In my hometown in Nebraska, the word diversity means something slightly different than it does here in D.C. In Foggy Bottom, many people would say diversity means a group of people who have different religions, ethnicities and nationalities. But back home, a diverse group of people could mean a group of white students with just one or two people of color. My state university is trying to change that.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is in the process of hiring its very first vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion. The vice chancellor will be responsible for ensuring a diverse student body and faculty, and recruiting diverse faculty and staff. However, this positive step forward has caused controversy. Nebraska state Sen. Steve Erdman penned a column last month arguing that the move is a step backward for “white Christian conservative males.” That couldn’t be more wrong.
It is a massive privilege for me to have left my home in Bellevue, Neb. for D.C. As I begin my senior year, I cannot overstate how beneficial it has been to be surrounded by diverse communities, both on campus and in the DMV area. Being surrounded by diverse groups has helped me learn about my own culture and other cultures I wouldn’t have been able to learn about in the same way back home. But these organizations wouldn’t have existed, or been as successful, without support from administrators who have a sole focus on diversity and inclusion. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln should continue to fully pursue its goal of hiring a vice chancellor for diversity – despite the pushback that it may receive from some students, alumni and state senators.
Two years ago, GW hired Caroline LaGuerre-Brown as the vice provost for diversity, equity and community engagement. Before coming to GW, she worked at Johns Hopkins University as the vice provost of institutional equity. Her role since she has come to GW has focused primarily on issues related to minority students, community service and Title IX. With a position that’s sole focus is on how minority students are dealing with campus life, students not only have an administrator to go to but have an advocate they know they can rely on.
While GW’s diversity efforts are not perfect, they are a step in the right direction. It is easy for me to take heritage celebrations and diversity training for granted because the multicultural and minority organizations on campus seem to have support, but that isn’t the case back home for me, and it isn’t the case for many students at other colleges or universities. Diversity efforts – contrary to my state senator’s beliefs – do little to ostracize white students, but instead give students a sense of understanding and comfort at school. Students at colleges across the country should push for diversity administrators and increased diversity efforts.
All of GW’s peer schools, including Georgetown and Boston universities, have an office or committee dedicated to diversity and inclusion at their respective colleges. Universities across the country should be making steps to create spaces for diversity and inclusion administrators on their campuses.
Whether students are aware of it or not, diversity is a crucial part of education. Researchers from the Century Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, found that diversity in classrooms improves students’ learning outcomes and brings unique ideas to the table. While GW isn’t the most diverse college, students are lucky to have an administrator that specifically is hired to deal with diversity initiatives, because many schools do not have that.
Diversity efforts add new voices to a room and without those voices present, students are missing perspective that can inform them and even change their worldview. I didn’t grow up in a very diverse neighborhood or school district. In fact, I could count on two hands the students of color in my grade during elementary school. While I made great friends regardless of shared or different backgrounds, it is comforting to be on campus with administrators, faculty members and students who value diversity and inclusion.
Renee Pineda, a senior majoring in political science, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.
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