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University of Northern Iowa Higher Learning Commission Accreditation Review

CHAPTER 15: DIVERSITY DIMENSION


Key Performance Indicators
Current Situation
Opportunities and Challenges
Recommended Actions

Foundations Institutions ensure that all first-year students experience diverse ideas, worldviews, and cultures as a means of enhancing their learning and preparing them to become members of pluralistic communities.  Whatever their demographic composition, institutions structure experiences in which students interact in an open and civil community with people from backgrounds and cultures different from their own, reflect on ideas and values different from those they currently hold, and explore their own cultures and the cultures of others.

 

Key Performance Indicators for the Diversity Dimension include:

  • Curriculum: the institution assures that first-year students experience diverse ideas and world views through initiatives based solely on the curriculum, based solely on the co-curriculum, and integrated across both areas.
  • Opportunities for Interaction: the institution structures opportunities for first-year students to interact with faculty/staff, other students, and individuals outside the institution from backgrounds and cultures different from their own.
  • Standards of Behavior: the institution conveys to first-year students the standards of behavior it expects for participants in an open and civil campus community.

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Current Situation


Curriculum

oral comm

The five courses with the highest registration by first-year students are, in order: College Writing and Research, Oral Communication, Introduction to Psychology, Humanities I, World Geography (Appendix J - CPI table).  Of these, only World Geography explicitly names, “Appreciation for Diversity” as one of its objectives.[1]  However, diversity is also addressed in Oral Communication, which names as part of its objectives, “Demonstrate an understanding of language bias/prejudice and its impact on communication,” and “Demonstrate an understanding of culture and its impact on the communication process.”[2]  Humanities I exposes students to temporally and geographically distant cultures, but since these are identified as part of Western heritage, individual instructors determine if there is emphasis placed on diversity.[3]  Similarly, College Writing and Research aims at general competence in written communication, and the degree to which the course stresses diverse ideas and world views is left to the individual instructor.[4] The LAC also includes a required non-western cultures course.  However, the course is not discussed here since it is not routinely taken by first-year students.

 

multiculturalOverall, the FoE student survey results described in Table 15.1 show that the University is below the 3.5 benchmark in both the exposure (items 17-20; mean=2.84-3.41) and interaction (items 21-23; mean=2.84-3.48) aspects of diversity.  Approximately 37% of first-year students responded high to very high on the question, “To what degree is this institution exposing you to different world cultures?” (Q17) and 37% of students say their exposure is moderate.  Approximately 25% of students rated UNI high to very high on the question, “To what degree is this institution exposing you to different world religions?” (Q18), while 38% report their exposure as moderate.  On the question, “To what degree is this institution exposing you to different political perspectives?” (Q19) approximately half of first-year students responded high to very high.  The mean for this question was 3.41, just below the benchmark.  On the question, “To what degree is this institution exposing you to different issues relating to social class/economic status (poverty vs. privilege)?” (Q20) approximately 36% of students believe they are being exposed to such issues at UNI at a high or very high rate, with 38% at a moderate level.

 

Table 15.1 Student Survey - Diversity

Question

 #

Question Text

Response

 

1 or 2

3

4 or 5

Mean

17

To what degree is this institution exposing you to different world cultures? 

26.1%

37.2%

36.7%

3.14

18

To what degree is this institution exposing you to different world religions? 

36.8%

38.1%

25.1%

2.84

19

To what degree is this institution exposing you to different political perspectives? 

18.6%

31.9%

49.5%

3.41

20

To what degree is this institution exposing you to different issues related to social class/economic status (poverty vs. privilege)? 

26.1%

38.1%

35.8%

3.12

21

To what degree does this institution provide opportunities for interaction with individuals from differing backgrounds and cultures other students at this institution? 

14.9%

35.7%

49.4%

3.48

22

To what degree does this institution provide opportunities for interaction with individuals from differing backgrounds and cultures faculty and staff at this institution? 

20.9%

40.3%

38.8%

3.23

23

To what degree does this institution provide opportunities for interaction with individuals from differing backgrounds and cultures people outside this institution? 

37.6%

39.2%

23.3%

2.84

24

To what degree does this institution communicate the importance of respecting others with differing opinions? 

11.1%

25.7%

63.1%

3.71

1=Not at all; 2=Slight; 3=Moderate; 4=High; 5=Very High

 

Like students, faculty and staff also ranked the University below the 3.5 benchmark in diversity: exposure and interaction.  The overall mean of the faculty/staff questions was 3.17.  The highest ranked question was related to curriculum, “To what degree does this institution’s curriculum, as experienced by most first-year students, include appropriate attention to diverse ideas and world views?” (Q30), approximately 82% of faculty responded that moderate (40%) to high/very high (42%) attention is given at UNI, with a mean response of 3.29

 

Table 15.2 Faculty/Staff Survey-Diversity

Question

 #

Question Text

Response

 

1 or 2

3

4 or 5

Mean

30

To what degree does this institution's curriculum, as experienced by most first-year students, include appropriate attention to diverse ideas and world views?

