Legal documents reveal multicultural fight

Legal documents from a discrimination lawsuit against the university reveal a deeper view into administration opposition to multicultural centers, an opposition that has often put administrators and student groups at odds for over a decade.

President Jim Doti said he believes a multicultural center at Chapman would “ghettoize” its campus, according to legal documents from a discrimination case against Chapman, recently settled out of court for $75,000. During the case, in which the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued Chapman for racial discrimination in denying tenure to former instructor Stephanie Dellande, an EEOC attorney deposed President Doti, where the issue of multicultural centers was discussed.

The attorney asked President Doti if he opposed multicultural centers, who responded “yes.” When the attorney asked why, he said “I don’t feel it’s a good idea personally to ghettoize or create areas in the university that are focused on race or ethnicity.”

Doti was then asked by the attorney if, in his view, “having a multicultural center on campus is ghettoizing the campus.”

“It would have a tendency to do that, yes,” replied President Doti. “It would suggest that there’s a special place for people of color to meet and congregate that’s exclusively theirs.”

Doti affirmed his opposition via email, stating “my views haven’t changed.”

“We need to give high priority to spending the resources we have and develop in the future on doing all we can to make the entire campus in terms of faculty, students and curriculum a multicultural center – not simply some designated center on campus,” Doti wrote.

Stephanie Dellande, a former marketing professor at the Argyros School of Business and Economics, was the only African-American professor in 2006, when she was denied tenure, and in 2008, when she was fired from the university. It was the second discrimination lawsuit the EEOC has filed against Chapman, after Lynn Hamrick, a professor at the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, was denied tenure in an act the EEOC believed was related to her gender. Both cases were settled out of court, and in both instances the university agreed to make tougher mitigation against discrimination crimes.

Both Dellande and Hamrick declined to comment.

A report by the Western Association of Colleges and Schools (WASC) found a common concern among faculty that Chapman “is not a place that values diversity.” According to a 2012 study done by Chapman’s institutional research office, the most recent survey available of racial diversity in the student body, Chapman’s 2011 freshman class was 61.6 percent Caucasian, 9.8 percent Asian or Islander, 15.1 percent Hispanic, and 1.8 percent African-American.

The deposition, recorded on Oct. 21 of 2011, has provided rare insight into president Doti’s known opposition to multicultural centers, an issue that students and Doti’s administration have failed to find common ground on for over a decade.

Fight for the Multicultural Center

Panther news stories about efforts to establish a multicultural center at Chapman stretch back to 2003, when The Panther published: “Club leaders push for a multicultural Chapman.” But President Doti wouldn’t first make his opinion clear until 2005, from Irvine Lecture Hall, to an audience of students.

His statement to the assembled students was recorded in the 2011 deposition, where he confirmed having said: “As long as I’m president, I am opposing any multicultural center at the University.”

“That was the farthest it had ever gotten, in 2005,” said Cathy Axibal-Cordero, a 2006 Chapman alumna who was sitting in the front row of Irvine Lecture Hall for Doti’s statement. “But we had high shoulders to stand on.”

2005 was a year of tension between cultural groups and the university. Cordero said a candidate for Associated Students (now Student Government Association) wanted to remove the English-as-a-second-language learners from the dormitory study halls. The Asian Pacific Student Association had been told by administrators they could no longer hold their evening annual event on the Bert Williams Mall because it would disturb classes in and around Memorial Hall, despite the fact Greek life events were allowed on the same lawn.

“It was sort of one of those moments when we had had enough,” recalls Cordero. “So we started a group called ‘no voice,’ because that’s how we felt, we had no voice.”

They also were lacking a physical space.

“We had to hold events in Henley Basement,” Cordero said. “The Hawaiian Luau was held in the garage.” So they decided to fight for their own center.

In May of 2005, during the university’s annual Spring Sizzle event, Cordero and “around 50 to 100” other students donned duct tape on their mouths, and marched through campus.

“It was the only way to get him to talk to us,” explained Cordero.

As President Doti flipped burgers on a grill, the crowd marched up to him.

“We put him on the spot, so he kind of had to say yes,” remembers Cordero.

After assembling students, data and support from faculty and local universities, Cordero and her group held the meeting.

“He said things like he didn’t see color,” Cordero recalled. “One black student said she would feel more comfortable if there were more faculty of color, and he said that was racist, because you only want to meet with people who look like you.”

