Millennials: Diverse but Inclusive?

They are the offspring of the Boomer generation that gave us the Civil Rights movement. They are responsible for the nation’s election of its first Black President. Demographers call them the most diverse generation ever. They were educated in school systems that emphasized mainstreaming, collaboration and diversity. They were exposed to diverse classrooms that were supposed to prepare them for a changing world. Obviously, millennials are diverse. The question is, are they inclusive?

A 2014 report from the Harvard University’s Voices of Diversity Project looked at this notion of whether millennial diversity on college campuses is making higher education more inclusive. They looked at the college experiences of four colleges, Missouri State University, three unnamed universities in the South, Midwest and Northeast. The essential question they were examining was whether the academic challenges and lower graduation rates of people of color were related to social climates on campus.

They found that despite widespread diversity at these institutions of higher learning, women and students of color undergraduates experienced frequent micro-aggressions that prohibited them from meeting their full potential.

Here are some of their findings:
• Black students were asked why you would want to enroll in a private college.
• Muslin students were teased as to whether or not they had bombs in their backpacks.
• An Asian-American female student was told to go back to her own country even though she was born in the USA.
• When an American Indian student described her cultural roots to some white alumni, they told her it was nice that Native Americans were granted admission to the school.
• A black student was told he was a good black person by a white female student. When he asked what that meant she said, “You know, you don’t talk black.”
• A student from India was asked “Where is your turban?”
• A black student was told by white students that his black girlfriend was “nappy-headed.”
• A white professor tried to get his black student motivated by threatening to join the Klux Klux Klan and choke him if necessary.
• A black student overheard a white student ask “Why do we have a n-word President?”
• An American Indian student claimed his school did not give him the option to classify himself as American Indian. He said they labeled him as Asian American.
• When a black student expressed how lonely he feels as the only person of color in class, a white student called him racist.
• Black students claimed that white students were closer to their white professors and often socialized with them outside of class.
• Black students were pressured by advisors to take less demanding course loads.
• Courses in women’s studies and ethnic courses were considered non-challenging programs.
• Students of color claimed that Greek letter organizations excluded them from membership and social events.

Other events on college campuses of late suggest that millennials may not be a diverse as everyone claims.
• Two University of Oklahoma students as members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity were expelled due to their participation in a racist chant video highlighted by frequent use of the “n-word.”
• A University of Alabama Chi Omega student was expelled from her sorority after posting a photo on social media with a racial slur demeaning Black people and discouraging them from joining sororities.
• A Columbia University sorority Kappa Alpha Theta was in hot water for posting offensive pictures of members dressed in stereotypical costumes representing people from Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Jamaica and Japan after their “Beer Olympics.”
• The Kappa Sigma fraternity at Duke University was suspended for holding an Asian-themed party, complete with conical hats, geisha outfits and signs with intentional misspellings.
• Arizona State University’s Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity was permanently shut down following a racist Martin Luther King Jr. themed party where attendees wore jerseys and drank from watermelon cups.
• North Carolina State University shelved the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity after a pledge book was found that contained racist and sexist references to rape and lynching.
• The Penn State University chapter of Chi Omega was closed by its national organization after hosting a Mexican-themed party where members posted pictures on social media of themselves wearing mustaches and sombreros and holding signs that said, “Will mow lawn for weed and beer. I don’t cut grass I smoke it.”

These instances prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that we have overemphasized diversity to the detriment of inclusion. We have focused on individual characteristics of people without confronting offensive behavior. We have built diverse organizations by counting heads while ignoring whether the heads even count. We highlight our diversity numbers without asking is this an inclusive organization. We have added seats to the table but everyone’s voice is not heard. We are diverse but not inclusive. We have sowed the wind, and are reaping the whirlwind? The sins of the fathers and mothers have revisited their sons and daughters. We have taught our children well.

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