Deconstructing “diversity”

By Karlee Robinson

“A look into representation on the private university campus”

Campus diversity is a priority for most academic institutions, but how do we define “diversity” as it is prioritized?

At private institutions like Puget Sound, the student population represents a wide array of geographical diversity, as in-state residency does not factor into tuition. However, compared to other nearby campuses like UW Tacoma, our university is relatively homogenous in terms of socioeconomic and racial diversity.

In striving for more inclusive demographics, it’s important to ask in what ways an institution wants to both encourage and support diversity. Diversity in academics can be broken down into three major categories: diverse fields of study (majors and minors), racial diversity and socioeconomic diversity (focusing on aspects like political diversity and personal income). While I don’t mean to ignore other facets of diversity, I think this is an effective place to start.

Diversity produces a more expansive field of knowledge, allowing for more thorough, intersectional studies. Racial diversity, and broader socio-economic diversity, are both important because they encourage a better, more authentic understanding of students and their social positions. In bettering university conditions, students can more effectively pursue their academic ambitions, allowing them to distribute the benefits of having access to higher education, a subsequent inclusive effect.

These categories of diversity all relate to regional diversity. By regional diversity, I mean diversity in places of student origin. Private universities like Puget Sound pull from a wide geographic pool, but even in their regionally diverse demographics, the majority of students reflect homogenous racial and socioeconomic backgrounds (white and upper-middle class). This is largely consequent to academia’s inherently capitalist filter, benefiting students of similarly privileged racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Public universities, on the other hand, pull from a less geographically diverse pool, but exceed the racial and socioeconomic diversity of most private universities. Looking at UW Tacoma demographics, out of 4,987 total students, 43 percent are Caucasian, 21 percent Asian American, 13 percent Hispanic/ Latino, 10 percent African American, six percent international students, two percent Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, two percent American Indian and two percent not indicated. Regionally, 92 percent of UW Tacoma students are in-state residents. Additionally, 64 percent of firstyear students have parents without college degrees and 73 percent of students receive financial aid.

Puget Sound, located only three miles from the UWT campus, is comprised of 74 percent Caucasian students, 9.2 percent of two or more races, 7.2 percent are Hispanic, 6.8 percent Asian, 0.9 percent African American and 0.8 percent unknown.

The University’s objective, according to the Diversity Strategic Plan 2016 Annual Report, is to “improve the campus’s compositional diversity by prioritizing the recruitment, retention, and graduation of students from underrepresented and minoritized groups.”

As displayed out in our current diversity statistics, this campus has a long way to go before these objectives will be achieved. Our campus must first become accessible before our goals of inclusivity and diversity will be met. There is an undeniable gap between the University’s vision of the ideal “compositional diversity” and the actual image of our student population.