College presidents participate in panel on diversity in higher education

Wednesday, November 11, 2015 - 8:43pm

Higher Education Panel hosts a Diversity Summit at Rackham Amphitheatre on Wednesday.

Higher Education Panel hosts a Diversity Summit at Rackham Amphitheatre on Wednesday. Buy this photo
Marina Ross/ Daily

 

The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion hosted a panel on the future of diversity in higher education Wednesday as a part of the University’s week-long campus Diversity Summit.

More than 150 people attended the event in Rackham Ampitheatre, which was sponsored by the National Center for Institutional Diversity. During the event, 10 officials from a variety of colleges and universities around the country discussed the state of minority relations on campuses. John Burkhardt, NCID director and School of Education professor, introduced the panel by emphasizing the importance of the discussion.

“Institutions like Michigan get a lot of attention for the stances they take on these issues,” Burckhardt said. “Our purpose today is to give a forceful message that higher education is fiercely committed to these ideals. How can we work together … to advance diversity?”

Earl Lewis, former dean of Rackham Graduate School, moderated the discussion. His opening question, which asked the panelists to define diversity at their schools, took up the bulk of the session. Panel members represented an array of institutions, including tribal, religious, historically Black and predominantly Hispanic colleges.

Panelists opened by explaining the importance of diversity in higher education institutions. Steven Simpson, the president of Baker College, asserted that a variety of students facilitates intellectual growth, particularly when non-minority students are not otherwise exposed to other experiences.

“We need to help students understand how to work with one another and how to understand each other,” Simpson said. “I think we get bogged down thinking about career so much. How do we bring diversity to an area that’s not very diverse? How do we instill in our students a global perspective?”

Much of the discussion focused on how the current state of diversity efforts on college campuses — which often focuses on recruiting — is problematic.

“I think terms like equity and diversity … can often become a euphemisms for assimilation,” said Nancy Barcelo, president of Northern New Mexico College. “Enrollment is important, but we need to make structural changes so that we don’t come back in another 40 years to have the same conversation.”

The speakers were often critical of the University’s diversity policies, in particular. As most of the panelists visited from smaller schools, several went on the offensive against large research institutions. James Anderson, the chancellor of Fayetteville State University, questioned the long-term efficacy of the University’s diversity for non-minority students.

“Where is the University of Michigan’s white paper that shows all the resources invested in diversity in the last five to 10 years?” Anderson asked. “Are you producing white students who can go out and participate in the conversation? People think diversity is to aid diverse students, but really, it’s about changing the majority culture.”

Christine Wiseman, president of Saint Xavier University, also spoke to the advantage of smaller colleges in implementing diversity reform.  

“The large institutions get all the research dollars to tell us how to do what we’re already doing,” Wiseman said. “Our kinds of institutions have the possibility to be on the cutting edge.”

Funding was a major topic discussed by the panelists. From Native American institutions to historically Black colleges, the visiting chancellors and presidents expressed difficulty in persuading legislators to fund not only diversity programs, but minority students’ educations.

“It is good for the economy to have an educated population,” Wiseman said. “We need to talk in terms that make a difference to legislators.”