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Interview: Trying To Crack The Glass Ceiling

This story was written by Nelly Desmarattes, The Diamondback

Despite the election of the first minority president of the United States, a recent University of Marylandstudy by the Asian American studies program illustrates how even the "model minority" faces a glass ceiling when trying to reach executive positions. The Diamondback talked to Gloria Bouis, associate director for the Office of Human Relations Program and co-chair of the President's Commission on Ethnic Minority Issues about the challenges minorities face at the university and the effect of the election on minorities.

The Diamondback: What is the President's Commission on Ethnic Minority Issues, and how does it help further the university's goal of being a more diverse institution?

Gloria Bouis: The president's commission is, in a nutshell, a group of members from the campus - faculty, staff and graduate students - whose major task is to advise [university President Dan Mote] on issues concerning ethnic minority people that are members of the campus. It may be retention; recruitment for faculty, staff and students; and also issues that would affect their well-being and their lives on campus. We advise the president on some of the issues that might improve the campus into a more inclusive community.

DBK: What are some of the issues that might come up, and how are they handled?

Bouis: Most recently, the issue of faculty members and junior faculty of color members have come up. In one of the staff meetings of the commission, several members of our group who are faculty members came up to me and said that they have experienced some sort of alienation, and that sometimes they feel as if they might not be as valued, and they think that their scholarships are not understood by other members of the community.

... So what we decided to do was a qualitative study on the faculty. It took us a year and a half to gather data and look at different subgroups of in the faculty of color - African American, Asian and so on. And after almost two years, we came up with a report, and it is still a work in progress. After the completion of the study, we are going to meet with the provost, and then the president, and present to them the findings.

DBK: The university has just become a "minority serving institute" for Asian-American students. How has the President's Commission on Ethnic Minority Issues helped support Asian students, and are there any plans to help support them further?

Bouis: The commission has always been open to helping particular student organizations and the student community - such as helping Latino students hire a coordinator for community events and for the Latino studies program. ... For the Asian community, we had sponsored an inter-Asian dialogue in cooperation with the Asian American studies program for two semesters. We brought together different ethnic groups within the Asian community to talk about their issues. We also brought together a dialogue between U.S.-born and foreign-born Asians. I am very much interested in supporting the new initiative to resurrect Asian faculty, staff and students coming up that is now being initiated by the Student Affairs and the Office of Multiethnic Student Involvement.

DBK: The university has just released a study stating that Asian Americans still face a glass ceiling in the workplace. How does the president's commission believe students should combat this glass ceiling, and how does it plan on helping students understand and work around that glass ceiling?

Bouis: We try to raise awareness in the community about the glass ceiling for Asians and the "model minority" perception. It is not easy to overcome the basis and prejudices about Asians and Asian women, but if you work hard enough, it could be done. ... Working closely with student leaders nd community organizations that might benefit from the interaction between [minority] administers who are in leadership positions would be very helpful in pushing equity and breaking the glass ceiling.

DBK: We have just elected the first minority president. What do you believe that illustrates about the American people and the future of minorities in this country?

Bouis: [It illustrates] that there is hope. I think there is the swelling, almost like a second wind, of this feeling of change that will improve the situation of this country. There seems to be a meeting of the minds, not just between African Americans, but also of people who believe in the ideas of Dr. Martin Luther King [Jr.] and all of the leaders who had forged a change in the country.

Also, the momentum has been resurrected, the momentum from when people really wanted ideas about how this country should be running, and there has been some factors that have contributed to this momentum, like the war in Iraq and the economy and terrorist factors. But people have shown that they will not be intimidated by fear anymore. [This election] has empowered them, given them confidence to move forward and to look at the possibility of unity for not only a certain group of people but for a larger and more diverse group of individuals. It has given people a sense of empowerment for the future.

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