Wednesday, February 9, 2011

An Open Letter to the University of Portland

Preface: While the Wonderful World of Clutter is typically an observation laden romp through the various oddities and ephemeral objects of life, the author has chosen to keep this from being an "overly-personal diary" style blog. That said, about ten months ago, I posted a letter I sent to an institution that had practiced what I perceived to be some blatantly culturally biased actions in regards to their admissions policy. Initially I was invited to apply to their program, but once I was on their campus, I encountered the sort of subtle institutionalized racism that is difficult to prove, but to those who encounter it, but is very evident in the subtleties of language and etiquette. I removed the post I put up many months ago, put on a received an apology letter from the dean, and tried my hand at applying again.

Today, I received a rejection letter from the institution stating that all "interview slots had been filled." As an ethnic minority, I know what it is like to be refused service at a restaurant. I know what it feels like to be followed through stores by suspicious shopkeepers. I know what it is like to be pulled over for non-existent traffic infractions. But facing the insidious institutionalized bigotry many people face on a daily basis enrages me more than anything. 

I realize why I was not even offered a second chance, actually a third, as the letter explains, I threw rocks at their glass ceiling. I pissed off two faculty and called them out on the duplicitous nature of their actions. When  you call someone with power a racist, they will get mad, say they are not being racist, and do everything they can do to hide their past bad behavior, but rarely make proper amends for their actions. 

So it begs the question, why would I want to apply to the school again after being treated in such a manner? The answer is simple: To prove a point. To prove they were wrong about their about their initial decision and that they can't make the prejudicial decisions and write them off. 

Here is the letter and following is the initial email chain that broke the proverbial camel's back.

May 1, 2010
Dr. Joanne Warner
Dean, School of Nursing, Professor
University of Portland,
301 Buckley Center, MSC 153
5000 N Willamette Blvd.
Portland OR 97203

Dear Dr. Warner:

I would like to begin this letter by thanking your institution for taking the time to review my application for the AEM-UP program. While I was disappointed that I was not accepted as an applicant, that is not the reason why I have decided to write your institution. During my interviews with the faculty, I experienced what I perceived to be an underlying sense of cultural misunderstanding. As an ethnic minority, I don’t make claims like this in haste, and am rare to claim institutional bias, but when I sent a simple request to the AEM-UP program’s graduate counselor for some advice and an opportunity to discuss ways to improve my standing for next year’s applicant pool, I received an email reply that was indicative of cultural bias. It is for this reason that I wanted to contact the Deans of the Nursing Program, the Graduate School, and of Admission.

            Looking at specific campaigns University of Portland has taken in regards to diversity, I would like to believe that my experience was an unusual event. However, given the gravity of the issue and the subtle nature of cultural bias, I felt it would be appropriate to address my complaint with you directly.

            I chose to apply to University of Portland’s AEM-UP program for a number of reasons. University of Portland has long been held in acclaim in my mind. I graduated from Central Catholic High School and a number of my peers went on to attend your undergraduate programs. As a student with a previous bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in a non-science related field, I felt that the AEM-UP’s goal of creating an interdisciplinary cohort would make an appropriate fit for me as an applicant. My grades, Miller Analogy Test scores, and previous experience in graduate school presented a valid case for my ability to accomplish the level of work required and demanded of your students.

            Knowing that the program wanted individuals with life experience beyond the classroom, I hoped that my previous employment experiences and multi-ethic background would appeal to the admissions committee. My previous work history showed a diversity of experiences that highlighted adaptability to numerous environments. I worked with individuals fresh out of high school, immigrants from multiple places around the world, and ex-convicts beginning the difficult struggle to return to society after incarceration. For numerous years I worked as a counselor and unit leader at summer camps in Oregon and New York.  Here I led groups of children and students in asthma education, taught writing courses, and provided the day-to-day guidance and mentoring needed for youth far away from home.   My duties as a research assistant at the Portland VA Medical Center, leading subjects of a variety of backgrounds through complex experiments, demonstrate that I am familiar with both the clinical and administrative aspects of working within an academic medical institution.

            Having reviewed some of the campaigns your school has put forth for men in nursing, I don’t believe the school or its staff intended a lack cultural sensitivity. However the contents of the email, which is included with this letter, are obviously alarming. In the email, it was stated “the interviewers reported having a difficult time pulling answers from you and that you had a ‘circular speech’ style.” The sentence was followed up with the comment, “Linear, clear, quick, critical speech and thinking is an absolute must for nurses and there was some concern about your communication skills.”

            I would like clarification as to what was meant by the term “Circular Speech.” Coming from an ethnic household, I have a different communication style. Culturally I was raised with narrative as a primary form of communication; we relied on analogy and metaphor to convey information. The information may not have been conveyed in a linear manner, but the vital information was always presented. If the reviewers felt that I was being evasive in my responses to their questions, I would be fine with a critique stating that opinion.  The scripted questions asked of the applicants did not allow for the diversity of views and the variety of experiences that we all hold to come into play. If upbringing, culture, or ethnicity leads one to answer something outside of the scripted norm, then do we discount their views? Or do we include them in an ever-changing dialogue to further facilitate communication in not just leadership roles, but the important public roles expected of those who want to become nurses?

