Liberal Education

Overview: Faculty Development for Inclusive Educational Environments

Higher education is facing numerous challenges, from reauthorization of the Higher Education Act to reductions in state funding. Parents and students concerned with the costs and returns of postsecondary education in the face of high levels of student debt are calling on colleges and universities to prove their affordability and demonstrate their accountability. At the same time, legislators charged with fostering economic growth are asking higher education to illustrate its role in building a skilled workforce. Meanwhile, controversies and debates related to the enrollment of undocumented students, sexual assault on college campuses, and academic freedom have demonstrated the need for critical, engaged learning related to these topics. Additionally, internal and external stakeholders are prompting institutions to address new and persistent challenges related to access, retention, and success among an increasingly diverse student population, and to develop new strategies for creating inclusive classrooms and other campus environments.1

The last of these issues—developing inclusive classrooms and educational environments—has become a top priority across higher education as racial and ethnic diversity among college students increases. Between 2009 and 2020, enrollment in all postsecondary institutions is expected to increase 25 percent for black students, 46 percent for Hispanic students, and 25 percent for Asian students, but only 1 percent for whites, with a one-percent decrease for American Indian/Alaskan Native students. By 2020, these shifts in enrollment are expected to result in a postsecondary student population that is 56 percent white, 16 percent black, 16 percent Hispanic, 7 percent Asian, less than 1 percent American Indian/Alaskan Native, and 4 percent of international origin.2 These changes within higher education parallel population changes in the country at large: 2011 was the first year in which a majority of babies born in the United States were not white.3 In 2015, for the first time, a majority of K–12 public school students were “minorities”; by 2023, about half of high school graduates will be of some racial/ethnic background other than white,4 largely due to growth in the Hispanic population.5 Thus faculty will need to connect with large numbers of students who historically have not been broadly included in our colleges and universities, while fostering connections and collaborations across diverse groups of students.

A recently published book, Our Compelling Interests: The Value of Diversity for Democracy and a Prosperous Society,6 highlights the importance of higher education—and especially of faculty—in facilitating collaborative, bridge-building connections among students from varied ethnic and racial backgrounds. The volume’s contributing authors raise two fundamental questions: (1) Will the rapidly rising demographic diversity (what William Frey calls the “diversity explosion”)7—brought about by immigration, birth rates that differ across racial and ethnic groups, and the aging of the white population—result in growth, vitality, and social cohesion, or stagnation and social fragmentation? (2) Will this rapid demographic diversification occur alongside continued residential and school segregation by race and ethnicity,8 as well as group-based inequalities in wealth and income? The authors vary in how optimistic they are about whether the United States will have the political will to enact policies that ensure egalitarian social relations and sustain democracy in conditions of demographic diversity.9 They all agree, however, that high-quality education is key to decoupling diversity and inequality. This is particularly true of higher education, because college and university campuses are the primary setting where students who have grown up in segregated environments can interact and learn from one another.10

Higher education’s increasing racial and ethnic diversity is central to its potential role in determining whether societal diversity and inequality can or will be decoupled. But fulfilling that crucial role requires more than simply bringing diverse groups of students together in the same location. Positive outcomes do not flow automatically from the fact of diversity itself. Higher education needs to create intentionally inclusive learning environments—classrooms, residence halls, organizations, research laboratories, community-service projects, sports teams—within institutions that promote broad, deep, and meaningful interactions across race, ethnicity, and other dimensions of diversity.11 Faculty are central to ensuring that classroom structures and pedagogies engage all students in learning, problem solving, and collaborating across differences.12

This issue of Liberal Education focuses on faculty leadership in developing inclusive college classrooms, with contributing authors offering a variety of different perspectives on this work. In our article on the University of Michigan’s Faculty Dialogues Institute, we examine dialogue as a sustained opportunity for diverse groups of students to learn together, and we offer specific strategies for classroom situations that faculty have described as “contested,” “hostile,” and “fragile.” Kristie Ford provides advice drawn from her work as a consultant who helps institutions create intergroup dialogue classes, programs, or workshops. Kathy Takayama, Matthew Kaplan, and Alison Cook-Sather write about their experiences at campus teaching and learning centers, offering four case studies that illuminate institutional change efforts from the level of the individual faculty member or classroom (micro) to that of the department or college (meso) to that of university-wide leadership (macro). Finally, Peter Felten and Kathleen Wong(Lau) discuss their respective institutional roles as they shift between contexts, from the teaching and learning center to the provost’s office and from the classroom to the president’s cabinet.

These authors offer instructive guidance for readers wondering how, through efforts at any level of engagement, to create campus climates that are welcoming for all students. Through narratives informed by their unique standpoints, they suggest a path forward for faculty development that supports diversity, equity, and inclusion.


1. For more on the challenges facing higher education, see AASCU Government Relations, “Top 10 Higher Education State Policy Issues for 2017,” American Association of State Colleges and Universities, January 2017,; for more on equity and diversity in higher education, see “The Equity Imperative,” ed. Kathryn Peltier Campbell, Diversity & Democracy 19, no. 1 (2016) and “Working Collectively across Differences,” ed. Kathryn Peltier Campbell, Diversity & Democracy 19, no. 2 (2016).

2. William J. Hussar and Tabitha M. Bailey, Projections of Education Statistics to 2020 (NCES 2011-026) (Washington, DC: US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, US Government Printing Office, 2011), Figure 21, Table 29.

3. William H. Frey, “The ‘Diversity Explosion’ Is America’s Twenty-First-Century Baby Boom,” in Our Compelling Interests: The Value of Diversity for Democracy and a Prosperous Society, ed. Earl Lewis and Nancy Cantor (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016), 16.

4. Ronald Brownstein, “The Coming College Decline,” The Atlantic’s Politics and Policy Daily, January 14, 2015,

5. Thomas J. Sugrue, “Less Separate, Still Unequal: Diversity and Equality in ‘Post-Civil Rights’ America,” in Lewis and Cantor, Our Compelling Interests, 39–70.

6. Earl Lewis and Nancy Cantor, eds., Our Compelling Interests: The Value of Diversity for Democracy and a Prosperous Society (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016).

7. Frey, “The ‘Diversity Explosion’,” 16.

8. See Sugrue, “Less Separate, Still Unequal,” 39f.

9. See Danielle Allen, “Toward a Connected Society,” in Lewis and Cantor, Our Compelling Interests, 71–105.

10. See Allen, “Toward a Connected Society,” 71f; and Anthony Carnevale and Nicole Smith, “The Economic Value of Diversity,” in Lewis and Cantor, Our Compelling Interests, 106–60.

11. Sylvia Hurtado and Chelsea Guillermo-Wann, Diverse Learning Environments: Assessing and Creating Conditions for Student Success—Final Report to the
Ford Foundation
(Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, Higher Education Research Institute, 2013).

12. Patricia Gurin, “Group Interactions in Building a Connected Society,” in Lewis and Cantor, Our Compelling Interests, 170–81.

PATRICIA GURIN is Nancy Cantor Professor Emerita of Psychology and research director in the Program on Intergroup Relations at the University of Michigan. KELLY MAXWELL is faculty co-director and lecturer in the Program on Intergroup Relations at the University of Michigan.

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