Pulling back the curtain on DU’s ethnically underrepresented campus

University of Denver campus sign.

University of Denver campus sign.

The University of Denver is recognized as the oldest academic institution in the Rocky Mountain area since its founding in 1864, and has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a Colorado seminary. DU is currently home to about 11,500 students with over 100 undergraduate and 120 graduate academic programs, and according to U.S. News & World Report, is ranked #88 out of the nation’s top 100 universities. However, the DU website’s “Quick Facts” page has only one statistic listed for the ethnic breakdown of the fall 2014 first-year student demographic, 20.5%, with no further breakdown for the ‘students of color’ statistic provided.

While all of these accomplishments are things the university should be proud of, these do not answer the question of why there is a lack of racial and ethnic diversity at DU. Some could even consider this as being a drawback to the university’s illustrious history and reputation as a prestigious private institution.

An in-depth look at how diverse the institution is compared to others across the nation is provided, as well as DU’s 2006 adoption of “Inclusive Excellence” (IE) on campus. Several DU undergraduate students who come from ethnic minorities have also spoken up about being underrepresented on campus, how this affects their own identities, and how they relate to their peers and other students from their own cultural backgrounds.

DU’s “Campus Ethnic Diversity” index

The U.S. News and World Report website features a “Campus Ethnic Diversity” list from the 2013-2014 school year ranking colleges and universities in the United States by a diversity index. The diversity index is a number from 0 to 1, with a number being closer to 1 meaning the student population is more diverse. The University of Denver has a diversity index of 0.36 (pg. 8), scoring above the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities (0.36) and below University of Colorado—Boulder (0.36).

According to the site’s methodology page, data collected looked at students that are “black or African-American, Hispanic, American Indian, Asian, Pacific Islander, white (non-Hispanic) and multiracial”. The data did not factor for international students, and anyone who didn’t identify themselves into any demographic category was considered white for the purposes of the data aggregation.

“Inclusive Excellence” at DU

At the beginning of every academic year, DU has all of its incoming students familiarize themselves with the university’s Honor Code. This set of standards and expectations outline for every Pioneer the policies and procedures under which DU conducts itself, and expects the students to conduct themselves. Outlined in the “University Honor Code Statement” is the ideal of inclusive excellence (IE). According to the Honor Code, IE is defined as:

The recognition that a community or institution’s success is dependent on how well it values, engages, and includes the rich diversity of students, staff, faculty, administrators, and alumni constituents, and all of the valuable social dimensions that they bring to the campus, including but not limited to race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, religion, nationality, age, and disability.

IE was adopted by DU in 2006 by Chancellor Robert Coombe and Provost Gregg Kvistad, after Dr. Alma Clayton Pedersen, former VP for Education and Institutional Renewal with the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), spoke at the annual DU Diversity Summit. Coombe released a statement on DU’s newest IE policy that would be in affect along side the university’s Center for Multicultural Excellence (CME), and explaining that while IE is now a part of DU’s vision that there is still work to be done; “work that is the responsibility of everyone in our community”.

The University of Denver’s website also has a page dedicated to it’s vision, values, mission and goals. The first of the three university goals listed intends to further the university’s community, stating, “We will create a diverse, ethical, and intellectually vibrant campus community to provide a challenging and liberating learning environment”, which is listed among DU’s other goals of learning and scholarship.

“Good news” and “not so good news”

In 2005, CME conducted a campus-wide survey that examined the DU community’s climate about diversity on campus. A similar survey was distributed seven years later with the 2012 Inclusive Excellence Assessment that again assessed campus-wide issues surrounding diversity, with an analysis conducted in June 2013 by Dr. Frank Tuitt, the associate provost for IE.

During winter term of 2012, 3,747 students, faculty, and staff participated in the survey. The four ethnic groups that responded to the survey were: “’Domestic Racial Minority”, “White”, “International”, and “Other/Did not respond”, which was both aggregated and not aggregated. Most of the student respondents showed that their academic departments encouraged them to practice IE, have taken classes that help them participate in a diverse community, as well as a global society. A majority of faculty indicated that IE is valued in their department, IE is demonstrated in their teaching, and that they are comfortable promoting IE behaviors in the classroom.

There were also findings showing that there were issues about racial minority groups on campus across faculty, staff, and students. Faculty of color were “less likely to strongly agree” that their departments were welcome to people of color. Staff members of color agreed less than their white counterparts that their departments did not support the advancement of people from historically underrepresented populations. Undergraduate and graduate students of color were statistically more likely to have experienced or witnessed discrimination, and undergraduate students indicated that they less than likely felt welcome in their academic departments.

