Alfreda Brown sees RIT as a brilliant mosaic of colors and
cultures. "Our diversity is huge," says Brown, chair of the
university's Commission for Promoting Pluralism.
of diversity runs deep and wide: Everyone is included. “Diversity
is not just about race and gender,” she believes. “In
a pluralistic community, individuals are respected and appreciated
regardless of race, gender, education, age, national origin,
sexual preference, language, physical ability, health and other
long dominated by white males, is making tremendous efforts
to attract a more culturally and ethnically diverse mix of
students, faculty and staff. The efforts are succeeding:
- More than a
quarter of RIT’s 15,000 plus students are international,
African American, Hispanic American, Native American, Asian
American or deaf and hard-of-hearing.
- Over the past
six years, two-thirds of the growth in enrollment (not
counting programs abroad) is attributed to African American,
Latino/a American, Native American, Asian and international
30 percent of tenure-track faculty hired in the past three
years were non-Caucasian.
25 percent of staff hired in the past three years were
To people who believe that prejudice and discrimination
are wrong, promoting diversity is simply right and just. However,
there’s a further impetus for RIT’s urgency in this
area, says President Albert Simone.
studies tell us that by the year 2050, people of color will comprise
50 percent of the active workforce in America,” Simone notes.
“This population is currently underrepresented in our universities,
and especially in key fields in which RIT specializes –
technology, computers, engineering.
that comes up,” he continues, “is, who’s going
to replace the primarily white males, the professionals and skilled
labor in the year 2050?”
If this situation is
not reversed, America’s standard of living and global competitiveness
are jeopardized, Simone warns. “Diversity of faculty and
student body is very, very important to the future of this country.”
It is also crucial
to the future of RIT students.
“To be successful,
our students must be ready to work and live in a multicultural
global society,” Simone continues. “The best way for
RIT to impart this knowledge to our students is through daily
interaction with people from various cultures in our dining rooms,
dormitories, libraries, classrooms, ball fields, student clubs,
and governance and other extracurricular activities. For this
to occur, RIT needs to be a diverse campus.”
When Fred Smith arrived at RIT in 1971 as vice president
for Student Affairs, male students outnumbered women by seven
to one and minorities were fewer still. Smith, now secretary of
the university and assistant to the president, cites the creation
of National Technical Institute for the Deaf in 1968 as a major
step in changing the homogeneous character of the campus.
an important dimension of our diversity,” says Smith. The
measures implemented to assimilate deaf and hard-of-hearing students
provided a working model for change.
Over the years, RIT
stepped up efforts to attract minority students and faculty and
international students. The emphasis most recently has focused
on African American, Latino/a American and Native American students,
staff and faculty, which the university refers to as AALANA.
“RIT always has
valued diversity and much progress has been made,” says
Smith. “But it takes an all-out effort, and in recent years
that has happened.”
Some examples: The
Commission for Promoting Pluralism was created in 1991. Among
the programs the commission sponsors is the annual diversity conference.
The university’s 10-year strategic plan adopted in 1994
addressed the importance of diversity. In 1999, RIT’s first
assistant provost for diversity was named. Last year, RIT launched
a faculty exchange partnership with historically black Fisk University
in Nashville. In January 2004, a bi-racial “Partnerships
in Pluralism” program paired 60 members of the campus community
in an effort to promote understanding.
A watershed event took
place in 2002, when the RIT Board of Trustees and top administrators
participated in “Diversity Day” to discuss the challenges
and map out strategies for change. Keynote speaker was Daniel
Carp ’73 (MBA), CEO and chairman of Eastman Kodak Company,
which donated $100,000 toward RIT’s diversity efforts.
“Kodak is proud
to partner with RIT in its mission to increase diversity among
its community members,” Carp told the group of 300. “Commitment
by every leader in this great school will move diversity efforts
The day-long workshop
sent a clear message: Diversity is a top-level priority.
The successes gained
national recognition. Two magazines, Hispanic Outlook and Black
Issues in Higher Education carried laudatory feature articles
on RIT last year.
“I know we’ve
come a long way,” says Brown, who joined the RIT staff in
1987. “It’s the leadership that makes the difference.
We have leadership that’s committed to the concept of diversity.”
James G. Miller, vice president for enrollment management
and career services, heads the RIT division that carries the huge
responsibility of attracting students to the university. Diversity
has been a major thrust for well over two decades, and the approach
is multifaceted and aggressive.
Miller explains that
the overall strategy includes traditional recruitment activities
and targeted development of strategic relationships with key organizations
and secondary schools that can connect RIT with the outstanding
students it seeks. Strategies are targeted not only to freshmen
but to transfer and graduate populations as well.
a whole host of things we do,” says Miller. “To maximize
our effectiveness, we strive to have the division staff –
including our student workers – reflect the diverse community
we aspire to be. We think this is important not only for recruitment
but also because it enriches the quality of interaction within
With pride in
A spirit of community,
We are the men, the women
of the future, here, at RIT!
