Honoring a commitment to diversity
Author: Currently
Posted: May 29, 2012

The PSU Diversity Action Council recently presented President's Diversity Awards to faculty members Toeutu Faaleava, Katharine Cahn, and Lea Ann Holder; staff member John Barnett; and students Mandy Elder and Hope Yamasaki. Nominated by their peers, these individuals and team members were honored for exceptional work in promoting and honoring diversity at the University and in the Portland community.

"As a public University we have a special responsibility to work for equity and social justice and to make our programs truly accessible to our diverse constituents," said Jilma Meneses, chief diversity officer, whose office co-sponsored the event with the PSU Diversity Action Council.

2012 President's Diversity Award winners

Toeutu Faaleava’s work toward diversity in the University and the community are numerous. Serving as the director of the McNair Scholars Program, Faaleava serves underrepresented students as a mentor and encourages them to recognize their potential and seek out opportunities to better themselves in graduate school. As a community organizer and advocate, Faaleava has been instrumental in creating a strong Samoan network in Portland. His ties to Samoa and his personal interest in Pacific Island students and citizens are a priority in his life. Along with these other commitments, Faaleava has also helped draft Portland State University’s National Collegiate Athletic Association diversity statement. He has been strongly invested in this committee work and has worked diligently on this project. Faaleava is committed to social justice and equity. He works to foster an environment in which all voices are heard and all perspectives expressed.

Katharine Cahn and Lea Ann Holder received the team award for demonstrating a lifelong commitment to diversity, social justice and equitable practice within tribal and state child welfare systems. Their commitment can be seen repeatedly in the work they do on behalf of diverse communities, both within the University and throughout the state of Oregon. Cahn and Holder provide the leadership and management of the Culturally Responsive Leaders Traineeship, a program of the Center for Improvement of Child and Family Services within the School of Social Work. The overarching goal of this federally-funded project is to develop a strong core of culturally competent supervisors and leaders for state, tribal, and contract child welfare agencies. Specifically this project creates a specialized master's of social work pathway for culturally competent emerging leaders providing $11,000 yearly tuition assistance and specialized instruction focused on what it means to be a culturally responsive leader. Cahn and Holder recognize the importance of creating an environment in which students of color can feel safe, respected, welcomed, and empowered.

John Barnett’s work as operations manager at the School of Social Work has allowed him to establish and maintain a climate of respect and appreciation for diversity. Barnett works with the administrative leadership in the school for the recruitment and retention of faculty, staff and student employees from underrepresented ethnic groups. He works hard to ensure that outreach in recruitment and each applicant pool has a qualified and diverse set of applicants and routinely seeks guidance from the Office of Global Diversity and Inclusion for recruitment. Barnett also participated in an ad hoc Diversity and Social Justice Committee that led to the creation of the school's Social Justice, Inclusion, and Diversity Committee and he advocated for the creation of a scholarship for students of color. In addition, Barnett has arranged and facilitated diversity trainings and teambuilding activities for staff and facilitated the creation of a staff statement of values that address diversity as well as videotape of those values that is prominently featured on the school’s website.

Mandy Elder is a senior majoring in Child & Family studies. Elder is from Roseburg and is the first person in her family to attend a university. Given the multiple challenges in relocating from Roseburg to Portland, of studying in a University larger than her hometown, and finding her way in a far more complex social arena than she had ever experienced, it would have been understandable had she sought to shape her context and connections to fit her background. Instead her history at PSU has been one of fostering personal and institutional connections within that complex social arena, seeking to define diverse connections in ways which enrich the University and community as well as nurture her own development. Since coming to PSU, Elder has been heavily involved in mentoring and community access projects at Richmond Place in Portland and with Adelante Mujeres in Forest Grove. Elder has also extended her sense of engagement internationally doing work in Costa Rica and Mexico.

Hope Yamasaki began her master’s program at PSU with the vision of creating educational programming in sustainability that is inclusive and represents diverse perspectives on sustainability. The envisioned program is intended to specialize on social and environmental justice. As an intern for the Sustainability Leadership Center (SLC), she created a presentation on "Diversity & Sustainability," which she has presented to varied audiences such as the SLC staff, the PSU Social Sustainability Colloquium, and Earth Wisdom Alliance, a community group. Through her student organization, Sustainability Leaders Network, Yamasaki organized the Sustainability-4-All workshop that brought together nearly 100 students, faculty, and community members—one of the most diverse sustainability audiences ever at PSU. As the team lead with a group of undergraduate mentees, Yamasaki was awarded a $6,500 PSU Solutions Generator student grant in fall 2012.