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A Diverse Western Stands for All Washingtonians

Message from the President

By Bruce Shepard | President, Western Washington University

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President Bruce Shepard | Photo by Dan Levine

Our state’s wealth and well-being are best measured by the developed talent of our people – all our people. Western must ensure that in the years ahead we reflect the increasingly rich diversity of our state, and provide all Washingtonians who come to Western with the best education possible.

You may have heard this spring that some remarks I had made about that commitment were badly misrepresented in certain media outlets. A full explanation of those remarks is available in my blog post, “Changing Demography, Changing Western.” I encourage you to read what I said and appreciate the context.

Although the initial result of that publicity was a torrent of hateful communication, before long the messages of support began pouring in from across the country. Our students took the initiative in reaffirming their commitments to diversity and to each other by organizing a “Diversity Is” rally on campus. Seeing 700 students and faculty stand up for their Western values was a very proud moment for me as Western’s president.

For Western, and for Washington, these issues are absolutely critical to Western’s ability to live our mission.

For years I have been asking the campus to consider how we should respond to the fact that Washington’s graduating high school classes are becoming increasingly diverse, while total numbers of graduates are remaining stable or are even declining. Consider the following: In Washington’s K-12 public schools from 1986 to 2012, the Latino/a population increased 538 percent, the Asian/Pacific Islander population increased 126 percent and the African American population increased 61.5 percent. Meanwhile, the Caucasian student population declined 2.2 percent. Our state, and Washington’s higher education system, must succeed in educating a more diverse population.

Let me say emphatically that Western does not consider race in admissions and never will. Nor must we change admissions standards or graduation requirements in order to accomplish this goal. On the contrary, given the opportunity and adequate support, we believe a more diverse population of first-generation college students can be just as successful as Western’s student body has been in the past.

While this demographic shift is affecting most of American higher education, Western is not content to ride along in the middle of the pack. Western will continue to be a leader, and as such, it should not surprise us if we take a few arrows for being out in front.

Despite the resistance, the vision for Western remains unequivocally clear: ensuring that deserving students from around the state and beyond have access to the highest-quality education we can provide, and an inclusive campus community in which to thrive.