Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Theory in Practice: Rutgers University-Newark Is a Testing Ground for Demonstrating Specific Educational Advantages of Diversity

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Theory in Practice: Rutgers University-Newark Is a Testing Ground for Demonstrating Specific Educational Advantages of Diversity

Article excerpt

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He researched the history of Newark, N.J. He heard about Mayor Cory Booker's efforts to lead a revitalization of the city. But it wasn't until he arrived for an interview at Rutgers University's Newark campus did professor Brandon Paradise grasp what all the enthusiasm had been about.

"When I walked on campus, I felt immediately at home. I felt that this was a place where I could make meaningful relationships," says Paradise, who practiced law before landing an assistant professorship at the Rutgers-Newark School of Law three years ago. "(The Rutgers campus) is like you're walking through the United Nations. It really has a global quality to it in one of America's most historically rich cities."

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Paradise is not the only one to be inspired by the international appeal and uniqueness of the 38-acre urban campus. For more than a decade, Rutgers-Newark has been ranked the nation's most diverse university by U.S. News and World Report. Officials say the institution's diversity is fueled, in part, by the area's growing immigrant population. In fact, 37 percent of undergraduate students report that English is not their first language.

Now, the university's unique composition is allowing it to test a theory that diversity advocates have long argued but have lacked rigorous scholarship to support: students of all backgrounds benefit from learning in a multicultural and multi-ethnic environment. University officials are refining existing policies and implementing new practices to measure the precise academic benefits of maintaining a diverse student population.

"Rutgers University-Newark, because of its incredibly high level of diversity, is one of the few places in the country where you can actually do research on the impact of high diversity on the learning of college students," says Dr. Sharon McDade, director of the American Council on Education Fellows Program.

The idea to investigate measurable benefits of diversity in student learning or outcomes came from Rutgers-Newark's experience with the ACE Fellows Program. In the past, fellows used hypothetical universities to examine a wide range of issues related to, among other things, leadership and decision making in higher education. However, the 2009-2010 fellowship class was the first group to conduct a full-scale live institution study.

Rutgers-Newark was the organization's pick for its first analysis.

"The fellows are learning about how leadership happens from the viewpoint of the senior level, and what better way to immerse them in that than a live institution study," says McDade.

According to ACE officials, 18 fellowship teams worked with various units throughout Rutgers-Newark to "identify ways to advance the institution's diversity and increase community engagement to further the mission of the college."

University officials have implemented several of the fellows' proposals, which include refining the development of the institution's Diversity Research Center. Housed in the John Cotton Dana Library, two of the core missions of the Diversity Center are to conduct research related to diversity and organizational performance and to advance faculty research on diversity.

As a result of the success of the Rutgers study, ACE fellows now analyze a different institution every year. McDade says the Rutgers-Newark case helped provide a framework that fellows use in the program's second institution study: Chicago's Roosevelt University.

ACE Fellows also suggested that Rutgers-Newark create a systematic method of tracking outcomes related to diversity, which university officials are in the process of developing.

For example, the university is developing assessment tools to measure students' "cultural awareness" when they enter and graduate from the institution. This approach, says Assistant Chancellor Mark Winston, will foster a more comprehensive method of assessing students' feedback related to how diversity impacts their experiences. …

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