A Thought on Diversity

Over time, I have come to adopt the perspective that diversity and inclusion at the university level is not only about “access”, though the access argument is an important one: it is, more importantly, about “practice”. The university is a vehicle by which we prepare people to tackle societal challenges. Recent work has shown that the diversity of a team is a significant indicator of the performance and success of that team. Engineering and many other fields today have become heavily team-based, and if those we are educating are going to succeed in this environment, in addition to practicing all the other individual and disciplinary skills, they must also practice working in a diverse environment.

The female from a minority background who has spent years coping as a minority in a work environment that does not appreciate diversity is not suddenly going to learn to function properly in a truly diverse environment. The white male who has not had to interact significantly with others from a minority background is not suddenly going to do so flawlessly 20 years into his career. The same goes for intellectual diversity. The student who did well in their academic career mostly because the format of education favored their learning style is not suddenly going to know how to communicate effectively with others who think much differently from him or her. If this star student becomes a faculty member, students not tuned into their style of teaching and learning will get left out.

If we are going to change our educational and work environments to be more inclusive and appreciative of the value of diversity, it is not enough to give minorities access to opportunities they would not have otherwise. The environments they find themselves in must value their presence and contributions, and both minorities and non-minorities must learn to be part of these environments as equals. Giving them as much practice as possible is important.