18.7%

39.8%

41.5%

3.29

31

To what degree does this institution's out-of-class activities for first-year students include appropriate attention to diverse ideas and world views? 

23.8%

40.7%

35.5%

3.17

32

Within the following groups, to what degree does this institution provide opportunities for first-year students to interact with individuals from differing backgrounds and cultures: other students at this institution? 

27%

36.5%

36.5%

3.20

33

Within the following groups, to what degree does this institution provide opportunities for first-year students to interact with individuals from differing backgrounds and cultures: faculty and staff? 

26%

38.4%

35.6%

3.17

34

Within the following groups, to what degree does this institution provide opportunities for first-year students to interact with individuals from differing backgrounds and cultures: people outside this institution? 

49.4%

34.6%

16%

2.63

35

To what degree does this institution communicate to first-year students the importance of respecting others with differing opinions? 

21.1%

36.3%

42.6%

3.27

1=Not at all; 2=Slight; 3=Moderate; 4=High; 5=Very High

 

black history monthThe committee found evidence that there are numerous opportunities for students to participate in out-of-class activities that focus on diversity.  The Center for Multicultural Education regularly sponsors co-curricular activities.  There are many student initiatives being carried out by the Northern Iowan Student Government (NISG), which has a Director of Diversity and Student Life.  The Department of Residence has ongoing programs for educating students on issues of diversity, including yearly Resident Assistant training, the Safe Zone Ally Program (on GLBTQ issues), and the Inclusive Communities Team, a diversity program for student leaders. The UNI Museum, the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center, the School of Music, the Department of Theater, and the Department of Communication Studies schedule numerous programs and performances every year, many of which expose students to diverse ideas, worldviews, and cultures. During Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Diversity Week, Pride Week and many other holidays and occasions, UNI offers opportunities for learning about aspects of diversity.

 

There are no specific questions on the FoE student survey related to out-of-class diversity experiences separate from the exposure questions above.  The FoE faculty/staff survey question, “To what degree does this institution’s out-of-class activities for first-year students include appropriate attention to diverse ideas and world views?” (Q31), indicates that approximately 77% believe that moderate (41%) to high/very high (36%) attention is given, a mean score of 3.17.

 

The Diversity Dimension Committee found very few initiatives integrated across the curriculum and co-curriculum for first-year students to experience diverse ideas and worldviews.  Many of the University’s opportunities for integrated activities (e.g., Camp Adventure, Study Abroad, and Capstone courses that are fulfilled overseas) are not specifically designed for first-year students.

 

Opportunities for Interaction

The UNI workforce consists of 9% U.S. minority populations.  Out of 856 total faculty[5] UNI has only 77 full-time and 8 part-time faculty from U.S. minority backgrounds, and 34 faculty with citizenship other than the U.S.  In spite of the campus demographics, the faculty and student surveys revealed that 79% of students and 74% of faculty and staff felt that the University was exposing them to individuals from diverse cultures and background to a moderate degree or better.  However, it is unclear whether the University is providing even that level of exposure to “invisible” diversity, such as sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic and family status.

 

In addition to opportunities for interaction through classes and student services, a wide range of programming exists to connect faculty, staff, and students to explore aspects of diversity.  From programming sponsored by academic departments to the Center for Multicultural Education, the Department of Residence to student activities and organizations, the opportunity for interaction is present.  However, there is no evidence to demonstrate how the University specifically structures opportunities to ensure interactions, particularly for students in their first year.  This led the committee to believe that an intentional structure to ensure interaction of first-year students with faculty/staff and students from diverse cultures and backgrounds does not exist.

 

Since 90% of first-year students live on campus,[6] the Department of Residence (DOR) plays a key role in structuring opportunities in the first year to promote interactions between individuals of differing cultures and backgrounds.  The DOR structures opportunities to support minority students participating in the Jump Start Program, which assists new students from culturally, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse backgrounds to make a successful transition to college.  Jump Start participants are clustered together in groups in houses across campus.  This provides an opportunity for minority students among the Jump Start participants to support and encourage one another.  They attend a week-long orientation prior to the start of classes and begin to develop a network of support among their peers.  In addition, their presence in the residence halls exposes the other students in the particular house to a small but diverse group of students from backgrounds different from their own.  This is a mutually beneficial approach that addresses the needs of the minority students as well as the non-minority students.  Due to the small numbers of minority students at UNI, this also leaves the majority of the residence hall houses without any minority students.

 

If students express a particular interest, the International Services Office offers language conversation partners, student organizations offer opportunities to participate in social and educational activities, and the Center for Multicultural Education and many academic departments, offer programming that provide opportunities for interaction between students from diverse backgrounds and cultures.  The Gaining Panther Success Mentor Program provides opportunities for interaction between students from underrepresented backgrounds and specifically encourages interaction between students from differing backgrounds.  There are also a few examples of programs that acknowledge the importance of diversity training in creating an environment that makes all students feel welcome.  For example, intramurals staff, orientation staff, and Resident Assistants are required to have training in diversity issues. Training of students, faculty, and staff is one way we can increase the meaning behind student interactions. 

