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13 Ways to Support Diversity at Your Institution

Access versus Inclusion

Christine Lee
Christine Lee
Content Manager






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Increasing diversity is a universally embraced directive for so many higher education institutions and for good reason. But once you increase diversity and open access for underrepresented student groups, you must continue to support diversity. The goal is to not only build a ladder for students into higher education but to build scaffolding for success in school and beyond, for both your established and emerging student populations.

Inclusion is an important partner to access.

Anthony Abraham Jack, assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, addresses this very concept of access and inclusion in his recent book The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students. Jack studied low-income students, dividing them into two groups: the “privileged poor” from prep schools and the “doubly-disadvantaged,” who come from under-resourced public schools. He concludes, “We have paid less attention to what happens when students get on campus than their moment of entry and where they go once they graduate.”

“Universities,” he also states, “have extended invitations to more and more diverse sets of students but have not changed their ways to adapt to who is on campus." This leads to doubly-disadvantaged students suffering culture shock and isolation once exposed to myriad hidden systems within higher education:

“We have been teaching students from more privileged backgrounds for so long, that we take a lot for granted on a college campus. Mental health offices, career service offices, they are so used to students being more proactive and entering their doors because they've been taught that if you want something, you go out and get it.”

What results from access without inclusion is a population of historically under-represented students feeling like outsiders—and feeling isolated at your campus.

If you aren’t prepared as an institution to provide resources and the scaffolding to those resources, your mission for increased diversity will likely fail. And worse, it is likely that underrepresented student populations will be dismissed as “not cutting it,” when in fact they, all along, need a different kind of support than students from middle-class and upper-class backgrounds. And the reality is that the onus is on higher education institutions who actively recruit under-represented populations such as first-generation college students.

This mandate for inclusion isn’t about helping unqualified students—your admissions committee has made sure to admit qualified students. But if a student arrives at your campus without prior access points, implicit institutional knowledge, or without a history of academic success within family histories, they’re simply going to need additional resources that have yet to exist within legacy structures.

If your mission is to increase first-generation college students, but you know that they may not be equipped to transition from secondary education to higher education, then it’s your institution’s responsibility to provide the scaffolding and support for them to make that leap.

If your mission is to decrease gender parity at your university— then why wouldn’t you provide resources for female or male students?

If your mission is to increase under-represented minorities such as Native American, Latina/o American, and African American students in your student population—you not only want under-represented minorities to enroll but also to succeed and graduate.

If your mission is to increase the number of LGBTQ+ students, then you have to make accommodations and challenge the status quo. Same goes for students with disabilities.

Without doing so, institutions are upholding patriarchy and legacy systems, many of which have been specifically designed to exclude others.

So we have to do the work of providing resources and helping students move forward.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has also examined how institutions can promote a sense of belonging and inclusion to underrepresented students. In a 2018 article, Becky Supiano states, “At the same time that researchers have been delving deeper into belonging, many groups of students have been telling their college leaders that they don’t feel welcome on campus, Trolian said. The groups include black students, transgender students, and when the climate of sexual harassment is considered, women.”

Let’s get back to Jack.

Jack’s book expounds on his 2015 NY Times Opinion column entitled, “What the Privileged Poor Can Teach Us.” It too highlights the thesis statement, “While elite colleges have taken strides in financially supporting students previously left outside their gates, they have thought less about what that inclusion means for academic life, or how colleges themselves might need to change to help the least advantaged continue on their road to success.”

So if diversity is a universally accepted mandate, how can universities ready themselves for diverse student bodies? In what ways can universities promote inclusion? Because the end result of inclusion is increased student retention, diverse learning experiences, exposure to diverse thinking, and innovative thought.

Let’s look at some innovative ways universities make sure to create an environment of inclusion for diverse student populations:

  • The University of Vermont became the first higher education institution in the United States to allow students to enter their pronouns into campus data systems. This is one way they support their non-binary and transgender student population.
  • UC Berkeley has institutional programs to support diversity with a dedicated office and by promoting multicultural clubs on campus.
  • Make institutional programs accessible. For instance, provide office hours and flexible tutoring hours for students who have jobs.
  • Diversify admissions staff.
  • Diversify faculty. Students see themselves reflected in educators.
  • Recognize that many students don’t have a place to go during school breaks, especially the long winter and summer breaks. Consider revising residential programs to house students in dormitories over breaks. Closed dormitories during breaks reflect a legacy system that assumes students have family able and willing to house them.
  • Recognize a large homeless student population. Ed Mirecki, Dean of Students at the University of Washington-Tacoma acknowledges that higher education isn’t a social service agency, “But on the other hand, if we really are focused on increasing access and providing these [educational] opportunities for students, we have an obligation to help support their success and that means creating these support structures around affordable housing and food insecurity.” Additionally, Students 4 Students at UCLA promotes collaborative shelters for homeless students.
  • Bolster or create targeted support for first-generation college students before they matriculate. Summer Bridge and other such programs that are in place before the start of the academic year ensure a smoother transition. Orientation can help students learn to access resources on campus. Look to HBCUs as a model for innovative and effective programs, which include peer mentoring and financial counseling services.
  • The State University of New York at Albany offers a broader array of cuisines for its international students, who have limited transportation options.
  • Does your school have majors or minors that push for inclusion and diversity? If a school has an ethnic studies or gender equality studies department, your students will recognize your institution as an inclusive environment.
  • Consider recommending students to participate in events or training that promote diversity and acceptance. It may not change the world, but it will reflect your institution’s philosophy about inclusion.
  • Conduct and publicize annual surveys on students’ sense of belonging. A sense of belonging is strongly correlated with higher achievement, retention, and better mental health. Colleges already collect and share data on other indicators of student success. Include inclusion.
  • Promote diversity and inclusion within your faculty and administration with programs, resources, and research, as recommended by the American Council on Education.

We hope that we’ve supported you on your institution's journey to diversity and inclusion with this list. And we at Turnitin commend universities for undertaking this admirable goal.