Diversity defined and evolving on campus



While diversity may just be a fashionable buzzword for marketing campaigns, an institution like Tech—as a whole—actually takes the word to action from the administrative to the individual student level.

“From a collegiate standpoint the world was evolving from ‘affirmative action’ to ‘diversity’ when I was at Tech, so it was this new terminology that had no real definition to it besides the very pure and simplified gender, race and religion categories,” Erikka Mallett, president of the Black Alumni Organization, said, “Tech has broadened its scope on how it looks at diversity, and it has created more opportunities in how to address it. [Tech] has really tried to put it out there and make the discussion of it more accessible.”

Admissions Director Rick Clark described Tech’s at-large definition of diversity as “scholastic, academic, ethnic and geographic diversity.” This description derives from former Tech President G. Wyane Clough’s time in office, during which the Office of Diversity Programs was created.

Diversity initiatives are a growing consideration in both public and private institutions’ policies abroad. With Institute President G.P.. “Bud” Peterson’s announcement of major organizational changes just after the University System of Georgia budget cuts last year, Tech is placing a higher priority on actions and recognition of its goals in diversity.

Coinciding with the growing visibility of multi-ethnicity, public higher education institutions like Tech now include multiracial options on applications.

The 2009 freshman class were the first to have the option to check multiple boxes under race on their applications, and 72 of the 2650 freshmen enrolled did. Minority applications and admissions so far this year have generally increased this year, including those identified as multi-ethnic.

Recently, Tech has stepped up recruitment efforts by specializing communication and events via more casual means like the Admissions Department’s Facebook page.

“On a daily basis we are able to put content out there and see what people are interested in,” Clark said, “If someone likes or comments on [something we have posted], then we can get good feedback from something that really resonates with them.”

Alumni—like the Women Alumni Network, Black Alumni Organization and Georgia Tech Alumni Association — are also highly active recruiters, targeting that particular group’s demographic. Despite these efforts, scholarships and grants are doing more of the talking for where the student ultimately decides on. This prompts a more intense effort on the part of other forms of recruitment, like alumni organizations.

“There are a lot of African American students being accepted, but many are making the decision to go to other schools,” Mallett said, “Students can participate in a poll about why they opted for a different school, and the majority of the responses have to do with scholarship offers. It’s from the standpoint of financial need, but that there’s more scholarship money available from the other school.”

Mallett and other alumni with the Black Alumni Organization are in contact with the Office of Minority Education and African American recruitment counselor Chris Briggs to coordinate efforts at attracting their particular demographic. They have also started their own initiatives, like recruiting at Atlanta metro area mega-churches of 3000-7000 members to make a more immediate impact, which has been well-received so far.

“We have a lot of things to be proud about, particularly things related to diversity and underrepresented minorities,” Peterson said, “We’re the largest producer of African American engineers, and Hispanic engineers in the country, and that’s something of which we can all be very proud.”

Seven fraternities and sororities with the Multicultural Greek Council have a specific ethnic interest, more directed to social efforts in diversity and unity across the campus. These houses are open to all students, though each has an emphasis on Latin, South Asian and East Asian communities.

“I notice how minorities form groups at Tech and within those groups they formed a really strong connection,” Sho Kitamura, first-year CE, said, “I think it’s something really special.”

Diversity is still an effort on the student end, as well. Organizations like Women in Engineering and Georgia Tech Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers are organizations that more often actively incorporate other students. For example, Women in Engineering has a mentoring program—recently opened to male students as well—that pairs a first or second year student with a third or fourth year student, respectively, as an academic tutor and personal mentor.

While ethnic and gender groups are at the forefront of most diversity campaigns nationwide, socioeconomic background is also a target demographic that Tech’s G. Wayne Clough Promise Program seeks to assist. The Promise Fund is available to Georgia residents with a family income of less than $33,300, designed to pick up financial support where the HOPE funds can leave off. These funds are personally customized to the student in need.

In an open letter to the Tech community last November, Institute President G.P. “Bud” Peterson’s first step towards reorganization was expanding and elevating the duties of the lead diversity officer.

The current interim vice provost for academic diversity, Dr. Gilda Barabino, has indicated that she would step down to her position when the new position is filled. The Institute Diversity Search Committee, fully organized in early Feb., has started a national search for an individual to serve as the Vice President for Institute Diversity.

These changes at Tech are just a local example of a national movement toward the composite quality of ethnicity. Starting last year, all public schools’ applications are required to allow options for multiple races, and the 2000 Census was the first national Census to allowing multiple selections of race or a “some other race” option as a catch-all box for those who don’t completely agree with the usual given options.