 

The committee generally rated structured opportunities for interaction with other students at this institution from differing backgrounds and cultures as low, which is reflective of the fact that faculty survey respondents saw fewer opportunities for interaction among students of differing backgrounds and responded with a mean of 3.20 (Q32).  Students, however, responded that they were moderately satisfied with their opportunity for this type of interaction with a mean of 3.48, nearly at the goal of 3.50 (Q21). 

 

The degree to which the institution structures opportunities for first-year students to interact with individuals outside the institution from backgrounds and cultures different from their own was rated the lowest by students, faculty, and staff.  Approximately half of the FoE faculty/staff survey respondents to that question indicated first-year student opportunities for this type of interaction was slight to not at all, while 38% of students felt the same (Q34-Faculty/staff; Q23-Student).

 

Standards of Behavior

The University expresses the importance of respect and gives examples of standards of behaviors in many places including course syllabi, student staff training, and residence hall orientations.  This is done so well, in fact, that approximately 89% of FoE student survey respondents felt that UNI communicates the importance of respecting others with differing opinions at least to a moderate degree, “To what degree does this institution communicate the importance of respecting others with differing opinions?” (Q24)  The majority (63%) of students felt this was communicated to a high or very high degree.  Faculty did not feel quite as strongly as students, only 42.6% felt that the institution communicates to first-year students the importance of respecting others with different opinions, although approximately 79% felt that these standards of behavior were communicated at least to a moderate degree. (Q35)

 

While respondents generally felt that standards of behavior are communicated effectively, there was concern among the committee about the extent to which the behavior of individuals contributed to an inclusive campus environment that is supportive of diversity.  None of the questions on the survey seemed to address whether people’s behavior matched the rhetoric related to standards of behavior communicated across campus.  The just completed university-wide climate survey needs to be explored in depth to address this question.

 

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Opportunities and Challenges

  • Because there was no overarching, clearly communicated understanding of the meaning of diversity, one of the first actions of the Diversity Council in 2009 was to establish a definition of diversity, mission and vision statements, and a set of key performance indicators.  This information was shared with the campus community at the second annual Diversity Town Hall meeting held in January 2010.  Creating an understanding of diversity that is both broadly and clearly conceived and frequently articulated campus-wide is imperative.[7] 
  • The demographic characteristics of the state of Iowa create a challenge in recruiting and retaining minority faculty, staff, and students.  There are many efforts underway to create a more diverse population on campus.
  • There is a perceived gap between the programming on campus with regard to diversity (e.g., courses, programs, etc.) and campus climate.  President Allen’s recent initiatives place diversity at the front and center of the University’s consideration.[8]  It will be equally important that results of the university-wide climate survey be used to assess and improve the climate towards diversity.
  • There are many initiatives occurring in the curriculum and co-curriculum that focus on aspects of diversity.  However, these initiatives are rarely coordinated between student affairs and academic affairs, and sometimes these initiatives are not intentionally focused on diversity.
  • White students at UNI generally do not identify themselves as part of a specific racial or ethnic culture, and UNI does not challenge this assumption.  Diversity continues to be the issue of the “diverse” people, while the vast majority of the population completes a degree without the opportunity to learn and grow in the area of racial/ethnic identity.
  • Faculty do not receive specific training about how to handle difficult discussions in the classroom.

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Recommended Actions

 

1. Ensure Curricular and Co-Curricular Opportunities Exist for First-Year Students, so that all First-Year Students acquire a Curiosity about Diversity; Gain Communication Skills to Explore Diversity; and know where the Resources Exist to Further Explore Diversity
a. The Liberal Arts Core should be restructured to include a diversity requirement.

 

b. First-year students should be required to take a course with a diversity component.

 

c. The function of the Center for Multicultural Education should be clarified to emphasize its broader educational role for the entire campus.

 

2. Identify the Populations that are Facing Obstacles to Success and Learning and Remove those Barriers

a. Evaluate the campus climate survey to determine specific needs.

 

b. Put into action a plan to address the needs identified.

 

3. Develop a Clear and Consistent Message, Regarding the Importance of Diversity, and Effectively Communicate that Message to the UNI Community and External Audiences

a. Assess marketing materials for diversity image to ensure we are sending messages that are inclusive and welcoming.

 

b. Focus on diversity in the visual arts located on campus.

 

c. Include the Center for Multicultural Education in tours of campus.

4. Evaluate Efforts to Recruit and Retain Diverse Populations of Students, Faculty, and Staff and Provide Resources to Enhance those Efforts

a. Evaluate search committee policies and procedures to recruit diverse populations.

 

b. Develop a mentoring program for new and diverse faculty and staff.

 

c. Conduct an equity audit.

 

d. Develop a comprehensive and integrative retention plan.

 

5. Provide On-Going Diversity Training to Faculty and Staff

a. Fund professional development opportunities.

 

b. Incorporate diversity/self-awareness training into faculty and staff orientation programs.

 

c. Provide specific faculty training for addressing diversity in the classroom.