With a Constant Focus on Improvement, Florida State University Continues to Advance Inclusion

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Florida State University (FSU), with its more than 40,000 students, has built a reputation on never settling. Although the school has been recognized by the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) for its inclusion initiatives, university leaders never see their job as complete.

[Above: Florida State University’s campus in Tallahassee]

Their goal is to continuously improve the state of diversity on campus, ensuring that current and future students have a positive college experience that empowers them into the future.

“A key component is ensuring that FSU provides an environment that is welcoming and inclusive and celebrates diversity in a manner that faculty, staff, and students know that FSU is the place for them,” says Renisha Gibbs, finance and administration chief of staff and assistant vice president for human resources.

Florida State University’s campus in Tallahassee
Florida State University’s campus in Tallahassee

With this focus on creating a safe and welcoming space for all, FSU boasts a diverse campus community.

“Our student body represents every county in Florida, all 50 states, and over 128 countries,” says Miguel Hernandez, associate director of the Center for Leadership and Social Change at FSU. “Minorities represent 30 percent and women represent 57 percent [of the student body].”

In addition to having a diverse student population, the university helps ensure the success of underrepresented students. Currently, FSU’s graduation rate for African American students is 69 percent — which, according to the U.S. Department of Education, is 24 percent higher than the national average.

To cater to its large and diverse student body, FSU has created a variety of programs to increase the knowledge and understanding of people from all backgrounds. One example of this is general cultural competency trainings, which give students the opportunity to delve into the histories and cultures of different groups, with a focus on self-identity and cultural respect.

The university’s Social Justice Ally Training is another offering that focuses on educating the campus community around issues of identity, gender, religion, and race. These two-day workshops aim to help students build an understanding of individuality, as well as increase their respect for people who are different from them.

The goal of the training is to “develop allies who will promote an equitable and inclusive environment and serve as social change agents in a diverse and global society,” says Michelle Douglas, director of organizational development and equal opportunity and compliance.

Through learning about oneself and others, Douglas says participants are better prepared for life after college.

For Hernandez, workplace preparedness is a major reason behind FSU’s offering these programs.

“In the context of the workplace, valuing diversity means creating a workplace that respects and includes differences, recognizes the unique contributions the individuals with many types of differences can make, and creates a work environment that maximizes the potential of all employees,” he says.

While FSU’s diversity efforts emphasize training, they also deliver support and guidance to specific underrepresented groups. The university’s Black Male Initiative (BMI), for instance, helps guide young African American men as they transition from high school into college.

Overall, the initiative’s mission is to instill in these young men values and positive practices that will help them succeed in college, as well as aid them as they move into meaningful careers or continue their education.

On a national level, only 33.1 percent of African American men graduate from college, compared with 54.5 percent of white men and 44.8 percent of African American women. Through mentoring, academic counseling, leadership and service, and attendance at social functions, BMI fosters connections for African American men, helping them build a professional network via campus and community involvement.

Veterans are also well supported at the university. In an attempt to be the “most veteran-friendly and empowering university in the nation,” FSU’s Student Veteran Center helps ease veterans’  transition from military service to campus life by providing them the support and resources they need to be successful.

Student veterans at FSU
Student veterans at FSU

FSU is also known for its support of first-generation and disadvantaged students.

In 2012, FSU created the Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement (CARE) — a version of which was initially launched in 1968 as Horizons Unlimited — by merging Horizons with Multicultural Student Support Services, Minority Academic Programs, and the university’s Summer Enrichment Program.

CARE provides support for first-generation, socioeconomically disadvantaged students and also helps them with their transition into college. Students selected for CARE receive automatic admissions to FSU, participate in a Summer Bridge Program, and are connected to a variety of academic and engagement programming for the duration of their time at the university. Services to these students include tutoring, academic advising, life coaching, financial aid assistance, and financial literacy education, among others. In addition, faculty and staff help students stay engaged on campus through workshops and various activities.

“CARE operates to provide equity and access to students disadvantaged by virtue of educational and socioeconomic reasons,” says Douglas.

Due to the work being done by CARE, FSU was recognized by IHEP in November 2015 as one of the nation’s top 10 “Access Improvers” for having made impressive efforts to provide support and educational opportunities for traditionally underrepresented students.

Although FSU continues to work toward increasing its already high standards of diversity and inclusion, Douglas says that determining where the school excels and where improvements can be made is often difficult.

“We are a very large institution that recruits its student body and much of its workforce from within a state that in some areas presents a truly global world image and, in others, is very monolithic,” Douglas says. “We have to ask ourselves the question that even though we may appear diverse, are we truly inclusive?”

While she believes that FSU is inclusive, she also says that it’s important for the university to remain innovative and informed, which it does, in part, through its Diversity and Inclusion Council. The council — composed of faculty, staff, students, and community members, as well as the president and members of the president’s cabinet — is in charge of implementing and executing policies and practices; these have included a climate analysis, data reviews, programming, and public relations, as well as efforts to diversify faculty and staff. These efforts ensure FSU maintains its diversity while continuing to improve upon inclusion.

“We have to continue to listen to our campus community, move forward with the efforts that we are currently working on, and develop new ideas and methodologies to address the needs of our diverse community,” Gibbs says.

Madeline Szrom is a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity. Florida State University is a 2014 and 2015 INSIGHT Into Diversity HEED Award recipient.