Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

Photo of three people from ethnically diverse backgrounds sitting in a row. The woman closest to the camera holds a microphone, a woman in a burka sits next to her, and a man in a suit is at the end.

Diversity: the art of thinking independently together. —Malcolm Forbes, entrepreneur, founder of Forbes magazine

Defining Diversity

For each of us, diversity has unique meaning. Below are a few of the many definitions offered by college students at a 2010 conference on the topic of diversity. Read through the definitions and determine which ones ring out to you as most accurate and thoughtful and which definitions could use some embellishment or clarification.

  1. Diversity is a group of people who are different in the same place.
  2. Diversity to me is the ability for differences to coexist together, with some type of mutual understanding or acceptance present. Acceptance of different viewpoints is key.
  3. Tolerance of thought, ideas, people with differing viewpoints, backgrounds, and life experiences.
  4. Anything that sets one individual apart from another.
  5. People with different opinions, backgrounds (degrees and social experience), religious beliefs, political beliefs, sexual orientations, heritage, and life experience.
  6. Dissimilar
  7. Having a multitude of people from different backgrounds and cultures together in the same environment working for the same goals.
  8. Difference in students’ background, especially race and gender.
  9. Differences in characteristics of humans.
  10. A satisfying mix of ideas, cultures, races, genders, economic statuses and other characteristics necessary for promoting growth and learning among a group.
  11. Diversity is the immersion and comprehensive integration of various cultures, experiences, and people.
  12. Heterogeneity brings about opportunities to share, learn and grow from the journeys of others. Without it, limitations arise and knowledge is gained in the absence of understanding.
  13. Diversity is not tolerance for difference but inclusion of those who are not the majority. It should not be measured as a count or a fraction—that is somehow demeaning. Success at maintaining diversity would be when we no longer ask if we are diverse enough, because it has become the norm, not remarkable.[1]

What Is Diversity?

There are few words in the English language that have more diverse interpretations than diversity. What does diversity mean? Better yet, what does diversity mean to you? What does it mean to your best friend, your teacher, your parents, your religious leader, or the person standing behind you in a grocery store?

Diversity means different things to different people, and it can be understood differently in different environments. In the context of your college experience, diversity generally refers to people around you who differ by race, culture, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, abilities, opinions, political views, and in other ways. When it comes to diversity on the college campus, we also think about how groups interact with one another, given their real and perceived differences.

“More and more organizations define diversity really broadly,” says Eric Peterson, who works on diversity issues for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “Really, it’s any way any group of people can differ significantly from another group of people—appearance, sexual orientation, veteran status, level in the organization. It has moved far beyond the legally protected categories that we’ve always looked at.”[2]

Describing Your ethnicity

How would you describe your ethnicity? How do you recognize other people who share your ethnicity?

Watch the following video to see how others describe those that share their ethnicity:

Surface Diversity and Deep Diversity

Surface diversity and deep diversity are categories of personal attributes, or differences in attributes, that people perceive to exist between people or groups of people.

Surface-level diversity refers to differences like ethnicity, race, gender, age, culture, language, and ability, in other words, traits that are quickly observable in a person. People often make subtle judgments at the same time they identify these differences, which can lead to bias or discrimination. For example, if a teacher believes that older students perform better than younger students and then gives slightly higher grades to the older students than the younger students, this is a biased action based on perception of the attribute of age, which is surface-level diversity.

Deep-level diversity, on the other hand, reflects differences that are less visible, like personality, attitudes, belief systems, and values. These attributes are generally communicated verbally and nonverbally, so they are not easily noticeable or measurable. Deep-level diversity in a classmate may not be noticeable until you get to know him or her, at which point you may find that you are either comfortable with these deeper character levels or not. But once students gain this deeper level of awareness, they focus less on surface diversity. For example: At the beginning of a term, a classmate belonging to a minority ethnic group whose native language is not English (surface diversity) may be treated differently by fellow classmates in another ethnic group, but as the term gets under way, classmates begin discovering the person’s values and beliefs (deep-level diversity), which they find they are comfortable with. The surface-level attributes of language and perhaps skin color become less noticeable as comfort is gained with deep-level attributes.

Reflecting on WHO you ARE

  • When we are open to learn about who we are by acknowledging our diverse traditions, cultures, and backgrounds, then we can embrace our own stories and the stories of others.
  • Think about your story and how it relates to the stories of others. Write a brief reflection that addresses some of the following ideas. What groups do you belong to? Where have you lived and how has that influenced your identity? What did your parents or caregivers pass down to you, and how do these factors influence your education? How can learning about the experiences and backgrounds of others enrich you personally and professionally? How can it contribute to a culture of civility and respect.

Positive Effects of Diversity in an Educational Setting

Diversity matters in college because when you are exposed to new ideas, viewpoints, customs, and perspectives, which invariably happens when you come in contact with diverse groups of people, your frame of reference for understanding the world expands. Your thinking becomes more open and global. You become comfortable working and interacting with people of all nationalities and gain a new knowledge base as you learn from people who are different from yourself. You think “harder” and more creatively and begin to perceive in new ways, seeing issues and problems from new angles. You can absorb and consider a wider range of options, and your values may be enriched. In short, diversity contributes to your education.

