Guidance for Creating College Campuses That Are   Inclusive

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While many colleges now enroll statistically diverse cohorts, they remain rooted in traditions that may not serve and may even undermine the success of students from historically marginalized groups.

Guidance for Creating College Campuses That Are Experienced As Inclusive

 

 

Author

   | Micere Keels

   | Associate Professor

   | Department of Comparative Human Development

   | University of Chicago

Recommended citation: Keels, M. (2020). Guidance for Creating College Campuses that Are Experienced as Inclusive. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.

 

2020, University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

There is compelling evidence that students from historically marginalized groups continue to experience historically White college campuses as less than welcoming, and sometimes, as actively hostile spaces.[1] A portrait of Black and Latinx student’s college transition experiences is detailed in the recently published Campus Counterspaces: Black and Latinx Students Search for Community at Historically White Institutions. ‘Campus Counterspaces’ illustrates the challenges of demographic and cultural marginalization, and the importance of going beyond statistical diversity to actively facilitating interactional diversity.[2]

 

The insight and guidance that are gleaned from ‘Campus Counterspaces’ are relevant for students with a range of marginalized characteristics, such as gender identification, nationality, sexual identity, religious affiliation, and socioeconomic status to name a few. The extent to which students from historically marginalized groups experience their campus as welcoming and validating has meaningful effects on their ability to engage with and benefit from the learning environment.[3] All institutions must take this issue more seriously as we move into this new era of even greater pushes to diversify the student body.

 

As shown in the Figure 1, more than 40 years of diversity initiatives have resulted in an American postsecondary system that now enrolls substantial numbers of students from historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups. Figure 1 also illustrates that continuing demographic changes in the racial and ethnic composition of America’s children and youth means that postsecondary diversity will continue to grow.

Figure 1. Racial and Ethnic Distribution of Various Population Groups

To keep enrollment numbers up and meet financial goals, historically White institutions, especially those that have resisted change, are now pivoting to recruiting students from underserved populations.[4] Approximately 1,200 nonprofit, Bachelor’s degree granting colleges and universities have a student body that is greater than 60% White, and 460 have a student body that is greater than 80% White. These institutions will have to broaden their base to survive.

As shown in Figure 2 below, historically White institutions have struggled to create an educational context in which the majority of Black and Latinx students will obtain their degree within six years after enrollment. Many institutions have shown themselves to be a revolving door, enrolling increasing numbers of students from historically marginalized groups and then putting them back outside their door with debt and no degree.

 

Figure 2. National Undergraduate Enrollment and Six-Year Graduation Rate, by Race, Ethnicity, and Gender

Note: Excludes schools classified as a historically Black college or university or Tribal serving institution.

Institutions have pivoted to recruiting students from historically marginalized groups without doing the work to ensure that those students will enter a campus context that has been designed to foster their success. These institutions have created a high risk “opportunity” for low-wealth students—the risk of leaving college with student debt and without a degree to earn the wages necessary to pay off that debt.

 

While it is not disingenuous for institutions to be driven by enrollment pressures, it is disingenuous to accept tuition and facilitate the accumulation of student debt without doing the hard institutional work of ensuring that the context is one in which all students can thrive. After all, universities are not the ones who are left with debts that cannot be discharged if they fail to obtain their degree.

For the majority of Americans from low-income and low-wealth families, higher education is “required” for creating a financially stable adulthood. This means that colleges and universities are gatekeepers to the upward social mobility of millions of youth from historically marginalized groups.

The guidance in this report addresses the campus climate; however, as illustrated in Figure 3, this is only one aspect of the many blockages and leakages in the pipeline form application to graduation.

 

Figure 3. Narrowing Pipeline from Application to Graduation 

An inclusive education system that empowers all students to take advantage of educational opportunities is American society’s most powerful lever for equitable growth.

As institutions intensify their recruitment of students from groups that they do not have a tradition of serving, they must go beyond diversity policies that are based on tolerance to policies that prioritize inclusion.

 

Diversity is the who: Who is on campus; how many of individuals from which groups. Examples of diversity goals include:

  • How can we recruit more students from historically marginalized groups?

  • How can we remove the barriers to enrollment for students from historically marginalized groups?

Tolerance is the what: What one can and cannot legally say and do with regard to hate and hostility that targets members of legally protected groups. Examples of tolerance goals include:

  • How can our policies reduce the use of hate speech in public places?

  • How can we increase student, faculty, and staff awareness of their rights and responsibilities for creating and experiencing a learning environment that is free of hostility?

Tolerance is an important aspect of creating an inclusive climate because the occurrence of hurtful and hateful interpersonal experiences makes it difficult for students to open up to engaging with the campus environment.

Inclusion is the how: How can we foster and leverage interpersonal interactions among and across a broad range of status and identity groups to strengthen campus belonging for all students. Examples of diversity goals include:

  • How can we build the skills necessary for faculty to create and students to engage in diverse learning environments?

