Most colleges and universities make grand statements pertaining to diversity. You will read these on websites, in student handbooks, and even on syllabi.
Statements, however, are only the first step in fostering inclusion on college campuses. Administrators, faculty, and students must create climates that encourage all members of the campus to respect inclusivity.
Fostering inclusion has to start at the top with the institution’s president. She must make it clear to everyone at the college that intolerance is unacceptable, and that all members of the community should be openly included in conversations, programs, and the social life of the institution.
Student affairs professionals can play an important part in holding students accountable for being accepting and open to difference. They can have an impact on the college community by modeling openness and developing inclusive campus programming. For example, some colleges provide diversity training for the incoming first-year class, or create mentorship programs where students can discuss their college experiences with upperclassmen of a similar background.
Since classrooms are at the heart of student learning, faculty members are key to promoting inclusion on campus. Unfortunately, the bulk of tenured faculty members do not represent the diversity that exists in student bodies. Faculty members are predominantly white, and tenured faculty, more specifically, is overwhelmingly white and male.
Although there are plenty of white males who believe in inclusiveness, there are many who do not. They may see the world only from their vantage point and fail to understand the perspective of students of color or other underrepresented groups. As the demographic composition of campuses continue to change, it will become even more important for faculty to revise curricula, teach in more inclusive ways, and examine their own personal biases. In order to be successful, faculty members have to hold each other accountable for these efforts.
The Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard University created guidelines for educators teaching in diverse classrooms. These are some of the practices they suggest: incorporating materials that represent a variety of cultures; assigning work from scholars of underrepresented backgrounds; learning how to pronounce student names correctly; and pointing out and discussing culturally insensitive materials that are included in textbooks or learning materials.
Students too, who have significant influence among their peers, can shape the culture of inclusiveness through their social and academic engagements. By participating in events hosted by groups of different backgrounds (when appropriate) or encouraging collaboration between cultural clubs, they are in a position to broaden their understanding and build friendships that contribute to inclusion. As they participate in classes focused on demographic groups other than their own, students deepen their knowledge of other cultural identities and learn to engage in discussions about often charged topics.
When all college and university constituents — leadership, faculty, and students — come together to foster inclusivity, the result is much more powerful than mere statements. But here is the rub — each of us as individuals has to be willing to push back and stand up for those who don’t have a voice, and with that pushing and standing up comes the risk of being ridiculed or dismissed. The question is: “Are you willing to take a risk in order to create a more inclusive campus environment?”
What if we all said yes?
Use Noodle to find the right college for you. You can filter your results by the diversity present on campus, as well as other factors like location and size.