Diversity among people, among departments, among colleges, among universities.
One thing that sticks out most in my mind when I think about my path through the university system until the place where I am today is the tremendous amount of diversity that I have encountered. In most cases, that diversity can be seen as an asset but I can also see evidence of the diversity being a detriment.
What made me start thinking about this topic was talking to the Dean about the wide variety of departments that we have in the College of ACES. This group of departments is perhaps the most diverse in any college on campus. This thought was further reinforced by talking more with faculty in the Human and Community Development department, a department I did not even realize was part of the College.
I started out my education in a small, rural high school that graduates about 50 students per year. None of them have ever been African American and few have been anything other than “white” Americans. I chose the University of Wisconsin at River Falls over UW-Madison for my bachelor’s degree because of its smaller size and the ease with which I could relate to the students and faculty. That university was strictly extension and teaching with no research. While there was limited diversity in the college of agriculture (CAFES), the proximity of UW-River Falls to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul broadened my horizons somewhat more with regard to diversity of people and cultures.
The next move was to the University of Maryland at College Park. Talk about diversity! Diversity within the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources…diversity of PEOPLE! And finally I found myself at a Research I university where I was exposed to the world of research. An interesting observation that I made was that even at the University of Maryland with the diversity of people throughout the campus, much of the diversity ended at the front door of the College of AGNR. The great majority of the students in the college were suburban white Americans, and mostly female. That alone was interesting because in the Midwest I was used to rural white Americans, with a pretty equal mix of males and females. My current situation, of course, is back in the Midwest, back in the Big Ten and looking at diversity from yet again a different angle.
Now that I have laid out my background in observing diversity in a “college of agriculture” setting (there is an amazing number of ways that one can label such an institution!), I want to move into issues that diversity (or lack thereof) might bring about in the governance of such an institution.
Goal #4 of The Illinois Commitment of the Board of Education reads: “Increase the number and diversity of citizens completing training and education programs.” One thing that I know is a concern of the Department of Animal Sciences and undoubtedly the rest of the College, is the issue of minority concerns. Many college and universities was to try to achieve representation of minority groups in their undergraduate population (and graduate, if appropriate) that is proportional to the population within the state. I have come to discover that being female can at times place me in the category of a minority. But generally speaking, the term ‘minorities’ seems to mean underrepresented groups of citizens and in the College of ACES women do not appear to be underrepresented.
Diversity is a term, however, that not only addresses the issue of race and culture. When I applied to vet school at UW-Madison, they wanted to know things about me that made me stand out from the rest of incoming class. They wanted a diverse class of people yet racially and culturally we were not diverse. Ideas and societal issues can make us diverse, as well as our interests within and outside of the university setting.
For a university increase its ability to reach goals of generating new knowledge and conveying knowledge to others, the abundant diversity of contemporary society is a resource that needs to be considered. Not only does the education of students from diverse backgrounds address societal problems, but collaborative efforts within a university among persons with diverse experiences and points of view can increase the development of new ideas in traditional areas of intellectual enterprise and help to formulate creative solutions to the usual problems.