Understanding the Diversity Report

    The university released the faculty's diversity report "Diversity and Inclusion" last week following a petition calling for its release that began circulating the first week of Spring Quarter. The report, written in 2010, has previously been available only through appointment with administration. Now that students have free access to the 46-page analysis of diversity and race at Northwestern, where do we go from here?

    Before proceeding to further discussion about the state of diversity and inclusion on this campus, we need a concrete understanding of how we define diversity, who it includes and how we plan to implement it. We also need a grasp on the demographics of this school.

    Who is the “workgroup?”

    The workgroup, composed of 17 professors, faculty members and students, met six times in the process of writing the report. Their goal was to "create a strategy to recruit and retain talented and diverse students, faculty and staff and create an environment that nurtures the richness that diversity brings."

    What did they do?

    Each meeting had "a specific agenda to probe experience at NU, discuss various definitions of diversity, and consider various input from the NU community." They also worked with a panel of experts and university resources to compile reports on diversity on campus as well as on peer institutions.

    How do they define "diversity?"

    The report breaks it up into two parts: social diversity and cultural diversity. Social diversity is defined across criteria of “class, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, disability, etc.”

    Cultural diversity, while pulling from the social aspects, is defined as “where particular differences of ethnicity, gender and nationality (etc.), are marked by experiences of inequalities and marginalization.” These groups have been categorically and historically underrepresented at the university.

    How diverse are we, exactly?

    According to the university's website, the Class of 2014 was 6.9 percent African American, 22.5 Asian American and 8.2 percent Hispanic. In a class of 2,127, this breaks down to 146, 478 and 174 students respectively. This class entered the university the same month "Diversity and Inclusion" was published internally.

    Among the more powerful statements in the report, the workgroups concluded that the image of Northwester is "not particularly welcoming. NU is not ‘racially diverse’. Access to the experience of diversity takes effort. There is separation and a lack of contact between different committees and communities."

    How do we stack up compared to other institutions?

    The committee recognized that black and Latino students "have greater considerations about on cost and personal attention than any other racial or ethnic committee."

    They then compared Northwestern to its peer institutions, including Harvard, Stanford and Michigan. "Northwestern ranks last in the quality of social life and cost to family, and next-to-last in academic reputation. In addition, our financial aid discount rate for undergraduates rank 15th out of 18 among peer universities." This is concerning in terms of both student life and diversity recruitment efforts. It only becomes more difficult to attract a diverse student body when "African American and Hispanic student are the least satisfied students with regard to climate for minority students on campus, sense of community on campus and sense of security on campus."

    What do the students think about diversity?

    The workgroup conducted interviews across Northwestern’s community in order to get a better picture of how we actually view diversity on campus.

    According to studies and interviews conducted by the committee, students on the whole felt, "There is a perception that the University does not truly value diversity. This perception is based on the low numbers of students and faculty of color, and a perceived lack of action to change Northwestern’s apparent association racial exclusiveness."

    What does the faculty think?

    According to faculty interviews, "‘Faculty don’t want to talk about it [diversity], but students do. Faculty assume students don’t want to talk about it. Faculty didn’t learn to talk about it.’"

    The workgroup recommends, "For new tenure-track faculty, a module could be added to the Searle Teaching Fellow program on diversity."

    Is this all about race?

    In a word, no. The workgroup specifically references students with disabilities and students who identify as LGBT as part of the diversity effort. 

    In response to questions about safe spaces in which they were comfortable expressing themselves on campus for LGBT students, "the Norris Center was specifically mentioned, and there was an overwhelming identification of the South side of the Campus as a comfortable location. This contrasted starkly with the North side of the campus which was seen by many as an uncomfortable place to be. In addition the Greek fraternity system was seen as a particular source of discomfort and anxiety."

    They also call for "Northwestern's explicit inclusion of disability as a category of diversity on its website and elsewhere."

    So, where do we go from here?

    While the diversity report makes suggestions for improvement across the communities at Northwestern, the report concerns itself mostly with defining what diversity is and how it is viewed on campus. Crucial points, no doubt, but perhaps less of an action plan than the student body was hoping for.

    • Adding a curriculum requirement

    The committee urges, "Every department/school design diversity courses (in consultation if necessary with relevant scholars at Northwestern) in their own disciplinary terms addresses interactions, themes, issues, connected with underrepresented committees and their experiences and/or histories."

    Further, the workgroup proposes, "Every student in order to graduate must take and pass two diversity courses, one in their major and one as a distribution requirement."

    • Additional on-campus centers

    The committee calls for "two additional centers" on campus that will provide the community with "a fertile stage for the campus scholars to come together and discuss and embrace diversity in ways not previously considered and to contribute to the creation of the new direction of the campus diversity climate. Thrusts for possible centers include, for example, Center for Critical Disability Studies, Center for Women’s Leadership, Center for Socioeconomic Diversity Studies, Center for Critical Sexuality Studies and Center for International Diversity."

    • Further faculty training

    "Increasing conversations about diversity in the residential colleges and in the classroom experience, as noted in the major recommendations on curriculum and environment are essential. To facilitate an infusion of diverse perspectives in courses and better understanding and inclusion of diversity in courses, training for faculty and instructors is crucial. For new tenure-track faculty, a module could be added to the Searle Teaching Fellow program on diversity."

    While it's yet to be seen whether the curriculum suggestions will be taken under consideration at Northwestern, the task of "creating a new mainstream" seems to already be in the works. The report's release and recent racial incidents on campus have sparked a significant increase of diversity-concerned conversation among student groups and administrators. 


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