Achieving Diversity: Moving From Rhetoric to Action

Achieving Diversity: Moving From Rhetoric to ActionBy Dr. Wanda S. Mitchell

The term “diversity” is sometimes perceived as a controversial, uncomfortable and troublesome kind of word. After all, interactions with the unfamiliar force people to question long-held beliefs and the way they normally do business.

In the academy, we are accustomed to doing things the “traditional way.” In institutions of higher learning, we admit students and recruit faculty and staff based on very focused criteria, often not questioning the effectiveness of such or exploring other options. Therefore, we get the same type of results and deem this “par excellence.”

This description applies to a northern New England university located about 80 miles north of Harvard University, the oldest institution established to educate male aristocrats. In New Hampshire, a state where the total minority population is 4 percent, the University of New Hampshire has achieved a minority student enrollment of 4.9 percent and minority faculty employment of 7.9 percent over the last 10 years. Using our state demographics as a benchmark, we are doing exceptionally, but we are not only competing with institutions in New Hampshire, but those throughout the country and around the world. Consequently, UNH is taking a new approach to looking at its learning community.

UNH has discovered the positive impact that diverse ideas, cultures and experiences have on the intellectual and social development of its community. Innovative, nontraditional and aggressive strategies are being developed and, more importantly, being implemented, including the development of a task force to assist in developing a long-range institutional diversity strategic plan; conducting meetings with search committees to present strategies for recruitment, hiring and retention; and launching a university diversity Web site <www.unh.edu/diversity> to serve as a communication tool to the internal and external communities regarding diversity initiatives.  

The new diversity initiatives represent areas in which we have “talked a lot of talk” but not “walked very much walk.” Talk gives purpose and direction, but the walk actually gets you there. Educating students for life in a diverse world and recruiting new faculty and staff are among the most important things we do, and it is essential that we do them well in institutions of higher learning.

As vice provost for diversity, I am responsible for institutional initiatives that create and nurture a dynamic learning environment in which individuals of differing perspectives, life experiences and cultural backgrounds pursue academic goals with mutual respect and a shared spirit of inquiry. Diversity can only be achieved through a concerted effort that engages the entire campus community.

Although UNH is located in a part of the country where many people of color may not consider to be their first choice to live, work or study, the university is committed to the promotion of an atmosphere that is diverse and complex in ways that are intellectually and socially enriching for everyone. The administration embraced the directive to continue the transformation of the university in order to better meet its responsibilities to the citizens of New Hampshire in a rapidly changing world. Moreover, increased diversity is a central part of the transformation to becoming a world-class institution.

Dr. Mitchell is the vice provost for diversity at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.



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