2017 DiversityInc Top 50 Announcement Event

More Colleges ‘Commit’ to Diversity Initiatives

Yale, Brown and NYU have stated their goals, but time will tell how they hold up in the long run.

Student protesters at Yale University.

A lack of diversity and instances of blatant racism on college campuses have both recently garnered mass media attention. Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Amherst and Occidental are just a few schools that have had protests, sit-ins, walk-outs and demonstrations, with Claremont McKenna and University of Missouri even witnessing a collective three staff resignations. These incidents have sparked campus conversations as well as initiatives from the universities to promote diversity. Recently, Yale, Brown and NYU have made headlines for their efforts by committing a significant increase in funds for a diverse faculty as well as more on-campus resources. 

Yale: ‘Diversity must reach across the whole of Yale’

On the same day Mizzou’s president resigned, Yale students participated in a “March of Resilience” to call attention to their school’s similar struggles with diversity, including one incident at a fraternity party where brothers said only white girls could enter.

Related Story: Yale Students March Same Day Mizzou Pres. Resigns

On Nov. 3, President Peter Salovey and Provost Ben Polak sent a campus-wide email revealing the university’s five-year, $50 million diversity plan. $25 million will come from the provost’s office, and the remaining $25 million will come from the various graduate and professional schools.

According to Yale’s College Scorecard, the student body is 47 percent white, 16 percent Asian, 10 percent Hispanic, 7 percent Black, 6 percent two or more races and 1 percent American Indian/Native Alaskan. Socioeconomic diversity at Yale is low; only 13 percent of undergraduate students at Yale receive a Pell Grant, compared with 22 percent nationwide (at private schools).

 Yale’s new initiative will focus on hiring a more diverse faculty. According to the university’s website, only 2.8 percent of faculty and staff members are Black; less than 1 percent are Native American, Pacific Islander or two or more races; 16.9 percent are Asian; 2.6 percent are Hispanic; and 63.2 percent are white. Race could not be identified for 13.9 percent of the faculty.

Related Story: Yale Fraternity Party: ‘White Girls Only’

“Although the resource of this $25 million is coming from the Provost’s Office,” Polak said, “we want each dean to determine what works best for their school.”

Polak and Solvey’s joint statement also explained how they will seek to improve faculty development programs already in place:

At the same time, we are augmenting existing faculty development programs. We will offer a university-wide teaching academy, with special attention to challenges and strategies for women in STEM fields as well as international and underrepresented faculty. And in partnership with the School of Management, we are piloting a program to empower mid-career faculty with the skills they will need as future leaders in higher education.

The funds will also contribute to websites providing information regarding both the new and already-existing programs in order to connect the entire university to the initiative.

Related Story: Mizzou Pres., Chancellor Resign — What Now?

“Yale’s education and research missions are propelled forward by a faculty that stands at the forefront of scholarship, research, practice, mentoring and teaching. An excellent faculty in all of these dimensions is a diverse faculty, and that diversity must reach across the whole of Yale,” the men said.

Brown: Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion

Earlier in November, students at Brown University held protests of their own to express that their voices were not being heard. Also last month, a group that described itself as “a coalition of concerned graduate students of color at Brown University” compiled a list of demands for the university. Among these demands is an increase in minority faculty members that surpasses the goal already set by the university to double this number by 2025.

Brown’s student population is comprised of 43 percent white, 12 percent Asian, 11 percent Hispanic, 10 percent unknown, 6 percent Black, 5 percent two or more races and less than 1 percent for both American Indian/Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students, according to its College Scorecard. Like at Yale, economic diversity is very low; only 14 percent of students receive Pell Grants.

Related Story: Campus Racism Likely to Claim Another President

Several weeks after Yale announced its plan, and three days after the graduate students made their demands public, Brown introduced a proposal of its own. On Nov. 19, President Christina Paxson sent the university a working draft of a plan to promote diversity and inclusion called “Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion: An Action Plan for Brown University,” which the university estimates will cost $100 million. The university is open to responses and feedback from campus community members until Dec. 4 so that they can have the final plan released by the end of the semester.

The plan highlights campus community, investing in people and academic leadership as its three major categories.

Related Story: More Campus Racism: Dean of School with ‘Happiest Students’ Resigns

The campus community category emphasizes creating an inclusive environment through mentoring and financial support, professional and educational development and garnering knowledge regarding Brown’s current campus climate through an external analysis.

