Confronting the diversity problem

Confronting the diversity problem

Matthew Mitterhoff

Lafayette professors seek to spark open-mindedness outside the classroom.

Photos by Reine Pavlik ‘15 and] Hana Isihara ‘17

In its continuing effort to promote inclusion on campus, Lafayette has begun incorporating diversity into its curricula, hoping to not only cultivate open-mindedness in students’ residential lives, but also through the topics they learn in the classroom.

At the forefront of the movement is Religious Studies Professor Brett Hendrickson, who altered his Contemporary Religious Issues class to spend more time on how the religious community views homosexual relationships.

“The way I had been doing it was to take one or two class periods for each issue,” Hendrickson said. “I think that what I hoped to do for students was for at least that one issue, after this course, they’ll say ‘OK, this is not something I just know a little about, this is something I know quite a bit about.’”

In the fall of 2011, the Teagle Foundation, a group aimed at innovation in higher education, gave a grant to Lafayette in the hopes that they would use the money to use data more effectually in administration of the students. Grants were also given to Dickinson College and Bucknell University.

“This is very much a higher-ed issue right now,” said Hannah Stewart-Gambino, dean of the college. “Are we being accountable to students and their families, and the tuition dollars that they pay? Are we sure that we are measuring the [right] kinds of outcomes?”

All three schools chose one aspect of student development to focus on: building skills to understand diversity.

“For all three schools that were part of the partnership for the Teagle grant–Lafayette, Bucknell, and Dickinson–diversity and the promotion of inclusive excellence were components of our strategic initiatives,” Lafayette Provost Wendy Hill wrote in an email. “We felt strongly that we could learn from one another in this area.”

When the grant was given to Lafayette, ten professors on campus were accepted on applications for stipends of grant money, in return agreeing to alter their curriculum to include diverse topics.

The grant from Teagle ran out this past semester, but Lafayette administration hopes to continue to find ways to integrate diversification into campus life.

“The Teagle faculty recognize that diversity enhances excellence, and that skills and knowledge in this area are no longer optional skill sets for the student leaders of tomorrow,” Women’s and Gender Studies Professor Mary Armstrong wrote in an email. “I anticipate the Teagle faculty will continue to work together, build our skills, and welcome new faculty into our activities for some time in the future.”