Student Organizations and Institutional Diversity Efforts: A Typology

Article excerpt

American higher education has become focused on increasing access and success for traditionally underrepresented populations. Despite the myriad of institutional efforts, attention has not been given to the role of student organizations in supporting these efforts. This article looks at the role campus student organizations can play within campus diversity efforts and presents a typology for understanding campus organizations' diversity activities. This typology will aid in organizational self-understanding and in promoting student organizations to become more inclusive of campus diversity efforts.

Campus Climate, Diversity and Student Organizations

Research has indicated that the campus climate fostered through both the curriculum and co-curricular life of the campus play a key role in supporting student success and student college persistence (Astin, 1984, 1993; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Tinto, 1993). Yet many traditional college campuses and their surrounding communities continue to be perceived as unwelcoming, or at best, neutral to the presence of diverse students (Brown, 1991 ; Mallory, 1997; Person & Christensen, 1996; Sutton & Kimbrough, 2001). Levine and Cureton (1998) suggest that multiculturalism remains the most unresolved issue on today's college campuses. Many would argue that the context of the college experience, the campus climate, has much to do with both the quality of the experience and persistence to graduation.

In recent years, campuses have devoted significant resources to addressing campus climate efforts to enhance diversity. They have created special recruiting initiatives, fostered the development of multicultural services and retention programs, developed curriculum integration efforts, and structured multicultural competency training for faculty, staff and student leaders. Often overlooked in these efforts, however, has been the role of campus student organizations. This is surprising in that student organizations have the potential to serve as significant agents to advance the multicultural and diversity goals of college campuses. Campus student organizations serve as significant social networks for students on college campuses and serve as important links for students to campus life and to the institution. They have also been found to be important components of student involvement and contribute to student learning, student development and student success (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). For diverse students these groups are often the life line to college persistence and connection (Cheng & Zhao, 2006; Mallory, 1997; McRee & Cooper, 1998; Rooney, 1985; Sutton & Kimbrough, 2001; Sutton & Terrell, 1997). Despite the documented importance of student organizations, the relationship between these organizations and institutional diversity efforts remains unexplored. The following is a typology for guiding student organizations through an assessment of their current involvement with diversity related goals and strategies within their campus environments.

The Student Organization Diversity Typology

The goals and behavior of campus student organizations can promote or hinder the institution's efforts toward increasing the admission of diverse students on campus as well as their feelings of belonging and persistence once on campus. This typology presents a way to view and understand the relationship between student organizations and their organizational behavior toward campus diversity goals and issues. The diversity typology outlines the possible relationships between a student organization and the campus's institutional diversity efforts. Understanding this relationship has two purposes: (a) by naming the relationship between the two entities a clearer understanding about the nature of the relationship is possible, in other words, the relationship can be conceptualized and discussed, and (b) the typology is presented in a hierarchical format from most negative to most positive--this provides both the student organizations and those who work with these organizations a road map to relationships that can increase their support of and involvement in institutional diversity goals. …