Marissa Fretes: Broadening the University’s diversity focus

We’ve all heard it too many times.

Professors mention it in lecture, our friends bring it up in conversation and it echoes as a goal through the floors of Rice Hall: GW needs to be more diverse.

Even University President Steven Knapp has made it a concrete mission of his tenure to diversify GW.

But what does that really mean?

The University needs to take a step back and reevaluate what diversity means as its current view is too homogenous.

The University should make its principal focus of diversity increasing socioeconomic diversity. An explicit, and not secondary, focus on increasing socioeconomic diversity would lead to a more enriched and varied student body.

The President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion released its report, “Diversity: A Key to Academic Excellence,” in June. The report outlines specific ways to increase diversity and create an inclusive atmosphere within the University. The Council came up with 12 main points of improvement, which include strengthening admissions and financial aid, targeting multicultural students, reorganizing the Multicultural Student Services Center and expanding the University’s use of minority- and women-owned businesses in the D.C. area.

It appears that in the eyes of the administration, the Council on Diversity and Inclusion, and the President himself, diversity and race are one in the same.

But diversity is more than a numbers game, and it’s more than simply recruiting minorities to attend GW. The idea of increasing diversity, while a great goal for the University, has been unfortunately distorted into this narrow definition of color, when it can mean so much more: religion, geography, political views and – most importantly – socioeconomic status.

The University should consider socioeconomic diversity seriously when creating its plans to improve campus diversity.

Terri Reed, the vice provost for diversity and inclusion, said, “The GW vision is to build on the existing diversity of our student body in all of its forms, including socioeconomic status.”

By focusing on racial diversity, she said, the University will also end up expanding geographic and socioeconomic diversity, too.

But the report has a principal focus on GW’s unsatisfactory racial breakdown, and takes the position that the University needs to do a better job at specifically convincing multicultural students to attend. The University shows a concern for socioeconomic diversity when it discusses strengthening financial aid awards, but the report does not make financial diversity appear to be the University’s number one goal.

While all forms of diversity are valuable, I believe that expanding socioeconomic diversity should be the University’s major and singular focus right now.

Indeed, GW has a need-blind application process. This comes at a time when many private schools nationwide are considering a prospective student’s financial situation when deciding whether or not to accept him or her. This process allows for qualified students of a lower socioeconomic status to have the same chance at GW that wealthier students do. GW is also a nationwide leader in doling out financial aid.

By specifically targeting lower-income students, the University can expand the composition of the student body; lower-income Americans are often multicultural, are often religious and even hail from places aside from New York, New Jersey and California.

Marissa Fretes, the writer, is a freshman majoring in English.

This column was updated Oct. 18, 2011 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet erroneously stated reported that the University’s Diversity: A Key to Academic Excellence,” report did not mention socioeconomic diversity. If fact, the University’s diversity report defines diversity to include,“ quite broadly to include matters of race, ethnicity, gender, income, religion, sexual orientation, intellectual traditions and more.

The column also erroneously states that, “the University’s Diversity report doesn’t outright mention socioeconomic status at all in its recommendations.” But the University in fact has a program in place to accept socioeconomically disadvantaged students by strengthening financial awards for accepted students.

The column also erroneously states that, “the University’s Diversity report doesn’t outright mention socioeconomic status at all in its recommendations.” But the University in fact has a program in place to accept socioeconomically disadvantaged students by strengthening financial awards for accepted students.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.