VFIC Workshop Discusses Diversity

October 28, 2010
Basil A. Panton '11

According to the U.S. News and World Report, private liberal arts colleges such as Wellesley (.60) in Massachusetts, Haverford (0.47) in Pennsylvania, and Ferrum (0.46) in Virginia are among those colleges leading the pack for the most diverse student population on the "diversity index."*  The closer a school's index is to 1.00, the more diverse is the student population.  For the record, Hampden-Sydney has a diversity index of 0.15.  So how do some colleges more than others attract minority students to their campuses?  What models or programs do some colleges have that interest or help to retain minorities?  These questions were addressed at the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC) Making Connections Workshop at Hollins University on Tuesday, October 5, 2010.

The VFIC is a non-profit corporation that comprises 15 of Virginia's finest private colleges and universities, including Hampden-Sydney.  The VFIC sponsors and hosts events such as the annual Career 15, which brings together student job seekers and hiring managers from Fortune 1000 companies; the Ethics Bowl, which allows the 15 VFIC colleges to engage in a lively debate about real-world dilemmas that affect our lives in increasingly complex ways.  The corporation also provides scholarships to students who participate in the Virginia Program at Oxford (VPO) and funds to support Summer Undergraduate Research programs at its member colleges.

Workshop DelegatesAt the Making Connections Workshop 10 of the 15 members of VFIC were represented. The representatives from Hampden-Sydney were Assistant Dean of Students for Intercultural Affairs and New Student Orientation Mladen V. Cvijanovic '08 and Basil Panton '11.

The workshop began with President of Hollins University, Nancy Gray, extending heartiest welcome to the other schools and saying how honored Hollins was to host this year's event.

The moderator Jeri Suarez, Associate Dean of Cultural & Community Engagement at Hollins, began the discussions of best practices and mentoring programs on the various campuses.  At the end of this hour-long discussion, the VFIC representatives found that each school has different ways of fostering diversity on its campus and that most schools face financial strain, which limits their ability to promote diversity.  For instance, the University of Richmond has the Building on Diversity (BOND) program, one that enhances diversity lifestyle by affording scholarships, mentorship, and guidance to minority students; but this program is often handicapped by insufficient funding.

MeetingThe theme that echoed throughout every session was the lack of adequate funding for programs that encourage diversity on campus.  Even in the group meetings of only student representatives, there was concern about the limited monetary support to groups to boost diversity on campuses.  VFIC personnel pledged to seek grants to support diversity efforts.  But current economic conditions are also affecting the VFIC, so the number of grants and the amount of each gift obtained could be less than in previous years.  Nonetheless, representatives from the member colleges were hopeful that the need for more diverse campuses will prevail over worries about finances.

The attendees were also treated to examples of diversity in the truest sense; the Hollins Diversity Monologue Troupe gave a presentation about accepting and respecting the backgrounds and beliefs of each individual. The troupe consisted of about 15 students who represented individuals or a category of people in society who are Diversity Troupenormally bashed or stereotyped.  The troupe demonstrated the stereotypes that these people face daily to show the audience that campuses ought to be more embracing of others.

The takeaway from the workshop was that each school learned other ways to improve diversity on its campus. The VFIC committed to aid its consortium, thereby "supporting initiatives which ensure that this personalized educational experience remains an affordable choice for tomorrow's citizen-leaders."


 *In 2010, the liberal arts college with the highest diversity index rating is Pine Manor College in Massachusetts - .68.  The lowest listed in the US News Ulitimate College Guide is Shimer College in Illinois - .26.