By Bronte Dod
Gordon Toyama, better known as Gordy around campus, knew he had to get out of textbook sales when he woke up in a motel and couldn’t remember what state he was in.
Now in his 12th year at Willamette, Toyama hasn’t woken up with that feeling again.
Toyama grew up in California and was a first generation college student at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. He has spent his career working various jobs in higher education before coming to Willamette in 2003 as the director of multicultural affairs. He spoke with the Collegian about his career, the University and why he still wakes up hopeful.
What made you stay with university life?
My ultimate goal after that was to be an elementary school teacher. But then I rediscovered my love for higher education, working with college students and that impact that not only you could have, but also the impact that students have on you.
How did you get to Willamette?
The interview process really was the thing that sold me, because I had a lot of questions. I was very happy at OSU. I liked my position. My next move wasn’t going to be just to move. It had to be something I really wanted to be at where I could see the opportunities and have an impact, and also that the University would support issues of diversity and inclusion.
Has the position changed since you’ve been here?
As our demographics have changed, and the increased need for support has changed, yes. We are seeing more students of color and first generation students. Adding American ethnic studies, as we getmore faculty of color, a lot of that interaction spans beyond the scope of what we originally were.
Since you brought up the American ethnic studies program, could you talk about why students are no longer able to declare it as a major?
The problem is that American ethnic studies only has one faculty member and folks from other disciplines teaching [courses]. We have to do a better job of retaining folks that can teach AES, that can work with the different programs that we have that exist already. It’s an example that if one person leaves, it impacts us.
Is your office involved in finding ways to support the faculty that’s still here?
Informally, yes. But formally that’s more the role of the CLA faculty and deans.
Informally, what do you do?
I try to provide support. I try to create friendships. I try to connect with folks. I try to make them feel welcome. I try to help them find their voice. But I’m not faculty, so it’s not my position or job, but I do it informally as many of us do informally because it’s important… The work of diversity inclusionshouldn’t just be one office or one person, it should be everyone.
Do you feel that right now it is one office?
No, no. There’s tons of folks here on the campus that value diversity, that support it, that walk the talk, they just don’t have the title…It doesn’t mean we’re perfect, but I can see movement. Sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes it’s one step forward, two steps back.
Do you want to talk about some of those steps back?
When you lose faculty of color in one year…A question we have to ask as a university is, “Have we done everything that we can?”
How would you answer that question?
If we value diversity, if we value service, if we value our motto, it will only happen if we’re held accountable to those [values]. And in some areas we’re not.
How long do you see yourself at Willamette?
If there’s ever a day when I wake up and I feel like the institution is not going to change or there’s no more challenges, that would probably be the day I start looking for another job…When I look at the bigger picture from 2003 to now, I see so much potential and I see so much support from folks. If I’m ever having a bad day, somehow a student will pop in and tell me about their day or their life and I realize that’s what I’m here for…I may never make it in an alumni magazine, but what I know is that I’ve seen students’ lives change because of lots of folks, and I was just a part of that process. So that’s what keeps me going.
[This interview has been edited for clarity and content.]