Diversity efforts will focus on engagement and 'lived experience'

During 2015-16 and 2016-17, Cornell will focus its ongoing diversity efforts across the university on “the lived experience of diversity.”

Colleges and units will report to the University Diversity Council (UDC) July 1 on diversity activities over the past year, and at the same time will submit three or four proposed initiatives for the coming academic year.

The UDC is encouraging all units to link their diversity initiatives to the core diversity principle of engagement, said Laura Brown, senior vice provost for undergraduate education and a member of the UDC.

At Cornell, engagement is defined as promoting opportunities for all members of the community to deepen their involvement with the mission and purposes of the university, through “personal, social and professional commitment to institutional goals and activities.”

This newly directed focal area directly builds upon the ongoing initiatives supporting diversity at Cornell through Toward New Destinations, the universitywide diversity framework established in 2012.

“An element of the ‘lived experience’ concept is that anyone affiliated with Cornell will come to a point of actively using intercultural skills effectively on a daily basis,” said A.T. Miller, associate vice provost for academic diversity.

A subsequent growth in perspective and repertoire, he said, will make the university a “positive and dynamic source of excellent and innovative ideas, and of stimulating and interesting human environments in which to work.”

“We hope that through initiatives focused on engagement, Cornell folks become recognizable as exceptionally flexible, open and appropriately responsive,” Miller said. “This is a fundamental shift from old approaches that looked for how people ‘fit in’ to looking for what additional attributes and perspectives people add.”

The lived experience was highlighted in a 2014 student climate survey, which is assisting those creating diversity programming in interpreting and integrating the student experience. Collaborations among diversity councils over the next two years will contribute to the development of new initiatives and ways to measure and improve their outcomes and share them with other institutions.

“Several new or growing programs in the colleges are helping faculty and students create courses and research opportunities to connect them to the world and solve problems,” Brown said. “Cornell students seek experiences that engage them with communities locally and globally, and that highlight multicultural understanding and involvement.”

The University Diversity Council recognizes exemplary diversity initiatives undertaken by colleges and units at Cornell. Exemplary and ongoing programs highlighted in the 2013-14 academic year include:

• Beginning this spring in the College of Human Ecology, all undergraduate course evaluations included questions on the climate of diversity and inclusion in the classroom, including diversity of perspectives.

• A College of Engineering initiative was designed to improve retention of underrepresented minority and first-generation undergraduates through a series of interventions, including a first-semester spatial reasoning course and an enhanced tutoring program – both of which have produced measurable outcomes.

• Weill Cornell Medical College continued to enhance the climate of inclusion for LGBTQ patients at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center by revising patient information materials to contain more sensitive and inclusive wording with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity. 

• The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences awarded five grants for department-based diversity recruitment initiatives; work from four of the programs was presented at the college’s Diversity Initiative Showcase, allowing other departments to learn of the grants and initiatives.

• The College of Arts and Sciences enhanced Africana studies by implementing a Ph.D. program through the Graduate School and adding five new faculty members, allowing the Africana Studies and Research Center to strengthen its social sciences work and develop new curriculum.

• The Graduate School created a Graduate Student Ambassadors group to participate in recruitment events and follow up with prospective students; and strategic partnerships linking undergraduate and graduate faculty are fostering exchange of information among graduate fields.

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Joe Schwartz