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Urmila Mali Oral History Interview, November 14, 2014

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JT: Our names are Jessica Tafoya and Emily Boyd. We are students in Oregon State University’s U-Engage class, “Untold Stories, People of Color in Oregon.” Today’s date is November 14th 2014, and we are conducting an oral history interview with Urmila Mali.

EB: Please state your name and spell it out loud.

UM: So my name is Urmila Mali, it’s U-R-M-I-L-A, and my last name is M-A-L-I.

JT: What is your birthdate and birthplace?

UM: My birthdate is November 3rd, 1969 and birthplace is Kathmandu, Nepal.

EB: With which ethnic or cultural backgrounds do you identify?

UM: So I am--depending on who I’m talking to, so I’ll normally say Asian, but my ethnicity is Napoli and my background is Newari, which is my mother tongue as well.

JT: When and where were your parents born, and what are their backgrounds?


UM: So, my mom and dad both are Newari, they were both born in Kathmandu, Nepal. My dad was born in late ‘20s, and my mom was born in late ‘30s.

EB: Where did you grow up and where were you raised?

UM: So, I was born in Nepal, but I was raised in Tillamook, Oregon. So, I moved here in U.S. in 1979 and started school in Tillamook starting 4th grade and graduated from there.

JT: What was your transition from high school to college?

UM: For me the transition was, I was actually looking forward to coming to OSU because, being in Tillamook, which was very white farming town, small, I was ready to leave because of the some of the racism I experienced there. So coming 00:02:00to OSU was like a--I just looked forward to it; it was a huge change. Diversity in terms of international students, which I related to at that time because I came in as an international student. So, for me, it was a great transition.

EB: So you attended school here at Oregon State, what did you study?

UM: I--my undergrad was in broadcast communication and my Masters was in MAIS, which is, Masters of Art in Interdisciplinary Studies with focus in anthropology, women studies.

JT: That’s awesome.

UM: Thanks.

JT: Who were or who are your mentors, personal mentors and professional mentors?

UM: Personally, I would say, I have a large family so my sisters--five of my sisters and my brother. Professionally, I would say, recent are my coworkers 00:03:00from EOP, which includes Janet, Marilyn, Janet Nishihara and Marilyn Stewart. And then while going to school, it would be Dr. Lani Roberts Dr. Janet Lee were some of my mentors and people that I looked up to.

EB: So, what year did you come to OSU, and what was one of the biggest reasons why you came?

UM: I came to OSU in 1987. The two biggest reasons would be, first, my sister was going to school here, so I just followed her footstep. The other was I had a full ride tuition, everything paid for, so I couldn’t argue with that.

EB: Why not? [laughter]

JT: What were your first impressions of the University and of the Corvallis community?

UM: So, during--when I came, I, as an undergrad, I didn’t really venture out 00:04:00to the community. And, as you can imagine in 1987, the town was nothing near what we have here in terms of, you know, the restaurants to shopping areas and all, so we really stayed within the campus and then maybe ventured out into Monroe. But, in terms of the campus, and again, at that time, I thought it was really large, but comparison to now, it was, you would say, it was a very small--you know, under 10,000 student population. So for me, living on campus, I really connected with students, very diverse student population. So that was my--coming from Tillamook where there wasn’t as many students of color or community of color, so that was my thing when I came in here was making that 00:05:00connection. So I really got involved with international student organizations as well as really making sure as I’m picking roommates and all, that it was somebody of color because that’s where I gravitated towards after being in Tillamook from 1979 to ‘87, that’s what I was missing

EB: So, you came to OSU in ‘87, and have you been here since then, or how long have you been with OSU?