            If an equally qualified student from outside the US applied for your program and presented a non-linear answer to an open-ended question, would their answer be considered circular? The implied comment that someone who uses nonlinear communication does not think critically is also equally disturbing. With each question, I answered honestly and as completely as possible. However, when drawing praise and attention to myself, culturally, this is a difficult task that goes against my upbringing. In Asian cultures, drawing attention to oneself is considered rude. Exalting one’s praises and accomplishments can be seen as rude, boastful, and something deserving of ridicule. Thus, speaking of accomplishments can be challenging. However, this does not take away from leadership skills.

I would like some clarification on the final statements in the email in which the graduate counselor stated:

…I think it ultimately came down to “fit” for the program, nursing and CNL, a [sic] not really your academic record.  Also, we only had about 8 seats left in the program by the time you were interviewed, so the applicants who met every single admission requirement and had stellar interviews were selected for admission. 

When I came in for my initial interview, I knew that there were twelve candidates left for the final seats. I realized that it would be competitive. This is something I cannot dispute. But I am not certain what is meant by “fit.”

            What qualifies as “fit” for the AEM-UP program? Given that I was sent a letter informing me that I met all academic requirements and was encouraged to apply, I felt I would be a competitive candidate. My academic history, diverse work experience, and previous master’s degree made that opportunity look like the program would be most appropriate in obtaining my goals as a prospective nurse.  In essence, on paper, I was the type of candidate you sought. I will be the first to acknowledge that I am not the most conventional appearing individual. As an Asian with darker complexion and a handlebar mustache, I am unconventional. If I was not “liked” by the interviewers, I can honestly take that as a response. However, by stating I was not a good fit, it implies that I would never be an appropriate candidate for your program. Given that my original correspondence sought ways to improve my candidacy for next year’s applicant pool, I found this comment discouraging. It begs the question, could I ever be a “fit” for your program?

In regards to my interview, I would like to state that my second interviewer, Dr. Woo, openly stated when I first met her that she had not reviewed my file in three weeks. If she had not read my essay, looked at my resume, or reviewed the letters of recommendation from my professors and employers, then could she reasonably ask solid questions about my qualifications and preparedness for the AEM-UP program? I was well aware that my first interview had not gone well. The program’s graduate counselor implied that second interviews were rare and not always looked upon in a positive light during the meet-and-greet session with the other applicants. Encountering someone ill-prepared to conduct a proper interview automatically made me feel as if I had been automatically written off by the program.

While the role of CNL is still finding its niche in the hierarchy of the nursing, we still need people who can traverse the vital roles of working with patients, peers, and administrators. Excellent communication skills, in speaking, listening, as well as writing are all essential elements of leadership. I would hope that during my experience in your program, my strengths and weaknesses could be explored and I could hone the vital skills needed to successfully lead in a clinical setting.

Today the interdisciplinary model, diversity of education, and multicultural experience become the cornerstones that can build valuable teams. An eccentric view cannot be discounted, just because it breaks a leadership norm; if it fosters better cohesion within a group, and the work is accomplished in new innovative ways, then success can be had. More importantly, people who don’t fit the normal conventions, who may appear different from the majority of the student body, should be given the opportunity to learn and thrive within your program.

A paper presented by Dr. Woo at the American Assembly for Men in Nursing 31st Annual Conference clearly presents a belief that has been contradicted in my experiences with the application process with University of Portland:

The current global nursing shortage presents a tremendous challenge for the healthcare environment and valid concerns for healthcare consumers. The threat of severe crisis imposed by the nursing shortage offers significant opportunities for recruiting a more diverse nursing workforce. Evidence of considerable disparities in healthcare strongly suggests the need for the nursing workforce to more adequately reflect the diversity of the population it serves. In addition to the need for cultural diversity among nursing professionals, a shift toward gender diversity is also warranted. Cultural and gender diversity in the nursing workforce demonstrates sensitivity to the specific needs of healthcare consumers.

As a minority, I have clear understanding of the need for diversity in a multitude of professional environments. While my personal experience draws from being raised in a mixed ethnicity household, I am aware of the need for gender diversity as well. In fact, I inquired during the meet and greet about men in the AEM-UP program and asked Dr. O’Lynn during my first interview about the “Man Enough for Nursing Campaign.”
            A feature article on by Ruth Carol quotes Dr. Chad O’Lynn, who conducted my first interview stating: “Discrimination in nursing schools is becoming less of a problem, that’s the good news...But when it is present, it’s more covert”  (Carol 2006). The article goes on to state some of the complexities and hidden institutionalized forms of bias that often impede minority students and men from progressing through programs or even gaining entrance to nursing schools when they desire to do so.

I realize I have not earned a seat for this year’s cohort, and I am not asking the school to reverse their decision. This letter was intended to start a dialogue in regards to men and minorities in nursing from the applicants’ perspective. The population of the country is changing and The Health Care Reform Bill will definitely impact the way healthcare is provided. For the first time in decades, people who have never had access to health insurance will be able to get the insurance they need. The new changes and challenges in healthcare will prompt a need for nurses who are able to work with multiethnic populations lead a diverse workforce.

I have requested that my file be retained by The Graduate School for review for next year’s cohort. I will also send any future transcripts to your institution as courses are completed. Attached to this email is a copy of my original request for information from the graduate counselor and her reply.

Thank you for you time.

Patrick Tsukuda
1235 SE Stark #3
Portland, OR 97214

CC:             Dr. Thomas G. Greene, ED.D.
                   Associate Provost & Dean, Graduate School, Associate Professor

       Mr. Jason S. McDonald
                   Dean of Admissions

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