Diversity has long been an interest of mine, and as a university web developer, ensuring that our web site supports the University's diversity initiatives is a priority for me.
Diversity is also a buzzword on most campuses, I think, and administrators, deans, department heads, faculty, and students are all interested in ensuring that diversity is a consideration in most of the decisions we make.
Here are some of the things I'm grappling with, and I wonder if anyone else is grappling with them, too, and might have some ideas, war stories, effective strategies, thoughts, or even rants:
"Diversity" on a web site usually boils down to pictures of and text about people with non-White skin and non-Caucasian features, and lots of percent signs. There is usually a call for an aspirational, not necessarily representational head count of racial diversity on your web pages.
-- Challenge: photos in our photo library that are considered "diverse" are generally of non-Whites with non-Whites, and Whites with Whites, which meets the headcount benchmark, but tells a story of separation, not unity (primarily because that's how life is on many campuses).
-- Challenge: overrepresentation of any one diverse group can change the perception of the institution, e.g. a 25% of photos on a web site include people who are perceived as Hispanic at a school with only a 10% Hispanic population would misrepresent our institution.
-- Challenge: most diversity differentiators are are difficult or impossible to see -- disability, sexual orientation, age, veteran status, socio-economic status, religion, and even things such as a person's geekiness, weight, or veganism can be difficult to demonstrate on a web site, but are valuable pieces of the diversity puzzle.
-- Challenge: most people providing content for subsites haven't really researched the finer points of representing diversity, and aren't building it into the messages that they publish.
-- Challenge: HiPPOs recommend the creation of diversity web sites, diversity sub sites, and departmental diversity web pages, not realizing that making diversity a "separate" thing can actually commoditize and ghettoize the notion of diversity ("diversity is for the diverse" -- because who else clicks on that link?).
-- Challenge: most campuses are still at a point where institutional diversity goals remain aspirational, and are not met. Using text and visuals to imply that the diversity on your campus is greater than it is sells a product that you don't have.
-- Challenge: one of the most difficult challenges for me (just as a human being), when your target market of students doesn't already value diversity (as a 17-year-old high school student, have you really begun to understand the value of living in a truly diverse community?), and you're not a highly selective institution, can overrepresentation of diverse populations work against you? (e.g. if you're interested in a historically Black college, but 20% of the faces you see on the school's web site are non-Black, does that make the school less appealing?)
I found and have read about half of this recent Masters thesis, "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Diversity: Representing Diversity in College Admission Web Sites" -- and while I've found it to be rather charged and presumptuous on some points, and a bit scattered at others, it does a nice job at validating the issue as a true problem for higher education.
Can someone help me out here? Am I alone? Are these challenges easier to face, and I'm missing something simple? Are they insurmountable and we should just give up? Where are you in between? Thanks for reading this far, and I really look forward to some discussion if this is an issue for you, too!