Diversity and Accessibility
For each of us, diversity has unique meaning. What does diversity mean to you? Explore some of the many definitions offered by college students and determine which may be most accurate and thoughtful in your estimation. Even if you feel like an outsider at college, you can grow in understanding the importance of diversity on campus and the value of speaking openly and honestly about connecting with diverse cultures.
Factors of Diversity
What Is Diversity?
There are few words in the English language that have more diverse interpretations than diversity. What does diversity mean? Better yet – what does diversity mean to you? And what does it mean to your best friend, your teacher, your parents, your religious leader, or the person standing behind you in a grocery store?
For each of us, diversity has unique meaning. Below are a few of the many definitions offered by college students at a 2010 conference on the topic of diversity. Which of these definitions rings out to you as most accurate and thoughtful? Which definitions could use some embellishment or clarification, in your opinion?
Diversity means different things to different people, and it can be understood differently in different environments. In the context of your college experience, diversity generally refers to people around you who differ by race, culture, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, abilities, opinions, political views, and in other ways. When it comes to diversity on the college campus, we also think about how groups interact with one another, given their differences (even if they’re just perceived differences.) How do diverse populations experience and explore their relationships?
“More and more organizations define diversity really broadly,” says Eric Peterson, who works on diversity issues for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “Really, it’s any way any group of people can differ significantly from another group of people – appearance, sexual orientation, veteran status, your level in the organization. It has moved far beyond the legally protected categories that we’ve always looked at.”
In the following video, students from Juniata College describe what diversity means to them and explain why it’s an important aspect of their college experience.
Surface Diversity and Deep Diversity
Surface diversity and deep diversity are categories of personal attributes – or differences in attributes – that people perceive to exist between people or groups of people.
- Surface-level diversity refers to differences you can generally observe in others, like ethnicity, race, gender, age, culture, language, disability, etc. You can quickly and easily observe these features in a person. And people often do just that, making subtle judgments at the same time, which can lead to bias or discrimination. For example, if a teacher believes that older students perform better than younger students, she may give slightly higher grades to the older students than the younger students. This bias is based on perception of the attribute of age, which is surface-level diversity.
- Deep-level diversity, on the other hand, reflects differences that are less visible, like personality, attitude, beliefs, and values. These attributes are generally communicated verbally and nonverbally, so they are not easily noticeable or measurable. You may not detect deep-level diversity in a classmate, for example, until you get to know him or her, at which point you may find that you are either comfortable with these deeper character levels, or perhaps not. But once you gain this deeper level of awareness, you may focus less on surface diversity.
For example: At the beginning of a term, a classmate belonging to a minority ethnic group, whose native language is not English (surface diversity), may be treated differently by fellow classmates in another ethnic group. But as the term gets under way, classmates begin discovering the person’s values and beliefs (deep-level diversity), which they find they are comfortable with. The surface-level attributes of language and perhaps skin color become more “transparent” (less noticeable) as comfort is gained with deep-level attributes.
The following video is a quick summary of the differences between surface-level and deep-level diversity.
Diversity in Education
Positive Effects of Diversity in an Educational Setting
Why does diversity matter in college? It matters because when you are exposed to new ideas, viewpoints, customs, and perspectives – which invariably happens when you come in contact with diverse groups of people – you expand your frame of reference for understanding the world. Your thinking becomes more open and global. You become comfortable working and interacting with people of all nationalities. You gain a new knowledge base as you learn from people who are different from yourself. You think “harder” and more creatively. You perceive in new ways, seeing issues and problems from new angles. You can absorb and consider a wider range of options, and your values may be enriched. In short, it contributes to your education.
Consider the following facts about diversity in the United States:
- More than half of all U.S. babies today are people of color, and by 2050 the United States will have no clear racial or ethnic majority. As communities of color are tomorrow’s leaders, college campuses play a major role in helping prepare these leaders.
- But in 2009, while 28 percent of Americans older than 25 years of age had a four-year college degree, only 17 percent of African Americans and 13 percent of Hispanics had a four-year degree. More must be done to adequately educate the population and help prepare students to enter the workforce.
- Today, people of color make up about 36 percent of the workforce (roughly one in three workers). But by 2050, half the workforce (one in two workers) will be a person of color. Again, college campuses can help navigate these changes.
All in all, diversity brings richness to relationships on campus and off campus, and it further prepares college students to thrive and work in a multicultural world. Diversity is fast becoming America’s middle name.
Accessibility on Campus
The idea of “accessibility” is an important force of change on college campuses today. Accessibility is about making education accessible to all, and and it’s particularly focused on providing educational support to a diverse group of students, faculty, and staff with disabilities. According to the American with Disabilities Act, you can be considered disabled if you meet one of the following criteria:
- You have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as seeing, hearing, walking, learning, and others.
- You must have a history of such impairment.
- Others perceive that you have such impairment.
If you meet one of these criteria, you have special legal rights to certain accommodations on your campus. These accommodations may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Academic accommodations, like alternate format for print materials, classroom captioning, arranging for priority registration, reducing a course load, substituting one course for another, providing note takers, recording devices, sign language interpreters, a TTY in your dorm room, and equipping school computers with screen-reading, voice recognition, or other adaptive software or hardware.
- Exam accommodations, like extended time on exams.
- Financial support and assistance.
- Priority access to housing.
- Transportation and access, like wheelchair-accessible community shuttles.
Assistive technologies and Web-accessibility accommodations are critical in today’s technology-driven economy and society. The following are some examples of assistive technologies are the following:
- Speech-recognition and other assistive software like Dragon Naturally Speaking, Kurzweil, Zoom Text, CCTV Magnifier, and Inspiration Software.
- Computer input devices, like keyboards, electronic pointing devices, sip-and-puff systems, wands and sticks, joysticks, trackballs, and touch screens.
- Other Web-accessibility aids, like screen readers, screen enlargers, and screen magnifiers, speech recognition or voice recognition programs, and Text-to-Speech (TTS) or speech synthesizers.
Students in the following video share some of their experiences with the Web accessibility. For more information about Web accessibility, visit http://webaim.org.
Check Your Understanding
Answer the question(s) below to see how well you understand the topics covered in the section. This short quiz does not count toward your grade, and you can retake it an unlimited number of times.
- "10 Reasons Why We Need Diversity on College Campuses." Center for American Progress. 2016. Web. 2 Feb 2016.
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