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Presidential Forum

Diversity Digest asked presidents from campuses active in AAC&U's American Commitments initiative to describe their current diversity priorities.

Recent attacks on affirmative action are chilling reminders that efforts to promote diversity will face formidable obstacles for the foreseeable future. In this environment, it is especially important that presidents speak out on the value of diversity for their institutions, not just as a matter of equity for underrepresented minorities but also as an essential ingredient in the education of any student who hopes to succeed in the twenty-first-century workplace. This is not a time for timidity in expressing commitment to values of inclusivity and pluralism. It is time to advocate and implement creative new strategies that will insure access and equity of opportunity at America's colleges and universities and, thereby, the future well-being of our nation.

William Kirwan
University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland

Many colleges, particularly those in areas containing relatively large numbers of persons from diverse racial and ethnic groups, have been reasonably successful in diversifying their student bodies. But most have been much less successful in improving the diversity of their faculties. The principal task facing presidents today is to make achieving faculty diversity a high priority. No long-term commitment to diversity in a college or university setting is possible unless this is done.

John Brooks Slaughter
Occidental College
Los Angeles, California

Academic leaders need to spell out the economic and philosophical importance of diversity in higher education to business and political leaders. On campus, we need to be proactive in creating community among diverse cultures and helping students from all ethnic groups and economic levels achieve success. For St. Edward's, there are three priorities: recruiting a faculty and staff that more closely mirrors our one-third minority student body; raising consciousness about every kind of difference and building respect for differences; and strengthening graduate school and career opportunities for our Hispanic and African American students.

Patricia A. Hayes
St. Edward's University
Austin, Texas

Developmentally, eighteen-year-olds are still struggling with issues of identity, and this presents a real challenge for diversity work. They often just withdraw when difference presents challenges they don't know how to handle. How do we help students learn new ways of responding to the complexities of difference? Service learning is important, but not sufficient. You need to build a campus environment in which respect for one another is a valued norm. Right now, we are placing a high priority on training student leaders. We want them to become influential voices on our campus for the value of diversity and for better ways of engaging difficult issues.

Richard Hersh
Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Geneva, New York

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