Diversity is important to sustainability, whether it’s ecological diversity, human diversity and inclusive excellence or diversity of financial streams and support for sustainability across teaching, research and campus operations. While environmental and economic diversity are recognized key components of sustainability, inclusive excellence (defined by the American Council on Education as “programs, resources and research to foster greater diversity and inclusion in higher education”) is relatively new to the sustainability scene.
But inclusive excellence matters. The diversity of students attending college continues to grow, and many underrepresented populations face the greatest burdens of environmental threats like climate change, water pollution and toxic chemicals. True sustainability lies at the intersection of environmental, economic and equity/social issues. Leading colleges and universities understand the importance of diversity to sustainability and are innovatively fostering inclusive excellence on their campuses. Here’s how:
- Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts): Harvard’s Graduate School of Education is home to the National Campus Diversity Project, a “research program to identify best practices to achieve an optimal multicultural climate on campuses of higher education.” Along with providing campuses with free resources like presentations and reports, this project is also developing “diversity diagnostics” to help campuses identify and then address diversity issues such as low retention rates for underrepresented minority students (including in the sciences), difficulties with developing integrated residential housing and racial or diversity crises. The project is supported by several charitable foundations, including the Ford Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation.
- Rutgers University (New Jersey): According to U.S. News & World Report, Rutgers University is has the most racially and ethnically diverse student population of any national university in the United States. Students hail from 100-plus nations. In addition to having an Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, Rutgers has nearly 20 academic centers and institutes advancing diversity in some fashion, from a Center for Race and Ethnicity to an Institute for Women’s Leadership. In 2014, Rutgers is offering competitive grants toward research in diversity, inclusion and social justice in curriculum, community programming, education and training and recruitment and retention of faculty and students.
- University of Washington (Seattle, Bothell and Tacoma, Washington): In 2013, the University of Washington (UW) developed a diversity requirement for all UW undergraduates—something students had been advocating for a number of years. Students are required to take at least three credits of courses focused on “the sociocultural, political, and economic diversity of human experience at local, regional, or global scales.” UW also has a strong focus on recruiting and retaining diverse faculty and staff, with a 2013-2014 focus on recruiting faculty whose scholarship and community service are related to underrepresented and/or underserved populations. Through the university’s Diversity Scholars Program, faculty members mentor each other while working on transforming curriculum in diversity and on inclusive teaching.
- Ithaca College (Ithaca, New York): According to Campus Pride, 151 U.S. colleges and university have gender-inclusive housing, meaning that students can have roommates of any gender. Many also have gender-neutral bathrooms. Ithaca College is great example of this. Any student can apply for gender-inclusive housing. Additionally, the college has a transgender student housing process and an LGBT living/learning community.
- University of South Florida (Tampa, Florida): According to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, low-income students are 28 percent less likely to compete their college degree than students in higher income brackets. The University of South Florida is addressing this problem with its statewide College Reach-Out Program (CROP). The goal of CROP is to motivate and prepare low-income and educationally disadvantaged middle and high school students of diverse cultural backgrounds to help them enter and successfully complete post-secondary education. Services offered include weekend tutorial classes, leadership development, career and personal counseling, involvement of parents and family members, educational and cultural field trips, mentoring by University of South Florida students and on-campus university living. CROP students also learn computer skills and test-taking strategies, get ACT/SAT prep and are mentored to succeed at maintaining a GPA that will help them successfully enter a community college or four-year college or university program.