Discussing Diversity

The university continues to be a reflection of the world around it.
The university continues to be a reflection of the world around it.

What is its impact on campus today?

By Ray Willhoft ’00

When freshman Chantal Gainous first set foot on Loyola’s campus, she instantly knew that diversity was more than just a buzzword for the university.

“It was almost a culture shock for me when I saw the campus makeup with all of the different nationalities,” she says.

That reaction is one that Loyola is happy to hear, particularly because the university has continued to place emphasis on creating a diverse atmosphere—not for the sake of appearances, but for the benefits it provides to the educational experience.

The Need for Diversity

“There is a need for diversity as long as we seek to celebrate the uniqueness of each individual and traditions, cultures, and heritages from which each of us has come,” says Sal Liberto, vice president for enrollment management and associate provost. “Sadly, there is still bigotry in the world. Our community—with its welcoming atmosphere of acceptance—sets a great example of how good people from different backgrounds can come together and appreciate and learn from one another.”

Loyola is not alone in that thinking. Creating a diverse atmosphere on campus is not a new concept, but one that has continued to gain importance with universities over the years. What perhaps once began as an outgrowth of non-discrimination and affirmative action policies has evolved into a greater appreciation for what people of different genders, ethnicities, cultures, sexual orientations, and religious and socioeconomic backgrounds can bring to the table. This is especially true in higher education.

Patricia Gurin, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, in “New Research on The Benefits of Diversity in College and Beyond: An Empirical Analysis,” states, “Higher education is especially influential when its social milieu is different from the environment from which the students come and when it is diverse and complex enough to encourage intellectual experimentation. Students learn more and think in deeper, more complex ways in a diverse educational environment.”

Students themselves can attest to that fact.

“Having a diverse campus takes you out of your framework and forces you to broaden your horizons,” says senior Thomas Wise.

Loyola faculty members agree, in part because having a diverse mix of students, as well as faculty and staff, opens new avenues for conversation.

“We live in a diverse world. New issues happen every day, so we have to talk about them,” explains Uriel Quesada, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. “Diversity shows you how amazing life is and helps people make connections with others and with themselves.”

Of course, conversations can sometimes lead to disagreements, but that in itself teaches students to respect differences of opinions—a useful skill in the working world.

“Loyola is good preparation for social interaction in the real world. We learn how to respectfully disagree with someone,” notes Wise.

“Different opinions are welcomed, and students are encouraged to make their cases for their arguments,” adds senior Leta Davis.

But perhaps most importantly, diversity on campus allows students the freedom to be who they are without persecution.

“People aren’t afraid to be themselves here,” comments freshman Andrew Ketcham.

Diversity Initiatives

How a university achieves and maintains diversity can be as important as the issue itself. Some places might view students in terms of quotas to fill, but Loyola takes a different approach in its recruiting process.

Though the Office of Admissions makes a special effort to recruit from all over the United States and internationally to ensure geographic and cultural diversity, the focus on who the students are as individuals is never lost.

“When recruiting new students, we see people rather than check-boxes,” notes Keith Gramling, director of Admissions.

That is an important distinction for a university to make. While touting impressive numbers in terms of diversity might earn you recognition, creating diversity simply for bragging rights, especially when there is no real interaction among students, doesn’t fit in with Loyola’s Jesuit mission and sense of an all-inclusive community.

And the truth is always revealed when coming to campus, which sometimes surprises visitors.

“Often visitors are shocked by the interaction of students on our campus, particularly when compared to other universities,” says Gramling. “But our campus reflects the world around us.”

Indeed, once students arrive on campus, they quickly realize that diversity is simply a part of campus culture, due in part to the various student organizations that both embrace and promote our differences. Organizations such as the Black Student Union, International Student Association, Loyola Asian Student Organization, Muslim Students Association, Organization of Latin American Students, Queer Straight Student Alliance, and the Wolfpack Diversity Team actively sponsor events each semester to promote diversity on campus.

And students notice.

“At other places, diversity can feel forced, but there is an organic feel to it here,” says Ketcham. “There are so many events happening that people really want to go to.”

Diversity has become ingrained at Loyola on the academic level as well as the social. The Center for Intercultural Understanding was established several years ago “to create and maintain a campus environment where students, faculty, and staff will be able to recognize, respect, and celebrate our differences and commonalities” through programming, services, advocacy, research, and curriculum transformation.

Curriculum transformation is particularly important since there will be a diversity requirement as part of the new Common Curriculum that will be launching in fall 2013. However, rather than force diversity on students, courses will begin to increase students’ awareness and understanding of the diverse world in which they live.

“We hope to open students to new worlds and cultures, especially from the Jesuit point of view,” notes Quesada, who is part of the work group for the diversity requirement.

The Results

Loyola earned the distinction as the best university in the nation for “Lots of Race/Class Interaction” by The Princeton Review’s 2012 edition of its annual college guide, The Best 376 Colleges. The university took the top spot in the “Lots of Race/Class Interaction” category after placing fourth in last year’s guide.

Loyola’s numbers also paint a welcoming picture. For undergraduate students, 42 percent are male, and 58 percent are female; ethnic minorities represent 35.3 percent of the student body; 45 percent are from out of state; 49 states (including Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands) are represented; 4 percent are international students; and 47 countries are represented.

Obviously, the university is doing something right.

The New Orleans Influence

In addition to its appealing social and academic components, the fact that Loyola continues to attract such a diverse student body is not that surprising considering the city in which it resides. After all, New Orleans is a city known for its unique blend of cultures and influences.

“New Orleans is like no other place on the planet, borne of the diversity of its many cultural architects,” says Liberto. “We see this as another opportunity in the educations and experiences of our students, faculty, and staff.”

Students often find New Orleans’ diverse atmosphere contagious.

“Living in New Orleans, exposure to different cultures is unavoidable,” notes Gainous. “Even if the university didn’t embrace diversity, students would bring it back to campus with them. There is something here in New Orleans for everyone, and it’s the same with Loyola.”

In fact, some students even use New Orleans food as an example of their feelings on the subject.

“I think of Loyola like a pot of gumbo. All of these different ingredients come together to make an amazing soup,” says sophomore Sara Rodriguez.

But regardless of the reasons, all feel that Loyola is a place where they belong.

“The message we send is that you are welcome here,” says Wise.

That’s the impact diversity has.

View the complete spring 2012 issue of LOYNO.

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