Diversity report suggests changes

By Ali Cicerchi

Diversity is a hot topic on campus and UK is hoping to better understand what students look for in a diverse campus with the release of a report by Student Affairs.

The report, commissioned in May 2008, was aimed at discovering what students thought about diversity and community building programming.

The purpose of the report was to “learn which programs students find most appealing and relevant, which programs need improvement and how Student Affairs might increase attendance at these programs,” according the overview of the report entitled “Building Everyone’s University: Student Perceptions of Diversity Programming at the University of Kentucky.”

A focus group of 30 UK students were tape-recorded over eight meeting sessions and were asked the five following questions, which were drafted by individuals in Student Affairs:

  • What diversity programming is and is not working?
  • If you observe a racist or discriminatory event, do you feel comfortable speaking up and taking action and, if so, what do you say or do?
  • What kinds of diversity programs would be appealing and/or relevant for you?
  • Are you more or less likely to attend a program that is touted as diversity or building community or some other language?
  • How can UK increase attendance at events and programs that focus on diversity and building community?

In the report, students said they felt UK’s campus tends to be self-segregated and “the administrative and student culture at UK poses a challenge to the success of diversity programming.”

Some student organizations on campus echoed similar feelings of those from the report.

“In an effort to meet (majority) needs, some of (minority) needs may be overlooked,” said Black Student Union President Travis Darden.

Ryan Murrell, the OUTsource co-director, said UK supports diversity initiatives but still presents challenges with funding.

“We definitely get support from Student Affairs and other administration,” said Murrell. “But we are working exclusively on donations and not money from UK, but I understand the budget is very tight.”

The report also stated that the participants were unaware of most diversity programming on campus and that a lack of time, insufficient advertising or personal discomfort contributes to low attendance.

“Many of the white students were not inclined to attend diversity events because they worried they would stand out or feel intimidated,” the report said.

Despite the response, most minority organizations do their best to make all students feel included, Darden said.

“We don’t intentionally leave people out, it’s not just for black students,” he said.

Organizations may want to include everybody, but students first must be willing to participate, Murrell said.

“We, at OUTsource, crave an inclusive campus environment,” Murrell said. “We have to create a climate for diversity and people have to be willing to step out.”

The report suggested that residence life may be a promising avenue for counteracting student reluctance toward diversity by training resident advisers to plan activities directed toward bringing students together in social situations.

“(Resident advisors) go through several training processes and multiple sessions building on diversity and other issues that may come up throughout the year,” said Casey Messer, programming coordinator for Residence Life.

International floors in residence halls were referenced in the report as being more united and social.

Residence Life tries to tailor needs specifically to the needs of each floor in the residence halls, Messer said, and they try to include as many differences as possible.

“RA’s look at the populations whose needs are not being met and try to tailor needs and programs toward them,” Messer said.

The report took the information gathered from the students in the study and used it to offer suggestions to Student Affairs on ways to improve diversity. One suggestion was to make diversity coursework a requirement for graduation. A suggested application was to incorporate a component on discrimination into UK 101 classes.

Patrick Nally, a spokesperson for SUCCESS, said making diversity programming a requirement could have a positive or a negative effect.

“I think that most students would have a negative attitude about why they were there and complain that it had nothing to do with their major,” Nally said. “On the other hand, I think that students that would go would yield positive results eventually.”

Participants in the study said they expressed an interest in programs that would connect them to a national organization or be applicable to put on their resume as well as fun programs possibly involving multicultural music or international cooking.

As stated in the report, the focus group participants tended to focus on race and ethnicity when discussing the topic of diversity, even though many wanted to expand the definition to include other areas of diversity.

Aun Munis, president of the Muslim Student Organization, said putting a face on an organization could improve attendance in diversity events and combat overall apathy to cultural differences.

“We have tried to form relationships and people are more comfortable coming to our events,” Munis said. “There are a lot of misconceptions about Islam so we try to inform people.”

Toward the end of the report it was recommended for future research that Student Affairs may consider expanding diversity programming research on a larger scale of student interest.