What does diversity have to do with higher education?
Diversity promotes learning. In their landmark Supreme Court case on Affirmative Action, the University of Michigan demonstrated that interactions across social identity differences have the potential to make us smarter. With this data, Michigan linked practice to mission, offering a compelling reason for colleges and universities in particular to promote diversity and facilitate inclusion.
In The Difference, Scott Page uses mathematical modeling to reach a similar conclusion: variety enables a breadth and depth of resources that is superior to the ability of any individual to solve a given problem – and the more difficult the problem, the more this is true. Given the difficulties we face as a society and a world, and the role of higher education in addressing these difficulties, this work also underscores the unique and specific relationship between education, diversity, and inclusion.
How do we realize this potential?
But clearly these benefits don’t just happen on their own – if they did, access initiatives and head counts would be enough. What does it take for faculty, students, staff, and administrators to be ready to engage the opportunities and challenges that arise with diversity?
Patricia Gurin and colleagues demonstrate the importance of facilitated environments and dialogue skills through their research on intergroup dialogue. We must learn how to engage our diversity, and engage across our differences and the many and varied implications those differences have on our lives, if we are to benefit from our diversity. Dr. Gurin describes some of these findings in this keynote presentation at Villanova University.
Intergroup dialogue programs are a focused and effective place to learn such skills – but they are not enough. Effective engagement across our differences must be facilitated in classrooms and department meetings, in hallway conversations and labs, in NSF review panels and student advising. Each of us has a role to play in creating the conditions for inclusion that allow us to access the educational benefits of diversity.
How ready are you to actualize the benefits of diversity?
With our colleague, Dr. Mark Chesler, we created the BACKPACS Inventory.
The link above is a PDF of our BACKPACS Inventory, which helps individuals assess their own readiness to engage diversity. It also outlines the skills needed by everyday leaders to create inclusive environments where our diversity can flourish.
The BACKPACS Inventory is an extension of the Passion, Skills, Awareness, and Knowledge (PASK) model described by Beale, Thompson, and Chesler in their contribution to the volume edited by Schoem and Hurtado (2001).