The draft of the plan also seeks to double underrepresented faculty members by the 2024-2025 academic year. Statistics regarding diversity among faculty members have been dismal. In 2005-2006, 6.7 percent of the school’s faculty members were in what the report calls historically underrepresented groups (HUG), which “includes people who report themselves as Hispanic or Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native, Black or African American, or Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.” In the 2014-2015 year, this went up to just 8.1 percent. So even though doubling this number would not seem like a substantial increase, it would be a significant jump given the school’s historical lack of growth in diversity.

Related Story: Occidental College Pres. ‘Happy to Resign,’ Amherst Pres. Defends Right to Protest

In regards to academic leadership, the school plans to provide more tools and opportunities for minority and first-generation college students to excel in their field of study and throughout their college career.

New York University: Campus Forum Turned Call to Action

NYU has also pledged to increase funding in certain diversity initiatives, although to what amount financially is unclear.

On Nov. 18, the school held an on-campus forum to discuss diversity and inclusion. Students shared their experiences and opinions, including their disappointment with the school’s Center of Multiculturalism Education and Programs, describing it as “tiny” and “underfunded.”

Related Story: Princeton U. Students Stage Campus Sit-In Over ‘Racist Legacy’

Of the aforementioned universities, NYU statistically has the most diversity in its student body, which is 38 percent white, 18 percent Asian, 11 percent unknown, 11 percent Hispanic, 5 percent Black, 3 percent two or more races, and less than 1 percent for both American Indian/Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students.

20 percent of students receive a need-based Pell Grant, 10 percentage points below the national average for private schools. Simply having racial/ethnically diverse students does not solve problems relating to inclusion, as demonstrated by NYU.

Following the forum, University President John Sexton confirmed the university’s next steps in an email:

We will start by immediately increasing staffing and doubling program funding for the Center for Multicultural Education and Programs to expand and enhance our programming efforts around issues of diversity and inclusion, and by taking concrete steps in the near term to move forward with one of the proposals raised repeatedly yesterday — a serious diversity training program.

Related Story: Portraits of Black Professors at Harvard Defaced

Several weeks later, Provost David McLaughlin sent an additional email outlining more specific measures the school planned to take, including the formation of an ad hoc Committee on the school senate to address diversity and inclusion. This committee will also determine the most effective way to implement campus-wide diversity training.

In addition to the development of the committee, NYU also pledged to implement within the next several weeks a hotline where students can express their experiences regarding racism or intolerance. The school is also creating a Director of Global Diversity position.

Outcome Versus Goals

While the development of diversity goals sounds good on paper and for a school’s reputation (as well as that of its administration), what matters most are the results — which may not always line up with what the school had in mind.

Many schools, for instance, have stated they want to hire a more diverse faculty. This has also appeared among many of the demands drafted by student organizations on these campuses. But how these schools would then retain these faculty members is often absent from the equation, according to Shaun Harper. Harper, who teaches in the Graduate School of Education and serves as the executive director of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania, said these discussions tend to be “terribly lopsided.”

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“Emphasis is often placed on hiring more faculty of color, which is incontestably necessary,” he said. “But not enough attention is paid to raising the consciousness of white faculty members about how their implicit biases shape their interactions with students and colleagues of color.”

Despite Yale’s $50 million commitment, the university is already losing diverse members of its faculty for this very reason. Three Black professors at the university already plan to leave at the end of the academic year. Two of these professors are going to work for Columbia University instead, which in 2012 pledged to allocate $60 million to increasing diversity among its faculty over a three-year period. The other schools could face similar dilemmas and lose their diverse faculty to schools that have already taken this initiative and created an inclusive environment.

Another common “solution” is the creation of some kind of diversity officer. However, without an inclusive administration supporting the person in this position, the effort is in vain — as witnessed at the University of Louisville. University President James Ramsey threw a costume party for his staff where they dressed up in stereotypical “Mexican bandit” attire, complete with sombreros and mustaches. This incident occurred not at the hands of some students, but at the very face of the university, despite the fact that the school has an Office of Hispanic and Latino Initiatives, complete with a director, who was only contacted after the incident had already taken place. Had the university utilized the position in an effective manner the way it was likely intended, the party should not have taken place to begin with.

Related Story: University Apologizes for President’s Offensive Costume Party

According to Harper, accountability also becomes a problem not only among the existing faculty members but among the administrators pledging the money as well. Although these plans and initiatives could be effective if executed correctly, they could just as easily slip into the cracks.

“It is entirely possible that only a tiny fraction of funds committed will be spent, especially if deans and department chairs are not held accountable for taking advantage of faculty recruitment and retention sources that have been made available,” he said.

Related Story: Black Lives Matter Student Protests Around the U.S.

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