Diversity at DU transcends numbers

Located off of the University of Denver (DU) campus, wedged between apartment buildings and University Blvd restaurants, sits a small building entitled the “Center for Multicultural Excellence”.

The Center for Multicultural Excellence, located off of University Blvd, provides programming for students in issues of diversity and inclusive excellence, as well as student support and education.

With “diversity” included as a provision of DU’s values statement since 2002, the Center for Multicultural Excellence reflects the university’s mission to inflect a face of diversity .

Five years after the commitment to “inclusive excellence” was added as a core value of the university, staff and students have mixed assessments of how well the administration has implemented these values into DU culture.

“We have made lots of progress in eleven years,” said Dr. Nikki Latino, the head of the Diversity Action Team, which works with Student Life to embed diversity in day-to-day practice. “We have a lot more to accomplish, but we are making progress,”

By the Numbers

In terms of admissions rates, the university has seen a shift in the demographics of students admitted within the past five years.

In the class profile of 2011, the university reported 15 percent of the 5,087 undergraduate students at the university were students of color. According to a peer analysis, other private college acceptance rates of minority students fall at 13 percent, placing DU into an average rate of acceptance.

However, according to Johanna Leyba, Assistant Provost for Campus and Community Partnerships at the Center for Multicultural Excellence, the annual acceptance rate for students of color is going up.

“Over the last five years the university has done a tremendous job in terms of enrollment,” said Leyba. “For a long time our admissions rate hovered around 15 percent for minorities, and there has been lots of effort by admissions to improve that,”

In the recently admitted class of 2016, 20 percent of students out of the 1400 admitted were students of color. This marks the most diverse class to date.

Previous to the class of 2016, the past five admitted classes have seen admittance rates of minority students hover at 15 percent.

“We still have a long way to go,” Leyba said in reference to acceptance disparity. “We are making great strides, but over the past five years the university has done a tremendous job,”

However, according to Leyba, diversity refers to more than just the color of a student’s skin.

Students at the University of Denver walk to class

Defining Diversity

“Inclusive Excellence” has been the key word used by DU for the past five years, which Latino says transcends the traditional definition of diversity.

“Inclusive excellence is a broader term than diversity- we use it because we want to make sure we are talking about more than just race and ethnicity,” she said.

Latino said diversity is also defined as a person’s socioeconomic background, religious background, sexual orientation, family background or any other aspect which makes them unique.

“It is an umbrella term for lots of different identities,” she said. “It is our goal not to look only at compositional diversity, but to look at all of a person’s backgrounds,”

The way in which these traits are used, she said, is where “inclusive excellence” is really employed

The term “inclusive excellence” is not, however, original to DU. The term came from a 2006 research study by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), which founded the term in an effort to re-analyze universities utilization of diversity.

The group defines “Inclusive Excellence” as collaboration between recognizing diversity and individual traits and the ability to use those in a classroom setting to allow students to learn from one another.

“Inclusive excellence creates a common identity of alliances,” said Stuart Portman, a three- year member of the Undergraduate Student Government Diversity Committee.

“Diversity is meant to refer to a person’s personal background, such as any identities one might identify with, and inclusive excellence is a way to interact with those identities in a way that helps you grow,” he said.

Programming and Curriculum

According to Latino, DU has been very innovative in its work to integrate inclusive excellence into the culture of the university.

This is, she says, a way in which DU can be considered a leader in diversity work.

She cited the most noteworthy development and innovation on campus in terms of diversity work as the Center for Multicultural Excellence (CME).

“DU is unique because we really embraced the language and philosophy (of Inclusive Excellence) early on,” she said.

The Center for Multicultural Excellence holds seven full-time staff members and five employed graduate students, which Latino said is “unheard of” for a school of DU’s size.

The center has organized multiple programs for the university to increase student awareness and work in inclusive excellence. Some of the most well-known annual events include the Diversity Retreat, Diversity Summit and Winter Privilege Seminar.

However, she says the ultimate goal is to see the initiatives for diversity and inclusive excellence transcends the work being done at CME.

“We are beginning to see the work go beyond us,” she said. “We are beginning to see professors incorporate inclusive excellence into their curriculum.”

Ultimately, she said the ideal goal would be a world where their work at CME is not needed because inclusive excellence is so ingrained in the practices of the university.

Staff and Student Commitment

Despite the progress being made, those who work in diversity note many faults with the university programs, which have had noted criticism from the student body.

“I don’t think ‘inclusive excellence’ really has meaning to the student body,” said Portman. “People really think of it as just a catchword,”

He said the term was largely suffering due to overuse from the university, which detracts from the impact of the phrase.

Both he and Latino also noted a perceived lack of administrative support for the work being done through the Center for Multicultural Excellence and diversity programs on campus.

“We need to work on hiring of staff and faculty,” Latino noted specifically. “That is one area I would like to see the university improve, because there is still an inconsistency in the search process,”

She also noted a desire to see more diversity in higher administrative roles

According to Portman, the university is committed to inclusive excellence work, but has not been able to effectively transmit that message to students.

“Students need to see concrete steps,” he said. “We need more administrator comments at events, and we need more of them to go to events so students can really see that commitment.”

2 Responses to Diversity at DU transcends numbers

  • Ian Anderson
    Ian Anderson says:

    I think this was a really interesting topic to write about. The promotion of diversity and international relations at this school has always been apparent it seems like. That’s interesting they choose to use the term “inclusive excellence” it really seems like something the University would do. But I agree with you that term really holds no meaning to the average student here.

  • Gabrielle Pfafflin
    Gabrielle Pfafflin says:

    The article is very insightful and well rounded. I like that you leave no stone unturned and got such a diveristy of quotes and opinions.

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