Diversity and Democracy

From the Editor

Climates for Diversity: Checking the Barometer

More than three decades ago, the Association of American Colleges (now AAC&U) began publishing a series of papers on the “chilly climate” experienced by women on college and university campuses. These papers advanced the idea that “the institutional atmosphere, environment or climate—both within and outside the classroom” plays a role “in fostering or impeding women students’ full personal, academic and professional development” (Hall and Sandler 1982, 2)—in other words, in supporting or undermining the success of students on the basis of aspects of their identity.

Much has changed since AAC&U first published these “chilly climate” reports, for women as a group and for many other students who have experienced marginalization. But change does not occur uniformly in every context. An overall improvement in climate can manifest unevenly at the local scale, with microbursts of volatile activity. Just as falling atmospheric pressure suggests the likelihood of stormy weather, decreased pressure affecting the atmosphere for diversity in higher education—both as a matter of representation, and as a subject of inquiry—may not occur without significant storms.

In examining issues related to campus and classroom climates for diversity, this issue of Diversity & Democracy underscores the observation of the AAC&U Board of Directors that “making excellence inclusive means attending both to the demographic diversity of the student body and also to the need for nurturing climates and cultures so that all students have a chance to succeed” (2013). It examines multiple approaches to creating such climates and cultures, from targeted student success programs to campus-wide initiatives designed to foster engagement with diverse people and perspectives. Without attempting to be comprehensive, it suggests several promising practices that faculty and administrators might adapt to their own contexts to buttress the success of all students while improving student learning about diversity.

Johnnella Butler opens this issue by examining factors contributing to the national climate for representational and intellectual diversity, which in turn affects the climate on college and university campuses. Pointing to several contemporary examples that represent challenges to equity in American life—from recent court cases to long-term studies documenting inequities in racially divided communities—she forecasts continued challenges ahead, but suggests reasons to hope for clearer skies on the horizon.

Contributing authors substantiate that hope with concrete guidelines and best practices. Sylvia Hurtado and Rona Halualani describe contemporary methods of assessing campus climates and of addressing assessment findings. Defining nine elements that contribute to “diversity inclusivity,” Thomas Nelson Laird offers a framework for evaluating the inclusion of diversity in the curriculum, and shares lessons learned from research on faculty practices related to diversity. Juan Muñoz and Amy Murphy describe the role of campus leadership, particularly as provided by the chief diversity officer, in creating inclusive campus climates.

Complementing these articles are descriptions of promising practices for creating environments that support student success and student learning across difference. Some authors describe their institutions’ approaches to supporting students who are underserved in higher education but substantially represented at their own institutions—for example, students at the Hispanic-Serving Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi, or Native American students at Salish Kootenai College. Others describe institution-wide efforts that support underrepresented groups while helping all students explore aspects of their own and others’ identities—for example, Elon University’s work on religious pluralism. Still others offer guidelines for faculty and practitioners concerned with creating inclusive campuses and classrooms in any institutional context, suggesting ways to engage LGBTQ students or support students with disabilities.

With these examples, the issue offers a range of barometric readings on the atmosphere for diversity in higher education—a series of data points deliberately selected to reflect what some institutions are doing right. Taken together, its contents suggest the range of challenges and contexts—the intractably complex weather patterns—that faculty and institutional leaders must address if campus climates are to become more, rather than less, hospitable to all students.


AAC&U Board of Directors. 2013. “Board Statement on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Excellence.” http://www.aacu.org/board-statement-diversity-equity-and-inclusive-excellence-0.

Hall, Roberta M., and Bernice R. Sandler. 1982. The Classroom Climate: A Chilly One for Women? Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges.

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