Although some may view it as simply Affirmative Action or attempts to keep up with political correctness, diversity and inclusion are extremely important concepts to keep in the future of higher education. As an underrepresented minority female scientist familiar with deep Southwest Virginia, the concept of being the only person of a particular identity or background is not foreign to me. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to grow up in an area dense with cultural diversity and pretty open to inclusion. However, after living in areas that are nearly polar opposites to my home, I can fully understand how damaging places that don’t value diversity and inclusion can be.
For universities to truly provide service everyone in their communities, they must continue to value diverse and inclusive environments. Not only to welcome more diverse and included students, but to encourage and teach others how to work and contribute to our increasingly diverse and inclusive world. Although many people are learning how to coexist with our different backgrounds and identities, I would like to highlight and reiterate how environments devoid of diversity and inclusion can feel. The two most prominent feelings I will discuss are isolation and exclusion.
Next time you are in a room full of people, take a look around. How many people have the same skin color? How many people have the same gender? How many people share your same identities? Although these things may seem superficial, they can hold a powerful bearing over an individual’s comfort level and feeling of belonging. For some, these differences don’t mean much, but for others it can lead to an immense feeling of isolation; a feeling that there is no one in the room/department/campus you can relate to. This feeling is usually silent and easy to dismiss from an external perspective, but it is so important to preventing the next feeling: exclusion.
Feeling like you don’t belong can often lead to the feeling that you don’t deserve to belong. Many people (usually graduate students) experience impostor’s syndrome at least once in their higher educational career. This syndrome can be amplified by this feeling of exclusion especially for students from underrepresented identities and backgrounds. The feeling that a particular place is not for you because no one else like you has thrived there (to your knowledge). Exclusion can make underrepresented individuals feel like continuing in a particular environment is a daunting task. Instead of focusing on bettering themselves and improving one’s education, the feeling of exclusion can hinder progress and lead to quitting continued education altogether.
These feelings can be so discouraging to students in higher education and I feel that it is extremely important that institutions value diversity and inclusion. For higher education institutes to truly educate all masses, they must foster environments that feel welcoming and open to everyone.
Math pun: Why was the function so bent out of shape? Its regression model was too tight a fit.
(Today’s Math pun brought to you by statistics and modeling)