CCA Diversity Conference Highlights Community-Based Social Justice as Key

(l to r) CCA chairs Julian Carter, Melinda L. de Jesús, and Tirza Latimer at the diversity conference [photo: Jim Norrena]

The “Doing ‘Diversity’: Making It or Faking It?” conference was the first-of-its-kind, all-day planning and discussion meeting devoted specifically to the issues of diversity representation and celebration here at California College of the Arts. The discussion panels laid the groundwork for the college to ratchet up its commitment to fostering greater diversity at CCA.

The conference took place on Saturday, April 3, in Nahl Hall on the Oakland campus and featured faculty and administrative brainstorming sessions, inter-institutional program presentations, and student panels. While notable gains were called out as successfully reflecting the college's diversity mission statement, greater overall involvement of staff and faculty was also called upon.

Organized by Diversity Studies program chair and associate professor Melinda L. de Jesús and sponsored by the President’s Diversity Steering Group, the conference opened up a vital discussion for enhancing diversity representation at CCA: “Overall I was pleased with the conference and its outcomes,” reported de Jesús. “Our goals for this first conference were focused on promoting the Diversity Studies faculty and their work as well as the department as a whole to the greater CCA community."

Panel Discussions Pave Way Toward Diversity

Several panel discussions took place during the conference, which provided compelling information regarding how successful the college has been in upholding its diversity mission, as determined by the President's Diversity Steering Group. While specific areas were identified as requiring additional concerted efforts, successful implementation of the college's diversity mission statement was clearly evident.

This round-table discussion featured Diversity Studies faculty members Tressa Berman, Claudia Bernardi, Lauren Elder, Guillermo Galindo, Amana Harris, Taraneh Hemami, Devorah Major, Lydia Nakashima Degarrod, Parisa Parnian, and Celia Rodriguez.

Instructors were encouraged to share work that supported project-based learning in social practice, curatorial studies, and interdisciplinary arts. Tressa Berman appreciated the platform: "It was also the first time in my three years as faculty at CCA that I was able to see and engage with colleagues at the level of creative work, which drives our teaching and anchors it in meaningful dialogue—with students and with one another."

Lydia Degarrod, who is adjunct faculty in the Critical Studies and Diversity Studies programs, also found the experience valuable: "I found the experience enriching in that I felt my work as a Diversity Studies faculty is not an isolated activity, but it belongs to a wide range of different and strong voices who share common interests and a passion for creativity."

Integrating Diversity Studies at CCA: Challenges and Initiatives
The panel featured a discussion with CCA administration-level speakers and faculty, each of whom took turns presenting and subsequently fielding questions from the audience: Provost Mark Breitenberg, Associate Provost Melanie Corn, Director of Architecture Ila Berman, Critical Studies chair Julian Carter, Graduate Program in Fine Arts chair Ted Purves, and Graduate Program in Visual and Critical Studies chair Tirza Latimer.

The discussion vacillated between the college’s success in creating an increasingly diverse student population with each year’s enrollment and the ongoing need to implement recognizable change within the faculty makeup itself. According to panelist Tirza Latimer, “The faculty and student body looks more diverse every year, thanks in part to the commitment of our administrators to diversification.”

Yet Latimer also conceded the representation of diversity from the program chair–level upward remains one of the President’s Diversity Steering Group’s outstanding goals that she admits needs to be addressed.

She recommends additional advocacy, recruiting, and development of more effective support systems, such as scholarships, to address the “somewhat misleading” statistics about faculty diversity (ranked faculty and adjunct faculty), which she points out does not accurately convey the diversity representation of the college’s tenure-track faculty, which due to its less successful overall representation of diversity, remains a targeted goal for improvement moving forward.

Looking Across Models: Diversity and Social Justice Studies in Higher Education
The end-of-the-day panel offered a valuable collaboration with fellow art and social justice practitioners: Carlos Baron, Theater and Ethnic Studies (San Francisco State University); Kristin Kusanovich, Justice and Arts Initiative (Santa Clara University); Roberto Varea, Theater and Social Justice (University of San Francisco); and Visual Arts Director Justin Hoover (SOMArts Cultural Center).

One of the primary goals of the conference, according to de Jesús, was to “forge connections with other arts and social justice programs in the Bay Area, which our third panel accomplished very well.”

Student/Faculty Community-Based Art Projects

The conference was also successful in demonstrating the effectiveness of student and faculty community-based art projects. At the end of the day, a panel of students and alumni presented community-based works in which they investigated diversity via social engagement. In addition to alum Josue Rojas, other students (now all alumni) presented at the conference: Eugene Young (BFA 2001 Graphic Design), Vivian Truong (BFA 2010 Photography), Helena Parriott (BFA 2010 Individualized Major), and Camille Hoffman (BFA 2009 Community Arts).

