The student body at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Ill., is a reflection of the surrounding community.
Located in a southwest suburb of Chicago, the college serves 26 municipalities that include people from different races, ethnicities, socioeconomic classes, religions, and sexual orientations.
“I think just by the community that we serve, [the college] is diverse in and of itself,” says Charmaine Sevier, manager of diversity and employment at Moraine Valley Community College. “So we have strategic things that we have put in place to try to attract and retain that diversity.”
One of the ways the college fosters understanding and appreciation of diversity on campus and within the community at large is through its annual Diversity Dialogue event. Every fall, the school welcomes community members to campus to engage in discussion around a particular diversity-related topic, which changes each year.
“It’s really a way for people to come together and share best practices, learn from each other, and see what things may be working for other spaces, as we kind of all interact and work together,” Sevier says. “[We] invite our entire community — political leaders, religious leaders, law enforcement, our students, our faculty, and our staff — to have real conversations around diversity and what that means to our community and the benefits and the challenges that it may bring.”
A keynote speaker kicks off this half-day event by introducing and discussing its theme, after which attendees break out into round tables to discuss specific questions and then report their answers back to the larger group.
Now in its sixth year, Sevier hopes this event — which typically attracts upwards of 140 people — provides community members with a variety of perspectives and ways of leveraging diversity in various settings by learning what is working for others.
“It’s been our goal to expand upon and take people further along their diversity walk without losing any new participants who may have shown up for the first time,” Sevier says. “People are [working toward] the same goal. They just go about it differently.”
Beyond its community-wide efforts, Moraine Valley fosters diversity in more focused ways on campus. As one of the college’s core values, diversity is woven into the campus culture and curriculum, as well as new faculty and staff training. And, Sevier says, it aids the college as faculty and staff strive to educate “the whole person.”
“Diversity and inclusion are central to the way that we achieve the college’s overall mission, and that is to educate the whole person,” she says. “So we can’t leave out the diversity, the complexities, and all the things that make us great.”
The college also maintains several offices dedicated to the interests and needs of specific groups — including, but not limited to, Arabs, Latinos, African Americans, and veterans — as well as a Celebrating Diversity Taskforce, which plans a variety of on-campus events.
And the college prides itself on having a broad definition of diversity that is well-represented across campus.
“Our definition is all-encompassing,” Sevier says. “It’s not limited to age, race, religion, disability, and national origin. We also include learning styles, language, and cultural and political ideologies, values, and experiences. We are a wide mosaic of students here on this campus that blend together and work together.”
In addition to the diversity that comes naturally from Palos Hills and the surrounding communities, Moraine Valley continues to attract all types of students.
In the 2013-2014 academic year, 19.6 percent of students were Hispanic, 9.9 percent were African American, and 14.3 percent were either Asian, American Indian, foreign-born, more than one race, or unknown. Whereas white students still represented the majority at 56.3 percent, together, these groups made up just less than half of all enrolled students.
While faculty diversification is another important part of the college’s overall diversity, Sevier notes that there’s still room for improvement. As of fall 2014, 82.5 percent of the faculty were white and 17.5 percent were minority or unknown; 54 percent were female and 46 percent were male.
By taking time to reflect on areas for improvement, as well as strengths, Moraine Valley is constantly aware of where it is in its own “diversity walk.” And while the college may be walking toward an ever-moving destination, Sevier believes the pursuit is still worthwhile.
“There is an anonymous person who said, ‘Diversity is the one thing we all have in common. We should embrace it every day,’” she says.●
Alexandra Vollman is the editor of INSIGHT Into Diversity.