to Purdue from Michigan State where he was chair of the Department of Pathobiology and Diagnostic Investigation. He is a graduate of Purdue and was on the faculty here for eight years before leaving in 1990.

He is a proven leader and has a deep and very personal interest in diversity that will impact our School of Veterinary Medicine. He is already establishing a diversity program in our veterinary school that will focus on recruiting students of underrepresented cultural backgrounds. He will be appointing someone in our veterinary school to head up this program. He plans to work with schools in Indiana and national institutions with high populations of minority students as a way of opening opportunities.

With Dean Reed is his equally talented and accomplished wife, Dr. Dorothy Reed.

I am very pleased to announce this evening that Dorothy Reed has agreed to become the newest member of my office. She has accepted our offer to become assistant provost. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Reed as she stands.

Her focus will be on something she does exceedingly well, ensuring the success of minority students. Her responsibilities will include setting and implementing the agenda for Purdue's academic diversity plan.

She also will provide direct oversight and management of Purdue's ethnic cultural centers. Much of her work with the centers will be based around academic and retention programming.

In addition, she will assist me in identifying needs, opportunities, priorities and activities in the broader area of educational equity among students.

We are very pleased to have Dorothy join us in this extremely important work.

I will repeat this again and often: Our Mosaic is all about people. And here is another great person.

Dr. Pam Shaw is director of our Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation. The goal of this project is to double the number of minority graduates in science, mathematics, engineering and technology areas.

Pam is also director of our Midwest Crossroads Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate. The goal of this program is to increase the number of students receiving doctoral degrees in sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics with special emphasis on the population groups underrepresented in these fields.

Under Pam's leadership, these programs have been incredibly successful.

Now it is time for her to be even more involved. She is moving to the next level, as our President says!

I am pleased to announce this evening that Pam has been recommended for promotion to assistant provost. I anticipate this will take place this summer.

My congratulations to Pam on a job well done. I have great confidence in her leadership as we look to the future. Please join me in congratulating Dr. Pam Shaw.

I next want to introduce another relatively new member of our staff.

Dr. Kauline Davis serves as assistant to the provost. She has been addressing minority issues since her appointment in 2005. As her work has evolved, she is now taking on an exciting, expanded role.

Our colleges and schools have many programs focused on underrepresented minorities. They all do great work.

Now, Kauline has taken the initiative to bring all of these efforts together for regular conversation and collaboration. The programs remain in their individual colleges and schools. But they meet and work together, and Kauline helps coordinate these efforts.

Through these efforts we can share best practices, successful initiatives and collaborate.

Our thanks and congratulations to Kauline and everyone in our college and school minority and underrepresented programs.

As part of our Mosaic, the Diversity Leadership Group itself is going to evolve into a permanent advisory group to the provost beginning next fall. The membership will rotate to allow broad participation from across the university over time.

This advisory group will be composed of students, faculty and staff who serve multi-year terms. There will also be some representatives from our various offices focused on diversity who will serve in an ex officio capacity.

This advisory group will help keep us in touch with the Purdue community and with how our diversity efforts are progressing. It will help with communication and coordination of our many efforts. It will bring forth new ideas and initiatives that will help us succeed.

As you heard me mention earlier this evening our Mosaic is working to create a sense of excitement on our campus for diversity.

And thanks to the efforts of the President of the Purdue Black Graduate Student Organization Dean King-Smith, I have a very exciting announcement tonight. We are bringing a nationally acclaimed speaker to our campus.

He is Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, who is a social analyst, ordained minister and best-selling author. He will speak at Purdue next fall.

A former teen father who once lived on welfare, Dyson went on to earn a Ph.D. from Princeton. He's written books on Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, singer Marvin Gaye and Bill Cosby. In his latest book, Come Hell or High Water, Dyson offers a searing assessment of the meaning of Hurricane Katrina.

Often described as the "hip-hop intellectual," Dr. Dyson is Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania. We look forward to his visit next fall.

Dean King Smith is with us. Dean will you stand while we thank you for your leadership in this.

As I introduce all these great people of Purdue who are so important to our Mosaic, this is a wonderful opportunity to introduce another very special person.

He is the President of the Purdue Black Alumni Organization. Please join me in welcoming all the way from New York City to join us this evening Tarrus Richardson.

This is all about people. There are two more people I am going to recognize this evening.

First, Jackie Jimerson, director of minority programs in our School of Pharmacy.

Under her leadership, the number of underrepresented minorities in all of the pharmacy programs has more than doubled. The number of those students in the professional program tripled during her first eight years. And here is the most astonishing accomplishment yet: 95 percent of the students in Jackie's programs are retained at Purdue and go on to complete their degrees.

Jackie, please stand so we can congratulate you.

This is just one outstanding example of the many great efforts underway here at Purdue. These are the kinds of impacts we are going to duplicate across Purdue.

The final person I will recognize this evening deserves special mention. We have experienced a tremendous opportunity at Purdue to be led by the nation's finest university president Martin Jischke.

Martin came to Purdue with a vision to impact diversity throughout our campus. Everything we are talking about this evening has been a part of his vision for Purdue.

To give you just one example, six years ago Martin was the driving force in launching Science Bound for Indianapolis Public Schools students. We work with these students beginning in junior high. And if they remain in the program and are accepted to Purdue to study in science, technology, engineering, math, agriculture or related teaching fields, we offer them full scholarships.

