DRAFT: Diversity and Community

Students sitting on the hill by Johnson Chapel

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A Crucible for Excellence: Diversity and Community in the Residential College 

Amherst College now devotes the equivalent of 22 percent of its operating budget to financial aid. It has opened the need-blind admission process to international students, transfer students and veterans, and eliminated loans for all students who qualify for financial aid. These initiatives have helped us assemble a student body more racially and socioeconomically diverse than at any previous moment in our history or than is the case at any of our peer institutions. We have persevered in this endeavor because we recognize that intellectual excellence is not limited to any single social, economic or racial group but also because, by convening an intentional community of diverse learners in a residential setting, we hope to send graduates into the world whose wide-ranging intellectual curiosity, cross-cultural competence and mutually invigorating talents will enrich our world.

Amherst College’s small size, deep-rooted traditions and considerable resources make it an ideal crucible for conducting this experiment in transforming how we think about the relationship between diversity and excellence. Yet a diverse student body alone does not guarantee academic excellence. Without attention to the challenges that go along with diversity, communities like ours can end up exacerbating the very tensions that inhibit intellectual curiosity, social cohesion and cultural exchange in the rest of society.  

The success of our experiment depends on our commitment, as trustees, faculty, staff, students and alumni, to an institutional culture that supports a diverse learning community. For Amherst students to thrive, intellectually, emotionally and ethically, we must provide all of them with the resources they need to realize their full academic potential. In the process, we also must challenge ourselves, as we do our students, to develop new ways of communicating across cultural and social boundaries; of combining theory with praxis, self-reflexivity with communal endeavor, discipline with pleasure.

The Principles That Guided Our Deliberations

Our mission statement says, “Amherst brings together the most promising students, whatever their financial need, in order to promote diversity of experience and ideas within a purposefully small residential community.”  We take this to imply that:

1. Students thrive intellectually when they can learn from a wide variety of teachers, disciplines, approaches and peers.

2. Students, staff and faculty benefit from living, working and learning in a multicultural community where they feel secure in their various roles, respected in their identities and confident communicating across difference.

3. Intellectual development is most enriching when it allows us time to integrate diverse ways of approaching learning and experience at the individual level.

Any organization requires appropriate incentives and support structures to achieve its goals. For our diversity to foster the intellectual outcomes to which our community aspires, it should be not an optional afterthought but rather core to the incentive and support systems of the College. Specifically, we must be mindful that:

4. Amherst College reproduces its institutional values around diversity through the behaviors it promotes, as well as through the ways in which it holds its members accountable for their actions.

5. Amherst College conveys its institutional values with respect to diversity through its physical layout, its governance structures, and the images and language its members use to communicate with each other and the outside world.

6. Amherst College should be able to identify and evaluate any changes it makes to its institutional culture in the service of its diversity goals.   

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