Commitment to Diversity in Institutional
By Jack Meacham and Crystal Barrett, University
at Buffalo--The State University of New York *
There are several ways of assessing the success
of the many campus diversity initiatives during recent
decades. For example, 63 percent of colleges and universities
reported in a national survey that they have a diversity
requirement for students or are developing such a requirement
(Humphreys, 2000). However, the presence of diversity
scholarship and courses in the curriculum can reflect
the interest and enthusiasm of only a small group of
faculty or a single campus administrator, rather than
a broad vision and deep commitment to strengthening
diversity dimensions on campus. For example, the incorporation
of diversity scholarship into the curriculum might cease
when external grant funds or campus funds for curriculum
development are not renewed or when a key faculty member
or administrator leaves the campus.
Coe College's mission
statement includes this sentence: "We believe
that it is important for a liberal arts education
to cultivate in students a desire to understand,
a capacity for tolerance, and an ability to appreciate
the ethnic and cultural diversity that make up
One indicator of diversity vision and commitment is
an institution's mission statement. Typically,
the mission statement must be reviewed and endorsed
by the campus's board of trustees or governing
board, often following review and recommendations by
students and faculty, by administrators at several levels,
and by the campus's provost and president. An
institution's mission statement represents a consensus
on campus-wide values, expectations for student learning
and development, and a statement of campus priorities
for many years ahead.
A strong mission statement can be an effective framework
for curriculum development, allocation of campus resources,
and assessment of programs. Garcia, et al. (2001, p.
10), in their guide to assessing campus diversity initiatives,
suggest that institutions progress through three stages.
Only in the third stage is there an overall institutional
plan for integrating diversity into the educational
mission and policies.
We wondered about the extent to which diversity has
become broadly and deeply institutionalized in American
higher education. Are institutions committed to having
diversity among their students? Is becoming knowledgeable
about diversity a common learning goal for students?
Is appreciation of diversity also a common student learning
Answering these questions by examining mission statements
is a conservative approach, for a campus could have
made outstanding progress on student and curricular
diversity without necessarily acknowledging this within
a revised mission statement. Thus we should expect the
numbers and proportions of campuses acknowledging diversity
in their mission statements to be relatively low, underestimating
the actual extent of diversity among students and in
the curriculum. Nevertheless, the examination of mission
statements provides an important picture of the breadth
and depth of commitment to diversity in American higher
Reviewing Institutional Mission Statements
We reviewed the mission statements for institutions
listed in The Princeton Review's The Best 331
Colleges (2002 edition). This volume provided an initial
sample that represented a wide range of American geography,
large and small campuses, public and private institutions,
and rural, suburban, and urban campuses. For each institution,
we sought the Web site that presented the mission statement
or, if no mission statement was available, the campus's
purpose, vision, goals, or aims for students. We were
able to identify appropriate statements for 312 institutions.
These statements vary greatly in length, from a single
sentence to lengthy descriptions of goals. The results
that are reported in this article reflect our independent
reading and coding of these mission statements. When
we disagreed in our initial coding, we reread and discussed
the mission statements together and revised our coding.
The diversity of America's population and college
and university students has increased dramatically in
recent decades. Is this increasing diversity acknowledged
in institutional mission statements? We coded whether
each mission statement includes diversity either as
a description of the students on campus or as a goal
for the composition of the student body. Student diversity
is included within the mission statements of 41.3 percent
of these institutions (129 out of 312).
For example, "Beloit College is committed to
being an inclusive community and believes that multiple
perspectives and experiences are essential to learning.
We will recruit and retain students, faculty, and staff
who enhance the diversity of the campus community."
"The University of Nebraska--Lincoln promotes
respect for and understanding of cultural diversity
in all aspects of society. It strives for a culturally
diverse student body, faculty, and staff reflecting
the multicultural nature of Nebraska and the nation."
Becoming Knowledgeable about Diversity
Many mission statements describe an ideal student graduate
of the institution. To what extent is diversity represented
among the goals for student learning and development?
We asked whether the mission statements include the
expectation that students should become knowledgeable
about diversity. In our coding, we included phrases
such as "become aware of diversity," "become
interested in diversity, and understand diversity."
Becoming knowledgeable about diversity is included
within the mission statements of only 11.2 percent of
these institutions (35 out of 312). To provide a point
of comparison, we considered the extent to which these
mission statements included international and global
understanding as a goal for students. This latter goal
is included within 16 percent of the mission statements
(50 out of 312). Thus the expectation that students
become knowledgeable about diversity is similar to--but
slightly lower than--the expectation that students
increase their international and global understanding.
