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4 Ways Universities Can Take The Lead On Diversity

06/20/2018 11:21 am ET Updated 3 days ago

By Gregory P. Crawford, president of Miami University  

Commitment to diversity has become a priority of nearly every major commercial, social and academic institution in the United States today. The movement is led by CEOs and presidents who recognize the imperative of inclusion at every level, from social reputation and talent recruitment to innovation success and market access.

At Miami University, we believe public universities hold a particular responsibility to promote “inclusive excellence.” All organizations strive to diversify to compete more effectively in our global society; but as universities, we are educating future leaders and citizens, those who will drive progress in our nation and our world.

That’s why I signed on early to CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion – holding us accountable for turning words into action – and why we strive at Miami University to be leaders in preparing the next generation of professionals, researchers and civic leaders.

Public universities must build cultures with diversity and inclusion to inform every discussion and decision, not just as a stand-alone initiative. We know that our graduates will join a workforce where they will be engaging new systems for invention, design, manufacture and marketing anywhere on the globe. We must empower every community member to excel by breaking down barriers, opening meaningful conversations, and learning to celebrate differences.

At Miami, we start with the basics: student success. The four-year graduation rate for minority students improved to 66 percent in 2017, the highest rate in 20 years. We are determined to eliminate any gaps in graduation rate, and we have narrowed the “graduation gap” by more than nine percentage points during the last decade, an improvement that ranks us in the top 10 of public universities nationally, according to the Education Trust. As public universities, that is our most important task, empowering the success of all students.

Our students come from around the world and across rural, suburban and urban America. Hateful speech and racial incidents exist in some of those communities, and universities are not immune when those students arrive on campus. We respond emphatically that such speech and acts are antithetical to our identity as public universities – and at Miami, to our core values. We must always strive to empower an inclusive culture, and enrich the daily lives of our students, in four intentional ways:

  •      Reflect Diversity: Recruiting more students, faculty and staff of color. Our incoming class of 2022 will be the largest and most diverse in Miami’s history, with domestic and international diversity exceeding 25 percent. We also have expanded our relationship with the Miami Tribe, including cross-cultural opportunities for study and research.

  •      Engage Diversity: Immersing students in diverse cultures. Nearly half of Miami students study abroad. On campus, we sponsor more than 100 events highlighting diversity, from academic lectures to theater productions such as “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992.”

  •      Learn From Diversity: Promoting campus scholarship and research related to diversity. More than 150 active research projects focus on topics from equity and inclusion to civil rights. In addition, a new series of career workshops are taught by corporate and community partners focusing on diversity strategy in their own organizations.

  •      Build Inclusivity: Equipping our community for conversations about diversity. We are developing comprehensive training modules, including those on “unconscious bias,” and we commissioned a climate survey to transparently identify and address areas needing improvement.

Inclusive excellence is built by daily activity, but signature and impactful events that declare our commitment to the world can build unity and momentum. This spring, we are engaging our students and communities in the following ways:

On March 19, more than 80 students joined us as we honored Congressman John Lewis with the inaugural “Freedom Summer of ’64” Award in Washington, D.C. This event recognized our legacy from 1964, when more than 800 people trained on the Western College campus – now part of Miami – to register black voters in the segregated south, including Lewis and three young men who were murdered in Mississippi after they left Oxford. Lewis recalled how his elders in Alabama urged him not to make trouble in the segregated society, but he concluded he must make “necessary trouble.” “I’ve been getting in trouble ever since,” he declared. By encountering Lewis in person, our students experienced the movement lifted out of history books, with real lives and real students at stake – a compelling lesson for their future.

On April 9, Miami alum Wil Haygood announced that his new book, Tigerland: 1968-1969: A City Divided, A Nation Torn Apart, and a Magical Season of Healing, will debut at Miami University in August as the first-year read for our incoming class. This inspirational book is about a segregated black high school in Columbus during the height of the civil rights movement whose dedication to excellence led to state championships in baseball and basketball, and an award-winning debate team. Haygood is renowned for his books on black male contributions to U.S. society, including The Butler, also a major motion picture. Nearly 4,000 of our students will encounter the real-life experience of African-American students in the volatile year of 1968-69 as part of a year-long civil rights focus including music, poetry and writings.

Through June 30, the Miami University Art Museum is hosting “Telling A People’s Story: African-American Children’s Illustrated Literature,” displaying 130 works by 33 artists from 88 books. Visitors experience the beauty and value of art that was long marginalized and enriches the experience of everyone when it is included and celebrated.

I believe to my core that inclusive excellence is indispensable for fulfilling our educational mission to prepare our students to flourish in the 21st century. Inclusive excellence is not a race with a finish line, but rather an ongoing evolution based in a human community strong enough to respond effectively to whatever challenges arise. As leaders, our responsibility is to help our organizations break down barriers, open meaningful conversations, and learn to celebrate differences. As public universities, that responsibility has huge consequences for our shared future.


Gregory P. Crawford is among the signatories of CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, a written pledge to advance diversity in the workplace that was spearheaded by PwC U.S. Chairman Tim Ryan.

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