Diversity and Inclusion: The Future of the University

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.

Isolation

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.

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)

9 thoughts on “Diversity and Inclusion: The Future of the University

  1. This is an amazing post. I agree wholeheartedly that Universities must start doing a better job in fostering diversity and inclusion. That being said, I am curious how you imagine Virginia Tech builds and improves upon the programs they already have in place. I am a big proponent of proactive inclusion and not sure if Affirmative Action is even going farther enough. Whether it is in hiring or admissions- the barriers to entry must be higher for white males and other dominant social classes in order to encourage any type of real change.

    • jcwoods says:

      Zachary, you have strong point here. However, lest we forget, Virginia Tech is a Predominantly White Institution (PWI). That way, the class order will always be there. For a better understanding of what I mean, I encourage you to read my post on the admissions scandal and the Matthew Effect theory. That said, Virginia Tech has done immensely well as they have remove some key admissions barriers and expanded the timeline for application which triggered a lot more diverse admission group this year. I think this is embedded in the vision and workings of the current leadership headed by President Sands with the aim of increasing underrepresented groups (including first-gen students) to 30% in student, staff, and faculty populations.

    • gabrils says:

      I cannot say for certain what actions in particular should be taken to build upon existing measures for diversity and inclusion. However, like eliminating bias, one of the most effective ways to make sure that we continue to improve is to simply stay aware. I feel as long as diversity and inclusion are still involved in the conversation, universities such as our own will continue to progress. Essentially, the very least institutions have to do is stay aware and try.

  2. jcwoods says:

    This is a really great post, mainly with the way you have discussed the feelings of isolation and exclusion. I just responded to another post on “diversity and inclusion.” As I mentioned in that comment, the diversity and inclusion conversation is sensitive and can most times become emotive. As such, most individuals abstain from the conversation. You have discussed very pertinent issues in post such as sense of belonging. I do agree with you that universities should encourage and teach diversity other than just incorporating more diverse students. In my opinion, there is a difference between representation that is looking diverse and being inclusive. Sense of belonging is obviously important to enable students develop their identities and lead to successful outcomes in their education.

  3. Natali Carolina Huggins de Murzi says:

    Thanks for sharing, I agreed with your point of view, it is extremely important for institution to re think about their approaches in diversity and inclusion, the system has to move forward to just see diversity and inclusion as a check in box number. Culturally universities most prepare their people in embracing the diverse in the actual world, and not just thinking in race base but also gender and believes.

  4. aydakianmehr says:

    Thanks a lot for your post. You mentioned an important point. Being in an excluded and isolated cause this feeling you don’t belong to that environment and even that you don’t deserve to belong. I think being excluded could be very harmful and it could reduce the efficiency of people. This issue is even more important in academic environment because students are not in a high positions with enough self confidence so if they feel they are in a minority group their academic performance could be affected. When I reviewed universities mission statements earlier in this semester, I noticed that many universities mentioned that they seek to include diversity and inclusion in their universities. However, I think much more efforts needed for reaching to this ideal and we are still far from that point.

  5. Carlos Michelen says:

    Thanks for talking about this important topic and sharing your experience! I would add that it is more than simply having people who ‘look’ like you, I would say culture is also a big part of inclusion. Also there are more subtle parts of culture that contribute to an inclusive/exclusive environment. E.g. communication style is one example of a cultural trait that can have an exclusive effect on teaching/learning.

  6. Aanuoluwapo Ojelade says:

    I think I can relate well with isolation. When I got to Blacksburg, I don’t have a car so I have to take the bus to school every day. Most times, people don’t sit down next to me even when the bus is full. I feel so isolated as a result so I resulted in walking down to school till I can get a car. It got better over time and I have gotten over it but it wasn’t easy. I appreciate the awareness created around diversity and inclusion but I feel more should be done.

  7. Maryam says:

    I think integration system in higher education instead of inclusion leads to isolation of communities.
    Fortunately, we passed the segregation era and moved to integration. Separated communities are integrated in the system. However, collaboration between these integrated communities is still a challenge. People need to get out of their comfort zone of their own community with the same nationality, skin color, and belief. We need to have a courage of exploring other communities without feeling isolated.

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