Nancy “Rusty” Barceló, president of Northern New Mexico College (NNMC), has been doing diversity work for years.
Today, Barceló will give a common-hour lecture on diversity in higher education at the Community Foundation Theater as part of Hispanic Heritage Month.
“She has been an outspoken critic throughout her career, especially about lack of diversity in higher education,” Professor of Spanish and Director of Latin@ Studies Clara Roman-Odio said. “She has challenged leaders of universities to take advantage of the experience of the minority faculty and their wisdom.”
Last week, Barceló stepped down as president of NNMC, even though she had two years remaining on her contract. She said the board tried to talk her into staying, but that “there are so many things I want to do,” like starting up a diversity institute.
Barceló’s attempts at reform, however, created some enemies. A September 2014 article on the New Mexico Mercury website accused Barceló of cutting funding to the school’s programs in English as a second language (ESL) education and evening practice sessions for the general educational development (GED) test. The article reasoned that, because NNMC was founded to educate Spanish speakers, these changes hindered its mission.
A few programs were recently cut at NNMC due to financial issues, but none of them was a diversity program, according to Barceló. However, when she arrived at NNMC, she cut its heritage arts programs and reduced the Spanish-language program, as reported by the NNMC Study Group. On its website, the Study Group defines itself as working “to provide a clearinghouse for information regarding the practices and policies of Northern’s Administration and Board.”
“It was what the board wanted us to do,” Barceló said of the programs that were cut. “They wanted us to take a hard look at our programs.”
Barceló’s talk will focus on the changes that have been made since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the need for a continued focus on efforts to increase diversity and equity. Barceló said there needs to be a greater focus on diversity when evaluating institutions, and that everything from curriculum to policy and procedure must be examined.
“If in fact the population in 2050 … is going to be predominantly people of color, why aren’t we looking at those populations as economic engines for the future?” she said. “That’s what higher education … should be focusing on.”
Barceló’s concern for focusing on previously underprivileged groups applies to Kenyon, which has fallen under scrutiny for the amount of care it gives these issues.
In the national College Scorecard, Kenyon was ranked in the bottom five among US News and World Report’s top 25 national universities and liberal arts colleges for its percentage of low-income students and students of color. On how to increase this diversity, Barceló said increasing scholarship opportunities is important, but that the key is how the faculty and staff teach students.
“If you come in with your own preconceived notion of what a student can be, eventually they’re going to feel isolated, they’re going to feel pushed out and they’ll leave,” Barceló said. She said it is not merely a matter of admitting students, but also about the institution doing everything it can to make those students feel welcome.
“I created the diversity programs,” she said. “They didn’t even exist at Northern before I arrived.”
Regan Hewitt contributed reporting.