Providence College was established to provide access to a college education to Catholic immigrants and their children, while also being open to members of all faiths. Many of these students were the first in their families to graduate from college, and today’s diversity initiatives are seen as a way to “return to our roots” in providing access to new Americans and the underserved.
Over the last 10 years, Providence College has made major strides. Shifts in admission and financial aid policy have led to a significant increase of international students and students of color attending Providence College, and more students of all backgrounds taking advantage of study abroad opportunities. During this time there also has been a modest increase in the diversity of faculty and staff and significant efforts to engage the College with the local Smith Hill and Elmhurst communities through community service and the newly opened Smith Hill Annex.
The Core Curriculum now includes a Diversity Proficiency requirement, and students are able to take a more diverse range of courses. In January 2012, upon the recommendation of the Diversity Initiatives Committee, the College hired its first Associate Vice President/Chief Diversity Officer, to provide leadership and coordination for campus diversity efforts.
While these are certainly noteworthy accomplishments, challenges remain. We continue to struggle with recruiting and retaining diverse faculty and staff, and the increased presence of diverse students (e.g., students of color, LGBTQ students) has not necessarily led to a general feeling of acceptance among members of those communities.
Assessing how members of our community experience PC will provide important data that will enable us to identify best practices that may be replicated, as well as pinpoint ongoing challenges. Furthermore, the insights gleaned from this project will allow us to develop relevant programs and policies to move the College more closely to becoming a truly inclusive environment where all members feel valued and respected and can realize their full potential.