The Benefits of Diversity in Higher Education

4 min read

Thaís Roberto

Universities must understand the importance of fostering a diverse and inclusive environment as the place where most of the world’s technological and social innovation happens. For this to be achieved, faculty and administration need to fight against discrimination of any form actively - whether it’s based on race, economic status, or identity.

Continue reading to learn more about why diversity matters and how embracing it benefits higher education.

What does “diverse” mean?

In light of recent social movements, the term “diversity” often comes with an immediate association with race and sexual orientation. While these are critical parts of the discussion surrounding diversity, the conversation also involves concepts of identity and status that expand past this.

An in-depth assessment of diversity on campus must see beyond the visible differences - disability, gender identity, social status, and religion are only a few characteristics that run the risk of being put aside due to the different complexities that each one brings. And when dealing with diversity in higher education, there are three main factors to be considered.

Firstly, while this article will focus on student inclusivity, creating a diverse campus can’t be limited to students’ admission. True diversity can only be achieved when it permeates every level of the university: students, staff, faculty, and even the curriculum itself. 

Secondly, the characteristics cited above aren’t mutually exclusive. Each person has their own complex identity composed of multiple factors and, therefore, will have their unique set of needs. 

Lastly, creating a diverse campus doesn’t end with admitting students and hiring employees. Once welcomed into campus, they need to be able to access every aspect of life at the university. To ensure complete accessibility, the administration must maintain a constant dialogue with its community to understand their needs and adapt accordingly.

However complex, building a diverse campus isn’t only necessary - it also creates a chain reaction of positive change that starts with students, impacts the university, and influences society as a whole. These are a few of the benefits of fostering diversity on campus.

Building a stronger sense of community

In a diverse campus, students have the opportunity to interact with individuals from different backgrounds on a daily basis. And when people from various cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds come together, they naturally improve their ability to bridge cultural divides and form connections.

Sharing experiences, traditions, and perspectives helps break down barriers and stereotypes, nurturing an environment where people from different backgrounds coexist and learn from each other. These connections strengthen the bond between students, fostering a sense of belonging and, in turn, enhancing their bond with the university itself.

Enhancing critical thinking

Higher education is not just about imparting academic knowledge; it’s about learning how to engage with that knowledge critically. The exposure to diverse perspectives made possible by a diverse campus challenges students to question assumptions and prejudices, seek new information, and consider alternative viewpoints.

This dynamic learning environment prepares students to tackle complex real-world challenges with a well-rounded and informed new perspective. It encourages them to become active learners who seek out diverse sources of information and engage in meaningful discussions concerning their studies and interpersonal relationships.

Advancing academic research

Diverse perspectives are a driving force behind groundbreaking research. When researchers from different backgrounds collaborate, they bring together a wealth of knowledge and insights that can lead to innovative discoveries.

A diverse research community is more likely to identify unique research questions, approach problems from new angles, and solve a wider range of challenges. This diversity of thought stimulates creativity and innovation, fostering an environment where students are encouraged to think critically and consider various angles when faced with a problem.

Pushing for change

As a result of the advancement of academic research on campus, the university will gradually update its curriculum to keep up with the innovation. Over the past years, new programs and fields have emerged thanks to pioneering research conducted by students and faculty of various backgrounds.

It works as a cycle: new research shapes new ways of living, and new ways of living inform new research. It’s become increasingly common to find programs dedicated to researching African and Latin American history and culture, for example, breaking away from the traditional North American and Eurocentric models that have dominated academia for decades.

In scientific research, many advances that have changed the lives of people with disabilities would not have been made without the fight for awareness that has grown over the past years.

Listening to diverse voices and embracing change is fundamental for universities that want to stay ahead of the curve and attract the brightest researchers.

More work to be done

Although the fight for inclusion has advanced, minority students still face challenges when pursuing higher education. Beyond the barriers to admission, the difficulties minority students have to deal with after enrollment lead to uncertainty and higher dropout rates.

A report by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation surveyed over 6,000 students currently enrolled in a postsecondary program and found that 50% of black students and 40% of Hispanic students find it difficult to stay enrolled.

Moreover, the study found that 52% of black students and 43% of Hispanic students have considered stopping their coursework for at least one term. Emotional stress (55%), mental health (47%), and the cost of the degree (29%) are the top cited reasons.

Similar challenges are faced by students with disabilities, with the addition of physical and technological barriers that limit the ability to access different campus spaces and participate in class.

Universities must always remember that diversity in higher education is not just about meeting quotas or ticking checkboxes. It’s about creating a harmonious and accessible campus community that thrives on the richness of diverse perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds. 

From fostering innovative thinking to preparing students for a globalized world, promoting diversity in higher education has benefits that reach far beyond the classroom and impact the global community as a whole.

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