  • How can we increase the range of opportunities that enable individuals from historically marginalized groups to see themselves and their culture represented in the constellation of old and new traditions that comprise the culture of the institution?

When inclusion is strong, individuals from a wide range of backgrounds and status groups feel welcomed, engaged, valued, and respected for the differences they contribute to creating a productive campus community.

When diversity, tolerance, and inclusion are understood as separate and distinct concepts, and clear goals and metrics are set for each, colleges and universities will be able to realize the promise of creating an equitable learning environment.

The problem with diversity policies built around tolerance is that tolerance includes a power dynamic where one group(s) get to determine whose cultural practices are deemed as normal and whose should be tolerated, at the margins.

Legal barriers to the enrollment of previously excluded groups have been dropped; substantial numbers of students from historically marginalized groups now receive offers of acceptance and enroll; and policies have been written to tell members of the campus community what forms speech and behaviors will not be tolerated, as well as what forms of “hurtful” speech are protected. These advancements were good for a time, but students, staff, and faculty from historically marginalized groups are now asking their institutions to move beyond tolerance toward full inclusion.

 

Policies that prioritize inclusion create opportunities to engage in institutional and individual bi-directional reflection and change to create belonging in a shared context. Particularly for students, inclusion asks that higher education’s value for “individual freedom of expression” be placed in constant tension with valuing the humanity of others as equal to one’s own. In practice, this means taking care to keep in mind that what may be just another intellectual discussion for one person may be an identity damaging discussion for another. Inclusion requires exercising empathy in interactions with others by actively attempting to understand another person’s past and present experiences and perceptions.

Inclusion does not ask that we shy away from productive discussions of conflicting ideas, but that we teach students (and faculty) how to engage in those discussions in ways that enable all participants to hear each other and leave feeling heard.

11 Actions for Creating a Campus that is Experienced as Inclusive

Campus-wide programs that promote inclusion

 

1. Diversity, tolerance, and inclusion included in all institutional initiatives, rather than being primarily stand-alone initiatives, whenever possible.

  • Students, and others, are very aware of when there is a gap between a high level of statements and brochures promoting and valuing diversity and the actual level of student and faculty diversity, and also not matched by policies and practices that facilitate interactional diversity.

  • Metric: Is each diversity, tolerance, and inclusion goal connected with identified action items and measurable metrics?

All members of the campus community need support developing the skills that create and sustain an inclusive institution. The overwhelming majority of college students grow up in racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically segregated communities and attended largely segregated schools. Therefore, they come to college with few skills for creating an inclusive community. Students also often enter classrooms that are taught by faculty who grew up with even less exposure to diversity, and who established their careers during times when higher education expected little of them regarding contributing to creating an inclusive campus context.    

Leaders and Administrators

2. Diversity, tolerance, and inclusion cannot primarily occur at the level of institutional statements.

  • The advancement of diversity, tolerance, and inclusion should be integrated into all steps along the student recruitment, persistence, and graduation pathway, and along the faculty and staff recruitment, retention, and promotion pathway.

  • Metric: How much does diversity decline at each successive level of the pipeline from recruitment to graduation/promotion?

 

3. Diversity cannot primarily exist at the level of student enrollment.

  • Faculty create and deliver the curriculum, and as such have substantial control over the inclusivity of the learning environment. Additionally, students regularly interact with and seek support from administrators who have substantial control over whether the campus is experienced as welcoming and supportive.

  • Metric: What is the diversity gap between the composition of the student body, faculty, administrative staff, and administrative leaders?

 

4. Allocation of time and resources to develop an institutional culture in which administrators and faculty participate in trainings, workshops, and experiential learning opportunities to build their cultural competency.

  • Especially when there is a large diversity gap between students, faculty, and administrators, there needs to be “ongoing and developmentally sequenced” learning opportunities to build cultural competency of both administrators and faculty.

  • Metric: Are there are range of learning opportunities that go beyond awareness building? Is there funding for those at all levels (senior leaders, faculty, and staff) to initiate learning opportunities? Is there diverse participation in learning opportunities?

All members of the campus community need support developing the skills that create and sustain an inclusive institution. The overwhelming majority of college students grow up in racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically segregated communities and attended largely segregated schools. Therefore, they come to college with few skills for creating an inclusive community. Students also often enter classrooms that are taught by faculty who grew up with even less exposure to diversity, and who established their careers during times when higher education expected little of them regarding contributing to creating an inclusive campus context.    

5. Promotion and tenure policies include recognition for contributions to diversity and inclusion.

  • Many faculty view diversity and inclusion work as tangential to the requirements for tenure and promotion, and time spent contributing to advancing these aspects of the campus can be detrimental to the promotion of faculty from historically marginalized groups if their engagement in those activities is not recognized and counted.

