Diversity, Inclusion, and Inching Towards Change

Written by: Jessica Landgraf

Primary Source:  Green & Write , October 20, 2016

Image courtesy of Creative Commons

At the beginning of this month the University of Michigan announced that it is devoting $85 million over the next five years to a plan to increase campus diversity and inclusion. As a large part of this initiative, a new scholarship program (HAIL, High Achieving Involved Leader) is being piloted. The scholarship program is tailored for high achieving low-income students from Michigan. It provides four years of tuition, federal financial aid grants, and additional resources to assist students in the transition to university life. This fall 262 recipients were awarded as the inaugural cohort of the HAIL scholarship. The program will continue to be evaluated over the next two years to determine its effectiveness in removing barriers that block students from pursuing and continuing higher education.

This example from the University of Michigan is just one of many of the efforts nationwide to increase campus diversity and inclusion. It has become commonplace for universities to have a diversity advisory committee, diversity officer, or long-term plan for increasing diversity and inclusion among students and faculty. But recently colleges and universities have increased the funds supporting the initiatives and programs developed and implemented by these offices and initiatives. Institutions such as Brown, Yale, University of Washington, and the University of Arizona are all pursuing the goal of increased diversity with increased financial provisions. Unlike most Universities that fund through specially allocated university funds, the University of Arizona (UA) has applied for and received two separate NSF grants since 2012 ($1 million from 2012-2014; $1.07 million awarded in 2015 to cover two years). These grants were given by NSF in order for UA to increase the number of fully funded minority STEM doctoral students. Other exemplars such as the University of Southern California (USC), also speak to the possibilities. USC is leading the nation in the enrollment of underrepresented minority graduate students and it has the highest enrollment of underrepresented minority students among private institutions.

There is no doubt that campus diversity has become an increasingly contentious issue on campuses across America. An article in the Wall Street Journal this past May highlighted the possible negative repercussions of a strengthened focus on race on campuses, which resulted in several pieces that responded and highlighted the positive effects that can result from taking definitive action, ensuring more attention is paid to issues of diversity and inclusion. One of the authors of the original article posted a response to these rebuttals, clarifying the original statements and highlighting where miscommunication may have occurred.

Colleges and universities continue to evolve in their understanding of how they can reshape their policies and programs toward the goal of creating a more representative and inclusive student body and staff. Examining history, we remember that this isn’t the first time that students on campuses have pushed for change, and change inched forward each time. The more dialogues that are opened up in response, or better yet proactively, to address campus wide issues of diversity and inclusion the better.

As colleges and universities more forward with initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion, it is important to keep dialogues open. The work that students and faculty have done to bring this important issue into the public eye have been effective; cooperation and partnership should now be the focus within campuses and the surrounding communities to bring these goals to fruition.

The new HAIL scholarship shows us what can happen when campus administration and communities take seriously the concerns of marginalized groups on campus. The grassroots efforts of members of the campus community catalyzed the development of the broader strategic plan. Models like this should be an inspiration to other campuses struggling to build a more diverse and inclusive environment. The movement from protest to dialogue is a hard transition, and it takes effort from both sides. I, for one, am excited to see the positive steps that have resulted from often tenuous situations. We should look to these examples when we get frustrated after coming up against a wall. I look forward to watching U of M’s progress over the next five years, with the hope of another example of inching towards change.

Contact Jessica: landgr16@msu.edu

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Jessica Landgraf

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