What’s so important about diversity at a college? Why does it matter if students encounter different ages, abilities, ethnicities, or creeds? There was a time when people lived and worked within a small geographic area; they rarely had contact with people much different than themselves. Knowing and understanding your own neighborhood was sufficient to be able to get along in the world.
Obviously, things have changed. Not only do people conduct business globally, but everyday interaction, thanks to the Internet, occurs globally. People can read international newspapers, engage in international business transactions, and even chat with citizens of foreign countries over a game of Hearts. The communication world is imploding. At the same time, our own country continues to become more diverse. The percentage of African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians continues to grow. Different groups of people often have different perspectives and interpretations of the world around them.
Having a diverse population at a college or university offers students two major advantages. First, the more diverse the population, the more diverse the perspectives. When students are confronted with multiple perspectives, they have to use critical thinking skills to sort out and learn from those perspectives. Thus, diversity enhances real thinking skills of students. Second, the more diverse the population, the more students are confronted with cultures and practices that aren’t their own. Because we live in a global world now, learning how to work with others of different cultures and backgrounds is an important and necessary skill.
Illinois Central College, over the past several years, has continued to work on programs and services that will attract and retain diverse populations to the college. ICC provides accessibility services to students with disabilities, including the availability of deaf interpreters. It has continued to reach out to minority students through programs like Upward Bound, New World, Changing Faces in the New Millennium, and the Multicultural Student Association. Through the Diversity Office, ICC has incorporated Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) as support for some of these programs. And as testament to its emphasis on diversity, the ICC Board of Trustees passed a diversity pledge. ICC Director of Diversity Rita Ali recently was honored by the YWCA for her efforts in the minority community and has been asked by the Red Cross to lead seminars on diversity.
At the same time, ICC is working with Nancy Ou, a business executive in China, to attract more foreign students to the college. One of ICC’s English-as-a-second-language instructors, Shari West, spent most of the month of June teaching at Xiamen College, preparing Chinese students to become students at colleges like ICC. ICC has had a number of students from a variety of countries, and ICC faculty have participated in educational exchanges in England, Finland, and China.
The community college exists to serve the communities in its district, but that doesn’t mean the educational experience necessarily needs to be confined geographically. Building a diverse student body and faculty/staff gives students much-needed tools to flourish in a much bigger community—our world today. IBI