UM: I have. I did my undergrad; it took me a little over four years and right after that I, you know. And then within a Christmas break, I decided that I wanted to do my Masters, which is not a recommended thing for anybody. So that’s when I decided to go ahead and apply for Masters. And then, so soon as I finish my fall, my last course in fall for undergrad, then I just went in, transitioned into my Master’s program. And part of the reason for that was 00:06:00because I was an--as an undergrad international student, so, soon as I had finished my undergrad, I would have had 90, three months to being able to stay within U.S. to see if I could find internship and then change my visa into work status visa and then--but because, even though I was international student, I grew up here. So even though I had my cultural heritage, I was still, you now, brought up with the western teachings and, you know, my lifestyle and all of that was, I would say, forty percent, you know, keeping up with my cultures and all of that, but sixty percent of what any normal western, you know, kid growing up in this society would do. So I wasn’t sure because all of my family was here, so going home and not knowing how I would start there. So I just 00:07:00transitioned into--again, it was like a last minute spur-of-the-moment of wanting to do my grad work. And, as I said, I wouldn’t recommend that to anybody, but I had the connections and contacts such as Lani Roberts, Janet, you know, Janet as well as Doctor Lee who were there to really assist me in being able to process the paperwork and start my Masters within, you know, within a few weeks.

JT: What is your current position?

UM: Currently I am a co-acting director for Educational Opportunities Program, but, and that will be for a year, and then I will transition back into my academic counseling position with EOP.

EB: Have you held any other positions within OSU?

UM: Professionally, I have been with EOP since 1995 as a graduate student for a year, and then as a professional staff. But other jobs as a GTA, I have worked 00:08:00with women’s studies and then as well as EOP and with Housing.

JT: Please describe your job duties.

UM: So, as an academic counselor within EOP, we work with non-traditional students, which it captures under the umbrella of students of color, low income, single parents, so it’s a wide gamut that fits under the non-traditional. So for us, when students come into campus and they feel like they can benefit from our program, they join our program and for the first year, at least for the first term, they’re required to meet with us every other week for the academic counseling portion. So we work with them in helping students navigate really the, you know, the university system anywhere from being aware of the resources that’s available for the students, to how do you manage your time, you know, 00:09:00giving them the skills and resources that they need to be able to build that solid foundation, you know, for the first term. So we are--and really holding them accountable too. So, talking to them from, you know, why aren’t you going to classes, what are things that’s preventing you from doing well in this class, and how can we find resources so you’re successful. So we’re meeting with students on a regular basis and talking about, besides academic, you know, what are other things that may influence or affect in you not being a successful student on campus?

EB: So you’ve mentioned a few people that are important to you here at OSU, who are a few more in terms of your work and your position?

UM: I think for EOP it’s a very unique office in terms of, I think, our office is probably more diverse than most of the offices. So we have, you know, majority of faculty of color that works there, and so it’s been a really great 00:10:00support within that unit—so, being able to work together, being able to just-- the word’s going blank on me - but, if you’re needing to vent, if you need to just brainstorm, and being able to have that support so you’re not feeling like you’re the only person of color in that office and feel like you don’t have that support. So it’s really—and being that I’ve been there since 1995, that’s been my, I guess, a rock I would say. And being able to, you know, know that they have my back and they’ll support me as well as I support them as well, and having that safe space to being able to talk about different topics and different issues that comes across, and know that it stays within those walls, and being able to help one-another and support. So, I would say that’s been my biggest in terms of my work. But also, on campus I build a 00:11:00relationship with different offices and different staff and faculty. So know that, you know, they’re just a phone call away in terms of talking or interacting or just getting support, you know--and different levels of support that you need. And I know that I’ve built enough relationships to being able to do that.

JT: How have you seen the OSU community change over time in terms of diversity and inclusion?

UM: I think, since I’ve been here since 1995, 1987, excuse me, I think at that time--I think that OSU has come a long way since then because, at that time, it was the start of, you know, in the early 90’s was when they just started the APCC, Asian Pacific Cultural Center, and some of the other initiative that was coming. So, and in terms of resources too, I would say there was very limited 00:12:00resources in terms of for students. So what that means is, for example, for math. If you’re taking math class during that time, the only help sessions you would have is within the math lab in Kidder, and that’s when you would go for help. So that, if you just translate that into now, what, 20 some years later, you know, there was different, like, instructional, supplemental instruction, the tutoring that’s available within cultural centers as well as in the library. So, just the services themselves, I think, has, you know, times a hundred I would say, in terms of what’s provided for students. And, I think the opportunities that students have; I think there’s more opportunities for students to be able to be involved on campus--as I said, you know, there’s seven cultural centers that’s available for students now. And, I think in terms of services, I think there’s a lot more, and it’s a lot more--students are more aware of it compared to when I was a student.


