The third annual Uniting Neighbors in the Experience of Diversity (UNITED) Conference came to a close this week, and while there was much for NMU to be proud of – from a diversity standpoint – it is apparent that there is still work to be done.
As a college campus, Northern should help to prepare students for the real world, but the fact of the matter is that the geographically isolated Upper Peninsula hasn’t always – in fact, has never – mimicked that world. That’s why NMU’s push to instill the campus and students with a sense of diversity is so important.
Since Les Wong took over as the president of Northern four years ago, his administration has made a point to push the campus into a global community. Study abroad programs are becoming ever more popular at NMU, while Northern students who decide to spend their college careers within the United State’s borders are being exposed to speakers and presentations from around the globe. In the last few years alone, students have been treated to speeches from Bill Cosby, Maya Angelou, Edward James Olmos, Arun Gandhi and Daryl Davis.
On top of this, Northern’s Ethnic and Cultural Diversity Committee, as well as the Multicultural Education and Resource Center, are charged with increasing cultural diversity on campus.
Despite these positive steps, diversity at NMU is still lacking. According to NMU’s Institutional Information, 89 percent of undergraduates are considered “white/non-Hispanic.” When compared to similar universities, NMU is clearly behind.
In their 2009 list of America’s best colleges, U.S. News and World Report included a racial diversity index, meant to demonstrate a student body’s diversity. In the list of Midwestern Master’s universities, NMU ranks 115th out of 127 schools.
This falls short even in comparison to other Michigan schools. Grand Valley State University, Ferris State University and Saginaw Valley State University each ranked 61st, 67th and 68th respectively.
And while the campus is buried in the Upper Peninsula forest, hours away from any large population center, it is imperative that the Northern administration – as well as the students and organizations – continues to push for a higher level of diversity on campus.
Upon leaving school, graduates should reasonably expect to join a varied job force in a different city among a group of people they have never met. With any luck, their experiences at NMU will prepare them for that. As it stands right now, those experiences just don’t measure up.