KSU diversity takes shape under Lefton, but some note room for improvement

Lefton giving the Diversity Trailblazer Award to Gene Shelton, Nov. 14, 2014. Image courtesy of Kent State.

Lefton giving the Diversity Trailblazer Award to Gene Shelton, Nov. 14, 2014. Image courtesy of Kent State.

Kara Taylor

While on the Black United Students’ Board of Directors, Marvin Logan had the chance to personally interact with Kent State President Lester Lefton at BUS and diversity meetings and events on campus.

While he thanks Lefton for all he has done and said Lefton has “left his mark on campus,” he said the state of diversity needs improved.

“We have a long way to go … a long way,” said Logan, incoming executive director of Undergraduate Student Government about the state of diversity on campus.

With Lefton’s retirement approaching, student leaders and faculty are reflecting on his progress regarding diversity on campus. Lefton created the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in 2009 and appointed Alfreda Brown as its vice president. While the division and Lefton have spearheaded initiatives to promote cultural and ethnic diversity on campus, others say they have not felt Lefton’s effect on diversity.

Matthew Thompson, newly-elected Black United Students president, said Lefton has done an admirable job of trying to create an environment of inclusivity for the most underrepresented groups at Kent State, but he believes there has not been an effort to acknowledge the problems of the black community on campus.

“This is not just the doing of President Lefton, but many faculty members try to create environments of learning without understanding how to use the work already in place to enhance the sense of belonging for Kent State students,” Thompson said. “President Lefton and BUS had a meeting last spring; it was positive and helped spark ideas. I wish we could have met more and made concerted effort to create racial change at KSU.”

Brown, who heads diversity initiatives on campus, said Lefton has made great strides to increase diversity, which include forming the Commission on Inclusion Recommendation, which provides a progress report about the division’s initiatives and generates ideas to develop a plan that will make Kent State a comfortable campus for people of all backgrounds.

When she was appointed as vice president of the division in 2009, Brown was eager to lead diversity initiatives with Lefton at Kent State.

“I was incredibly excited for the opportunity to serve as Kent State’s first vice president for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion,” Brown said. “This was a great professional and personal opportunity to bring my skills, passion and expertise to build a brand new division and lead diversity.”

Brown said Lefton has formed the Taskforce on Women and AALANA in STEM, a group of faculty, staff and graduate students focused on increasing participation, success and opportunities for all women and those in the African-American, Latin-American and Native-American populations in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Lefton also initiated the creation and launch of the Equity Action Plan, Kent State’s five-year plan that connects university goals to drive outcomes in diversity, equity and inclusion. Brown said the Office of Sexual and Relationship Violence Support Services and the LGBTQ Student Center were also formed under DEI during Lefton’s tenure.

Despite these initiatives, Christina McVay, associate lecturer in Pan-African Studies, said she believes diversity starts from the bottom up.

“It comes from the students and the people on the street,” McVay said. “The administration has been supportive, but mostly they do a lot of the talking.”

David Garcia, the associate vice president for enrollment management, said in the past five years, Kent State has experienced a 25 percent increase in enrollment, and diversity has grown by 12 percent during this time.

“Lefton’s mission to increase enrollment in addition to increasing the freshmen academic profile has played a key role in our successes,” Garcia said.

PRIDE! Kent President Brandon Stephens said his organization would have liked if Lefton were more involved in diversity regarding the LGBTQ community.

“I would have liked President Lefton to get involved in issues like gender-neutral housing and gender-neutral bathrooms. These are two big issues that students have been fighting for a very long time,” Stephens said.  

Stephens said PRIDE! Kent is still fighting for these issues, as he believes the university has not taken significant steps toward educating students about diversity at Kent State.

He said the PRIDE! Kent executive board and its members and board continue to try to eliminate bullying and increase respect for transgender individuals on campus.  Although progress and changes have been made, Stephens said these changes have come from the hard work of the executive board and members of PRIDE! Kent.

“We don’t expect the administration to focus solely on LGBTQ issues, but a nod our way would be nice,” Stephens said.

Contact Kara Taylor at [email protected].