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What is Diversity…Really?

This is an excellent Paper 1 example by Kay Pettygrove.

Diversity at Portland Community College appears to be everywhere. But is it? Diversity is defined in the Encarta English Dictionary as "ethnic variety, as well as socioeconomic and gender variety, in a group, society, or institution." Based on that definition, it appears that Portland Community College embraces a culture rich in diversity of all types. Walking the campus, it is easy to identify the many different ethnic groups as well as the varying ages of the students. What is more difficult to determine is the differences in socio-economic groups and particular sexual preferences of individuals. Is diversity however, a numbers game? True diversity should be judged by the institution's efforts to increase educational opportunities that identify and promote understanding of the differences and similarities among different cultural groups. Being able to meet a predetermined quota of minority students is not enough.

The benefits of diversity in a college or university environment can be far reaching. Patricia Gurin, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, suggests that

"A racially and ethnically diverse university student body has far-ranging and significant benefits for all students, non-minorities and minorities alike. Students learn better in such an environment and are better prepared to become active participants in our pluralistic, democratic society once they leave school. In fact, patterns of racial segregation and separation historically rooted in our national life can be broken by diversity experience in higher education."(1)

True diversity benefits everyone however it doesn't exist in a vacuum. Placing diverse populations in similar environments does not constitute true diversity. It should be about learning from one another in positive and inclusive environments.

Dartmouth College has made great efforts to understand the role of diversity on campus. Along with understanding that diversity is not solely about how many minority students are enrolled at the college, the leadership at Dartmouth is realizing it is also much more.

"The whole discussion used to be framed around numbers,” said Prof. Jeffrey Milem of the University of Maryland, an expert on the racial dynamics of colleges, referring to the earlier efforts to recruit minorities. Now it's about what kind of educational environment is in place to allow these diverse people to learn from one another" This fall, signaling the college's (Dartmouth's) intention, the president, James Wright, made diversity the theme of his welcoming address. Dartmouth is offering diversity training to any student of faculty member, and many are taking part. It is mandatory for all non-faculty staff members, from administrators to groundskeepers."(2)

A true commitment to diversity would be making diversity training a mandatory requirement for any person associated with the college or university including all enrolled students. There is a danger associated with making diversity an issue of quotas and neglecting the importance of the more latent consequences.

There are researchers that claim increased diversity can have negative impacts. "Segregation actually increases as larger numbers of a minority group move into an area."(3) People tend to congregate with those they understand and are comfortable with. Without rigorous attention on the part of the academic community, what are well intentioned efforts towards diversity could inadvertently fail.

There are many questions that can be asked from a sociological perspective regarding diversity in this environment. What types of diversity are going to be addressed? There are many options on the Portland Community College campus to choose from. The obvious choices involve race, gender and age. The less obvious would include socio-economic groups, sexual preferences, and religious affiliations.

Does a larger number of minorities in each of the aforementioned groups constitute true diversity on campus? The study of focus on this issue would center around how not only the minorities felt about their experiences on campus, but how the non-minority students viewer their experiences as well. What might be considered a diverse environment by some, may be experienced in completely different ways by others. Is diversity about how many people can be counted in a group, or by the experiences that define the environment?

How do students congregate? Are they gathering primarily with students of their own ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual preference? What would minority students like their experience at a diverse college or university campus to look like? What would majority students like their experience to look like? What are these differences and similarities?

Another important factor in addressing the issue of diversity is in regards to how institutions can encourage multiple diversities. While much of the focus of diversity efforts are aimed at racial differences, there are many other minority groups to consider. It is a daunting task to be totally inclusive and educationally proactive with numerous groups at one time.

Identification of what type of activities that currently exist is also another important element to consider. What is Portland Community College doing now that encourages and embraces diversity? What is working? What isn’t working? Is there room for improvement? How would success in diversity programs be identified? Other schools across the country have incorporated extremely successful diversity programs at their institutions. (Carnegie Mellon, Harvard, Haverford, University of Maryland, the University of Michigan, Mount Holyoke, Stanford and Swarthmore) What are they doing that Portland Community College can learn from?

Are there positive interactions occurring between minorities and non-minority groups? Are those interactions more likely to be between individuals or groups? Which groups are more likely to seek out the opportunity for diverse experiences?

Diversity is a topic that is loaded with opportunity for exploration and understanding. It appears that research is trending toward favorable outcomes from diversity efforts. Patricia Gurin states that "Research suggests a variety of positive educational outcomes that result from being educated in a diverse environment. It also suggests a positive impact for those students with high degrees of social intergroup contact."(1) It appears that even if efforts to increase diversity are not perfect, any effort is better than none.

The understanding of diversity as an increasingly important issue in higher educational environments seems to be taking place nationwide. It is in these settings that the framework for understanding outside of the academic community is formed.

"College campuses are not dominated by widespread racial/ethnic segregation and the racial/ethnic clustering that does occur isn't impeding intergroup contact. In fact, the existence of racial/ethnic groups and activities, along with other comprehensive campus diversity initiatives, is contributing to the success of today's college students and preparing them to help build a healthier multicultural America for the future. Diversity experiences during college had impressive effects on the extent to which graduates in the national study were living racially and ethnically integrated lives in the post-college world. Students with the most diversity experiences during college had the most cross-racial interactions five years after leaving college." (1)

What begins in the academic environment carries over into student's lives after graduation. Diversity is certainly a subject worthy of much discussion, consideration and action.

Citation Page

1. Gurin, Patricia. “New Research on the Benefits of Diversity in College and Beyond: An Empirical Analysis.” Diversity Digest, Spring, 1999, (Washington DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 1999): 5/15

2. Rimer, Sara. http://aad.english.ucsb.edu/docs/rimer.html, "Colleges Find Diversity Is Not Just Numbers", November 12, 2002

3. Kathleen Odell Korgan, James Mahon, Gabe Want, “Diversity on College Campuses Today: The Growing Need to Foster Campus Environments Capable of Countering a Possible "Tipping Effect". College Student Journal, March, 2003,