By Danniella Banks
For many college and universities in the US the word “diversity” is a buzzword that can be used to draw prospective students into considering the institution. But what does “diversity” truly mean to these places of higher learning? Is it more than just a buzzword and attention grabber?
To some colleges and universities, the answer is no. After looking through several university websites, I noticed that while they mention diversity on the homepage or in the mission, there is not anyone in charge of actually helping to maintain or increase diversity at the organization, such as an office of diversity or even a director of diversity. While many have an office of multicultural affairs, or something similar, it often is only a resource for students, while nothing is available for faculty and staff.
As a recent college grad, I remember looking at college websites and seeing photos of students from all races, so I thought that was what my classes and dorms would look like. However, like many students, when I stepped foot on campus I realized how wrong I was. Many campuses show the few non-white students in all of its brochures and on the website, but when you actually visit campus, you see that the amount of diversity shown to the outside world really isn’t truthful.
So why are some colleges and universities providing a false sense of what the demographics are? My guess is that it has to do with the competitiveness of the market. There are only so many students that will attend college each fall and every school in the nation, as well as worldwide, are competing to be the school that those students choose. Not only are there a limited number of students, each school wants to make sure that they also get the best of the best.
Another explanation to why this may be happening is because colleges and universities focus more on the grades and other merits that should allow a person to get into a university, rather than looking at what may diversify the student body. This is explained in a recent Times Higher Education article in which a recent study found “reviews of candidates tend to be dominated by traditional definitions of merit (grades and test scores), with little if any attention given to issues of diversity.”(NOTE: This article is related to those pursuing a doctoral degree, so statistical data may be different from what other program application reviews may look.) It goes further to explain that it isn’t until it comes to awarding scholarships and other awards that committees look for minority students.
While adding a diversity department with a Diversity Officer might be a quick fix for the problem, what really needs to happen is a focus on creating diversity and inclusion among students, as well as faculty and staff. Even though the current student body is a small percentage of minorities, there is still diversity among the students because they all come from various backgrounds, meaning that they are not all carbon copies of each other. The schools need to embrace this fact, while moving forward to create a more diverse student body that brings together students from all races, religions, and other demographic segments.