The oldest Science Bound students who started when Martin arrived at Purdue are now seniors in high school. There are 31 seniors. Twenty-six of them have been accepted at Purdue for our fall semester. Applications from three more are pending. Two of the students are pursuing their education elsewhere.

What an incredible impact!

Martin, I have heard you say this countless times at Purdue events, and now it's my turn. I would like you to come forward for a special award.

This is a new award. It will be presented only to those whose accomplishments in diversity have had the greatest impact on our university and students.

Martin, it gives me great pleasure to present you with our very first Purdue Mosaic Award.

I have one final announcement this evening before we close.

The Black Cultural Center is truly a crown jewel in our Purdue diversity efforts. Many people worked very hard to make this center and its incredible building possible. We owe them a great thanks.

We owe Renee Thomas a great thanks for all she has done to make this center successful. Renee, please stand so we can recognize you.

The impact on Purdue has been enormous.

Last year, the Black Cultural Center received the prestigious Sankore Institutional Award from the National Council for Black Studies. This award recognizes the center for contributing significantly to the development and institutionalization of Black/Africana Studies.

The Purdue Black Cultural Center provides holistic, scholarly and co-curricular programming designed to enhance the understanding of African-American heritage. It is actively engaged in the academic life of the university through the presentation of programs, events and resources that enhance the intellectual, cultural and social development of the entire community.

The Black Cultural Center began offering educational tours to help Purdue students fulfill class requirements to experience diversity. These tours enable faculty members to utilize the BCC as part of their classroom instruction.

In 2004, the Latino Cultural Center was launched with six organizations as active participants. It now includes 14 Latino-based organizations.

We are very fortunate to have Maricella Alvarado here at Purdue to direct the Latino Culture Center. Maricella, would you please stand so we can recognize your work.

In a little more than two years, the number of Latino Cultural Center volunteers has tripled. They have expanded their work to mentoring students at Jefferson High School in Lafayette. The number of student participating in the Latino Leadership Retreat has grown from 14 to 72.

The Latino Cultural Center quickly outgrew its first headquarters. It has expanded to a much larger facility. The number of tour requests from prospective students groups continues to grow.

The Black Cultural and Latino Cultural centers are not exclusively for any one group. They help to educate everyone on our campus and are open to all.

This evening, I am very pleased to announce that we will soon have a brand new cultural center at Purdue — one that will fulfill an incredibly important need.

We will very soon launch Purdue's Native American Cultural Center!

An official opening will be later this year in space previously occupied by the Latino Cultural Center.

The drive behind this effort comes from a group of dedicated faculty and students who comprise an effort known as the Tecumseh Project. The Tecumseh Project was launched in 2005 in our Graduate School to help provide a home away from home and support for Native American graduate students at Purdue.

Some members of this group are with us this evening. I would like them to stand and be recognized.

For thousands of years, Indiana, Tippecanoe County, the Wabash River and Prophetstown were all key locations for Native Americans. The names Tippecanoe County and Wabash emerge from Native American languages.

The human history of our community was started by Native Americans. That is too often forgotten.

The march of history has pushed Native Americas from this, their ancestral home.

It is now time for us to take the next great step to show Native Americans they are welcome, they are wanted and they are needed in the Purdue community and family.

One of this new center's objectives is to promote the recruitment and retention of Native American students at Purdue. My office and most of the academic and administrative units across the campus have chipped in to provide in excess of $40,000 for startup funds.

Thank you deans for your willingness to help get this effort under way.

In addition, I am pleased to announce this evening that Purdue has received a $1.2 million dollar grant from the Sloan Foundation. This will support 28 Native American graduate students in science, technology, engineering and math disciplines over the next three years.

Between this grant and some matching money from my office, we will be hiring a coordinator for this brand new center. We already have programs under way through this center.

This is one more step forward in realizing our vision for diversity at Purdue.

I am going to conclude with a brief story. It is a fable, actually. It is in the book Building a House for Diversity, by R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr.

is book begins with this fable about a giraffe who wants to befriend something very different from himself — an elephant.

The giraffe actually invites the elephant into his home. He is quite pleased with his own sense of diversity and acceptance in welcoming an elephant, which is so different from a giraffe.

Of course, the wide elephant can't fit through the front door that is designed for the tall giraffe. But after some quick carpentry to enlarge the basement door the elephant comes in.

The giraffe immediately goes off to answer a phone call, telling the elephant, "Please make yourself at home." But every time the elephant moves, there is a large scrunch or crashing sound.

When the giraffe returns, he is amazed at the damage that the elephant has done and is quick to offer advice.

"Sign up for weight-watchers," he urges the elephant. "And it wouldn't hurt you to go to ballet class at night to become lighter on your feet!"

Simply welcoming someone different from us into our home does not fulfill the promise of diversity. Enlarging our door helps.

But neither of these alone fulfills the promise of diversity.

If we are serious about diversity, from this day forward we must build a house that is comfortable, accommodating and where everyone can be at home — be they giraffe or elephant.

In the past six years, we have transformed this university. I believe we are about to transform it again.

We will transform it into a 21st century model for diversity in higher education.

Diversity will be an integral part of our culture here at Purdue. We will be a national leader in diversity, showing others the way.

I believe when U.S. higher education dedicates itself fully to the principles of diversity, we will transform not only our universities. We will transform America into a nation that finally fulfills its incredible promise not just for the few, but for all of the people.

Thank you.


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