DEI Efforts Imperative for Improving Campus Climate at PWIs, Study Finds

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Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to limit the use of race-conscious admissions and continued legislative attacks on DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) in higher education, a study recently published by The Education Trust finds support for DEI efforts at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) is imperative.

To better understand the campus climate at PWIs, the organization interviewed 32 Black, Latino, and Asian American students in 15 states for its study “Creating Positive College Campus Racial Climates for Students of Color.” Participants reported frustration about the underrepresentation of students and faculty on campus, failure by institutional administration to handle, report, and recognize incidents of discrimination, racism, and microaggressions, and negative impacts on student well-being and mental health.

“University leadership must act to address poor campus racial culture, as research consistently shows that students of color’s experiences on college campuses significantly affect their sense of belonging, perseverance, and graduation rates,” said Jessie Hernandez-Reyes, report author and EdTrust senior policy analyst, in a press release.

The report includes quotes from college students describing their experiences in their own words as well as their recommendations for improvement.

“Sometimes in class, I will say something about the Black identity or the distinction between African American, African, and Afro-Caribbean and I’ve had professors that just say, ‘Wow, that’s so powerful. Let’s move to page 47,’” said one participant in the study.

To enhance the campus environment, the students recommended institutions host regular discussions on racial matters between underrepresented student groups and the board of trustees. They also emphasized the importance of increasing the number of faculty of color, conducting consistent racial climate surveys, improving incident reporting mechanisms, establishing robust cultural centers, and addressing K-12 educational disparities.

Additional recommendations tackle areas such as historical patterns of inclusion and exclusion, structural diversity within an institution, the psychological atmosphere on campus, and the social behaviors of both faculty and students.

“This report underscores the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in higher education and challenges PWIs to take concrete actions to improve their campus racial climate and foster a sense of belonging to all students,” said Ivory Toldson, NAACP director of education innovation and research and professor at Howard University, in a statement. “I urge all higher education leaders to read this report and take action to make their campuses more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.”