EB: Are there any events, initiatives, or programs that particularly stand out to you when you think about the Corvallis community and the OSU community as it’s changed over time with diversity?

UM: So, when I was a, when I was a student, you know, there was a couple racial incident that took place that occurred on campus, which created an office. And because of the student voice and meetings and demonstrations that brought on the office, at that time it was Minority Education Office, which is now ISS, so that was a huge, you know, change that students were able to bring up on the campus. And I think--and then as well as the start of the various other cultural centers, I think that has been--and I think one of things that shows is with, you know, students coming together and having that voice and giving that voice 00:14:00and talking to the administrators, that the changes have come through. So as a student, I think that--and as a start of my, you know, career that was, I would say, was, like, a huge initiative. And I think that, that has created, in terms of having that voice for students--and as you can, you know, see, there’s different initiatives that’s coming across, and I think a lot of that has contributed to, you know, students working together and students voicing those concerns in what is needed for them to be supported on campus as well as supported within classrooms and being able to have administrators that are actually, not only listening to them, but actually hearing and making those changes.

JT: What do you see as the OSU’s role supporting faculty and staff of color as well as students of color?

UM: So, with OSU, you know, as we hear constantly, we are on the steps of 00:15:00recruiting more diverse students of color or as well as faculty of color on campus. So I think part of it is, while we’re recruiting them, we really need to be able to provide that safe, positive, and nurturing environment because I think, being here for so long, I think one of the things I’ve noticed, you know, Corvallis is very unique place of its own. And then within that, the Corvallis, the OSU community is unique in and of its own. So, when you’re bringing in faculty of color and students, you know, they’re coming, but then there isn’t that, particularly for faculties of color, there isn’t that place for them to interact and meet other faculties of color and then being able to know that I’m not the only one. And, most of the time, that’s what it is, 00:16:00they’re the only ones in that unit that looks like them or, you know, and they’re coming from big cities or different place, so it’s a very shock once you’re here and spend time because Corvallis is, I think, a very family centered town. So I think as a university and as administrators within those units, need to take a responsibility in making sure that they’re being connected to other staff, other people, who can support them and mentor them. And then, same thing with students too because, I think, it needs to be, you know, not only recruiting.

The students may be coming here because of a lot of the innovative things that our university is doing, but being able to provide the resources, the mentoring, and the services for the students so that they’re successful as all. Because, again not just recruiting them and bringing them on campus, and once they’re here, you know, then what? So you may have said all the great and wonderful 00:17:00things to faculty and students while they’re recruiting, but once you're here, are you following through on all of the things that you were saying and what responsibility are we taking in making sure that they're staying and that they’re not feeling like they are by themselves? So, being able to really provide that nurturing environment so they’re flourishing.

EB: What do you see as your role in supporting faculty, staff, and students of color?

UM: So, I would say, I think for me, as my role as I'm meeting faculties, providing that space where they can come in and talk, providing that, whatever role they see me --whether as a mentor, as a friend, as a colleague. So for me, really being able to say, “I'm here if you need to talk,” you know, reaching out, and then just being able to have that space where they can talk and know that, you know, if you’re frustrated, if you just need to vent, or you just 00:18:00need to share ideas, that I’m here, it’s confidential, and that, you know, you have a friend or colleague that’s going to be here for you to support you. For students--and we work with quite a few students of color too—is, same thing. But, you know, being able to know that you are in an environment that’s safe, so I’m there to support you. And now, I may, you know, ask you questions and whatnot, but at the end of it, that you have someone who’s going to support you and be able to connect you to the resources. And, I think, that’s the most important thing, whether you’re a faculty of color or students of color that’s what you want to know. It’s like, you know, is there some place I can go where I feel safe, where I can feel like I’m being heard, and then is there somebody who’s gonna help me connect me to the resources that is available on campus?

JT: In addition to the nurturing environment, are there any recommendations that 00:19:00you have for OSU to become a more inclusive campus?

