The Chronicle explores access, diversity implications of colleges’ geographic location

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s new geographic-diversity issue features a variety of stories that highlight how a college’s location affects its mission, its ability to recruit students and faculty members, and its campus culture.

Welcoming and supporting Alaskan Native students

One article in the special report focuses on college-bound students from Native American communities in rural Alaska, who often must study hundreds of miles away from anything familiar. A department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks is looking to draw in students from Alaska’s most rural regions, enroll them into college, and ensure their success.

“The experience of our Alaska Native people—how we relate to the land and relate to each other and experience the human existence, if you want to put it out on that spectrum—is radically different than what you experience in a Western-structure bureaucratic system,” Evon Peter, vice chancellor for Rural, Community, and Native Education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, told The Chronicle. Identifying as an Alaskan Native himself, Peter understands the challenges these students face, from dealing with homesickness to having language barriers, limited exposure to advanced math courses, time-intensive family obligations, or difficulty filling out financial aid forms.

To assist students in the transition, Peter’s department also leads a summer program called the Rural Alaska Honors Institute, which offers students a chance to live in college dorms and take college-level courses.

Understanding the experience of the lower-income student

Meanwhile, in his article, “Social Mobility Comes at a Cost,” Dwight Lang poses the question: “Do selective colleges truly understand the struggles low-income students face when they are surrounded by high percentages of undergraduates from much wealthier families?” Lang, who is a lecturer in sociology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and is working on a history of first-generation students at the university, shares a variety of first-person student accounts.

The passages, excerpted from student essays exploring class experiences, touch on the jarring transition from a home life prioritizing “group needs” to “campus traditions of middle-class individualism and competition.” They also explore students’ feelings of being “caught between the social class they hope to join and their own heritage.”

Lang details a number of efforts at University of Michigan and elsewhere to enroll and better support low-income students, adding that “offices for low-income students can go a long way in helping them develop a sense of belonging and connection, as long as those services don’t isolate students from wider campus environments.”

Moving beyond diversity to prioritize ‘cultural intelligence’

Writing that universities still don’t know “what really works” when it comes to diversity initiatives, Maria A. Dixon Hall’s article “Hard Questions, Honest Answers,” details Southern Methodist University’s effort “to move beyond diversity to embrace the messy art of authentic conversations and relationships.”

In describing the Cultural Intelligence at SMU (CIQ@SMU) program, Hall—a senior adviser to the provost for campus cultural-intelligence initiatives—says that encouraging colleagues and students to ask tough questions and embedding cultural intelligence into orientation and hiring practices has helped ensure that everyone in the SMU community has “the knowledge and skills to work with [each other] effectively and respectfully.”

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