Erika McCalpine is the first Oregon State University Faculty Senate president to hold that position from OSU-Cascades in Bend. She’s also the only Black faculty member on the branch campus, which she says can be quite lonely. Since she came from Alabama to Oregon four years ago, she’s pushed to move racial equity and inclusion goals forward, both on campus and in the city. She got so many requests from businesses in Bend to help them implement diversity, equity and inclusion training that she started a separate DEI Lab to offer consulting services. McCalpine shared her experience at a forum this week hosted by Central Oregon Community College and OSU-Cascades. She joins us to tell us more about her experience and the work she’s doing at OSU and beyond.
The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB, I’m Dave Miller. Erika McCalpine arrived in Bend from Alabama only four years ago, but you wouldn’t know it based on what she has already accomplished. McCalpine is an Instructor of Business Administration at the OSU Cascades Campus. She’s the Executive Director of Strategic Diversity Initiatives and the Director of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Laboratory there. She is the first president of the OSU Faculty Senate to be based at OSU Cascades, and in 2019, The Source Weekly named her woman of the year. Erika McCalpine joins us now to talk about her work and her life. Welcome to Think Out Loud.
Erika McCalpine: Thank you so much for having me.
Miller: Thanks for joining us. What brought you to Bend four years ago?
McCalpine: I actually just wanted something different from Alabama. I grew up there and spent most of my adult life there and I wanted my children to have a different experience. And so I started looking for other opportunities around the country and this is the one that I settled on at OSU Cascades.
Miller: You knew, I imagine, that the racial makeup of Bend before you arrived, you knew how white it is. Has living there been what you expected?
McCalpine: Actually, I did know the demographics before I moved to Bend. However, I didn’t know what it would feel like to live in a place that was not as diverse as where I came from. So dealing with those emotions, and you know, experiencing some racism is not what I expected and there’s no way to be prepared for that. However, I will say on a positive note, the Bend community in Central Oregon in general, is very, very welcoming and thirsty for knowledge around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and how to make Central Oregon a welcoming place for anyone that moves there. So knowing that about the community, it really helped increase the opportunity for the work that I do, and I think that’s the case for anyone that is interested in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work.
Miller: Was it your plan when you moved to Bend to have Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work – DEI Work – be such a focus of your professional life?
McCalpine: No, it was not. Actually, what happened is my academic area is in Human Resources and Management. So there are DEI components that are covered that were covered in my undergrad and graduate curriculum. But I was called the ‘N’ word once at the Old Mill District in Bend, and then the very next day my son was called the ‘N’ word at school by another child. And he was in seventh grade, 12 years old at the time. So I really thought that I need to use my training to be able to help this community. From there I went to, I enrolled in a Certificate Program at Cornell University and got some continued education in DEI, and the rest is history.
Miller: Did that also mean going to your supervisors or somebody at OSU Cascades to say, ‘Hey, I want to make this a major part of my professional life here, I want to change what I’m doing?’
McCalpine: Actually. I started in the community first. I started a grassroots organization called ‘Love Your Neighbor,’ and the focus of that organization is to bring people of color to the forefront in Central Oregon because normally what you hear from people is, ‘We don’t have any problems here because there’s no one…there’s no one here, no people of color live here.’ And that’s not true. There are many of us that live in Central Oregon and so I wanted to highlight people of color and the reasons that we moved to Central Oregon, which are much like the reasons anyone else might move to Central Oregon. And from there a generous donor gave a gift to the university to help me continue my work. And that gift is what started the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Laboratory.
Miller: What does ‘Love Your Neighbor’ do in the community? What is it’s community work?
McCalpine: Right. Well, since I am an educator, I focus on bringing educational opportunities to the community. I bring local people to participate in panel discussions about issues that are plaguing our community or our nation and we just talk about them and provide our experiences, and lately I have added a more academic touch to ‘Love Your Neighbor’ by asking colleagues here at the Corvallis Campus as well as the Bend Campus to participate and be expert panelists. So it’s giving that high quality educational opportunity to the citizens of Central Oregon.
Miller: This past Monday, just a couple of days ago, you helped lead a public forum in collaboration with Central Oregon Community College. It’s title was ‘Why Are We Still Talking About Racism?’ What did you most want participants to take away from that forum?
