Teagle diversity survey provides surprising results and suggestions

Stuart Fisher

Staff Reporter

On Thursday, Nov. 4, the Teagle Planning Team here at McDaniel met to hear the results of 2010 Diversity Fellow Jocelyn McKinley’s summer research project on diversity at our school.

For those of you who don’t know, the Teagle Foundation is an organization devoted to improving, supporting, and sustaining liberal arts education through a variety of channels, most notably grants. The foundation recently gave a grant to McDaniel, along with Ursinus, Washington, Washington and Jefferson, and Goucher Colleges, for a project aimed at examining and improving student learning and engagement and efforts to foster diversity in and out of classes.

Part of that grant allows for the students and faculty at each school to choose a Diversity Fellow to do research at their school over the summer. McDaniel’s diversity fellow, Jocelyn McKinley, conducted anonymous electronic surveys of students, faculty, and staff members focusing on school admissions, retention of students, and general attitudes and experiences regarding diversity. The results of the survey were presented at the Nov. 4 meeting.

The surveys provided some interesting insights into what McDaniel does well in terms of diversity and what it could stand to improve. Overall, retention of minority students admitted to McDaniel is not outstanding, though student retention in general is fairly high. A large part of this problem seems to be a lack of diversity in staff at the school, and among teachers in particular.

Many students reported that they felt uncomfortable talking to staff about the problems they experience; the students felt that the staff wouldn’t understand, or simply didn’t seem connected to them due to racial differences. Some students actually reported negative experiences with staff, and feeling singled out in class or feeling like they had to represent their whole ethnic group was not uncommon. Other students feel generally left out, and some are even afraid because of the harassment they receive. A few students indicated that they felt like they had been admitted to McDaniel because of their race.

Minority students responding to the survey reported verbal comments about race, glances, and being ignored with relatively high frequency. Some students reported receiving written comments about race, four students reported being threatened, and two students reported experiencing actual physical violence.

It is important to note that the number of minority students responding to the survey was relatively low compared to the actual minority population of the college. This seems to be indicative of the general lack of engagement minority groups of students feel at McDaniel.

All of these things negatively affect both retention of minority student groups and the general atmosphere and accessibility of campus. However, there are many ways to improve on these issues, and McDaniel is already on its way to a brighter future.

McDaniel already devotes a great deal of time and energy to diversity programming both in classes and at school events. We also have quite a few clubs devoted to specific ethnic groups and to promoting diversity and open-mindedness.

As Senior Andrew Rauch noted, “…there’s room for improvement on all sides. Progress has been made, we’re moving in a good direction, but a collaborative effort is needed to ease the gap we’re seeing among these students.”

After seeing the results of the survey, the Planning Team began discussing different ideas about how to encourage students to engage with each other and promote cross-cultural learning and experiences. Suggestions included sending students to ethnic events in Baltimore and having them write reviews for the school newspaper, having students and faculty sit with randomly selected fellow students and faculty in GLAR (not all the time), and trying to get staff from the athletics departments more involved both in Teagle and other diversity initiatives around campus.

Some concerns were raised about minority students actually feeling over-engaged from constantly hearing about the same sorts of events. Mahlia Joyce, director of the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, said, “I personally need to look at the programming that is offered (events on campus), because it’s been pretty much the same stuff for the past 10 years.” There was a general consensus that new things need to be tried, and there was even talk of scrapping the use of the word diversity because it is becoming somewhat of a buzzword.

Whatever McDaniel decides to do in the future, it is important that we are all in it together. As Dr. Reanna Ursin, English Professor and Teagle Team Member, puts it, “…improving campus climate (i.e. the degree to which every person feels valued, respected and safe) is going to require everyone to reach outside their comfort zones. Too often we convince ourselves that there are those of us who “know” about diversity and that we just have to educate those who don’t, but that’s simply not the case. We all have bias. We all have experiences that affect how we interact with others. We all are passionate about one issue or another. The goal isn’t to tell others how they ‘should’ think–the goal is to communicate and work to understand different viewpoints.”

When asked where McDaniel should go from here, Dr. Ursin said that she would like to see the Campus Diversity Council take note of the survey results and use them going forward. “Students, staff and faculty took the time to participate in focus groups, give campus tours, and share meals and ideas with observers from other colleges. To retain the trust of the community, someone in authority has to act on the information collected. Whatever that action is, I don’t think it should make diversity just one more activity we have to fit into already packed schedules.”

As we move forward, we need to continue to try new things to get students to engage with each other comfortably and openly. Diversity, and acceptance of it, are crucial to our individual and collective educations, as well as the quality and sustainability of our school. We all need to make an effort on this issue, because it will be everyone’s problem if we don’t.