CCA Community Arts and Fine Arts professor and conference attendee Claudia Bernardi excels in community-based projects and humanitarian activism. She was recently awarded the International Beliefs and Values Institute (IBAVI) 2009-10 Sustainable Visions and Values Award, which recognizes an individual or organization who exemplifies IBAVI's mission through extraordinary research, education, and service.

An Argentinean artist and activist, Bernardi currently collaborates with four directors of Walls of Hope: The School of Art and Open Studio of Perquin, an international art and human rights project of education, diplomacy building, and community development. She presented at the conference what's been coined the Perquin Model as evidence for just how effective art-based education programs can be.

Bernardi's humanitarian outreach efforts inspired CCA alum Josue Rojas (BFA 2003 Painting/Drawing), current senior producer at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia, to travel to Central America to tackle the Honduran gang problem head on. Rojas organized Arte es la Vida, an all-spray-painted mural project created at the sight of the “most gruesome massacres” in the recent history of Honduras—where a busload of children was gunned down by a gang, instigating the government’s controversial zero-tolerance on gang crime (anyone even suspected of gang involvement can be detained).

The mural, measuring more than 60 feet long, is “not about money . . . but about leaving good things behind,” according to Estria, a Bay Area graffiti muralist who worked with Rojas on the Arte es la Vida mural.

Part of the challenge in strengthening diversity here at CCA lies in the question, how is diversity most effectively measured? Is diversity solely measured by the degree to which the college's student body, faculty, or staff is nonwhite? And if so, is this measured by statistics or overall appearance? One can argue a seemingly all-white student body may in fact be remarkably diverse on paper.

Efforts such as Bernardi's not only cross international boundaries and help children and victims of violence learn ways to express themselves artistically but also inspire other young learners to take on similar educational-outreach projects.

Intended as neither a Band-aid solution nor an instantaneous panacea, community-based outreach and education projects tackle diversity representation from a systemic angle, slowly generating a healthful representation of diversity in a more sustainable manner. In short, fixing the appearance of a problem is never as effective as addressing the problem itself.

Dream Big: Strategic Plan for 2010–15

Associate Provost Melanie Corn is enthusiastic about CCA's diversity efforts: "We have an incredibly diverse community. Our students and faculty come from around the world, bring an amazing array of histories and experiences, and work in a wide variety of media and conceptual frameworks. . . . Supporting and building the cultural diversity of community is key to our success."

According to CCA’s overall undergraduate diversity statistics for 2009–10 enrollment numbers continue to reflect the goal of attracting greater diversity illustrating more "making" than "faking":

  • American Indian or Alaskan native — 1 percent
  • Asian or Pacific Islander — 17 percent
  • black, non-Hispanic — 4 percent
  • Hispanic — 11 percent
  • nonresident aliens (international) — 9 percent
  • unknown — 11 percent
  • white (non-Hispanic) — 46 percent

However, Corn also concedes it’s time to go further: “Diversity is integral to academic excellence, and one of our goals for next year is to enhance the diversity of our faculty body.”

She further explains building upon the college's diverse community is more than just shop talk: “Cultivating diversity is a primary theme of CCA’s newly embraced Dream Big: Strategic Plan for 2010–15. On the student side, this means further outreach to students of color, increasing diversity scholarships, maintaining need-based financial aid despite some hard financial times, and improving student services to ensure retention and success.”

Other Initiatives: ENGAGE at CCA

ENGAGE at CCA is an innovative initiative combining CCA's Community Arts Program’s successful model of community engagement with the project-based learning approach of the architecture and design disciplines. The initiative serves as a hub to connect interested faculty and students to community partners and relevant outside experts and dynamically advances CCA’s mission to prepare its students for lifelong creative work and servie to their communities.


Despite the successes of the conference, de Jesús added, “CCA could be doing much, much better . . .. There is still a clear need for more recruitment and retention of faculty of color, and for stronger institutional support for students of color.” To attain these goals, de Jesús advised: “More discussions about white privilege and its impact on curriculum, hiring, and climate need to happen.”

Yet conferences such as "Doing ‘Diversity’: Making It or Faking It?" ensure voices are heard at every level at the college: student, faculty, staff, administration. It's an opportunity to check in and measure where we're at in terms of our mission statement—to acknowledge the forward strides we've made, as well as identify where we still need to get to, and how to do it.

“We look forward to forging more connections and creating more opportunities for dialogue about diversity issues at CCA,” added de Jesús. “The conversations during the conference and afterward greatly reinforced the need for our continuing our focus on race/racism in higher education and its intersections with privilege and power and social justice.”

CCA Diversity News
Claudia Bernardi Wins IBAVI's 2009-10 Sustainable Visions and Values Award
Provost Mark Breitenberg Expands CCA’s Global Outreach