  • Metric: Are there competitive campus funding opportunities for faculty to develop and lead inclusion initiatives, and is contributing to campus inclusion formally listed and counted among the factors that contribute to promotion and tenure?

Programs that support all students

6. Allocation of time and resources to develop an institutional culture in which new and continuing students participate in “ongoing and developmentally sequenced” trainings, workshops, and experiential learning opportunities to build their cultural competency.

  • It is important for students to receive course credit and certifications for recognition of their participation in diversity, tolerance, and inclusion training. Additionally, some of the institutions most prestigious learning opportunities should be connected with inclusion initiatives.

  • Metric: Are there are range of learning opportunities that go beyond awareness building? Is there funding for students to initiate learning opportunities? Is there diverse participation in learning opportunities?

 

7. Diversity, tolerance, and inclusion training included in all institutionally funded co-curricular and extra-curricular programming, whenever possible.

  • Funding for programming should be tied to participation in inclusion training for student leaders, and level of diversity of student participation in programming.

  • Metric: Is there equitable distribution of funding for student programs based on level of diversity of student participation, and student leadership participation in inclusion training?

 

8. Equitable student representation and participation on decision-making councils and committees on matters involving student life, regardless of whether there is an explicit connection with inclusion.

  • Ensuring equitable student representation on decision-making councils and committees should not be limited to ones that focus on issues of diversity, tolerance, and inclusion.

  • Metric: What is the level of diversity of student representation on decision-making councils and committees?

Programs that support students from historically marginalized groups*

 

9. Allocation of time and resources to develop an institutional culture in which formal counterspaces such as the meetings of the Minority Student STEM Advancement Program, and informal counterspaces such as the Queer&Asian student group are valued aspects of the institution.

  • Access to counterspaces promotes minority student college persistence and their psychological, emotional, and cultural-wellbeing, thereby lessening the psychological costs of college.

  • Metric: Do students from historically marginalized groups report, on campus climate surveys, that there are formal and informal organizations, meetings, and spaces where they feel a strong sense of campus belonging?

It is important to remember that the determination of majority and minority status is specific to the issue being addressed; at times an individual can be a member of a minority group and at other times a member of a majority group. Intersectionality also matters for how each individual experiences marginalization. A gay White man will experience marginalization differently from a gay Black man and differently from a gay Black woman.

10. Administrative staff provide culturally competent, “intrusive” student advising.

  • Student orientation, advising, and monitoring practices should be differentiated using evidence-based factors that link student characteristics with the likelihood of challenges with campus adjustment, course selection, and persistence through to degree attainment.  

  • Metric: What are the student characteristics that are associated with subgroup differences in success at a given institution, and how has student support been differentiated to meet students’ needs?

11. Student access to culturally competent mental health care and therapeutic coping support.

  • Students from historically marginalized groups experience adjustment disorders and stressors associated with cultural conflicts, and with racial, ethnic, and other identity-based marginalization that require the support of therapists who are equipped to provide culturally competent care.  

  • Metric: What are the diversity gaps among the mental health staff, and what are the diversity gaps in student utilization of and satisfaction with care?

Additional Resources                  

 

Higher Ed Civil Rights Coalition. (2019). Civil Rights Principles for Higher Education. The Leadership Conference Education Fund.

 

US Department of Education. (2016). Advancing Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education: Key Data Highlights Focusing on Race and Ethnicity and Promising Practices.

 

Romero, A. (2017). Best Practices for Recruiting and Retaining Diverse Faculty for Institutions of Higher Education    

Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences.

 

Roy, L. (2013). Faculty Diversity: We Still Have A Lot to Learn. Chronicle of Higher Education, 60, 12.

 

Lawrence, P. (March 2018). When Core Values Collide Inside Higher Ed.   

 

Kezar, A. (2019). Creating a Diverse Student Success Infrastructure: The Key to Catalyzing Cultural Change for Today’s Student. Los Angeles, CA: University of Southern California, Pullias Center for Higher Education.

 

NASPA Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice Resources

 

Notes and Citations                      

[1] Chun, E. B., & Feagin, J. R. (2019). Rethinking Diversity Frameworks in Higher Education. Routledge.

 

[2] College leaders and administrators are encouraged to read Campus Counterspaces: Black and Latinx Students’ Search for Community at Historically White Colleges and Universities to get a deeper understanding of how students experience and articulate the differences between diversity, tolerance, and inclusion.

 

[3] Roksa, J., Kilgo, C. A., Trolian, T. L., Pascarella, E. T., Blaich, C., & Wise, K. S. (2017). Engaging with diversity: How positive and negative diversity interactions influence students’ cognitive outcomes. The Journal of Higher Education, 88(3), 297-322.

 

[4] Grawe, N. D. (2018). Demographics and the demand for higher education. JHU Press.

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