Increased interaction necessary to promote diversity at UI

The University is home to one of the most diverse student bodies in the country, hailing at least 8,000 international students and roughly 6,000 undergraduates from out of state in Fall 2011. Students attend the University from every county in Illinois, and the school boasts significant racial diversity and a sizeable LGBT population.

But to what degree can we rely on these numbers to describe our population as diverse?

In an interview with The Daily Illini on Thursday, Chancellor Phyllis Wise said: “The diversity adds to the excellence of this place. I think it’s wonderful when students can get introduced to people they would have never seen in their high school or in their neighborhood and learn from them in very much ‘out of the classroom’ ways.”

However, citing results from the University climate survey in 2011, Wise said the University needs to be more assertive in promoting diversity to make it a more welcoming place for students from “far-away places.”

The University’s push to actively seek a richer international student population adds to the diversity of our campus — but only in figures and statistics. Even though our population contains several students from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, they don’t necessarily mingle and interact with one another.

Arguably, the only place students mix with one another is in the classroom, but Wise told the board of trustees that neither she nor Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Renee Romano have plans to bolster this activity. Wise said most of the programming done focuses only on extracurricular activities, instead leaving the faculty on its own to foster diversity in the classroom, where its purpose is most crucial.

At that, Wise does not have a concrete plan to foster diversity outside of the classroom either because she said she needs the results of different surveying techniques before she can reasonably act on anything. Nor has she begun to focus on capturing diversity of sexual orientation, even as the push for marriage equality has spread across the nation.

According to a 2011 Inside HigherEd survey of admissions council nationwide, more than half of public research universities have started to increase their focus on recruiting more international students because of their ability to pay for such high tuition. The University tuition for international students is nearly $14,000 more a year than in-state tuition. This in itself is a significant reason for the University to seek out students from every corner of the globe.

Of course, this University and the chancellor cherish the importance of diversity for its educational purposes. But the meaning of diversity should not be so limited to race and ethnicity, and the University should begin to embrace the significance of a rich variety in the student body apart from the numbers to foster a greater sense of welcoming for students of other backgrounds.