Of Elon University’s 15-member senior staff, four (26.6 percent) are women, two (13.3 percrent) are people of color and only one (6.6 percent) is a woman of color. These 15 people seated in the highest positions at our university are simply not representative of our student body, which is 59.0 percent female and 19.4 percent racially or ethnically diverse.
Though Elon prides itself on its “unprecedented commitment to diversity,” if our university’s highest offices are still primarily filled by white men, then we are not truly amplifying the voices of diverse perspectives.
The university has come a long way in its efforts to not only recruit students of diverse backgrounds but also make them feel like they belong at Elon. But as Elon’s student body continues to grow in diversity, this commitment must be reflected in its most senior positions.
With the search for Elon’s next president beginning and several members of senior staff changing positions, now is an optimal time to recruit qualified and diverse professionals to fill these positions.
The members of Elon’s current senior staff have done an impressive job of listening to underrepresented students and creating initiatives that support them. But if these policies are still coming from the perspectives of white men, they are not representing the experiences of our students.
Members of senior staff are responisble for creating policies that will inevitably affect our students. To do this job well, they must be able to empathize with the student body.
Of course, Elon is not unique in this issue and it is not the fault of the current senior staff. Historically and across the nation, senior staff positions within higher education are overwhelmingly filled by middle-aged white men. A 2012 survey conducted by the American Council on Education found that diversity in university presidents has actually decreased by 1 percent from 2006 to 2012.
The same study found that though the proportion of U.S. college students from racial and ethnic minorities have increased from 20 to 34 percent from 1990 to 2009, racial and ethnic diversity among university presidents has only increased from 8 to 13 percent from 1986 to 2011.
And even though women represent half of the nation’s undergraduate population, only 26 percent of university presidents are women.
Not only do these statistics show that university leadership does not typically reflect the diversity within student bodies but it also doesn’t reflect the workplaces within which these graduates will need to navigate.
According to the U.S. News & World Report, “the percentage of America’s working-age population comprised of members of minority groups is expected to increase from 34 percent to 55 percent.” Learning from and engaging with people of diverse background better prepares students for the diversity they are likely to encounter in the workplace.
When recruiting and hiring the next president of Elon — or any future senor staff position — those hiring should be looking for the most qualified campus, while considering diversity as one of their top priorities.
There are many reasons why diversity is a vital part of the college experience. Diversity helps to enhance worldliness, promotes self-reflection and allows students to learn from multiple perspectives.
Most importantly, students deserve to feel represented by their university’s administration. Elon places great importance on mentoring relationships between faculty or staff members and students. It is important for students of diverse backgrounds to find mentors who can relate to their experiences and are able to guide them based on those experienced.
Elon must take this opportunity to diversify the university’s administration to better reflect the growing diversity on our campus. A more diverse staff will positively impact our campus by bringing new perspectives and experiences to the table when creating policies for our university.