This student learning goal of becoming knowledgeable
about diversity is illustrated in the following examples:
"Committed to the achievement of a pluralistic
community, Hunter College offers a curriculum designed
to meet the highest standards while also fostering understanding
among groups from different racial, cultural, and ethnic
backgrounds." Coe College's mission statement
includes this sentence: "We believe that it is
important for a liberal arts education to cultivate
in students a desire to understand, a capacity for tolerance,
and an ability to appreciate the ethnic and cultural
diversity that make up humankind." Here is an
excerpt from Mary Washington College's mission
statement: "Consistent with the principles of
liberal learning, the College places high value upon
cultural diversity and global awareness, and seeks through
its curricular offerings to reflect that diversity and
promote that awareness." The University of Georgia
describes itself this way: "Through its programs
and practices, it seeks to foster the understanding
of and respect for cultural differences necessary for
an enlightened and educated citizenry. It further provides
for cultural, ethnic, gender, and racial diversity in
the faculty, staff, and student body."
Does the extent to which becoming knowledgeable about
diversity is a student learning goal vary geographically?
In order to answer this question, we grouped the 312
institutions in our sample according to their regional
accrediting association. Institutions affiliated with
Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, Northwestern
Association of Schools, Colleges, and Universities,
and New England Association of Schools and Colleges
were most likely to include becoming knowledgeable about
diversity in their mission statements (the proportions
range from 16 percent to 19 percent).
Other mission statements included appreciating diversity
as a goal for students. In our coding, we included phrases
such as respecting, valuing, being tolerant of, being
sensitive to, benefiting from, and welcoming diversity.
Appreciating diversity is included within the mission
statements of 21.5 percent of these institutions (67
out of 312).
Appreciating diversity as a goal for students is illustrated
by the following mission statements:
"The dialogue between faith and learning at Agnes
Scott College fosters not only academic freedom, but
an appreciation of pluralism and a desire for diversity."
At Case Western Reserve University, "Integrity
in all of the University's pursuits . . . requires
that we recognize the dignity of each individual, that
we appreciate and enjoy the rich cultural, racial, and
ethnic diversity of our campus community, and that we
respect the contributions of all disciplines to the
advancement of knowledge."
The phrases that we coded as appreciating diversity
suggest that these institutions view changing the values
of their students as one of their roles. Is changing
the values of students a common expectation among American
institutions of higher education? We reviewed the mission
statements for mention of change in values as a goal
for student development (personal growth was not included
in this category). For example, at Miami University,
"Selected undergraduate programs of quality should
be offered with the expectation of students achieving
a high level of personal competence and developing a
personal value system." Oberlin College aims "to
expand students' social awareness, social responsibility,
and capacity for moral judgment so as to prepare them
for intelligent and useful response to the present and
future demands of society." Change in values was
mentioned in 30.8 percent of these institutional mission
statements (96 out of 312), especially institutions
affiliated with Southern Association of Colleges and
Schools and North Central Association of Colleges and
Schools (the proportions range from 34 percent to 44
percent). Thus the proportion of institutions that have
endorsed appreciating diversity as a goal for students
is in the same range as--although lower than--the
proportion endorsing changing students' values.
Making Diversity a Goal for Student Learning
In order to assess the extent to which mission statements
make explicit reference to diversity as a goal for student
learning and development, we combined the frequencies
for becoming knowledgeable about diversity and for appreciating
diversity (and checked that each institution was represented
only once). Diversity is a learning goal in the mission
statements of 27.2 percent of these institutions (85
out of 312). How should this proportion be interpreted?
Is 27.2 percent a high proportion or a low proportion?
In order to answer this question, we compared the extent
to which mission statements include understanding computers
and information technology as a learning goal for students.
During the same decades that the diversity of American's
population has increased, there has also been an increasing
emphasis on the use of computers and information technology
in education. For example, Clarkson University "provides
each student with the opportunity to obtain outstanding
capabilities in utilizing computing and other 21st century
Understanding technology is included within only 9.9
percent of these mission statements (31 out of 312).
Thus--despite the enormous attention and resources
devoted to computing and information technology--diversity
is a learning goal for students on three times as many
campuses as understanding technology. In the light of
this comparison, we can conclude that 27.2 percent of
institutions endorsing diversity as a goal for student
learning in their mission statements is a high proportion.
In general, the findings reported above do not vary
as a function of whether the institutions are public
or private, by whether or not the institution has a
religious affiliation, by whether the campus environment
is rural, suburban, or urban, by enrollment, by proportion
of minority students on campus, or by the academic ratings
and admission ratings assigned by The Princeton Review.
Garcia, Mildred, Cynthia A. Hudgins, Caryn McTighe
Musil, Michael T. Nettles, William E. Sedlacek, and
Daryl G. Smith (2001). Assessing campus diversity initiatives:
A guide for campus practitioners. Washington, D. C.:
Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Humpreys, Debra. 2000. National survey finds diversity
requirements common around the country. Diversity Digest,
* This research was supported by The Baldy Center for
Law & Social Policy at the University at Buffalo--The
State University of New York.