Moving Dartmouth Forward

What We Have Learned: Inclusivity

In our October 13 post, “What We Have Learned:  High-Risk Drinking, we discussed the phenomenon of high-risk drinking on our campus and on university campuses nationwide. In this letter, we would like to present our findings around the lack of inclusivity, a phenomenon that has proven to be as troubling to our community and as antithetical to our educational mission as binge drinking.

Lack of inclusivity is not an “extreme behavior,” although it may lead to extreme behavior such as racist and sexist remarks and offensive anonymous postings. Lack of inclusivity emerges out of a failure on the part of all members of our community–students, staff, faculty, and alumni–to embrace fully the idea that a liberal arts education is most successful and transformative when it nurtures and values a plurality of viewpoints and a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives. This is not a question of being comfortable: inclusivity is not, by definition, an easy quality to foster or to uphold. Young adults in particular may feel safer and more at ease in groups that seem familiar and encourage conformity. People of all ages may find their closest friends among those who are most like them. But it is from those who are unlike us that we learn the most. At Dartmouth, inclusivity remains a core value at the heart of our educational mission for good reason: its positive effects on student development, learning, community relations, and global citizenship are manifold. We are a liberal arts institution and inclusivity is essential to a truly liberal arts education.

Our research has focused on the numerous arguments in support of diversity and inclusivity as drivers of success in higher education. Experts identify three outcomes in particular that are facilitated by positive intergroup contact:

  • Enhanced cross-cultural understanding. Racial diversity in particular has been studied for its effect on reducing prejudice among college students. When colleges actively promote racial diversity through admissions policies, studies show greater tolerance toward difference across campus lines. Yet admissions diversity is only one step of the process. Several of our peer institutions have experimented with campus-wide initiatives, such as an annual day of discussion or Intergroup Dialogue initiatives, that encourage students and other constituents to cross invisible divides and engage in meaningful dialogue and debate.
  • Improved cognitive skills and enhanced learning outcomes. Research suggests that cognitive skills, such as critical thinking and problem-solving, have been shown to improve with greater student body diversity. This may be due to the simple fact that a diversity of perspectives within a classroom setting challenge students’ assumptions and norms. Further, abstract concepts learned in a classroom setting may be enriched when they are tied directly to concrete examples drawn from personal experience, an outcome that increases in proportion to the diversity of a class.
  • Better preparation of students for an increasingly diverse workforce and society. Ours is a globalized moment, and students today often describe themselves first and foremost as citizens of the world. Preparation for the duties of citizenship in a global world should be one of the goals of a liberal arts education. Recognition of larger systemic inequalities that drive national and global conflicts should also be part of our educational mission. Experts point to the civic and professional benefits of living and learning in a diverse college environment, including increased innovation and ability to conceive novel approaches to problem solving, alongside greater empathy and sense of purpose in life.

 

According to the 2014 “Living at Dartmouth” survey, 46% of students reported being “very” or “extremely” concerned about the social climate at Dartmouth, while 45% reported being “very” or “extremely” concerned about inclusivity. As an institution, we need to be attentive to what these numbers are telling us. Almost half of Dartmouth students feel the need for better intergroup relations and express a strong desire for an education that reflects the diversity of our changing world. Their views remind us that we have an opportunity to make inclusivity a priority in our residential, social and academic experience.

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