Should colleges and universities be thinking beyond ethnic, racial, gender, sexual orientation, and income diversity?

While it’s certainly not always easy or done well, most USA colleges and universities strive to admit a variety of ethnicities, under (and over) represented minorities, first-generation college students, first-generation Americans, and a balance of male and female students, who may or may not identify as LGBTQ.

What exactly is diversity? The term is derived from the Latin root, “diversus,” which translates to “various.” In educational terms, the word diversity often becomes interchangeable with “multicultural.” Colleges and universities often seek a diverse student body so that students of varying backgrounds can learn how to talk to each other and have opportunities to learn about others with different identities and experiences.

Why is diversity such a big deal? According to the Center for American Progress, more than half of all US babies born today are people of color, and according to the US census, by 2050, our nation will have no clear racial or ethnic majority. Furthermore, according to research studies by the American Council on Education, there are clear benefits for students when universities and colleges create an environment that not only exposes students to diverse cultures and communities but encourages interaction and communication.

But what about other kinds of diversity? Like … Diversity of Thought? Diversity of Learning Styles and Learning Differences and Behaviors? and Diversity of Interests and Majors? Could it be that students are beginning to look different on the outside, but their learning styles, behaviors, strengths, are all beginning to blur together and look the same?

Our students could be a rainbow of colors, an array of sexual orientations, a collage of cultures, and a variety of income distributions, but is the college admissions process creating cookie-cutter applicants nonetheless? When college admissions becomes focused on grades over other aspects of the application, I worry that we are creating a group of overworked and underplayed students who will do their never-ending homework, but at what cost to their mental health. And then, we call those students who can learn the material, but not want to take on the tedium of endless homework “lazy” or “slackers” when in fact, maybe, they are “balanced” and “happy.” Is a student body truly diverse if most students on campus are majoring in similar “practical, career-oriented, pre-professional” majors, no matter how many different languages can be heard on campus?

Don’t we want our students to be able to think about literature and art, as well as engineering and computer science? Are we not looking for creative problem-solvers? Do we want them to not only seek to solve technological and scientific problems, but also philosophical and humanitarian issues? In short, are we educating our students to become thinkers and problem solvers who understand the world around them or are training them for a future career? And does it have to be one – or the other? And maybe–just maybe–we can see the redeeming factors in that kid who might have slacked off a bit on his grades because he was so engaged in the world in a multitude of other ways than doing loads of homework. It seems to me that universities should be filled with a variety of student types.

Let’s encourage students to think differently, learn differently, and approach problems differently – no matter their skin color, native language, cultural or sexual identity. We know there is more than one way to solve a problem, so why not appreciate that approach in the classroom? What about diversity of thought?