Cultural and racial diversity in a university offers many advantages. In addition to the knowledge and insights that students gain from degree-related coursework, they receive exposure to varied perspectives. They get a glimpse of the real world and opportunities for teamwork and communication. Stereotypes and preconceptions often fall by the wayside when students find camaraderie and success on diverse academic teams.
However, diversity within the student body should not be the only goal. The American Council on Education (ACE) states that “many colleges and universities share a common belief, borne of experience, that diversity in their student bodies, faculties, and staff is important for them to fulfill their primary mission: providing a high-quality education.”
A student body representing varied racial and cultural backgrounds is only part of the goal. Creating a diverse administration and faculty is just as critical.
Why Is Diversity Important?
If the student body reflects a commitment to diversity, why should colleges and universities worry about the makeup of the administration, staff and faculty? There are several reasons:
- For students from racially homogeneous neighborhoods, administrative diversity provides a more accurate representation of the world.
- For vulnerable student populations in higher education, a diverse administration provides real-life examples of people who have broken down social, cultural and economic barriers to succeed. As mentors, these leaders instill confidence and a sense of hope for the future.
- When the student population is diverse, a variety of viewpoints is represented, defended and considered. It is empowering for students to have their voices heard by decision-makers at the administrative level.
- As world populations evolve, so do university enrollments. A diverse leadership team will keep curricula, opportunities and perspectives up to date while students explore and prepare for an evolving world.
What the Numbers Say
Although the demographics of student populations at many colleges and universities have changed in the past decade, appointments to administration and faculty positions have not kept pace for diversity.
Administration – The disparity of representation between the student body and administration can be seen all the way to the top.
A study by the American Council on Education (ACE) reported that in the decades between 1996 and 2016, the percentage of non-white undergraduates increased by almost half, from 29.6% to 45.2%; the number of non-white graduate students grew from 20.8% to 32%. However, the report stated, “Although the non-White share of college and university presidents more than doubled between 1986 and 2016, people of color still held only 16.8 percent of all presidencies in 2016.”
Faculty – Faculty members play a role in shaping university culture and influence the student experience not only through teaching and research but also through mentoring, counseling and advising. “In addition to the advantages for the student body, a diverse faculty promises considerable benefits for the field of research as well. Collaboration and the pursuit of knowledge is vital to any institution of higher learning, and researchers are better suited to create knowledge in groups that have more perspectives around the table,” notes The Harvard Crimson.
The ACE report reveals, however, that racial diversity in faculty lags behind the representation in student bodies. In 2016, when students of color made up 30% to 45% of the student body, non-white educators held “only 21.1 percent of full-time faculty positions, and faculty of color were less likely than White faculty to hold full professorships.”
Preparing to Lead for a Diverse Academic Environment
In a publication for the Campaign for College Opportunity, education leader George R. Boggs, Ph.D., said, “If we really want to attract and retain a more racially and gender diverse faculty, staff, and administration, college leaders at all levels need the courage to make some changes in how searches and selection processes are conducted, and we need to be more engaged in mentoring promising and diverse future colleagues.”
William Paterson University offers a Master of Arts in Higher Education Administration with a concentration in Leadership Studies online program. A primary learning outcome of the program is for graduate students to develop culturally sensitive leadership and inclusive thinking.