Selected Recommendations From the Michigan Student Study

When a study of the magnitude of the Michigan Student Study (MSS) is done, large amounts of data are generated. However, beyond the numbers and quantitative aspects of this project, MSS researchers, over the period of a decade, have had the opportunity to interview hundreds of students, faculty and staff; and share perspectives with other researchers and institutions. Moreover, countless hours of discussions have occurred among members of a multicultural and diverse team that represented a variety of personal and academic interests and life experiences.

The primary purpose of the following information is to share selected recommendations with a wider audience with the hopes that additional discussion will generate programs, strategies, ideas, and best practices which are appropriate to specific institutional types – no matter where they are along the strategic diversity planning spectrum. Bear in mind that the focus of this study was to examine the impact of institutional racial and ethnic diversity on students. To that end, the subsequent recommendations reflect our commitment to that overall purpose.

Institutional Planning Involvement

  • Don’t reinvent the institutional diversity wheel: Re­examine those diversity plans on the shelf. We have found that many institutions have developed numerous strategic plans for campus diversity. Many of these plans incorporate lofty goals and objectives, but often fall short on funding commitment, implementation strategies including periodic assessments, and institutional leadership.
  • Diversity efforts should change the institution, not just students: Diversity and multiculturalism shouldn’t be code words for the assimilation of students of color into the dominant culture ­ this doesn’t require any systemic changes on the part of the institution. Strategic diversity should also reflect an institutional willingness to examine its programs, policies, practices and procedures and how they impact various populations. How does campus diversity change the institution?
  • Who’s in charge of campus diversity planning? Diversity planning committees have to be comprised of individuals who are responsible for implementing changes and recommendations that emerge from the planning efforts. Often, campuses have comprehensive diversity planning committees whose members have no power to implement comprehensive institutional changes.

Student Involvement

  • Campus diversity among students is complicated: Recognize the complexity of campus diversity ­ especially the interrelationship of equity/social justice issues and institutional efforts to demonstrate that diversity represents a benefit to all students. To have successful campus diversity, an institution must address both goals.
  • Address diversity misperceptions that students have: Tackle campus myths about diversity ­ especially racial and ethnic diversity. Additionally, campuses have to move beyond soft diversity programs (feel good activities) that really don’t result in systemic institutional changes and in many cases, reinforce stereotypes that students might have about different groups.
  • Importance of housing and co­curricula activities to student diversity: Students indicate that much learning occurs outside of the classroom and that the resident hall is the place where students learn to interact with each other in a natural setting.

Faculty Involvement

  • Academic units have to be major players in institutionalizing campus diversity initiatives that impact students: Too often, academic administrators and faculty have little involvement or roles in institutional diversity efforts. This lack of involvement can leave the impression that campus diversity initiatives only pertain to students and student affairs units. Success with overall institutional efforts can only be achieved when academic units are an integral part of the campus diversity strategies.
  • Importance of Informal Faculty Contact: Having access to faculty – and good mentoring relationships and opportunities – is extremely important to students of color. Students of color often cite having great difficulties and frustrations in developing mentoring and informal relationships with faculty and express feelings of being devalued and not respected. This problem is further compounded where there is an absence of faculty of color.

External Involvement

  • External support for campus diversity: It is essential that institutions seek external support from alumni, donors and the corporate community. These external groups are often overlooked as potential supporters of, and contributors to, campus diversity efforts. They can be powerful allies in fostering support for overall campus diversity initiatives. On the other hand, campuses often overlook the critical need to educate these populations on the importance of campus diversity and how these efforts benefit society in general.