Series: An Examination of diversity on U.S. college campuses

Stephanie Miller September 25, 2017 0

This article is the first of a three-part series that examines diversity at Elizabethtown College and at colleges and universities around the country. This installment explores why the idea of having a broader range of student demographics is such a controversial one and examines inclusiveness at colleges in PA before providing an overview of the campus events that sparked this series. The second and third installments will be featured in the issues of the Etownian printed Thursday, Sept. 28 and Thursday, Oct. 12, respectively. These articles will cover what the College is doing currently regarding diversity as well as plans for the future and feature the opinions of members of the campus community. The series will discuss why diversity matters at Etown and conclude that while there is room for improvement, noticeable and impactful efforts are being made to promote awareness and increase diversity itself.

Diversity—racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, religious, political, gender, sexual orientation—is a heated topic on college campuses.

Most school years seem to start with a national news story about diversity. This year was no exception. According to the New York Times, Harvard University came under fire this August when a group of Asian-American applicants were allegedly rejected so the university could accept enough students from other underrepresented groups. The university is currently facing a lawsuit centered around its admissions process and whether that process involves a quota system for minority applicants.

Some argue that schools may be compromising the quality of their student bodies by valuing diversity over merit during the admissions process.

On the other hand, advocates for college diversity argue that students on diverse campuses learn about different points of view by interacting with people from different backgrounds than their own. They also contend that focusing on diversity gives opportunities to members of groups that historically have not had the same opportunities as members of majority groups.

Members of the Elizabethtown College community see room for improvement in the College’s diversity.

“Many young people haven’t had the opportunity to interact and engage cross-culturally, so situations and environments in which they have to do so are challenging for them,” Director of Diversity and Inclusion Dr. Monica Smith said. “Some of those topics have been taboo for a long time.”

National statistics reflect these sentiments. Every year, U.S. News & World Report ranks colleges and universities based on their “Diversity Index.” Schools are ranked on a scale from zero to one.

According to the website, “the closer a school’s number is to 1, the more diverse the student population.” Etown’s diversity index for the 2016-2017 academic year was 0.24, putting it behind other PA liberal arts colleges including Juniata College and Susquehanna University. While these rankings only focus on racial and ethnic diversity, they still offer insight into how Etown stacks up against similar colleges.

Professor of history and Dean for Curriculum and Assessment Dr. W. Brian Newsome believes that this low ranking is still an improvement in the diversity of Etown’s student body.

“I would interpret 0.24 as an indication that (1) the College has grown in terms of diversity, but that (2) we have considerable opportunity to build on that success,” Newsome said. Newsome is part of the team revitalizing the College’s core program, which may start to include diversity-related courses.

Despite a relatively low ranking, Etown frequently hosts events that bring attention to the importance of diversity.

The College’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion hosted a Diversity Town Hall meeting Tuesday, Sept. 12. Smith and Title IX Coordinator Dr. Armenta Hinton facilitated the event and about 25 people attended.

Part of the meeting involved reviewing a draft of the new Inclusive Excellence Strategic Plan. This plan consists of a set of diversity-related goals designed to increase all kinds of diversity at Etown.

Some of the suggestions were curricular, such as incorporating classes that deal with diversity into the Core Program or holding “sensitivity training” sessions to help people understand those from underrepresented demographic groups.

Sophomore Pleasant Sprinkle-Williams attended the meeting and discussed the College’s gender-neutral bathrooms and how they could be better labeled.

Sophomore Ash Burdyn attended the meeting and listened to the various discussions. According to Burdyn, some attendees described specific instances of on-campus discrimination.

“It always kills me inside to hear stories like that,” Burdyn said.

The Diversity Town Hall becomes even more timely when taken alongside other recent campus events. People of all backgrounds were shaken by the posting of promotional stickers and posters for the white supremacist group Identity Evropa around campus. According to an email from President Carl Strikwerda, the incident is being investigated and several pro-diversity counter-campaigns are in the works.

Complete coverage of this event and the College’s response to it will be featured in next week’s issue of the Etownian.

Incidents of discrimination like those Burdyn mentioned were also brought up at Etown’s annual International Peace Symposium held last Saturday.Panelist Josh Bartash of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission works directly with problems involving hate crimes and extremist groups. For more on this event, see page one.

National diversity ranking aside, on-campus events can bring diversity to light and spark any changes that need to happen.

“I feel like events such as these allow the students to have a say in what goes on in their life here on campus,” Sprinkle-Williams said. “I am not sure what kind of impact it has, but I hope that it does foster change or growth within the college and those that reside here.”

 

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