About 20 million students are attending American colleges and universities this fall, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Approximately 40 percent of these students are part of ethnic minority groups, reports the ED, with more than 900,000 students who call another country home. The number of diverse college students in the U.S. has risen steadily since 1976, be that from domestic students of diverse backgrounds, or international students who choose to study here. Most institutions now have offices dedicated to serving the needs of their various ethnic and cultural groups.
INSIGHT into Diversity magazine recently recognized Virginia Tech as one of 10 Diversity Champion colleges and universities. The magazine said Diversity Champions are “institutions that set the standard for thousands of other campus communities striving for diversity and inclusion. They develop successful strategies and programs, which then serve as models of excellence for other institutions. Diversity Champion schools exceed everyday expectations, often eclipsing their own goals.”
Virginia Tech’s student enrollment of more than 30,000 is 35 percent diverse, with 11 percent being international students. Two years ago the university launched InclusiveVT, an initiative which shares the responsibility for advancing diversity and inclusion throughout the university community. The effort is led by Menah Pratt-Clarke, who came to Virginia Tech earlier this year.
“Powerful foundational values guide the work of diversity and inclusion at Virginia Tech,” says Pratt-Clark. “The commitment exists at all levels of leadership … extends to faculty, staff and students through formalized relationships like campus caucuses and college diversity committees, but also informally through participation in diversity events, forums and discussions.”
This year’s events include a welcome reception for underrepresented students, celebrations of various cultural months (Black History, etc.) and a workshop with diversity master trainer Lee Muh Wah in November. Earlier this year, VT hosted the 2016 Hispanic College Institute for high school students and will host the fifth annual Faculty Women in the Academy Conference in 2017.
But efforts go beyond events and committees. They spread to the educational level, too. This fall incoming students will take an online video module designed to help them understand key diversity concepts and how to support an inclusive, welcoming and affirming campus climate.
Moving forward, Pratt-Clarke plans to continue building on the established foundation with a strategic focus on four key areas: working with local communities to create a pipeline for students to Virginia Tech; recruitment and retention of faculty, staff and students; exploring opportunities around diversity and inclusion in the curriculum and orientation structures; and supporting individuals and groups engaged in InclusiveVT work at the university.
“There is momentum to keep improving and focusing on sustainable transformation, with new initiatives this fall related to increasing the recruitment and retention of diverse students and faculty; reviewing the curriculum; and engaging alumni,” Pratt-Clarke said.
The Center for Diversity and Inclusion at Radford University is an excellent point of contact for any Radford student, regardless of ethnic or cultural background. Director Crasha Townsend says it’s become a “home away from home” for many students.
“For some, it’s a place to embrace their own culture; others want to learn,” she says. The Center organizes cultural programming, heritage celebrations and other campus events. Past events include
Dine on Diversity (a series of discussions over lunch), Salsa Night, film viewings and discussions and a multicultural congratulatory celebration ceremony to honor graduating seniors. They also have sponsored off-campus trips to places like the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. In addition to the events, the Center also oversees more than 10 student clubs and organizations, including the Black Student Alliance, Native American Cultural Association and the Highlander Step Team.
Radford’s student body of 9,000 is about 28 percent diverse, with about 1 percent being international students. Those numbers are up from four years ago, when Townsend began working at Radford. “It’s gone up every year since I came. I get excited thinking about the future,” she says. Lynchburg College
Lynchburg College has a much different approach to diversity than other schools. Most colleges have one office devoted to inclusion, diversity, multiculturalism, etc. Lynchburg College has two.
“About five years ago, we decided to make a concerted effort to diversify. We hired a consultant who recommended we separate the offices,” says Pat Price, director of the Office of Multicultural Services. Now the Office of Multicultural Services works with domestic ethic minority students, while the Center for Global Education works with international students.
Price says Lynchburg College is “very student-centered” and she and her colleagues work to create organizations and plan events students want. The Office of Multicultural Services oversees many clubs, has sponsored things like Rainbow Week and celebrations of important cultural events, days or months. Martin Luther King Day events is an example of their efforts. The Center for Global Education has sponsored International Student Recognition Week and a food festival. The Center also addresses things like helping international students get acclimated to college life, understand banking needs, and maintain up to date visas.
Lynchburg College’s student body of 3,000 is 28 percent diverse, with 2 percent international students. “We have goals of creating a more international perspective, a more engaged and global citizenry, she says. “We look for students that would fit. Just by virtue of the way our (global) population is changing, our (student) population is eventually going to be more brown than white.”
At only 800 students, Hollins University is the smallest institution interviewed. Despite that, their diversity statistics are on the higher side, with a student body that is 34 percent diverse and 5 percent international.
Hollins has one staff member dedicated to recruiting international students. The website says the office of Cultural and Community Engagement (CCE) works to “support an inclusive community, promote acceptance and celebrate difference.”
CCE oversees several programs, such as the Early Transition Program, designed to assist new students from underrepresented groups, and the International Student Orientation Program, which helps international students adjust to living and studying at Hollins and in the United States. The office also conducts Safe Haven workshops for those who want to advocate for Hollins’ LBGTQ community.
CCE sponsors many events dedicated to the topics of diversity and inclusivity. Past events include monthly cultural programming to honor and celebrate Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month, Native American Heritage Month, Black History Month, etc., with film screenings, author readings, art exhibitions and lectures. There is also a diversity leadership series to encourage students to explore their own cultural identity and engage in challenging conversations.