At Rutgers University-Newark, Diversity has Historical Precedent

Rutgers-orientationFor nearly two decades, one school has maintained the country’s most diverse campus community.

This fall, U.S. News and World Report named Rutgers University-Newark the most diverse national university. Since the publication began ranking schools based on their student demographics in 1997, no other postsecondary institution has topped the Newark campus.

For the leaders at Rutgers University-Newark, serving diverse student populations is a longstanding badge of honor. The university’s web site features a “Diversity Timeline” that lists the milestones when historically underserved populations began matriculating.

Located in New Jersey’s largest city, Rutgers-Newark serves over 11,000 students from over 100 nations. No single ethnic group makes up more than 33 percent of the overall population, according to NJ.com.

Student demographics in higher education across the country have shifted significantly, with students from increasingly diverse backgrounds seeking access to postsecondary institutions. But many of these students enter college unprepared and drop out before finishing. At a time when higher education’s equity gap is receiving much-needed attention, Rutgers-Newark touts the educational value of its diversity.

Graduating seniors say that the diversity of the RU–N campus “contributed profoundly” to their learning, according to exit surveys that the university administers each year. The school’s emphasis on diversity and inclusion receives more positive comments than any other aspect of students’ academic experience in the feedback they provide.

Still, RU–N is not about to get complacent.

Last month, Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor announced the formation of the Commission on Diversity and Transformation. The group emerged out of a collaborative strategic process and will be expected to examine every aspect of institutional operations in its efforts to embrace diversity, Chancellor Cantor told community members in a letter.

“As the name implies, the RU-N Commission on Diversity and Transformation will serve as a dynamic and intentional action group focused on institutional change, however multi-faceted and challenging that may be,” she wrote. “The Commission will aim to generate knowledge and suggest actions to create curriculum, scholarship, initiatives, places and spaces for both intragroup solidarity and inter-cultural engagement.”

Chancellor Cantor invoked the university’s history, and an urgency to resist complacency, to explain the need for the commission.

“We have…challenged ourselves to ever more intentionally and pointedly build on our legacy as a place of opportunity—a place where difference is given a human face through the many personal paths, passions, and possibilities that converge here.”

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