When Vicki Guinn was a student at Oregon State University 30 years ago, there were fewer African American students, but it was a close and connected community. Today, she's working to encourage more students of color to come to Oregon State and help them feel welcome when they get here. Guinn, a 1985 Oregon State alumna and public relations manager for Legacy Health in Portland, serves on the university’s Board of Visitors. Read more about her role and vision for Oregon State below:
Q: What is the function of the Board of Visitors? What is your role as a board member?
The function of the Board of Visitors is to become aware of the cultural climate of Oregon State University so that we can affect change or influence the recruiting, sustainability and retention of faculty and students of color. We hope to provide consultation and engage with those at the university to break down barriers so students can have a successful experience at the university, ending in graduation. We engage and work closely with the university’s diversity and inclusion officer and others. We believe it is possible to change the climate and create a more welcoming environment. As a board member, it is my role to bring change — to be candid and direct when I hear of negative experiences from students and faculty. I ask the tough questions of the president and others responsible for diversity and inclusion.
My personal interest is breaking down barriers to help kids of color get to college. That could even be something as simple as helping them fill out the college application. Also, asking that OSU doesn't overlook these barriers. If you build it, they won’t always come. We can’t assume that students have ever left their neighborhood. We need to expose them to this amorphous idea of “college” and make it very concrete to them. My desire is to make OSU visible and as a viable option for students of color in the Portland area.
Q: Why do you believe the values of diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice are important to every aspect of a university’s mission?
This is a public university where all students and staff should be respected for the diversity they bring — in terms of race and ethnicity, perspective, thought, religion, sexual orientation and more. No one should feel marginalized, offended, assaulted emotionally and physically or feel they are not welcomed while trying to get a quality education and enjoy the college experience. If the university has those words in its mission statement, they have to ensure this is what is experienced day-to-day by each and every person. Also, the university must hold individuals accountable when these words are breached and violated.
Q: What do you believe still needs to happen to achieve the vision for diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice at Oregon State? What actions do you believe we can take, as a campus community and individually, to make that happen?
I commend OSU on allocating resources to diversity and inclusion and trying to recruit more students of color and on completing the cultural centers. President Ray is phenomenal; he really cares, and I feel he is in direct contact with the students and faculty, more so than previous presidents. I appreciate the town hall gatherings he’s held when there has been an issue on campus.
Oregon State still needs to work on its reputation. If youth still feel that OSU is racist, that’s concerning. That’s where we need to spend time on dispelling this, even if one feels that way. There are tactics that the diversity and inclusion staff are engaging in, such as student visits and bringing students to the campus. Clearly communicate to students of color all the resources that are available to them on campus and key contacts. Continue and build upon those.
Q: What would you tell a potential student from an underrepresented community about why they should come to Oregon State and what they will find here?
It is a beautiful campus that offers so much. You will get a quality education. Any campus is about engaging and taking advantage of all that it has to offer. You can be a very active student versus being a passive student. OSU supports diversity and inclusion training for faculty and students as a method to create a welcoming environment for all. OSU’s current president cares about the success of all students and has allocated resources and support to ensure that once you start, you can graduate.