Sonia Mañjon Encourages Wesleyan Community to Help Improve Diversity, Community Initiatives

Sonia BasSheva Mañjon, vice president for diversity and strategic partnerships

Sonia BasSheva Mañjon, vice president for diversity and strategic partnerships, helped launch the beginning of a campus-wide diversity initiative with an affirmative action component.

Diversity and civic engagement initiatives play a large role in President Michael S. Roth’s Preliminary Reflections On Planning from September 2009. To that end, the Wesleyan community is fortunate to have Sonia Mañjon at the helm of the Diversity and Strategic Partnerships as Vice President. Mañjon looks forward to working with students and other members of Wesleyan as the university makes its mark on the 21st century.

Back in the 1960s and ’70s, Wesleyan earned the informal moniker “Diversity University” in reference to the Vanguard classes that attended the school and the administration’s active recruitment of students of color. Since Wesleyan was the first of our peer institutions of to admit African Americans in large numbers, Mañjon has noticed that a common on campus perspective is that since Wesleyan was a leader in creating an ethnically diverse student body, there is not a need to evaluate and/or change our current methods.

Mañjon expressed that while Wesleyan’s legacy and accomplishments are something to be proud of, there are “big hurdles” in getting others to realize that current initiatives and programs related to diversity are necessary.

“If you look regionally to our peer institutions, although we were the leader in this area in the ’60s and ’70s, we have not kept pace within the larger field. We cannot continue to live off of our historical relevance when it’s not of contemporary relevance now,” she says.

Another common viewpoint that Mañjon seeks to overcome is the tendency to view “community outreach activities and partnerships as ancillary and not core to the distinctive educational experience of Wesleyan, when in fact it is central and core to the legacy of Wesleyan’s rich history in service to community,” Mañjon says.

Internally at Wesleyan, it is known that there’s much that Wesleyan does in terms of community outreach and partnership to the greater community—through the Green Street Arts Center, local charity work, tutoring, service learning, volunteer efforts and more. However, Mañjon says that although the university has done a good job of focusing on advancements in the curriculum that allow students to engage with the wider world, Wesleyan should not forget to promote and evaluate its co-curricular advances in the area of community partnership.

To further broaden the discussion of the Wesleyan experience, the Office of Diversity and Strategic Partnerships recently partnered with a student group called WesDEF (the Wesleyan Diversity Education Facilitation Program). The group was founded in 2005 and leads anti-oppression conversation workshops in all first year dorms.

The 2009-2010 school year will bring much data collection and planning to Mañjon’s office, which also experienced recent personnel changes. Staff and faculty can look forward to filling out a voluntary ethnicity census questionnaire that will appear in their portfolios on Sept. 28. This will launch the beginning of a campus-wide diversity initiative with an affirmative action component that will be fine-tuned throughout the year. The office also has a newly redesigned homepage.

Aside from staying informed about what the Office of Diversity and Strategic Partnerships has planned for the year, Mañjon notes that the whole Wesleyan community can participate and contribute to its success.

” [The community can] participate in and engage fully with discussions, training, and workshops on diversity and social justice as an affirmative action work plan is developed. Students, faculty, staff and alumni can also support programs and opportunities at the Green Street Art Center, the Office of Community Service and Volunteerism and WESU.” Mañjon says.

In addition, Mañjon will be providing leadership and counsel on other initiatives this academic year. She recently worked with the organization Wesleyan Parents Working Against Violence. Wesleyan students are invited to save space on their schedules for the Oct. 16 Day of Remembrance, Violence Prevention and Healing: A Symposium. Additional details to come.

“The symposium is a collective effort by the Wesleyan community and our Middletown neighbors to provide information and resources on how to be aware of our surroundings and preventative safety measures. We are also creating space for healing and discussion.”