Diversity: A campus priority

One of the most important things that happens when you go away to college is that you meet and get to know people whose experiences are very different from your own. You get to live with, work with, and be taught by people from different communities, different ethnic and racial backgrounds, different religions, different sexual orientations, different talents, different politics, and who make different assumptions about their life.

Being able to comfortably interact with diverse groups of people is integral to the educational experience and it prepares us for the rest of our professional and personal lives. Almost any future job in this global economy will require an ability to work effectively with all types of people.

Like many others who grew up in the upper Midwest, I didn’t meet a lot of people from different cultures or backgrounds before I went to college. My parents used to invite foreign graduate students over to Thanksgiving dinner and I thought that was the height of exotic. As I’ve sometimes joked, growing up in Minnesota, I thought diversity meant including non-Lutherans. Fortunately, both in college and afterwards, I had the opportunity to become friends with people from all parts of this country and from all over the world. That’s taught me a lot about how to work in a large and diverse organization, and it’s made me more thoughtful and aware of my own assumptions about life.

In short, a diverse community is deeply important to the educational mission of this institution. To remain a preeminent world-class university, we must continue to find new ways to learn from and about each other.

This past spring, our four major governance groups all vetted our newest Diversity Framework, “Forward Together.” The document was written by a committee of faculty, students, staff and community members. It has been thoughtfully constructed and contains a series of recommendations for our campus.

It is a framework and guide to our continuing efforts. Its recommendations are at a high level, laying out larger goals for the campus. It is not a prescriptive plan that indicates exactly how these goals are best reached, but rather a roadmap and a call for broad campus engagement.

We are working with the governance groups and key stakeholders to appoint working groups of faculty, staff and students that will be charged with developing specific implementation plans in particular areas. For instance, one group will work on recruitment efforts to attract more diverse staff and students; another on curriculum and the learning environment; another on campus climate.  These groups will be asked to report out by the end of the semester. I expect their work will take into consideration the existing efforts that are already in place or planned.

Making concerted efforts to promote diversity and inclusion is important, because we need the presence and voices of people from all walks of campus life. But diversity isn’t primarily about counting the numbers of people from different groups. Diversity has to ultimately be about culture — a more inclusive culture.

If we create a community of inclusion that is welcoming to all who come here, I have no doubt we’ll attract people from different countries, different experiences, and different backgrounds who reflect the reality of what it means to live in an interconnected world. We all bear some responsibility for the success of these efforts.

To hear details and have your questions answered, you will have the opportunity to attend a series of sessions that have been scheduled around campus beginning next week. I’m looking forward to these discussions and to developing some clear ways to move forward together with the Diversity Framework as a guide.