Transforming Understandings of Diversity in Higher Education: Implications for Community Colleges

by Penny A. Pasque / Nov 7, 2016

Conceptualizations of “diversity” have been rapidly shifting in recent years, including across the United States where we have seen a number of demographic changes and attitude shifts related to gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, religion, and immigration. This is important for community colleges as, notably, community colleges serve the majority of students of color. Specifically, community colleges are composed of 62% of the nation’s Native American undergraduates, 57% of Hispanics and Latinx undergraduates, 52% of Black undergraduates and 43% of Asian/Pacific Islander undergraduates (American Association of Community Colleges [AACC], 2016). In contrast, White students have dominated expansions at the “top” institutions in recent years (Carnevale & Strohl, 2013). Further, women comprise the majority (57%) of students in community colleges (statistics on transgender students were not available; AACC, 2016), and 22% of all college students are reportedly hungry or have food insecurity (Kovacs, 2016). As Milem, Chang, and Antonio (2005) argue, the time for a diversity agenda in higher education is now

Some institutions have turned to socio-economic class as a factor to increase diversity in higher education yet as Carnevale and Strohl (2013) point out, class and race are not equivalent, nor are their effects. For example, White students from the lower half of family income distribution drop out of college much less frequently do than African Americans and Latinx students.

As community colleges develop and/or strengthen diversity agendas, institutional policies, programs, and procedures, the book Transforming Understandings of Diversity in Higher Education: Demography, Democracy, and Discourse (Pasque, Ortega, Burkhardt, & Ting, Eds., 2016) offers a compilation of the latest research in order to further thinking regarding how diversity is framed, studied, and discussed – as well as what is ignored. It examines how diversity is being shaped by the work of nationally recognized scholars and provides insight into how these scholars wrestle with complicated topics that have shaped them as individuals and as scholars.

Each scholar was asked to contribute their most innovative thinking drawing on their current and cutting-edge research agenda. In this way, the collection of chapters in this book may be viewed as the next “big thing” for each of the nationally recognized scholars. Specifically, chapter authors considered the question, “If you had the ear of all of higher education, what would you say about diversity in higher education with the goal of prompting social and/or institutional change?” The answers explore topics such as the intersectionality of social identities (i.e. race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, dis/ability, religion, and class), historically black colleges and universities, faculty at public community colleges, spacial lenses, structural barriers, K-12 preparation, athletics, media imagery, racial battle fatigue, legal issues and more.

For example, Michelle Samura, in her chapter, “Architecture of Diversity: Using the Lens and Language of Space to Examine Racialized Experiences of Students of Color on College Campuses,” takes a unique approach to concepts of space and spacial lenses. She explores how space plays a role in larger racial meanings, including in the racial pain felt by Asian American undergraduate women. This chapter has implications for the utility of spacial approaches in a community college environment. Specifically, it may help community college administrators re-consider often overlooked concepts of space, such as ways to set up an office, what to include in a recreation center, and/or what is placed in high-traffic hallways where students may meet each other for informal conversation. By way of another example, in their chapter, “Racialized and Gendered Experiences of African American Female Faculty at Public Community Colleges,” Tamara Nichele Stevenson and Eboni Zamani-Gallaher explore the complexities for African American female faculty in public community college environments. The authors explore the racialized and gendered experiences of faculty in relation to racial battle fatigue and microaggressions, such as the exchange and response to race-related mental, emotional, and physical tensions associated with the faculty role. This is crucial information for all community college faculty and administrators who are and/or work with African American female faculty. The authors provide tangible suggestions for reducing “chilly” campus climates that could, in turn, help with the retention of African American female faculty in community colleges.

In a unique approach, the authors were also asked to reflect on the paths their scholarship has taken to this point in their careers and to speak openly with a graduate student who had similar professional aspirations. The graduate students wrote candid interview chapters that provide a more holistic and engaged picture of the authors themselves, far more than simply a transcript would provide. They offer an engaged picture of how the authors wrestle with one of the most complicated topics shaping them (and all of us) as individuals and as scholars: diversity.

The way a complex matter such as diversity is framed, studied, and discussed has obvious implications for how it is understood and, eventually, how it is made real through personal relationships, diversity agendas, institutional programs, and policies. Community colleges have critical roles to play in terms of which conceptualizations of diversity are furthered and which are abandoned. How the concept of diversity is approached through discourse and implemented practices makes a difference to administrators, staff, faculty, students, and community members. Consciously or unconsciously, these conceptualizations of diversity are directly reflected in institutional policies and practices, such as admissions, recruitment, retention, faculty tenure processes, classroom pedagogical approaches, co-curricular opportunities, community engagement, sustainability practices, technological advances, and the like. Community college leaders have an important role to play in leading discussions regarding transforming understandings of diversity in higher education.

For more information see
Transforming Understandings of Diversity in Higher Education: Demography, Democracy & Discourse
Penny A. Pasque, Noe Ortega, John C. Burkhardt, & Marie P. Ting, editors

Chapter Authors:
Annie S. Adamian, University of San Francisco
Phillip Bowman, University of Michigan
Courtney Carter, Mississippi State University
LaVar J. Charleston, University of Wisconsin
Michelle Cuellar, California State University, Fullerton
Jarrett T. Gumpton, University of Minnesota
Jerlando F. L. Jackson, University of Wisconsin
Uma M. Jayakumar, University of California, Riverside
Jessica Joslin, University of Michigan
Adam Lalor, University of Connecticut
Angela M. Locks, California State University, Long Beach
Allison Lombardi, University of Connecticut
Jeanette Maduena, California State University, Long Beach
Karen Miksch, University of Minnesota
Dawn Person, California State University, Fullerton
Kristen A. Renn, Michigan State University
Michelle Samura, Chapman University
Melba Schneider-Castro, California State University Fullerton
Tamara Nichele Stevenson, Westminster College
Michael R. Woodford, Wilfrid Laurier University
Eboni M. Zamani-Gallaher, University of Illinois

Graduate Student Interviewees and Authors:
Diane M. Back
James M. Ellis
Timothy Hickey-LeClair
Tonya Kneff
Jimin Kwon
Demar F. Lewis IV
Sheela Lindstrum
Lloyd Edward Shelton
Carly Wegner

Penny A. Pasque is the Brian E. and Sandra O'Brien Presidential Professor and Program Area Coordinator of Adult and Higher Education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Women's and Gender Studies, and the Center for Social Justice at OU.