Diversity and inclusivity are important values for any university community, and chances are you’ll find those words within seconds when scrolling on a university’s homepage. But why are these qualities so important?
By creating an environment that welcomes and respects people from a wide range of backgrounds, universities foster a stronger sense of belonging and provide equal opportunities for all students. In addition, preparing students for the increasingly globalized labor force requires being able to work and deal with people from all over the world. From an academic point of view, having a diverse and inclusive community can boost the emergence of new perspectives.
Here are some strategies that universities can implement to promote inclusivity and diversity in their community.
Diversify Faculty and Staff: one of the most effective ways to promote diversity is to ensure that faculty and staff come from a wide range of backgrounds. By hiring people who come from different ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds, universities can create a community that reflects the diversity of its students. Many universities have quotas in place, as faculty are likely to remain part of the university for a longer time than most students (who typically only study a few years), this can help build long(er)-lasting diversity.
Provide Resources and Support: universities should provide resources and support to students from underrepresented communities. This can include mentorship programs, cultural centers, and financial aid opportunities that specifically target these students. Almost all universities will have various programs in place to offer these resources, but finding them can be a real challenge for students. Make sure that you are therefore not only offering them but also communicating them through the right channels at the right times.
Foster a Culture of Openness: universities should foster a culture of openness and inclusivity by encouraging dialogue and discussion about diversity and inclusivity issues. This can include hosting events and forums where students can share their experiences and learn from each other. In The Netherlands, some universities have set up an open space on campus such as the ‘Living Room’. Here all students are welcome to simply meet other students (in fact, at most universities it is the only place where you are not allowed to study). Having such a physical presence can really boost creating an open and inclusive environment in the long term.
Incorporate Diversity and Inclusivity into the Curriculum: another way to promote diversity and inclusivity is to incorporate it into the curriculum. More and more universities are figuring out new, innovative ways to incorporate the non-academic values of the university into the programs. Whether you’re studying psychology, physics, or business, there are always ways to ensure students that their opinion is appreciated (e.g. professors starting their lectures with welcoming words, creating stronger feedback loops, and offering students more opportunities in small groups).
Diversity and inclusivity may be two values that are hard to measure, and their benefits may be even more complicated to assess. However, fostering a culture on campus where all students feel welcomed and positively challenged will really ensure students feel much more connected (and as mentioned in other blogs; therefore boost academic performance and reputation).