Diversity in higher education
Diversity, equity, inclusion. These three powerful words are changing our society and providing equal rights and opportunities for each member of society. Although the path to the transformation of society and justice for all citizens is long, it can be traveled faster through the education of all citizens, especially young people. This is why we talk about diversity in higher education so often, because this is where the foundations of society are built.
Below, we will introduce you to all aspects of the fight for the equality of all citizens, especially students who should be leaders of their country’s progress, but also the progress of the whole world. This can only be achieved if everyone gets a chance to develop their talents and contribute to their community.
What is diversity?
Diversity refers to the qualities and practices that distinguish one individual or a group of people from others. When this word is mentioned, it usually implies respect, tolerance and celebration of individuality, so that everyone could progress as part of a community. Differences can be noticed in every segment of society, in school, at work, in the restaurant, on a sports field, on the street. Everyone is different and unique in their own way, which is why commitment to diversity is so important in everyday life.
Although racial diversity is the first thing that many people think of, diversity is much more than that. This may well be the most prominent topic nowadays, but the truth is, differences are visible at every turn. People differ in many ways, and we’ve witnessed many times that differences usually separate people rather than uniting them. Let’s just mention a few aspects of diversity that should be acknowledged so all of us, as a society, would better understand them:
- Social status
- Sexual identity
- Gender identity
- Personality type
- Political orientation
- National origin
As you can see, there are so many things to talk about so that we can all better understand each other and make progress as a society. The first step is treating everyone equally so that everyone can get a chance to develop and become an equal member of society.
Why do diversity, equity and inclusion often go together?
Diversity is often mentioned together with equity and inclusion, so much so that they are even referred to as DEI. To better understand their importance as part of a whole, we first need to understand each concept on its own.
- Equity – It refers to the fair treatment and removal of all obstacles that could prevent a person from advancing, having the same rights as others, or enjoying the fruits of their labor. It should be noted that equity is not synonymous with equality. Enabling everyone to have the same chances is the next step, but only after everyone has been given roughly the same starting point.There are many cases where, ethnic minorities (African American, Hispanic Latino, Asian American, etc.) for example, suffer unequal treatment that makes their life difficult. Equity initiatives aim to create the conditions where a person will be able to go to college thanks to their school results, and despite financial or other difficulties. Concern for equal rights and opportunities should be woven into every segment of society.
- Inclusion – Inclusion refers to activities that allow everyone to be involved in everyday activities regardless of differences. It is not enough to simply declare that everyone has the same rights, but to undertake concrete actions to give every individual an opportunity to advance and be accepted into society. This is the only way to improve the position of marginalized groups and achieve the ultimate goal of treating all members of society with equal respect.
Diversity, equity and inclusion are related terms that address the same social injustices that need to be eliminated. Each of these terms covers a part of that process, which is why they are often mentioned together. Some would argue that diversity focuses on situations that need solving, while inclusion helps us reach concrete solutions.
Thus, for example, it is not enough to hire people of color, but they need to be given the opportunity to showcase their skills and knowledge in fair conditions that celebrate diversity. This is how society as a whole learns how to behave in certain situations. Namely, some bad decisions are made out of ignorance, which is why the majority needs to get acquainted with the needs and skills of the minority groups.
The main goal, ideally, is to give everyone an equal chance for a good life, regardless of their origin, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, etc. However, the road to such a world is long, so it is important that various institutions take active part in the fight for human rights. One of the stakeholders that absolutely needs to act in the right way are educational institutions, especially universities!
The importance of diversity in higher education
Understanding their responsibility, colleges have undertaken numerous reforms to adequately support diversity in higher education. The universal idea is to create an atmosphere of tolerance and respect where student diversity is celebrated. Many universities have realized that diversity in higher education is extremely important for the whole education system, which is why they not only introduced codes of conduct, but organized various activities to make sure that the decisions aimed at diversity are actually implemented.
It is important to know that diversity does not only mean meeting the diversity quotas in terms of accepting students of different backgrounds. It takes a lot of effort to achieve that lofty goal of accepting all differences, both by the school bodies, and by the entire student population. To make it work, many colleges decided to hire a Chief Diversity Officer. In addition, many students organized themselves to monitor inclusion implementation in their school.
However, it is important to systematically implement reforms so that colleges would really become a place where everyone is accepted. Creating enrollment quotas for students from minority groups is not the right solution if they don’t feel part of the community. This approach doesn’t achieve the desired effect; it just deepens the gap in society. That is why it is necessary to continuously invest in various methods that enable free speech, racial and ethnic diversity, intercultural education, and academic freedom for undergraduate and graduate students and even college staff.
Ways to achieve true diversity
In order to achieve true diversity in higher education, it is necessary to introduce rules that will enable everyone to enjoy the same rights. Universities across the United States are striving to change the rules, and raise awareness of the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion through educational programs. We will list a few examples that prove certain progress has been made when it comes to human rights:
- Multicultural education programs – Foreign students from different cultures can study in American colleges, because nurturing cultural diversity is an important factor for all educational institutions. Through various workshops, lectures and debates, students are introduced to different prejudices, but also ways to create a more inclusive atmosphere and reach mutual respect through a better understanding of different cultures.
- Possibility to enter the desired pronoun – many schools allow students to state their preferred gender and manner of address, without having to submit any medical documentation to support it. This way, non-binary students are not limited to “he” or “she” pronouns, but can list “they/them” as their preferred pronoun. This is one of the ways to ensure free expression of gender identity and support sexual minorities.
- Teacher diversity – one of the best ways to practically demonstrate diversity in higher education is to provide opportunities for members of minority groups to participate in the education of young people. Through everyday communication with teachers from different backgrounds, students will not only master the teaching material, but become better people as well.
- Incorporating diversity, inclusion and equity into the curriculum – unique attributes of society, and the right to diversity can be separate courses (minor or major) that students can choose. This is why many colleges nowadays possess ethnic studies or gender equality studies departments.
- Sports programs that are open to all – sport is a very important element of the college experience. Many support their college teams all their life, which is why it is important that every student gets the opportunity to be part of the team. Including minorities into group activities leads to a better understanding among students and a sense of community.
- Helping through concrete actions – schools and students should work together to identify any shortcoming in the operation of their school. That way, they can help students with disabilities to attend classes by installing wheelchair ramps, special toilets, lifts, providing disabled parking spaces, etc. We shouldn’t forget students from low-income families who are unable to finance accommodation, but still achieve excellent results against all odds.
These are just some examples of concrete actions aimed at implementing diversity in higher education. As you can see, the challenges are numerous – from racial injustice (African American students could only study in black colleges until recently), to the lack of understanding for the members of the LGBTQ+ community that are still present in society. With the right approach, changes will soon be visible across the entire education system in the US, whether the institutions in question are public or private schools, community colleges or Ivy League universities.