Colleges use the buzzword “diversity” when talking about their ideal student populations, but ideals and reality do not always add up. Dr. Paul Porter is the director of multicultural affairs at the University of Scranton and knows firsthand how important support programs are for minority and international students. Before his current role, he served as the director of the first-year experience program at a different university, working to help students adapt to the demands of a college setting.
I spoke with Porter about his current role at the University of Scranton and what trends in diversity he expects to see in the coming years.
Q: How do affordable college options play into diversity?
A: The altruistic response is that they avail campuses to a multitude of self-identifying populations, while also creating a powerful educational experience in the classroom and beyond. However, they also call attention to the desperate need for institutional introspection. Before exploring the effects of affordability, campuses have to wonder if they are truly ready for population change. What type of experiences await students as campuses diversify? Are institutions appropriately preparing faculty and staff to engage an evolving student population and address potential changes in campus climate? Maybe most immediately, do we clearly understand our own frailties, prejudices and concerns, as well as their influence on our institutional profile? Without a keen exploration of these issues, diversity of any kind becomes problematic.
Q: What trends in multicultural learning/campuses do you see coming in the next five years?
A: Preparation for a cultural reality that we’ve talked about but still remains unseen. For example, the increasingly blurred line between racial minority and majority; intensified discourses surrounding gender equity and the potentiality of more women in high level leadership roles (e.g. the White House); and even a reconstructed definition of marriage. I think it is safe to assume that we will be challenged to speak candidly yet sensitively about a continuously evolving social landscape — especially as these realities affect the climate of our campuses and the lives our students. But I’m also hopeful for a broader conversation that is more inclusive of not only the wealth of identities that shape our world view, but also the intricacies that emerge when those identities intersect.
Q: Is there still an advantage for students to attend a college campus, over online courses?
A: Absolutely! We live in a world in which people can disconnect themselves from human interaction far too easily, and our overuse of technology is the force that enables it. We don’t talk anymore. We have become cold to the human condition. However, the college campus as a social structure has done, by far, the best job of accommodating our digital obsession without dehumanizing us. Online courses, while convenient, don’t offer the type of engaged dialogue that takes place in the classroom. There is no service learning, or cocurricular activities like intercollegiate forensics (speech and debate). It’s called school spirit for a reason, and that reason is simple: campus is the physical space that plays host to the soul of a college or university. It is the one thing you cannot download. There’s no “app” for that.
Q: Do you think that being a small campus helps or hurts diversity at The University of Scranton?
A: It helps, primarily because the responsibility of maintaining a welcoming and inclusive environment sweeps across campus. Diversity is not a goal at The University of Scranton; it is an expectation. We all work from the “top-down” to ensure that it remains embedded in our institutional identity.
Q: What does your international student population look like?
A: We host approximately 130 international students and scholars, representing 20 countries, and our campus has experiences a gradual increase in enrollment every year. We have a strong Saudi Arabian student presence and a thriving Latino/Latina population.
Q: What programs/initiatives are in place to make The University of Scranton a truly multicultural place?
A: Maintaining a campus climate that celebrates multiculturalism is deeply rooted in our Jesuit Catholic tradition. From the lens of our Office of Multicultural Affairs, we pride ourselves on a philosophy that reframes the word multicultural to broaden the scope of students we serve. We are conscious of identities such as veteran status, geographic location, family structure, political preference, mental/physical ability and body type when developing our programming, initiatives, visions and goals. More importantly, we recognize and honor those identities without side-stepping or diluting the complexities of “traditional” cultural topics (e.g. race, gender, religion, etc.). We provide safe and nurturing spaces for all members of the campus community to develop [and] understand their cultural identities, and then encourage effective and appropriate means of expression.