University Diversity Projects and the Inclusivity Challenge

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Growing numbers of women; Black, Indigenous, and People of Color; and low-income/first-in-family students attend U.S. colleges. Although sought after by universities eager to establish diverse campuses, many minoritized students still report ambivalence about inclusion at predominantly White institutions (PWIs). Like many PWIs, Meadow State University (MSU) promotes commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Yet little is known about how students perceive institutions’ DEI-related efforts. The authors conducted focus groups with 144 undergraduates to identify students’ perspectives on what MSU is attempting and accomplishing in pursuing DEI goals. The authors find that MSU’s goals encompass a set of loosely connected policies, practices, and behaviors they term diversity projects. The authors reveal gaps between MSU’s intentions in providing institution-led diversity projects and respondents’ perceptions of them, highlighting their largely symbolic nature. Students advocating for an institutional responsibility for inclusion stressed requests for concrete, student-led diversity projects that fulfill expressed needs, particularly for minoritized students.