PCC’s culturally diverse melting pot

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Pima Community College students congregating at the West Campus cafeteria. (Bryan Orozco/Aztec Press)

by BRYAN OROZCO

Next time you are in any of Pima Community College’s six campuses throughout Tucson, take a second to look around. Chances are, you will see a diverse and multicultural student body attending PCC.

Diversity, inclusion and global education are part of Pima’s core themes and objectives, according to the college’s mission statement. Expansions and support in the diversity of the student population has been an ongoing effort that the college has worked on to improve.

An example of their efforts can be seen in the 58 Mexican students that have been welcomed to the college for this semester as part of their international student exchange program.

However, community engagement is also a part of Pima’s mission statement. The college is to promote initiatives that provide opportunities for the development of students and the community.

The promotion of diversity is evident at PCC.

According to PCC’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Date System for 2014, PCC students were 53 percent women and 47 percent men, relatively the same as PCC staff with 57 percent of them being women and 43 percent men.

The genders represented at PCC are similar to that of Pima County’s, with women and men each making up 50 percent of the population.

The data for race/ethnicity between PCC and Pima County was also shown in IPEDS for 2014.

White students made-up 44 percent of PCC’s population and 40 percent of the population were Latino. Indigenous students, Asian students and black students each made up 4 percent of the student population.

In comparison with PCC staff, the student population fell short with 64 percent of staff being white, 22 percent Latino and three percent each for indigenous, Asian and black staff.

The student population is much more reflective to Pima County’s population, with 54 percent of residents being white, 44 percent Latino and four percent indigenous, Asian and black residents.

Although Latino students make up a quarter of the student population, animosity toward Latino students can be felt at the college.

A former PCC nursing student, Terri Bennett, sued the college for violating her rights as an English speaker. In 2012, Bennett complained that peers in her class spoke primarily Spanish to each other and believed that her complaints resulted in her being wrongfully suspended.

Pima won the suit against the former-nursing student when evidence was presented at the trial that she referred to Latino students as “spics, beaners and illegals,” and compared the language to gibberish.

On Oct. 6, the judge ordered Bennett to pay the college a sum of over $100,000, including the attorney fees.

The hatred of individuals, however, is masked by the efforts by students and faculty to make the college comfortable and safe.

The Diversity Club at Downtown Campus promotes diversity at Pima through student interaction, yet its mission is evolving.  Denisse Ramírez, is a member of the Diversity Club and said they want to ensure racism doesn’t exist at Pima.

“Primarily it is to promote diversity, and of course that’s always our main goal,” she said. “We welcome anyone and we are trying to make our campus more comfortable with everyone.”

The club is tuned into special holidays and cultural events that mirror the student population. Currently they’re working on a Día de los Muertos event that will allow students to learn about this Latino holiday and how it differs from Halloween in the United States. They are currently planning  events for the month of November, which includes Native American Heritage Month.

Pima has also tried to diversify their success rates. The college received a grant with implications to help the Latino population.

AgriPath a USDA grant, is meant to combat the low retention of Latino students at the Desert Vista campus through courses that lead up to an agricultural based degree, which has extremely low rates of transfers to four-year institutions.

As students get closer to picking their courses for next semester, only time will tell if the efforts by both the college and student organizations will have an effect on the school’s demographic.

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