October 31, 2006

C.U. Study Analyzes Diversity Programs

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Most diversity conversations are centered on the heated debate on affirmative action and how universities attract diverse applicants.

A problem that receives much less attention is how schools retain a heterogeneous population once they have attracted a multicultural student body. Indeed, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, six-year graduation rates are lowest for Latinos and African Americans.

To confront this problem, the Teagle Foundation conducted a study that rigorously evaluated diversity initiatives at various universities and colleges. The review, “Eliminating Racial Disparities in College Completion and Achievement: Current Initiatives, New Ideas, and Assessment,” was released last month.

The institutions that participated in the study included Cornell University, Colgate University, Hamilton College, Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Wells College.

According to the study, “the ultimate goal has never been to bring diverse cohorts into colleges and universities … the real goal … has always been to educate and graduate students of all races and ethnicities at similar rates” and determine if students of all backgrounds are satisfied by their educational experiences.

Raymond Dalton, executive director of the Office of Minority Education Affairs, elaborated, “You ask the question, are you just bringing these [minority] students to these institutions without offering them anything? That’s where these diversity programs come into place.”

Though numerous colleges offer diversity programs to help their students, such services are rarely evaluated.

“We don’t generally conduct rigorous assessments,” said David Harris, vice provost of social sciences and project coordinator, “There’s just volumes of examples and people think [a program] has an impact but it doesn’t.”
According to Harris, the sensitive nature of race is a primary reason that institutions are reluctant to evaluate these programs.

Jorge Lee ’07, a student researcher for the study, described how when trying to collect data at various institutions, contacts were reluctant to divulge information concerning their diversity services.

“The act of getting the research was rather difficult because race is such a sensitive topic,” Lee said. “They hesitated about giving information about the programs they put on. We’d have to get an authority to show them it was official research.”

This dearth of evaluations means that many diversity programs are outdated. According to Harris, such diversity services were implemented 20 to 30 years ago. At that time, they catered to blacks from an urban environment.
Now, programs have seen greater numbers of Asians, Latinos and Caribbean students and experienced an “increasing diversity within diversity,” according to Harris. However, while the audience has changed, these programs have remained the same.

In addition, Dalton noted that a problem with many programs is that they “help [minority students] stay afloat but not to thrive. That isn’t really propelling them in any way.”

The Teagle Foundation’s review offers in-depth analyses of “14 particularly promising diversity programs” and includes descriptions of cultural centers and summer programs at various institutions such as the University of Southern California, Amherst College, Cornell University and Colgate University.

For instance, one program from Cornell University is the Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS).

“Many minority come from communities where psychological consultation is not welcome,” Dalton said. This means that minority students are more reluctant to utilize psychological services than their white peers.

According to the study, to overcome this stigma “CAPS staff … offer daily off-site consultations … in locations that are popular with African
American, Latino and international students.”

According to Lee, by listing programs from both large and small schools the study shows that diversity services are “not one size fits all.” Rather, each program is “very dependent on the campus.” For instance, while a smaller school can offer more intimate services, a larger school, such as Cornell, needs to “encompass the entire minority body,” Lee said.

Because the study includes such a diverse array of programs, any institution with a heterogeneous population will be able to reference the review for the development of future diversity programs.

“It’s a good starting point for administrators because something like this didn’t exist before,” Lee said.

The review also will promote the evaluation and improvement of preexisting diversity services.

“[The study] will push schools to reassess their existing programs,” Harris said. “It’s incumbent upon all of us to have assessments of all these programs.”

Such improvement is especially important because of the vital role that diversity initiatives play in the lives of minority students. Though some see these programs as a means of self-segregation, research for the study exemplifies the necessity for such diversity services.

“It wasn’t until I did the research that I saw there was a disparity [between minority students and the mainstream],” Lee said. “At first I thought these programs were unfair because they favored minorities. It reignited my understanding of the demand and purpose of these programs.”