What Is Diversity Supposed To Mean For A College Campus?
Since starting Educated Quest, I have visited well over 100 colleges. Each time I discuss diversity with a college admissions officer or anyone associated with student success on a college campus, I get different opinions about what diversity is. None are wrong.
The most obvious definitions of diversity are the same as those covered under employment discrimination laws: economic background, ethnicity race, sex, sexual orientation and religion (when a school does not require students to sign a declaration of faith).
However, a school’s obligation to not discriminate is not enough. Any student should be made to feel welcome on a college campus and encouraged towards academic success. People who work in student affairs or academic advising should not appear to be judgmental when prospective students and their families come to visit a college campus. At the same time, a college campus is a community where students are represented in groups of significant size, and sometimes they are part of more than one group. Those groups are supported by student fees.
If a prospective student has a serious interest in becoming involved in groups that reinforce their identity, those groups should be there, or the school should appear open to allowing students to start them. In addition, while students should support the groups they personally want, they should respect the opportunity for others to have the groups that they want.
There are less obvious definitions of diversity on a college campus. One is geography.
Few flagship state universities, for example, draw more than a third of their undergraduate student bodies from other states. Yet admissions offices at several of these schools seek geographic diversity, usually for the sake of revenues and enrollment. This strategy works at schools that have had a long history of attracting students from other states such as the University of Delaware, the University of Michigan or the University of Virginia or are located in places where college students want to be, such as University of California-Berkeley. It will not work as well at schools that are less known for having a residential student population. The housing, as well as the local housing market, becomes more important when a student is coming from further away.
Private colleges have to be more aggressive at seeking geographic diversity than the state-supported schools, especially if they are located in states such as Pennsylvania where there are so many colleges competing for students from in state as well as from neighboring states or if they are located in states such as New Jersey or Ohio where the numbers of high school graduates who might qualify for admission are expected to decline.
Another less obvious definition of diversity on a college campus is academic diversity.
College admissions officers do not want to admit a class that is “all of one mind” when it comes to academic direction. They want to attract students of different interests and talents, whether they are in leadership (including opinion leadership) or special gifts in areas such as the arts or athletics. While college administrators run the day to day business of the college, they need the students to help fulfill the cultural, intellectual and social needs of the student body. Look at any event board on a college campus. Nearly every event is either run by a student organization or is run as a partnership between student organizations and either faculty or staff. With the possible exception of a popular employer or entertainer or a successful football or basketball team, a college needs to rely heavily on students to draw students to events and programs.
The last area to cover here for diversity on a college campus is political diversity.
Political diversity has to be touched upon because of this election year. I do not know of another time when the US has faced a choice between two candidates who drew such volatile reactions in favor as well as in opposition to their candidacies. Negative comments about both candidates dominate the media coverage, and the candidates deserve some of the blame. However, the more interesting college campus communities are going to be the ones that have strong voices on all sides, provided that the voices do not turn into violence. A college campus community that can provide its students with open forums and maintain the peaceful right to assemble without violent incident will offer its students an educational experience beyond what they receive in a classroom. A college campus community where students lean strongly towards one side or another should take some responsibility for exposing the community to other viewpoints, as faculty are expected to do in the classroom.
As you have seen, there are several considerations for diversity within a college campus community. A good admissions considers these as well as others that I have not thought of.