In Pursuit of a Diverse Community

Donna LeeUPDATES, NEWS, & ANNOUNCEMENTS
FROM THE PRESIDENT

In Pursuit of a Diverse Community
Donna Lee, ACPA President

As we open our campuses to usher in a new academic year, we recognize that we are starting this year at one of the most tumultuous and challenging times in recent years. This has been an especially difficult summer: terrorist attacks around the world, shootings of unarmed black men, attacks on police protecting demonstrators, targeted killing of LGBTQ people, and a presidential campaign in which we hear messages of violence and hate. All of these events and challenges have had an indelible impact on each of us. And it is clear that we all have much to learn as we engage in difficult dialogues in our diverse communities. But have we truly nurtured this diverse community on our campuses?

The process of creating a diverse community is an amorphous one – dynamic and ever changing. Earlier initiatives to diversify our campuses have focused exclusively on demographics and increasing numbers of historically underrepresented populations on campus, especially racial groups. Other approaches have been aimed at developing programs, initiatives, and services, all designed to help students from underrepresented populations succeed in a dominant culture. The deficit in these exclusive approaches is that diversity is perceived as an end – a stagnant, fixed outcome.

Many campuses have since begun to recognize the need to embrace an approach that conceptualizes diversity as core and essential to the mission to educate students for responsible and engaged citizenship and leadership in local and global communities. As such, diversity must become part of the fabric of our institutions, connected and integrated into all aspects of our learning communities. Respect and value for diversity should be reflected in our social interactions, our practices, programs, resources and services, and in a curriculum that represents a body of knowledge that spans diverse cultures, traditions, histories, and values. An important part of the process is a critical assessment of what we are teaching, how we are teaching it, who is doing the teaching, and the contexts in which the learning occurs. How well does our curriculum – in and out of the classroom – teach students about diverse groups? Are students given opportunities to reflect on their own identities, heritage, and cultural traditions? Do we provide knowledge of social issues such as power and privilege, bias, and discrimination? Do we relate diversity issues to students’ majors? Do we prepare students to work with people from different cultural backgrounds? Do we challenge our students to consider the implications of diverse worldviews, perceptions, and values? Do we provide opportunities for students to engage in dialogue across difference? A diverse community is one that is inclusive, welcoming, and respectful in which each member values difference, and at the same time, this diverse community affirms the central importance of our common humanity.

The emergence of a truly diverse campus involves incremental and progressive change. Although diversity issues are broader than merely increasing numbers, progress in educating all students to effectively engage in a diverse and global society can be especially challenging in an environment that is culturally and ethnically homogenous. Underrepresented populations cannot be expected to conform and assimilate into the mainstream culture; instead, all populations should be able to merge to form an integrated campus community that is culturally synergistic, a campus community in which all are affirmed and valued. Boyer (1990) describes this community: “a place where freedom of expression is uncompromisingly protected and where civility is powerfully affirmed” (p.17); “a place where the well-being of each member is sensitively considered” (p.47); “a place where the sacredness of each person is honored and where diversity is aggressively pursued” (p.25).

As we aggressively seek and recruit diverse students, it is imperative that we challenge ourselves to consider the following: Are we prepared to educate a diverse population? Is our campus environment one in which members from underrepresented populations can thrive? Are our curricula, our practices, and pedagogies appropriate for these populations? Of equal importance is the diversity of our faculty and staff. On many campuses, as the racial and ethnic diversity of student populations have experienced steady growth, the same growth among our faculty and professional staff is not seen. The presence of a diverse faculty and staff body provides students with diverse role models and mentors, opportunities to learn from different perspectives and voices, and exposure to new ways of knowing and learning. The research literature suggests that student engagement with diversity not only is related to changes in attitudes, openness to difference, and commitments to social justice, but it is also related to satisfaction, academic success, and cognitive development for all students (Taylor, Apprey, Hill, McGrann, & Wang, 2010). To this end, as we consider issues of diversity and multiculturalism and create dynamic learning environments, we must adopt a comprehensive approach that includes the following components:

1. Learning experiences that expand all students’ knowledge of multiculturalism and its implications as they are prepared to engage in their communities – both local and global;
2. Programs, services, and resources that recognize and address the developmental needs and learning styles of diverse populations;
3. Aggressive strategies to intentionally diversify the campus community. A campus community that is rich in its diversity – across multiple identities – provides the container for this multicultural education, outreach, and support to occur.

Recognizing this need for a comprehensive approach, attention must be given to the inclusion of underrepresented populations, support and outreach to these groups, campus climate issues, the inclusion of diversity in the curriculum – in and out of the classroom. Strategies must be aimed at seeking multiple perspectives and voices, promoting growth through dialogue in the campus community, the curriculum and the classroom, creating linkages between the in class and out of class learning, and building connections between the campus and local and global communities, understanding the systemic issues related to diversity, power, and privilege, and developing a heightened sense of commitment to create positive social change. And the work of creating a diverse community must be shared by all in that community. While departments and administrators focused on diversity play a crucial role, the responsibility for thinking about the implications of diversity must be distributed much more broadly among students, staff and faculty, and administrators. And diversity must be reflected in mission statements, strategic plans, campus priorities, decision-making, and resource allocations.

Our campuses are embedded in a society wracked by ongoing challenges that are deep and confusing and from whose conflicts, violence, and pain they will never be immune. But our campuses are powerful learning containers in which we should aspire both to model what our world could be and to educate those who will be the ones who will improve it. The vision should be to create a campus community that can engage across difference, cultivate empathy, have conversations of respect, and learn and grow from each other as we educate ourselves for a diverse world and create positive social change through a shared responsibility in support of the common good.

In the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.
John F. Kennedy
Commencement Address at American University, June 10 1963


References
Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. New York, NY: The
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Taylor, O., Apprey, C. B., Hill, G., McGrann, L., & Wang, J. (2010). Diversifying the faculty. Peer
Review, 12(3). Retrieved from https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/diversifying-faculty

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