Up Front: Embracing and Enhancing Diversity

The new strategic plan, unveiled last winter, focuses on increasing diversity within the St. Thomas community and incoming freshman classes.

When we developed our new strategic plan, diversity and inclusion quickly emerged as a theme of widespread and thoughtful discus- sion. The resulting priority, “Embracing our Differences as One Human Family,” seeks to attract more students, faculty and staff from all backgrounds and increase their capacity to engage in, and grow from, a broad range of experiences and perspectives.

Enhancing diversity is essential to serve the needs of a democratic society and reflect our communities, which become more diverse every day in an increasingly interconnected world. Diversity enriches a learning en- vironment that is grounded in our mission as a Catholic university because we learn from and value people with different experiences and perspectives. Diversity also encourages critical thinking, fosters mutual respect and understanding, enhances economic competitiveness and prepares our students to be global citizens who look beyond boundaries to find synergies and solutions.

As much progress as St. Thomas has made over the last two decades in increasing its overall student diversity – 15 percent students of color and 5 percent international students – we do not represent the demographics that our students will experience as future alumni. We are taking the first steps to create a more diverse and inclusive learning community through the strategic plan.

This spring we initiated a collaboration with a global education company to increase our international enrollment and our retention and graduation rates through targeted recruitment and support services. We expect this partnership will result in 65 freshmen from other countries this fall, compared with 25 last fall.

Our admissions team sought to increase the number of students of color in our pool of prospective students who inquired about attending St. Thomas. This spring, the number of students of color comprised 17 percent of our freshman inquiry pool as compared to 10 percent a year ago. While we won’t have final matriculation numbers until this fall, our confirmed deposits also exhibit a similarly strong upward trend.

Our admissions team revamped and aggressively marketed our Dease Scholarship Program to more than 350 high schools. The Dease program provides full and partial scholarships to domestic students of color, many of whom are among the first generation in their families to attend college. We received 320 applications for 23 Dease scholarships. Each applicant was required to write a two-page essay addressing: “What would receiving a Dease Scholarship mean to you and how would you use this opportunity to advance the common good within your immediate community at the University of St. Thomas and beyond?”

The applicants’ stories about overcoming adversity and their commitment to attaining a college education are inspirational. Despite many obstacles, these students persevered. They worked hard, earned good grades and learned “more through my failures than through my accomplishments,” one said. Another is proud that even with the odds against him, he prevailed “because I am MAD. I am determined to Make A Difference.”

They speak eloquently about diversity. It “allows for exposure to different lifestyles and ways of thinking, which is essential in today’s society,” one student wrote. “There is a critical need to educate each other.”

One immigrant student born in Ghana, having survived the loss of 14 family members during a Liberian civil war when he was 4 years old, wants to share his culture. “I would talk to people about my experiences,” he wrote, “and do as I have always done, which is to always uphold, accept, respect and inquire about the cultures of others.”

These students want to become doctors, engineers and teachers, as well as numerous other fulfilling pursuits, and their participation in our community will contribute to a richer education for all and a stronger Tommie network committed to advancing the common good.

Read more from St. Thomas magazine.