by SCOTT WILLIAMS
With a new president comes many changes, and the biggest question regarding Tiffin University’s new president is what new era comes with her.
On June 8, Dr. Lillian Schumacher took over as Tiffin University’s sixth president after five months as interim president, and the era she hopes to bring forth is one of a welcoming and diversity-accepting community.
“It’s a chance to make our university better than it already is,” she said.
In order to achieve such a community, President Schumacher has worked with her colleagues to develop a diversity initiative, which works toward graduating students from the institution with a set of skills designed around what she calls “global readiness,” a development of self-awareness that changes the way one thinks in order to be aware of and curb his or her biases.
President Schumacher’s diversity initiative is, in essence, a set of plans to create an atmosphere on TU’s campus that excludes no one and involves everyone. She said that every higher education institution should embrace diversity and that it is shameful if they do not. Here at TU, around 40 percent of the students identify with one or more characteristics that establish someone as diverse — nationality, race, gender, sexuality, disability.
The topic of diversity can be very broad, but she gives the analogy that we each have a set of glasses, and while yours may be red, somebody else’s may be blue, and it is important to try on the other person’s glasses to understand what it means to embrace diversity and uniqueness.
Some measurable goals of the initiative are to remodel the curriculum in general education courses to include diversity and global readiness skills, to have at least 70 percent of faculty and staff using these ideas in their courses and embracing them, and to have at least 70 percent of students participating in embracing uniqueness in some way.
The overarching goal is to prioritize acceptance and to model the way that universities should approach diversity, but Schumacher and her team realize that this is something that cannot be forced.
One colleague that she brought onto her initiative team has studied similar efforts at other institutions and found that most of them fail because they are too forceful. In order to prevent this, an evolving ripple effect has been designed to achieve their goals in a more organic fashion.
It all starts with an educational process through workshops given to executives, faculty, and staff. From there, the idea is to keep broadening the circle — first to the students, then the community, and ultimately the companies that hire TU graduates. Once the circle has reached a person, and they have received the initiative’s skills, such as learning to understand and embrace the different ways we view the world, it is up to that person to live by those values.
The inspiration to start such an initiative came from a myriad of reasons. For one, President Schumacher said that she feels embarrassed by the national attitude toward diversity, sparked by a disgust of current events and the presidential debates. This led her to the realization that there is a serious lack of appreciation for humanity today: “I’ve just seen example after example, and even situations on our campus where our students don’t treat each other very well, and I don’t like it. I’m not very tolerant of that behavior at all.”
Though current national affairs and campus attitudes may have catalyzed the decision to start the initiative, diversity has been a life-long passion of President Schumacher’s. Though she was born in America, both of her parents are immigrants, making her 100 percent Syrian. She states that her parents purposefully did not teach her to speak Arabic in order to help her to fit in; and she believes a statement on our country’s dynamic can be found in the fact that her parents felt the need to make that conscious decision not to impose part of their original culture on their daughter from fear of her being ostracized.
Then at the age of 13, she and her family moved to Saudi Arabia, where she felt oppressed and restrained because she did not understand the Muslim culture.
“I grew up in a world where I saw that women were treated very differently than men, and it just really resonated with me,” she said. “I actually learned why these differences occurred, and over the years from that initial experience… remembering that and understanding that feeling is something that really made me develop passion around this.”
If the student population here at TU were to take just one thing away from her diversity initiative, President Schumacher hopes for students to graduate with a tool kit of global-readiness that would help them to treat people better than the way they do today, in a way that shows respect, understanding, and consideration.
She said that every single person has biases and that being able to accept people’s uniqueness and diversity starts with self-awareness, including herself.
“I have to be aware of what my biases are, and I have to be willing to really address those,” she said. “And if I can do that… [if] I can then be so willing to get to know a different person and learn from that, then I’m changed. I will have a different mindset. It’s a mindset, and you can’t fake it.”
President Schumacher’s inauguration takes place on Friday, Nov. 11 at 10 a.m. in the Heminger Center.
“This is an event you don’t want to miss because it’s really going to highlight our whole theme for celebrating cultural uniqueness,” President Schumacher said.
The theme of the day will, of course, be diversity. She encourages everyone to dress in a way that represents their culture so that there will be a visual representation of how different we all are while still sharing the commonality of being here at Tiffin University.