The meeting, held in May of 2005, was the end of their movement. With graduation shortly thereafter, the effort for a multicultural center lost many of its original proponents.

“The faculty had given us this box of all the previous student movements,” Cordero explained. “Doti bets on students moving through and graduating and having the movement die out. Sadly, that’s what happened to us.”

Though her class never achieved it, Cordero believes a multicultural center is still worth the fight.

“Absolutely it’s something worth fighting for,” Cordero affirmed. “If students started again, it would be really easy to connect with me and others, we still have videos, transcripts – it’s a long staircase. It didn’t happen in 2005 and it won’t happen next year, but it can happen.”

However, students did try to restart the effort in the past two years, but to similar disappointment.

A closed Facebook group titled “Multicultural Center Dialogue” with 109 members has its most recent post from August of 2013. The post is by Chris Im, a senior political science and psychology double major, who was a proponent for the center.

“When I first came to this school, you know, not a lot of people looked like me,” Im said in a phone interview. “And I thought ‘maybe it doesn’t have to be like this.’ I thought it would be good to have a safe space, for anyone and everyone.”

Im, who currently serves as SGA president, worked alongside social and cultural student leaders to form a new group, this time using Facebook to organize discussions and planning.

Im said that while he hopes to get a SGA senate representative for the diversity minors by the end of this year, he admitted that a multicultural center was “probably not going to happen, especially with this administration.”

“Given all the bad blood, even the word ‘multicultural’ itself is a huge turn-off for them,” Im said.

Nayobi Maldonado-Ochoa, a senior communication studies major and former co-chair of MEChA, a student organization representing Mexican-Americans, worked with Im to organize the movement for a multicultural center.

“We were so close we could taste it,” Ochoa told The Panther in a phone interview. “We all got too angry. The emotions that got in the way – the administration took that as very demonizing.”

Though a multicultural center continues to remain elusive, the failed efforts to establish a center have spawned other social changes.

One such development is the cross-cultural initiative, which started this year with the “I am Chapman” wall alongside the Student Union.

In his Sept. 2 campus-wide email, Jerry Price, vice chancellor of student affairs and dean of students, defined the initiative’s goal as intending “to provide a series of engaging experiences that expose students to multiple viewpoints on a variety of issues, as well as highlight the many different cultures that comprise the Chapman student community.”

“It’s important to know the steps that are being taken,” Ochoa said.

However, many of the issues voiced in the 2005 fight for a multicultural center still echo today.

“I have no one I can relate to in there,” Nandi George, senior business administration major and former president of the Black Student Union (BSU) said from a table in Jazzman’s Cafe, pointing towards Beckman Hall, home of ASBE. “Having a mentor is important.”

George said she took issue with Doti’s emphasis on color-blindness; a statement also recorded in his 2011 deposition, when he said multicultural centers would “run against our university commitment to promoting diversity, color-blindness…”

“That triggers me so much. As humans, we see color, that is what it is,” said George. “Oh, so you don’t see me? They’re choosing to be ignorant that I am black.”

Britney Small, a 2010 alumna of ASBE and former vice-president of BSU, says she loved her time at Chapman, but not for its diverse culture.

“The supported systems were always a bit monochrome,” said Small, who also worked in admissions. “If you are looking for a cultural experience, I wouldn’t go here. What you get is an anthropological look into Caucasian culture in Orange County.”

Small remembers a school that gave a lot of options for cultural groups, but not a lot of community support.

“We had every resource available to us, except for using our own voice. Culturally, you can do what you want, as long as it’s kind of like everything everyone else is doing,” Small said. “If you wanted to do something black, or do something Hispanic, or do something Japanese-American, the response is ‘yeah, we’re not going to help you with that.’”

Small says she remembers feeling “very other.”

“It was an ominous feeling, like your face on their website says they want you there, but not in the way you want to be,” Small said.

It’s a feeling George resonated with.

“We’re being told ‘you need to assimilate to this campus,’ essentially to white culture,” said George.

For George, whether it is through a multicultural center or a more diverse Greek life chapter, it’s time to start talking about differences in race, ethnicity and culture instead of hiding them.

“It doesn’t have to fuel hate, it can fuel a conversation,” George said. “We have to have conversations or we aren’t going to get anywhere.”


Leave a Comment