How the University Environment Affects a Changing Demographic

By: Rohini Anand
Mar 9, 2017 10:20 AM ET
Blog

College students’ social encounters on campus shape their college experience. Therefore, it is imperative that campuses foster inclusive environments where all students feel valued, respected and celebrated. This in mind, the need for a sense of belonging is more pressing than ever. Our society’s tendency to display racial intolerance, cultural disengagement and lack of understanding across differences calls for more culturally aware campuses.

All students, regardless of race, religion, gender physical or mental ability or sexual orientation, deserve to be treated with equity. In the latest chapter of the President to President series, MaryAnn Baenninger outlines her personal story about diversity and inclusion as president of Drew University and subtly calls for campuses to serve as welcoming environments for their increasingly diverse student bodies.

Today’s world represents a myriad of races, cultures and ethnicities spanning the globe. According to PBS.org, those who were once the minority are now the majority, and this calls for an updated educational structure that meets the changing needs of a diverse population and everyone it represents. By learning to celebrate students of all backgrounds, we’re acknowledging that “communities of color are tomorrow’s leaders, and we need to better prepare our future workforce.” We also know campus diversification is beneficial to all students. Highly diverse campuses are more likely to have strong academic performance and positive social interactions among students and lends itself to an enhanced learning experience where multiple perspectives are heard.

As we encourage diversity and inclusiveness on campus, we must also strengthen and empower our students, particularly during challenging times. One example is creating a safe, comfortable campus environment for LGBT students. Coming out as LGBT can be incredibly challenging, which coincidentally often takes place around the age of 20 – the same age of many undergraduate students. In addition to the number of LGBT students arriving on college campuses, recent surveys have shown that Americans are increasingly supportive of LGBT rights; more than 60% of Americans polled in 2016 supported marriage equality.

Another opportunity lies in helping students to better understand and embrace religious diversity.  Pew Research states that “Americans’ knowledge about diverse religious traditions is dramatically low.” Overall, academia – typically a pioneer in the movement toward social acceptance regarding many issues – must continue to strive to create an inclusive environment where multiple religious perspectives can be expressed and debated for l enhanced understanding among those with opposing religious views.  As such campuses have the opportunity to be role models and leaders in showing the way in what is a microcosm of society.

The beauty of an inclusive campus environment benefits all students, allowing for the exchange of diverse perspectives; we’re positively impacting the student experience by enriching campuses with multicultural perspectives. Additionally, we’re teaching these students to celebrate differences and use these differences to inspire the next generation of leaders.  Altering the campus environment to encourage diversity and inclusion includes being conscious of each student’s journey – from admission to graduation and housing to dining. It also means modifying the campus culture to enhance the colleges’ reputation and more importantly, enhance students’ performance, no matter their gender, race, religion, ability or ethnicity.