Dr. James Ochwa-Echel knows something about diversity.
He has spent the better part of his academic and professional career developing a passion for it, including natural conservation work in Uganda and the National Institute of Health. He has come to Eastern Washington University as the new Faculty Fellow for Diversity with master’s degrees in International Relations and International Development and a doctorate in Education.
His hiring is a product of the recent diversity forum.
Ochwa-Echel has a four point plan to improve diversity on campus, beginning with diversity training for faculty. There isn’t a large population of minority faculty and staff, and there is little support for those who are here. Ochwa-Echel has started a program that will pair new faculty and staff members with a mentor. While he considers it a step in the right direction that recent additions to the administration on campus have come from minority groups, he feels it is of more importance to actually retain minority faculty.
Based on the lack of support they receive, Ochwa-Echel said that often minority faculty look at Eastern as a starting point, not a place where they want to stay and teach. His program aims to change that perception. He stated that the culture of the institution must be receptive in order for diversity to work.
“It must be a collaborative effort among all stakeholders in the university,” he said.
The second point of his plan for diversity is to make improvements both in and out of the classroom. He would like to be invited to classrooms to talk about diversity with students, and also work with student groups on campus. He plans to encourage interaction and collaboration between minority groups and other student organizations on campus as well.
His third goal is to design programs addressing the general climate on campus. Part of the reason FOR the diversity forum and Ochwa-Echel’s subsequent hiring was some episodes of racism and a general climate of tension on campus, according to Ochwa-Echel’s understanding of the report “Moving Diversity Foward,” which resulted from the forum. Ochwa-Echel will be responsible for developing and implementing programs to help resolve some of that tension.
One of the problems uncovered by the diversity forum was that minority students felt that they were not perceived as students when they left campus. They were instead mistaken for stereotypical representations of their respective races.
Part of Ochwa-Echel’s plan to solve this problem is to develop a program to facilitate relationships between minority students and the community.
He has proposed that minority students be assigned to respective host families throughout the community, not as part of their living arrangements, but simply to assist in community adjustment and relationship development.
Ochwa-Echel is familiar with the concept of community. He grew up in a small village in northern Uganda as one of more than 20 siblings.
He explained that 30 years ago, large families were considered a good thing in Africa because the social networks, like social security and welfare, which exist in America, do not exist there.
In Africa, the family is the social network. Ochwa-Echel said that this point of view is changing now because things like healthcare and education are becoming more important.
When asked what individual students can do to promote diversity on campus, he said, “I would encourage students to participate in diversity programs on campus.” He said that sometimes students see minority activities advertised on campus and assume that the activity is only open to that particular minority group, but that is usually untrue. He said that one of the requirements of an education is that students learn to interact with a wide variety of people. “The ultimate goal of an education is to prepare you for the real world.”
He encourages students to come and talk to him in his office, 207 Showalter Hall, and is looking for a student assistant.