The term diversity refers to demographic variables such as race, religion, gender, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, education, and geographic origin (Rynes & Rosen, 2006). Diversity can also include work group affiliation, life-style, career history, and cognitive style (Pendry, Driscoll, & Field, 2007). The demographic diversity found in the United States population can provide opportunities to embrace new customs and expand traditional roles. However, it may also create challenges as people struggle to find common ground in communities composed of individuals and groups with varied backgrounds and values (Rodriguez, 1998; Trauth, Johnson, Morgan, Huang, & Quesenberry, 2007).
Rapidly changing demographics within the United States and appeals for more access to postsecondary education have led institutions to continue diversifying their student bodies and to focus on improving inter-group relations (Muthuswamy, Levine, & Gazel, 2006; Saenz, Ngai, & Hurtado, 2007). With these changes, a particular educational challenge for universities is how to prepare students to value diversity and to help students recognize how their behavior can influence a school’s climate (Trauth, et al., 2007). Tharp (2005) states that one of the most vexing educational problems is how educators should teach students who are from different cultures, races, languages, and economics in a proper and fair manner.
Research demonstrates that structured forms of inter-group contact are important for improving campus climate (Pascarella, Edison, Nora, Hagedorn, & Terenzini, 1996). Indeed, institutions may inadvertently promote racial tension when they support priorities that work against encouraging a healthy campus climate (Hurtado, 1992). Diversity initiatives are often used to educate people about differences and improve campus climate. Because there is no set standard, the onus remains with the institutions of higher education to develop strategies and create systems that facilitate the goal of creating a truly diversified educational community (Brown, 2004). With varying types of diversity initiatives and techniques, varied outcomes are likely. The type of diversity initiatives selected and the resultant outcomes on campus climate are important factors to consider as the topic of diversity is explored.
Zemba, B., Billups, F.D. (2009). Diversity education and student perceptions of campus climate. Paper presented at the Northeast Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Rocky Hill, CT.
Zemba, Bethany and Billups, Felice D., "Diversity Education and Student Perceptions of Campus Climate" (2009). Higher Education. 4.