Last September , I wrote a column about new pathways to integrate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) into higher education learning communities. In that article, I offered four practical steps to align organizational culture to ensure that higher education is accessible and available to all. I also highlighted that before the critical work of DEI can begin, there must be an institutional-wide commitment to embrace it.
At Waubonsee Community College, we have adopted the following definition to get to the heart of why we believe we must continually embrace diversity. We believe “Diversity” is an intentional appreciation of differences expressed in countless forms, including race and ethnicity, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, language, culture, national origin, religious commitments, age, (dis)ability status, and political perspective.
We know that embracing diversity is important to our students as well. In January 2022, Hanover Research surveyed more than 1,000 undergraduate students in the U.S. about their perceptions of DEI at their colleges and universities. According to the findings, 88% of students consider it essential for institutions to prioritize funding for programs and resources that support historically disadvantaged student subgroups. And, data published by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education indicates that by 2036, more than 50 percent of U.S. high school graduates will be people of color.
Community colleges are closely connected and interwoven into the fabric of their communities and reflect those they serve. At Waubonsee, our diversity has been pivotal in understanding what makes us unique. And, our community has become increasingly diverse with increases in the Latinx population and the growth of the African American, Asian American, and other populations.
Since the date of my column last year, we have opened a Latinx Resource Center at our Aurora Downtown Campus to create a greater sense of belonging among our Latinx students and build mentorship and models of success to support students to and through graduation. We’ve increased resources and support for all underrepresented students. And, we’ve expanded and continued to build upon the college’s ongoing dialogue centered around diversity for anyone who wants to engage in what can sometimes be difficult conversations.
The launch of Waubonsee’s new peer-led programs like Money Matters and the Latinx Summer Institute are prime examples of innovative, data-informed initiatives designed to engage predominately first-generation students and students of color. And, the college is continually launching new projects and revamping policies to make college more affordable and accessible for everyone.
Our new Equity Plan, which will be announced this fall, builds upon our commitment to create an environment where students and employees feel that they are accepted, connected, and treated fairly and equitably. The launch of our Employee Resource Groups this fall will add to this impact and create spaces for employees to find community outside their respective departments.
Embracing diversity makes us stronger. It creates bridges of understanding among people with different backgrounds, upbringings, ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, abilities, values, opinions, and experiences. Community colleges help an amazingly diverse group of people realize their dreams. Our students are committed to building better lives for themselves, their families, and their communities.
Waubonsee is more than college; we are community college. We want to view the world from the perspective of those we serve, anticipating needs and striving to exceed expectations to ensure students feel that they are accepted, connected, and treated fairly and equitably.