Gabrielle Friedman: Reach out to improve diversity

Correction appended

Every February, with the start of Black History Month, I am reminded of the importance of diversity and tolerance.

When Steven Knapp became GW’s 16th president, he made promoting diversity among students, faculty and administrators a major goal for the University.

Noble as it is, this is no novelty – universities across the nation are attempting to raise diversity numbers in order to draw prospective students.

But, even if it is a popular tenet, Knapp was right to make diversity a primary goal for his tenure.

But despite these efforts – including launching a nation-wide search for a provost of diversity – the Chronicle of Higher Education reported just last year that GW is not faring well with efforts to expand our campus to all students. The study said GW is less diverse than its market basket schools, with 56 percent of students identifying as white.

National demographic trends might be difficult to overcome, but this is not impossible. Our University can and must take more steps to ensure that GW maintains and expands diversity.

In 2010, Knapp created the President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion. The council’s aim is to promote diversity amongst the student body and faculty by generating ideas and recommendations for improving diversity on campus.

However, the organization has been in existence for a year now, and has seemed to accomplish very little other than appointing people to the council and inviting students to provide feedback on diversity. In fact, a visit to the organization’s website bolsters this observation, seeing as the only item listed under its “Announcements” section is a piece announcing the creation of the council itself.

Greg Squires, a member of the council, said the council is slated to provide a report for President Knapp by the end of the academic year on how the University can effectively pursue the council’s ultimate objectives.

Creating the council was a huge step, but we need to do more, and the student body should be engaged during the process.

While GW has an impressive financial aid program, it needs to be more visible when supplying that information. This can be accomplished by sending out even more recruiters and financial aid experts to local D.C. high schools and explaining to students the multiple scholarships that GW can provide. Organizations like Reach 4 Success, a local nonprofit that engages with the District’s minority high school students while providing guidance on achieving a higher education, can provide GW a forum to discuss what our University can offer the multitude of students who are a part of this organization.

In an interview with Dr. No?l S. Harmon, senior program manager at the Institute for Higher Education Policy, he pointed out that the University must create “systemic, structural, curricular and programmatic approaches to shaping a vibrant campus culture.” The University can accomplish this by developing relationships with organizations that seek to connect minority students with a higher education.

Students should demand a multicultural GW community. Diversity at a university means having a dynamic environment with students from all different backgrounds, who teach each other about new perspectives and ideas to which we might not have otherwise been exposed. Diversity is not just an important university selling point, it is vital to a holistic college experience.

-The writer, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.

This article was updated on Feb. 10, 2010 to reflect the following:
An early version was originally uploaded to the website. The Hatchet apologizes for this error.

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