Butte College professor receives Rice Award
Butte College biology professor Shahroukh Mistry received the 2015 Dr. John W. Rice Diversity & Equity Award from the California Community College Board of Governors this summer. Mistry, a CCA member, was recognized for working to create an environment at Butte that welcomes people of different backgrounds. Those efforts include a weeklong event titled Diversity Days during which speakers are invited to discuss diversity and equity, workshops, film screenings and performances promote these values. Below are excerpts from Mistry’s comments at the award ceremony describing the ways Butte has become a more tolerant campus. The award is named for John Rice, who served on the Board of Governors from 1992 until his death in 2000.
“At Butte College we recognize the importance that exposure to ideas, especially ideas outside the norm, has for our students. The Diversity Committee has been instrumental in creating an environment that fosters inclusion while also expanding horizons.
Week of diversity
For example, each spring we organize a week of talks, movies, art and discussions to focus on the issue of diversity. Recent invited keynote speakers have discussed autism, bipolar disorders, being an Iranian Muslim in the U.S., poetry of war, gender violence and much more. We estimate that over a thousand individuals attend these events each year, and the vast majority are students.
But it is not just the invited speakers that make Diversity Days so successful – faculty, staff and students present as well on issues ranging from the new Jim Crow, the power of language in the LGBT community, classical Thai dance, to rethinking race and gender blindness. If we truly seek diversity we must ask ourselves what makes us uncomfortable and strive to incorporate it into our lives – that is what Diversity Days does, not just for our students, but for the entire campus.
When I first arrived in the US for graduate school I was not ready for the challenges that awaited me. My first semester was miserable and I was not performing to my expectations. Half way through the semester, convinced that this was just not meant to be, I found myself sitting on the steps outside the Biology building contemplating my future.
Kind words and understanding
My graduate advisor sat down next to me and we had a chat. He convinced me to finish the semester and then reevaluate my situation, while also stating that he had confidence that I could succeed. Needless to say, things did turn around. But were it not for his kind words and understanding I am sure I would not be standing here today.
For many of our students – whether they be veterans, LGBT, individuals in economic distress or indeed foreign students – a little bit of our time, just a little acknowledgement of their situation, can mean the difference between a successful education and dropping out. The Community College system, especially in California, is an incredible pathway for success, particularly for students who would not typically succeed in other academic environments. So many of us have encountered students in financial desperation, wondering where they will get the money for books, students who live out of their car because they cannot afford a place to stay, students desperate to return and be productive members of society after spending time in jail, students facing domestic violence issues. The list is long, yet this diverse, beautiful tapestry of life, full of challenges and pitfalls, is where we choose to hang our hat and try to make a difference.”