What is Diversity at Central Michigan University?

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The Office for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion defines diversity in higher education as follows, utilizing principles of theories of diversity as outlined by Sylvia Hurtado, et al: historical legacies on inclusion and exclusion, structural diversity, psychological climate, and behavioral dimensions (1999). When we address these issues at the institutional level, several questions emerge: who has been historically included in institutions of higher learning, and who has been historically excluded? Institutions of higher learning, at their earliest inception, were developed to educate the upper class and those in power (men) and to exclude the "other" (economically disadvantaged men, women). Under-represented populations, certainly, have been excluded. These populations have been identified as the "other" or as subjects in relation to structures of power in which one dominant force exudes its power or will upon subjugated groups. The groups historically include: racial, cultural, ethnic, political or religious groups that are not of the dominant group; this also include gender differences between males and females, with women having been traditionally excluded from institutions of higher learning; those whose gender identities do not conform to specific male/female sites; sexual orientation that does not fit under the accepted heteronormative categories of sexuality practiced by those in power; veterans of the armed services who because of age or disability have been excluded as a population accepted into higher education institutions; and individuals whose physical, emotional, or mental disabilities have not allowed them access to these institutions as well.

 

Historical legacies: who is included and who is excluded from the institution? What are the patterns of inclusion and exclusion that keep the public institution from being accessible to all? Why does an institution have a pattern of attendance that doesn't include persons from under-represented communities? Why do these communities continue to be under-represented at the institution? What policies and or practices, conscious or unconscious, continue to include or exclude certain populations? Public educational institutions are just that: publicly funded so that there is equal access to the educational institution so that all members of society can have access to qualifying higher learning and a solid education. The democratic process is woven into the fabric of higher learning: equality, accessibility, citizenship, and fairness. That said, historical legacies of inclusion and exclusion must be examined to adequately define a diverse population.

 

The structural diversity of an institution applies to practices at the university which keep certain populations excluded. For example, standardized test scores and grades are generally taken into account when students apply for admission; however, if a student comes from a low-performing school district or community that does not have the resources available to him/her as they would be available at a more affluent school district whose political, economic, and social capital allows for inequities to rise between school districts, then inequity is present in the national educational system. The myth of accessibility (Dunn & Alvitre, 2002) purports that all school systems are equal in the sense that all resources and opportunities given to individuals by the current American political system are the same is just not true. Kuh, et al (2008), have shown that vast inequities in educational systems still routinely exist in the United States, and to hold all students to the same rubric is simply creating systems of inequity that continue.

 

The psychological climate of an institution also must be assessed. How are students who come from underrepresented groups treated by other students, staff, faculty, and the community? Two recent studies by the Center for Applied Research in Rural Studies (CARRS) at CMU states that underrepresented students still are experiencing racial hostility on campus (Senter, 2015). Three studies have shown that not much change has occurred at CMU in an eight year period; students of color still experience racism both on and off campus in significant numbers (see tables provided). These students surveyed are also asking for administration to address these issues of racism and discrimination (Senter, 2015).

 

Behavioral dimensions are also included with psychological dimensions. How does the university generally treat underrepresented students? Does the university assume that most students come from affluent, two parent families? Does the university take into consideration that many underrepresented students are sending money home to help support families who are living below poverty in urban areas? That students come from non-traditional situations such as foster care, emancipated minors, and other support systems that do not look traditionally like the "normal" support system? Some students don't have access to computers or telephones and the institution is constantly communicating with students via electronic systems that don't always reach the non-traditional student.

 

Therefore, to level the playing field and embrace diversity, equity and inclusion, and in order to develop a culture of socially conscious and equity minded practices, we as an institution are  engaged in the necessary, and sometimes difficult, conversations and decision-making that can lead to transformational change for student learning and achievement – all of the systems addressed by our core values and mission statement as Central Michigan University – and move us toward an inclusive, equitable, and diverse learning community.

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