Conference: Educators Explore Strategies for Advancing Campus Diversity

Updated Dec 13, 2011
Dr. Daryl G. Smith of the Claremont Graduate UniversityDr. Daryl G. Smith of the Claremont Graduate University

DURHAM. N.C. – Higher education has made progress in the area of diversity, but there is much more work to be accomplished, said Dr. Daryl G. Smith, professor of Education and Psychology at Claremont Graduate University in California.

Smith was the keynote speaker for the North Carolina Diversity and Inclusion Partners (DIP) gathering at Duke University in Durham, N.C., on Friday. Entitled Diversity in Higher Education – In Pursuit of Excellence, the conference brought together sponsoring universities throughout the state, as well as representatives from community colleges.

Smith, the author of Diversity’s Promise for Higher Education: Making it Work, noted that universities and colleges have more programs, projects and groups that promote diversity. However, at many campuses student enrollment still does not adequately reflect diversity, nor does the faculty and staff.

“There are diversity efforts on campuses, but at many universities they are not part of core functions,” she said. “The efforts should be in strategic plans and mission statements.”

Smith compared the state of diversity to the field of technology – ongoing.

She stressed that educational institutions should monitor their diversity progress and track the success of their students through data. Do these students have access to all enrichment opportunities, such as study abroad programs, she asked. She encouraged faculty to believe in their students, even when they don’t believe in themselves.

Smith said that minorities should be more prominent on leadership teams. She encouraged those attending to have discussions with senior administrators about where diversity fits into the institution.

“We would do that with technology,” Smith said.

Dr. Edna Chun, associate vice chancellor for Human Resource Services at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, said some of those in charge of diversity advancement at colleges and universities actually have little authority in their roles. Some employees may not even be invited to policy discussions, she noted.

“This is a huge challenge to know how to connect the top level (of management) with the rest of the institution,” Chun said. She believes that at most educational institutions there are only a small group of people responsible for diversity initiatives.

Dr. Ben Reese Jr., vice president for institutional equity and Chief Diversity Officer for Duke University, said the conference has grown since it was organized in 2003. Representatives from 84 colleges and universities have attended conference over the years. DIP sponsors include Duke University, East Carolina University, North Carolina Central University, N.C. State University, the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, and the University of North Carolina–Wilmington.

Luncheon speaker Maya Matthews Minter, vice president for Editorial and Production at Cox, Matthews & Associates, the publisher of Diverse: Issues in Higher Education magazine, reminded the audience of challenges for community college and two-year college students of color. According to Minter, one half of all racial and ethnic minorities in higher education are enrolled in two-year colleges and community college programs. However, in four-year public institutions, only 11 percent of students are Black, 10 percent are Hispanic, 7 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander and 1 percent is American Indian/Alaska native.

“At the graduate and professional institutions, those same trends hold,” she said. She is hopeful that President Barack Obama’s reauthorization of the Higher Education Act will focus on accountability. A federal committee has submitted a formal proposal requiring that two-year colleges report their completion rates through both graduation and transfer records.