“Culture is not defined”

“Prior to attending DU, I was from Chicago, Illinois,” said third year Biochemistry major Tammy Le. “The experience taught me that culture is not defined. Culture can be intermixed and celebrated outside of the ethnicity from which it originates. The beauty of sharing cultures brings people together and breaks down judgments and stereotypes.” Le identifies as Asian-American, explaining that she identifies more with her Asian identity rather than her American identity “under the age of 10 because I interacted more with my family and community”.

When asked if she thinks DU is a diverse institution, Le said no; “I do not think DU is a diverse institution. The majority of DU does not make an effort to learn about the different races, cultures, religions, and lifestyles that are different from their own.” Le says that although she is underrepresented at DU, she knows that she is not alone. “I allied with everyone else who feels this way and we support one another. We try to educate the DU community through student organizations and taking on leadership positions.”

“I can never just fly under the radar”

Le is not alone in sharing this sentiment about a lack of diversity. Third year Psychology and Spanish double-major Aliyah Montgomery, a Colorado native, said she experienced culture shock when first attending DU. “It was a lot of culture shock because my sister was at DU before me and I would go to BSA (Black Student Alliance) meetings and was like “Oh, there are black people on campus” and then I got to campus and it wasn’t like that,” said Montgomery. “I think I was just kind of surprised; it was an alarming lack of diversity or people of color here.”

Montgomery identifies as black and came from a diverse high school before attending DU. Her black ethnicity is a major part of her identity, which is a conscious decision on her part, but also an identity that is out of her hands:

[Being black] is a major part of my identity, and it’s something that I’m aware of everyday just because of the way that society is kind of structured with black people and things like that–where you have to be aware of who you are. I’m not able to go to school and just be female; I kind of have to pick…I have to be African-American for reasons that aren’t my own. I have to wear multiple hats at once and can never just fly under the radar.

“Race is not real…however, it is real in its consequences”

 Third year Hospitality Management and Sociology double-major Alejandro Garcia had schooling in Santo Domingo up until 2nd grade, when he moved to Miami and began to notice the differences in culture. “I went to elementary school in Santo Domingo, a very racially and ethnically diverse city,” said Garcia. “Once I moved to Miami, I started realizing that I looked different than some of my peers and most of the people shown on TV and movies.

Garcia said that he recognizes his ethnic background as being Dominican and Columbian. “Racially, I consider myself Latino,” said Garcia. He thinks that DU is diverse in some aspects, but not racially or ethnically. “I believe DU has plenty of diversity. However it does not have very much racial and ethnic diversity. This is the diversity that is easily seen and that is why most people define diversity in racial and ethnic terms,” said Garia. He also believed race as being a social construct rather than real. “Racial groups expand and constrict as it is deemed beneficial by the dominant group,” said Garcia. “However, race is real in its consequences.”

Garcia suggested that DU could do more to help students become more ethnically and racially aware on campus. “I think DU needs to make sure an understanding of diversity is an experience everyone has. This could be done with a student success class or a Diversity 101 class that all students were required to take as a part of the common curriculum.”

DU diversity resources

Students in USG Diversity Committee meet in their subcommittees to discuss their goals for this quarter.

Students in USG Diversity Committee meet in their subcommittees to discuss their goals for this quarter.

So, in the words of Alejandro Garcia, how could DU make sure everyone on campus has an understanding ofdiversity as a shared experience? DU’s CME page offers a plethora of information on what the center offers to the campus community, upcoming events, and a list of annual heritage months.

CME also offers a list of diversity-related undergraduate student organizations, ranging from the Asian Student Alliance to University faith groups.

“Pride Portal” is a webpage for the LGBTQ&A community and allies, featuring information about upcoming events, guest speakers, and resources for LGBTIQA programs.

What the future holds

The Center for American Progress reported that over half of the babies born in the U.S. are babies of color and that by 2050, the U.S. will have no clear ethnic or racial majority. One study conducted over 10 years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that racially diverse students is beneficial in higher education, contributing to richer learning experiences due to ethnic differences among the student body.

From adopting the ideal of Inclusive Excellence to conducting a campus-climate report, the University of Denver is demonstrating how they value diversity as an asset to their community, but still have a long way to go in regards to the ethnic and racial minority groups being better represented on campus. Only time will tell with how successful DU is in its ongoing mission to strive for excellence in all areas of creating a well-rounded community, particularly in diversifying the student body.

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