RIT participates in
several important local and national partnerships aimed at encouraging
academic excellence in high school, including the Vanguard Scholars
Program of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering
(NACME), the Hillside Work- Scholarship Connection (which links
Rochester high school students to a support network of youth advocates
and employers), the dual degree partnership with Atlanta University
Center and the Project Excellence Program, Washington, D.C. –
to name a few. These programs help expand the pipeline of qualified
admit people because they’re diverse,” says Miller.
“We admit people because they are qualified.”
is in line with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 decision on
admissions policies at the University of Michigan. The court,
in reaffirming the 1978 University of California v. Bakke reverse
discrimination case, stated that, while quotas are illegal, universities
can use race as a factor in admissions to achieve campus diversity.
Miller notes that like
RIT, many other universities are seeking top students. “It’s
an incredibly competitive environment. Students admitted to RIT
have a lot of choices among very good colleges and universities.”
He also points out
that attracting students to RIT is only one part of the picture.
Helping students succeed in their college careers is equally important.
One of RIT’s newest programs in support of student
success is the North Star Center for Academic Success and Cultural
“It goes beyond
race and in some ways, beyond culture,” explains Robert
Smith, who became director a year ago. “The North Star Center
works collaboratively within the university to promote student
success. It just so happens that our focus is AALANA students.”
Named for the newspaper
published in the mid-19th century by abolitionist Frederick Douglass,
the North Star Center is staffed by “college liaisons”
who assist students to overcome academic or any other difficulties.
a role of advocacy,” explains Smith. “It’s a
matter of helping students understand and navigate RIT. We’ve
learned we must be proactive. Students can hide at RIT. Our job
is to find them.”
Smith says that although
the center’s services were originally aimed at minority
students, no one is turned away. “This has to be a one-stop
shop. When students need help, they don’t care where it
A key effort is the
North Star Society, which supports and recognizes students for
excellence in academic work, ethical/character development, and
community service. The center also operates the North Star Academy,
a year-long program that starts with a summer session and continues
to help first-year students acclimate to college life. Another
program, the Coalition for a Better World, promotes cultural understanding
between different groups.
A long way
Erick Littleford’s high school in Washington, D.C.,
was 90 percent African American. The remaining 10 percent was
mostly Hispanic, he says.
“When you get
dropped off at the Brick City, it’s real culture shock,”
says Littleford ’04 (public policy). “That was something
I was not ready for.”
Initially, his circle
of friends was made up of people with whom he felt most comfortable,
including a student from his high school and his roommate, an
African American from Maryland.
He joined the staff
of the student news weekly Reporter, as a way of becoming more
involved in campus life. A controversial commentary he wrote on
racism in America changed the course of his college career.
“I was attacked
for what I wrote,” Littleford recalls, “and others
on the staff didn’t support me. I called my counselor back
in my high school to talk about transferring home. She wouldn’t
Instead of leaving,
Littleford became more involved in campus activities with the
idea of making a difference. He became a residence advisor, joined
the Black Awareness Coordinating Committee, and was elected Student
Government president two years in a row.
“One thing about
RIT,” he says, “especially if you’re AALANA,
you have to branch out. If you want to be successful, if you are
determined to have an impact, you need to be as connected as possible.
You have to build relationships outside your comfort zone.”
Littleford, now a graduate
student in RIT’s public policy program and recent addition
to the Alumni Relations staff, applauds RIT’s diversity
efforts – especially those aimed at increasing AALANA faculty.
“If you don’t see those examples, it’s hard
to see yourself in those kinds of roles.”
Miles to go
Like the best students, top faculty have many options.
technical areas, we’re competing not only with other universities
but with industry,” says Carl Lundgren, mechanical engineering
technology professor and past chair of Academic Senate. “On
balance, I think the university is quite diverse. I think we’ve
done a pretty good job of getting to critical mass, and that’s
what it takes. But in both the student body and the faculty, for
whatever reasons, it’s more difficult in the technical areas.”
In regards to finding
minority candidates for faculty positions, Simone has taken a
tough stance: “We told the deans either find these people
or we’ll find new deans.” He backed this up with budgetary
flexibility to allow for aggressive recruitment. The carrot and
stick approach has paid off. Nearly 30 percent of faculty hired
since 2001 have been non-white.
RIT also implemented
an innovative program called Future Faculty Career Exploration,
which brings doctoral candidates from key universities to RIT
for tours and meetings.
President Simone views
this critical point in RIT’s development with pride and
determination. Although much has been accomplished in moving toward
a more diverse environment, much remains to be done. The strategic
plan for the next 10 years, adopted in July by the Board of Trustees,
is interwoven with the theme of diversity.
“The change in
this place is remarkable,” says Simone. “That being
said, we should never be complacent and say we’ve arrived.
We believe that diversity is essential to our goal of becoming
a great university. In that regard, there’s still work to