Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 7, Numbers 1 & 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 7, Numbers 1 & 2
(July 2003)

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Kellogg Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good: Contributing to the Practice of Democracy
Tribal Colleges and Universities: Guided by Tribal Values
Commitment to Diversity in Institutional Mission Statements
Valuing Equity: Recognizing the Rights of the LGBT Community
Creating Border Crossings: Dickinson College at Home and Abroad
Prejudice Across America: A Nationwide Trek
MediaWatch
The Accountability Side of Diversity
Percent Plans: How Successful Are They?
Campus Life for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender People
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The E Pluribus Unum Project

Commitment to Diversity in Institutional Mission Statements

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 humankind."

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 goal?

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 education.

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).

Appreciating Diversity
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 technologies."

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.


References

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, 5(1), 1-2.

* This research was supported by The Baldy Center for Law & Social Policy at the University at Buffalo--The State University of New York.

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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