Diversity on college campuses matters to today’s students. It matters to minority students who are given more opportunities in the college setting than their ancestors were given, and it matters to white students who thrive in environments that are rewarding, challenging and diversified.
Diversity in the college setting started to change in the 1960s when patterns in college attendance and degree attainment were revised. Since this point in time, we have watched a growing number of racial and ethnic minorities be accepted into college programs. African American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American students make up 27% of total college enrollment numbers.
Even with an increase in enrollment in minority students, there is still a disconnect that exists. Numbers show that there are just as many minority students applying for and entering college, but African Americans and Hispanics still lag when it comes to graduating. As one article put it, “blacks and Latinos lose ground at every step of the educational process. They are less likely to finish high school, less likely to attend college and less likely to graduate when they get there.”
As a school on the cusp of innovation and change, how can you create an environment that not only embraces diversity at the enrollment level but also makes racial and ethnic minority students more likely to graduate?
Let’s discuss some of the most effective ways that you can promote diversity on your college campus.
Involve Your Faculty and Staff
Think about all the staff that are on campus: professors, deans, assistant professors and faculty. Surely they are just as diverse as your student population, so include them in your efforts. Ask them for input on what types of programs, services or events can be offered to create a stronger sense of community. When these programs are led by minority staff, it will make students feel more understood and welcome on your campus.
Create Minority Support Programs
Speak with your school guidance counselors and determine what issues minority students face and why. Then create support programs that address these issues and help students stay on track. If we know that Latino and African American students are less likely to graduate than their peers, what can your school to do change this? Perhaps support services that encourage strong study habits or preparation for tests would make a difference.
Employ a Diverse Staff
Experience shows that minority students are more likely to meet with their counselor and utilize these services when they are racially diverse. Non-white students are still minorities on campus, so they may have trouble integrating into the everyday college lifestyle. Having a counselor or adviser that they can relate to makes them feel more comfortable, and it can very well increase retention rates.
Leverage Upper Class Students
Surely your campus has diverse upper class students who have excelled academically and socially. These students are the greatest assets you have when connecting with new enrollees. Allow these older students to be a voice for your school by sharing their experiences on your blog, creating short videos or making podcasts available for download.
Create Student-Led Mentoring Programs
Another way to leverage minority upper class students is by asking them to lead mentoring or tutoring programs for incoming students. This opportunity is beneficial for older students, as they can use it as experience on their resume for a job or internship. Younger students will appreciate the added help and support from a peer they can relate to. These programs should include academic counseling, tutoring and cultural enrichment.
Learn About Other Groups
A final way to instill more diversity on campus is to learn about other groups and their customs, holidays, traditions and values. Use this as inspiration to create events on campus that bring students together. For example, the holiday Ramadan is strongly tied to helping others. Out of respect for the holiday, your college could donate time to a food pantry. All students have something to learn from these experiences, and it reminds us of the principles that we all live by: treating others the way we would want to be treated, helping others who are less fortunate and putting our strengths to use.
Finding Balance in Your College Community
It’s extremely important to build a home for racial and ethnic minority students, but your college must also find a balance. You don’t want to go overboard and make your minority student population feel separate from everyone else. The goal is to use these specialized programs to tie students into the fabric of your culture. Rather than seeing these students drop out in their sophomore or junior years, you want them to be a part of your campus and feel just as connected to your school as anyone else.
It’s also important to remember that diversity comes in all forms. Though we’ve focused on diversity in terms of race and ethnicity in this article, it expands to gender, religion, age, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status. Diversity exists in many forms, and the more your school is aware of these patterns, the more you can do to embrace all groups and build a home for everyone.
Benefits of a Diverse Student Body
It’s a fine balance to create programs that call attention to minority groups while also giving all students the same opportunities and experiences, but it’s worth working toward. Diversity on college campuses offer endless benefits such as:
Promoting creative thinking
Enhancing social development
Enriching multiple perspectives
Opening the doors to a culturally diverse place that is hard to find in the real world
Preparing students for success in their future careers
Preparing students to work and live in a global world
Increasing student knowledge base
Building a community of tolerance, acceptance and appreciation
All students have something to gain from a diverse college campus. The world is a diverse place, and people who find the greatest success in our world are those who accept these differences and build on others’ strengths. It’s still common, despite our world’s diversity, to find segregated communities in the real world, and it sends the message that we’re not equals.
College campuses, however, are different. Students can walk through the doors of your school and instantly feel in an entirely new world where all races, genders, ages, religions and backgrounds are appreciated and accepted. It may sound like a faraway dream right now, but it’s very much within reach.