How universities are successfully fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion
Students from different backgrounds hang out on a campus in Johannesburg, South Africa. Source: Shutterstock

There is a lot of pressure on universities today to be more diverse and inclusive – not just in terms of race but also gender, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, social class, national origin, and more.

The recent college admissions scandal also shone a spotlight on the fact that wealthy students are often at an unfair advantage compared to their peers from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

Research shows that having a diverse campus, in terms of both student population and faculty, benefits everyone.

According to Peterson’s, “Diversity means that the campus is viewed as a welcoming environment for anyone who wants to apply. Having an inclusive mission at an educational institution says something progressive and important about their campus that they value diversity and will allow their students to express themselves as they see fit.”

But many universities have plenty of catching up to do. Even though they might accept international students and those from minority groups, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re being inclusive.

Here are some examples of universities that have talked the talk and walked the walk when it comes to diversity and inclusion practices.

Stanford University

While this prestigious institution was unfortunately one of those involved in the recent scandal, it doesn’t necessarily mean all departments are lacking in efforts to make the campus more diverse and inclusive.

It appears that a few bad apples have spoiled the barrel, as Stanford has made plenty of strides in diversity these past few years.

Risa Wechsler, Director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, and Associate Professor of Physics, Particle Physics and Astrophysics in the School of Humanities and Sciences, said that physics is one of the least diverse academic fields, in terms of gender as well as racial and ethnic minorities.

In a case study presentation, she identified challenges that women and women of colour face, as only 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees in physics are awarded to women and less than two percent of those women are black, Latina or Native American.

In light of this, the Department of Physics formed the Equity and Inclusion Committee, who oversee diversity within the department and make recommendations for things that need to be changed.

For example, they developed a strategic plan for equity and inclusion; created education and community engagement programmes; and expanded the Leadership Alliance summer research/early identification program, which provided opportunities for students from underrepresented groups.

Due to their efforts, the demographics of undergraduate physics majors at Stanford started to change.  Today, 29 percent are women; of them, six percent are black/Latina, a marked increment from 2016 where those numbers were 20 percent and 0, respectively.

University of Michigan 

The University of Michigan was among 96 colleges and universities to earn the 2018 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award by INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, for their progress in diversifying over the past few years.

President Mark Schlissel said, “Our university cannot be excellent without being diverse in the broadest sense of that word, and we must ensure that our community provides all individuals with an equal opportunity to contribute and succeed. Thanks to the outstanding work by many individuals across our campus, we’ve made significant progress over the past few years.”

In 2015, Schissel made significant attempts to create a more diverse and inclusive campus through the development of a five-year strategic plan.

Ever since then, the university has strived for diversity in several areas: “from race and ethnicity to religious commitments and political perspectives; increase equity, by working to challenge and respond to bias, harassment and discrimination”, to create a more welcoming campus.

In the last year, U-M has implemented and strengthened a number of key initiatives meant to increase diversity across campus.

To make earning a degree from U-M Ann Arbor more affordable, U-M leaders announced the Go Blue Guarantee that gives students whose family income is less than US$65,000 the chance to receive free in-state tuition for four years of undergraduate study.

There’s also Wolverine Pathways, a programme that partners with local schools to reach middle and high school students from underserved communities. Thanks to this programme, 88 scholars graduated last summer, and of them, 91 percent are attending college or university this year.

Not forgetting staff, the Human Resources Learning and Professional Development department also developed a number of DEI training courses, including “Unconscious Bias, Change It Up and Disability Awareness for departments and individuals that provide staff with the awareness and skills necessary to interact effectively and respectfully across differences”.

Over 17,000 staff members participated in these courses as of last year.

Plus, the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching included 23 additional workshops on inclusive teaching for faculty.

University of Manchester

This UK university has always been committed to creating a diverse environment where everyone is treated fairly, regardless of gender, gender identity, disability, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, marital or transgender status, age or nationality.

The result show in its diverse community, where 16 percent of staff are from a black or minority ethnic background; women make up 48 percent of the workforce; international staff members make up 22percent; in addition to a large international student population.

Recognising that diversity and inclusion practices require on-going efforts, the university continues to strive to diversify its community for both staff and students and commit to equal opportunity.

In a recently-released report by the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Team, an extensive strategic plan outlining a number of objectives were stated.

These include improving the representation of women and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff in senior leadership, academic and professional support positions, taking action to further understand and improve the experience of disabled staff, and taking action to further understand and address any differential outcomes of undergraduate students.

Ever since 2017, all students, faculty and staff at this university are required to undertake training in the form of an online module, Diversity in The Workplace Training, where they gain an understanding of the broader issues surrounding equality and diversity, read in-depth case studies and examples of equality in practice, identify what discrimination and bias looks like, and more.

These are just a few examples other universities can learn from to cater to everyone and make their campus a more inclusive, non-discriminatory, safe and welcoming environment.

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