New Student Orientation Programs Promoting Diversity

Article excerpt

New student orientation programs are designed to ease the transition of new students into their collegiate environments. As diverse enrollments have increased throughout higher education, new student orientation programs have been identified as a key tool for establishing levels of expectation and performance, including the promotion of diversity issues. The current national study of orientation directors explored how these student orientation programs can best facilitate promoting diversity. Findings revealed a host of strategies, particularly noting methods that integrate rather than isolate diversity issues as well as using institutional leaders to stress the importance of tolerance and diversity.

Introduction

Higher education institutions have assumed some responsibility for assuring a level of social justice. It can take the form of an equality of access and affordability, but is also manifest in breaking down stereotypes and bias, by allowing for the teaching, tolerance, and advocacy of diversity of thinking, ethnicity, and cultures. Often, the task has become reduced to general terms about teaching students to live a civic life in a democratic society. In more practical terms, the responsibility for social justice means that colleges and universities have a responsibility to teach diversity.

Diversity as a conceptual problem is handled in numerous ways by different institutions. Some build multiculturalism into the curriculum, some offer specific programs on multi-ethnicity, and other institutions rely on high minority student enrollments to present themselves in a meaningful way in courses and student life.

Community colleges have advocated for diversity through a number of programs, outreach efforts, and curricular additions. Although these colleges enroll the majority of minority students in American higher education, they are often the venue where students with the least exposure to diversity come together (Williams, 2004). Although many urban campuses are truly melting pots of multi-ethnicity, others are highly segregated along racial lines.

The first opportunity community colleges have to begin breaking down what racism may exist and to develop an appreciation for diverse cultures comes when students first arrive on campus. The first few weeks can establish not only a level of trust, acceptance, and appreciation for diversity, but also have the potential to establish the future success of students in the classroom and at the campus (Cook, Cully, & Huftalin, 2003). The purpose for conducting the current study was to identify positive steps that community colleges can use in their new student orientation (NSO) programs to foster more positive feelings among students toward diversity.

Related literature

New student orientation

Over 70% of all undergraduate students participate in some form of new student orientation or firstyear seminar (Barefoot & Gardner, 1993). Although there is limited research on community college orientation programs, they have been reported to exist in some format in the majority of community colleges (Stephenson, 1997). Such programs ease the transition of new students into the college environment (Brown, 1997) and, perhaps more importantly, are seen as the institution's tool for conveying institutional expectations and messages (Twale &. Schaller, 2003). Specifically, the programs can enhance new student self-esteem, which is in turn a significant positive predictor of personal, social, and academic achievement (Hickman, Bartholomae, &. McKenry, 2000). Additionally, new student programs provide opportunities for involvement that can aide in retention and provide a tool to build social support networks that can help students cope in college (Gardner, 2001).

As Hu, Shouping, and Kuh (2003a; 2003b) noted, racial identity is often a factor for new students, and college administrators must find ways to help students learn to appreciate racial and cultural diversity. …