UM: Well, as our OSU mission states, that, you know, we are, we value diversity, right. So I think—and OSU, I think, has started, just recently I'm thinking about, started on the road of demonstrating campus inclusivity, for example of the Halsell Hall, which has a gender inclusive housing. And I think in order to be more inclusive on campus, you know, they have created, like, gender, women and gender equity office, office of community and diversity, creating faculty diversity. So I think moving beyond that is of saying, okay, we’ve created these offices, what, continue to take those steps in making those changes because I think--and the only way I can describe that is saying walking your 00:20:00talk, right?

Because being able to not only create these offices, but what is it that we’re doing next. So, being really transparent about the steps we’re taking to make these changes because I think, a lot of times, we have -- when incident occurs or something happens, you know, we talk about, we all get together and we talk about these are the things we need to put in places, these are the initiatives we’re gonna start. But after that, it feels like, just, that’s where it is, right. So, being able to really say, okay these are the things, changes that’s happening. And then, I think for students, having that where it’s very transparent is going to show that okay, university cares about me, these are the steps that’s going on—taking place, and these are the things that is how we’re moving forward. And I think that’s really important in showing that, not just saying we’re, you know, inclusive campus or a community, but now 00:21:00being—and then putting these initiatives in place but now, what is it, what’s the next step we’re taking.

EB: And where do you see that next step going?

UM: Ah, I think, again, you know, the university is doing great job in providing the support and providing the resources and then recruiting all students, but students of color as well as faculty of color. So I think next step for me I see as really continue to build on that. You know, what does that mean in terms of when students are on campus and how are we really demonstrating that we’re inclusive, how are we showing, whether within classroom, housing, offices? So if a student just goes to an office to ask a question, is that person being inclusive in terms of the way their--simple as were they greeted, to the way 00:22:00they’re, you know, their questions being heard. So, part of that is, I think I would say, training, right, within offices and departments and programs. Part of it is really saying, again, you know, yes we’re saying that we’re inclusive, but continue to doing more in demonstrating that because, I think, we can’t just do one thing of saying, okay we’re gender inclusive housing in Halsell, but so, what’s the next step and how does that look and who buy-in from all university faculties and staff. Because, again, it’s not just about Housing’s responsibility or it’s not just about EOP’s responsibility or, you know, a certain office or a space, but over all of do all OSU’s staff employees understand what that means and what part am I taking in demonstrating 00:23:00that this campus is inclusive of all students and all staff. So I think the next step would be in making sure that there’s a buy-in from everybody.

JT: What are some of the issues of importance with respect to people of color that the community is facing?

UM: I think biggest part I would say is, um, the type of support their getting on campus. So again, I think it goes back to, you know, there are certain offices, certain programs that students of color feel comfortable and safe going knowing that, you know, I can go to EOP or I can go to cultural centers, ISS--and I know there’s many other offices where they may feel comfortable going and getting the support and the resources they need. And I think part of 00:24:00it is, I think, for students, really feeling that support, and support that they need, so they’re able to be successful—a successful student on campus because I think part of it is, you know, if we’re not providing that support, it’s gonna affect students in terms of how their performing in classroom as is outside of classroom. So, because I think there’s different issues in all that plays into, but I think the important part when students come in, I would say is what kind of support are we providing? And, you know, and again, being really aware of are we welcoming? Because sometimes students feel, when they go to particular offices, particular departments, they don’t feel welcome. So again, looking at our individuals behaviors of how we are treating that student and talking to that student or, and how we’re providing that and what message are 00:25:00we giving that student.

EB: So I see that you’ve done some work with the Nepalese Association of Oregon and was wondering if you could maybe talk about what that is and what kind of work you do with them?

UM: So, Nepali Association of Oregon, it was created--and I was actually in, when we first created that association a while back, I was part of that because when we first, actually, when we first came, my family came, we, there was a very, like a, less than 25 people in the community within Portland. And so, when there was a cultural get-together and gatherings, we could do at somebody’s home in Portland. But, as the community grew--whether it’s students coming to universities or community members coming for jobs--so the community grew really large so it was impossible to have one home host these events. So, and events 00:26:00are from, you know, our New Year’s celebrations to the different celebrations that we have. So, that is why—one of the reasons why—we’re like, let’s create a Nepalese Association of Oregon. And that is, basically, of, you know, it’s a membership base. And we create, we, association organizes three different events in a year—so it’s a summer picnic, we do some cultural events and shows, and then couple different celebration events during fall term, fall term.

