Envisioning a Successful Learning Environment for ALL Students

by Dr. Denise O'Neil Green | May 7, 2013 10:00 AM

On April 16, 2013, I was one of three panelists for an event celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives (OAMI) at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where the theme was “Reflections on Diversity and Excellence – OAMI Through the Years”, and the panelists were asked to answer 4 questions that touched on that theme.

A Real View of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
A Real View of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Given the changing demographics of North America and the globe, it is important for all of us to consider the synergy between academic excellence and diversity.  Have you considered what the ideal learning environment looks like or offers to the student body of today and tomorrow?  As equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) professionals in higher education, what core experiences are needed to thrive in the EDI world and advance one’s career? As always, what best practices enhance success for all students? And, what challenges do we continue to face that hinder our educational organizations from truly embracing EDI?  All of these are questions we should be thinking about.

25-years-of-OAMIAs a diversity professional in the United States, the starting point for a diverse student population traditionally begins with race/ethnicity.  This type of compositional diversity refers to the numerical and proportional representation of various racial and ethnic groups on a campus, and it’s where we begin.  It provides the foundational and guiding principles for how we think about diversity.  It drives institutional programming, policies, and practices, effects how we collect and analyze data, and shapes how we define success.

With women comprising more than 50% of undergraduates, and income inequality increasing, gender and class also comprise core aspects of compositional diversity. 

Now that I’m a diversity professional in Toronto, Ontario, one of the most diverse cities in the world, I’ve observed that the starting point here is not race/ethnicity.  Compositional diversity in the Canadian context has a different meaning.  It takes into account Aboriginal students, students with disabilities, immigrant students, sexual minorities, along with visible minorities, and women. While not an exhaustive list, the take away lesson is that numerical and proportional representation does not always begin with race.  There are multiple starting points.

That said, whether it is the American or Canadian context, being able to meet the needs of ALL students is paramount for excellence and diversity to thrive in our postsecondary institutions and prepare our students for a diverse democracy.

For the next several posts, I will pose one of the four questions given to the OAMI panelists, and ask you to share your thoughts.  As you reflect on the question below, think beyond the typical paradigms and “isms” that we often confront. How would you define all students? How would you characterize success?  What do you need to a make your vision happen? Share your thoughts and reflections by leaving your comments* below:

What is your vision of an ideal University learning environment that meets the needs of ALL students, and successfully infuses diversity into the life of the campus?
What factors/elements must be in place to make this happen?


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