McCalpine: Right. I think two things, really. I gave about eight tips to the audience during that talk. But there are two things that I would like to focus on which are… be solution oriented. It’s easy to state what all of the problems are in a community or in your organization and more than likely people are aware of what the problems are. So instead of just highlighting the problems, also be a part of the solution; think through, ‘how can I be a part of solving this problem?’ Instead of just talking about the problem, that really doesn’t make it better. So what can I do to improve where I am and be a part of the solution – that’s the first thing. Then don’t be afraid to listen to and center the voices of BILAPAC community members, the Black, Indigenous, LatinX, Asian, people of color in your community or LGBTQ plus people in your community. There are many people that live and work among us that might be in marginalized groups and so listen to them, center their voices and hear what they have to say. And not only listen but act – take action so that they can see that you are really listening to them and putting their words into practice into the organization. That helps to build trust. And when marginalized people can feel trust within their organization, they go out and they talk about their experience at that organization and that brings other people to the organization as well which in turn brings people to our state.
Miller: I’m gonna go back to the first point you mentioned that you like to be solutions oriented. What’s an example of a solution that you’ve seen that’s come out of this work, locally, that has been meaningful?
McCalpine: Well one thing for me is when I was called racial slurs, and then definitely when my son was called a racial slur, that could have been a time that I packed my bags and left, instead of thinking this is something I can help with. I can use the training that I have. I can get more training and get out in this community and go to work to help solve this problem and be a part of the solution and provide some education about how to just interact with people of color without, you know, our biases really taking shape and coming out in our actions and words.THANKS TO OUR SPONSOR:Become a Sponsor
Miller: Obviously you didn’t do that, you didn’t pack your bags.
McCalpine: No, I didn’t.
Miller: But, were you tempted to?
McCalpine: Oh, yeah.
Miller: Not just after you experienced it yourself, but the day, a day later, your 12 year old son?
McCalpine: I absolutely was tempted to yes, many times during my first year, in Bend, I was tempted to give up. But that’s not the person I am. And so that’s not what I did.
Miller: You also said, on Monday, that you often get accused of being too nice when it comes to your approach to Social Justice work.
Miller: Who says that to you?
McCalpiine: Shockingly, communities of color, other people that do social justice work say that to me or about me, they’re not directly to me but about me and maybe I’m not radical enough for them, but I do believe that the only way that we can solve such a huge problem, like discrimination or systemic racism is to partner with those that are in power in order to change the system. Fighting against the system is one way, and we do need those voices, the people that will protest and get out and and raise their voices when something happens in this country, but also working from the inside to be a part of that solution in that strategic change in partnership with those in power is really what creates lasting change, in my opinion.
Miller: Hmm. I mentioned that you are the Director of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Laboratory at OSU Cascades. What is that Lab?
McCalpine: Well, it’s the Consulting arm of the University as it relates to DEI. So I work with several organizations in Central Oregon and around the state of Oregon on advancing their Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Initiatives.
Miller: I also know that you are the first ever faculty member to be elected President of the Faculty Senate who is a faculty member from the OSU Cascades Campus. What are your priorities as Faculty Senate President?
McCalpine: Well, to be present, here in Corvallis, get to know my colleagues here, let them get to know me and to build stronger relationship between the Corvallis Campus and the Bend Campus and other areas around the state. Also, I am very interested in recruiting more faculty of color as well as retaining those faculty and staff of color that we have here. So understanding the challenges that we face is critical for the institution and then doing something to try to help mitigate those problems at an organizational level is important, and so that is what I am focused on during my Presidency.
Miller: OSU Cascades has grown really quickly in the last couple of years, but it’s obviously nowhere near the size of the mothership in Corvallis.
Miller: Do you ever feel forgotten or neglected on the other side of the mountains?
McCalpine: Absolutely not. Relationships are very important and I think that being a relationship builder helps to foster that connection that exists between both campuses. Many of us on the Cascades Campus have our own relationships here on the main campus and we are now seeing even more involvement from Corvallis with Cascades since our interim President is Becky Johnson, the former Vice President at OSU Cascades. So we are really working hard to foster a great environment for all faculty, staff and students at OSU.
Miller: Erika McCalpine, thanks very much for joining us today. I appreciate it. Erika McCalpine is the Executive Director of Strategic Diversity Initiatives and the Director of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Laboratory at the OSU Cascades Campus, where she’s also an Instructor of Business Administration and she is the first ever faculty member from the OSU Cascades Campus to be elected the President of the Faculty Senate.
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Article was originally published by OPB.