And then--so part of it is really a place for community members to come together and gather as well as one of the things we’ve been really been able to do is in month of November--end of month right after Thanksgiving--we bring all of the high school students together, Nepalese high school students together. And then 00:27:00really talk to them about process of applying for college—what are the expectations of being a college students, you know, talking about financial aid, to applying for scholarships, to really what is it that you would be expected to do in college. And then we also created a scholarship for, to give to one of the graduating seniors. So it’s been really great in terms of—also if there’s other Nepalese students that are planning to come to Oregon, they’re able to find us through this association and be able to make connections so that we’re able to, from hosting a student or a community member for a few days until they find housing to being able to provide some of the resources that’s available in Oregon. So, yeah, so it’s been a great association, and it’s growing. I think we have over 500 community members. And then, we also make connections 00:28:00with the association in Washington as well as Vancouver, Canada, and, once a year, one of us takes turn hosting a summer event.

JT: What did Color of Fear look like back in May of 1996? And, um, how has that impacted OSU since?

UM: So, Color of Fear at that time, I think, the documentary--and then, I know Lee Mun Wah who was a creator of this had come on campus at that time. Even though, you know, we talk about the issues of racism and what everybody, you know, individuals are experiencing, this really, I think, kind of, at that time, opened an awareness for a lot of the OSU community members because I think, you know, just, being able to watch that video where there was five gentlemen who 00:29:00were talking about their experience, right. And actually, it was a retreat that they had gone through with him—having him come here to do that, showing us that documentary, and then being able to then actually hear community members, and then OSU community members--whether they’re students or faculty--sharing their experience, I think, it just really brings it home for a lot of the people. Because, I think, sometimes, you know, you may watch a documentary and most of the people are from back East or whatnot, so you can’t really personalize it or being aware, like you know, something like this is happening in Corvallis, you know, students and faculty are experiencing racism, prejudice. So this, at that time, really, I think, opened up a lot of eyes and opened up doors in seeing that this is what’s going on within our community and not 00:30:00saying that, you know, no that’s not happening. You know, we have a very safe, welcoming environment—but it was happening.

So, I think this really brought in the light of being able to say that, you know, there’s racism in Corvallis, there’s racism within OSU, but how, what do we do in the moving forward in dealing with that? So I think that if it is brought in now, I think it will be very different versus then because, at that time, we had it in the MU, you know MU ballroom. And then, there was a group of us who was able to do some workshop, personal workshop, with him--a few of us faculties of color. Again, it’s really about unpacking, you know. Because for faculties being able to unpack the experiences they’ve had, and then being able to move forward so that we’re able to make positive impacts with students 00:31:00who are experiencing that as well.

EB: What were some of your challenges and how did you strive to overcome them?

UM: So, when I first started working, my biggest challenge was being the youngest in the meetings--and you know, whether its committees that I’m a part of or in meeting. So being able to be there as one of the younger faculty, among faculty who are tenure-track or who’ve been there for long time who, maybe, are set in their ways of their beliefs or ways they think they should be doing things. So that was the biggest challenge of being heard, I think, and again, part of it is where I learned. And how to move beyond that was, you know, sitting, listening, lot of times just listening and taking notes, and then 00:32:00slowly interjecting, you know, sentence or two. Not coming across like I know it all, but really being able to show that I may be young, but there’s some ideas and some things that I can contribute to this meeting. So I think that was the biggest challenge then. And now, I think, sometimes some of the challenges are within meetings and all, is, you know, keeping the momentum going. Because sometimes we’re so busy with committees and meetings and all and we’re juggling so much that sometimes we, you know, we forget to really say what are our goals, how do we move forward? So I think trying to keeping momentum going, not only for myself but as a committee, as a group. So, and that’s, sometimes, that’s challenging—and trying to balance it all.

JT: What would you say are some of your greatest accomplishments?