Consider the following facts about diversity in the United States:

  • More than half of all U.S. babies today are people of color, and by 2050 the U.S. will have no clear racial or ethnic majority. Communities of color are tomorrow’s leaders, and college campuses play a major role in helping prepare these leaders.
  • In 2009, while 28 percent of Americans older than 25 years of age had a four-year college degree, only 17 percent of African Americans and 13 percent of Hispanics had a four-year degree. More must be done to adequately educate the population and help prepare students to enter the workforce.
  • Today, people of color make up about 36 percent of the workforce (roughly one in three workers). By 2050, half the workforce (one in two workers) will be a person of color. Again, college campuses can help navigate these changes.[3]

All in all, diversity brings richness to relationships on campus and off campus, and it further prepares college students to thrive and work in a multicultural world.

Learning Through Diversity

One of the great things about being a college students is meeting new people who have different thoughts, dreams, experiences, and ways of life. Discussing topics with people who have multiple viewpoints can be an enriching experience from which we learn as much or more about ourselves than we do about the topic. Think about times you have learned or worked with people who had different backgrounds. What insights into your own attitudes, behaviors, or values have you gained through interactions with others different from yourself? Think of specific aspects of yourself that you have come to view in a new light.


Cultural Sensitivity and Inclusivity in Practice

This activity will help you examine ways in which you can develop your awareness of and commitment to diversity on campus. Answer the following questions to the best of your ability:

  • What are my plans for expanding myself personally and intellectually in college?
  • What kind of community will help me expand most fully, with diversity as a factor in my expansion?
  • What are my comfort zones, and how might I expand them to connect more diversely?
  • Do I want to be challenged by new viewpoints, or only connect with people who are like me?
  • What are my biggest questions about diversity?

Consider the following strategies to help you answer the questions:

  • Examine extracurricular activities. Can you get involved with clubs or organizations that promote and expand diversity?
  • Review your college’s curriculum. In what ways does it reflect diversity? Does it have departments and courses on historically unrepresented peoples, such as cultural and ethnic studies or gender and sexuality studies? Look for study-abroad programs, as well.
  • Read your college’s mission statement. Read the mission statement of other colleges. How do they match up with your values and beliefs? How do they align with the value of diversity?
  • Inquire of friends, faculty, colleagues, family. Be open about diversity. What does diversity mean to others? What positive effects has it had on them? Ask people about diversity.
  • Explore different faith communities in your local area. Speak with someone about their beliefs and practices.
  • Research diversity, perhaps by consulting college literature, websites, resource centers, and organizations on campus.
There is only one way to look at things until someone show us how to look at them with different eyes. – Pablo Picasso

How Do You Add to the Diversity at WCC?

WCC has a diverse student body, so you will likely take classes with students from many walks of life. Which of these categories best describe you and your fellow students?

Traditional Students

Traditional undergraduate students typically enroll in college immediately after graduating from high school, and they attend classes on a continuous full-time basis at least during the fall and spring semesters. Traditional students are also typically financially dependent on others such as their parents, do not have children, and consider their college career to be their primary responsibility. They may be employed only on a part-time basis, if at all, during the academic year.

Nontraditional Students

Nontraditional students do not enter college in the same calendar year that they finish high school. They may not have a high school diploma, or they may have received a general educational development degree (GED). Some nontraditional students attend classes part-time due to full-time work obligations, or they may be full-time students who approach their education in much the same way they would a job. They are more likely to be financially independent, to have children, and/or to be caregivers of sick or elderly family members.

International Students and/or Nonnative Speakers of English

International students are students who travel to a different country for college or university. English may or may not be their first language depending on their country of origin. Non-native speakers of English are students whose first language is not English. These students may be international, immigrant, refugee, Puerto Rican, or others. Some non-native speakers of English take ESL courses to improve their English skills. Others test directly into college level English courses. International students and non-native speaking students enrich our WCC campus by adding cultural diversity and offering various perspectives.

First-Generation College Students

First-generation students do not have a parent who graduated from college. College life may be less familiar to them, and the preparation for entering college may not have been stressed as a priority at home. Some time and support may be needed for first-generation students to become accustomed to the college environment. These students may experience a cultural shift between school life and home life because their families are generally unfamiliar with the outside of class and paperwork requirements of attending college.

Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities have a wide range of skills, abilities, and strengths. These individuals may have various diagnoses including but not limited to the areas of neurological, physical, psychological, and medical conditions. In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the College ensures that admission, services, activities, facilities, and academic programs are accessible to and usable by qualified students with disabilities.

Westchester Community College provides a mainstreamed learning environment for students who identify themselves as having a disability with Disability Services office. WCC Disability Services staff are committed to providing accommodations and collaborating with the College community to ensure equal access for students on an individual basis. Students must be able to function independently, are responsible for informing the College of their individual needs, and must provide the appropriate accommodation documentation for services. Reasonable accommodations are determined on a case-by-case basis.

For additional information, please visit: https://www.sunywcc.edu/student-services/disability-services/

Working Students

Many students are employed in either a part-time or full-time capacity. While balancing college life with work life may be a challenge, time management skills and good organization can help. These students juggle being a student and being an employee, which can be very much like working two jobs at one time.


Photo of a man and a woman standing outside smiling to the camera


Student Similarities and DifferenceS

Reflect on your observations about students at WCC.

  • Think about your favorite class this term and about your fellow students in that class. Make a list of all the similarities with them that you sense, feel, or notice.
  • Then make a list of all the differences between you that you sense, feel, or notice.
  • What do these similarities and differences mean to you?

Now, check out the data on the student population at WCC: WCC Student Profile

  • What is interesting to you about the data? What is something you already knew? What surprises you?

  1. https://sph.unc.edu/files/2013/07/define_diversity.pdf
  2. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122327104
  3. "10 Reasons Why We Need Diversity on College Campuses." Center for American Progress. 2016. Web. 2 Feb 2016.