UM: I wouldn’t—I think my greatest accomplishments comes in on a daily 00:33:00basis. Because, I think, part of it is, you know with students, it’s like even a little step that student takes while I meet with students and talk about different strategies and different success that you need in order to be a successful students, sometimes--you know, as little as when I actually see that they’re using time management, for me, that’s a success, you know. That’s a great achievement because, again, it’s not at the end of the year, end of the term, I’m saying these are my greatest achievements. Sometimes a student, you know, we’ve had a conversation—I’ve had a conversation with student, and then I get a message saying, “Okay, I got it.” So being able to say—to me, those are the greatest accomplishments. So, it’s not a one big thing. If I have to choose one big thing, then it’s a, you know, student graduating and 00:34:00being able to see that they have, you know, reached their goal.

For me, I think it comes in just small doses. There’s weeks where I may feel like, okay did I do anything in contributing and making a difference in student’s life? But the other times, just a small message or they’re just coming by and saying, okay I understand why you keep telling me to use time management or why you keep telling me to go see my academic advisor. And when they have that “ah-ha” moment--and again, that may come end of the term, in two years down the road, or four years down the road, but that’s my accomplishment. And, recently I actually, not too long ago, I actually got an email from one of my students that I taught long time ago and worked with, and she was saying, you know, the job that she has now, she’s like, I am so glad I took math as a study class with you because everything you taught me, I didn’t use it, you know, during that term or during that year, but now I’m recalling it, and I see how this is important in the job that I’m doing. So again, you 00:35:00know, that’s making a difference, and that’s an accomplishment.

EB: So, we’re doing really really well on time, so I’m just going to leave this last part open to you, if there’s anything that we’ve not discussed or something that you want to give more information about regarding something we already have discussed?

UM: You know, I think, I would say in terms of—I really believe that in terms of, you know, when we’re recruiting faculties of colors or students of color on campus, really making sure that we are providing the resource services for, again, students to be successful or flourishing. Because, I think, again, being here for so long, I have really seen a lot of the faculties leave--whether it’s not the right fit or whether they’re feeling like they’re not getting 00:36:00the support that they need. So, one of the things I think in exit interviews with faculties of color, just see, okay what are the reasons you left, what would have kept you here? So being able to do that—because I think if we don’t know, we’re not going to be able to make the changes. We can assume and continue, but I don’t think we’ll be able to make the changes that is needed so that we can, you know, be able to, not only just recruit but be able to retain these faculties of color.

Because, again, we’re also recruiting students of color on campus, but if there isn’t that connection where we can make, you know, with students--whether it’s, again, mentoring or just being able to be in class with faculties of color in various different areas of, you know, curriculum--if we don’t have that, then it’s not, I think it’s a moot point in saying we have these resources but we haven’t done much. So again, I bring it back to 00:37:00saying, you know, walking the talk then being able to not only say come on over we have this, but then really being able to demonstrate how we have this. So I think, for me, that is--for me, the resource of providing that support and providing that nurturing space for faculties to be able to, and students, to be able to flourish, I think that’s really, really important.

JT: What kind of things have you seen faculty members leave for?

UM: I think a lot of times, sometimes, it may be just the support within, or feeling like I’m the only one within that department. Yeah.

EB: So it’s been very important to make sure that you have that support within your office?

UM: Yeah. I think that’s one of the things that keeps me here, having that support, and having that foundation that’s set within our program to being able to—I mean, most of us, we’ve been, you know, over 20 years. This is my 00:38:0020 years, yeah. And I think one other thing has been that support and that area where I, you know, I know that I have that support and being able to do my work. Because one of the things I’ve always said is, you know, if I get up when I wake up and I’m dreading going to work, then it’s time to change. And that has always been my rule when I first started my job, you know. I said, I never thought I would be here in this job for this long, you know. I thought this would be my transition into then going to Portland or a bigger city doing something different. But so, I kept that as a rule of saying, you know, if I get up in the morning—whether it’s a beautiful, sunny day or snowing—and I just wake up and I dread—you know, like, God, I don’t want to go to work or I’m really dreading, then it’s time to change. Because again, that means I’m not going to be affective academic counsellor or active director for this 00:39:00program. Because, you know, I’m not giving my 110% to providing that resources services to students. And I share that with students too, saying, you know, then it’s time to make changes. And I haven’t woken up and said that yet.

EB: Well, we’re glad you’re here at OSU. If you have nothing else to touch on, then I think we can leave it here. Yeah, thank you so much.

UM: Thank you.