Using Research to Create a More Inclusive Environment

First-year student Destiny Diess and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program instructor anupama jain are collaborating on a project about diversity and inclusion in higher education as part of the Office of Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity’s First Experiences in Research (FE-R) program. Their goal is to identify proven ways to promote an inclusive environment for people of different cultures, races, genders, sexual orientations, religions, and more at universities like the University of Pittsburgh.

The ultimate goal of the project is to inventory and assess existing diversity resources and programs at Pitt while identifying additional ways to create an even more inclusive environment. This project strives to help people feel more empowered to talk about differences not only in an academic setting but also when interacting with peers in social spaces.

“I have found that many people feel very uncomfortable when talking about or understanding differences because they never learned how to initiate interactions with diverse types of people,” Diess says. This recognition sparked her interest and motivation to participate in a diversity and inclusion research project. Diess and jain’s project, Diversity and Inclusion: Theory and Practice, focuses on uncovering different ways, whether large or small, that universities and colleges have demonstrated improvements in the climate for diversity among students, faculty, and staff.

These efforts are based on research showing that while most colleges and universities have been striving for a diverse population of students and faculty for decades, they continue to fall short. One of the ongoing challenges is the lack of sustained and documented plans for the successful inclusion of historically underrepresented people in a university’s culture. There also is a lack of data showing which demographics are included or excluded in particular higher education contexts.

For this project, Diess is relying on the ample reading material and guidance that jain has provided to her as her research mentor. Together, they read through peer-reviewed papers from the University’s library databases, discuss diversity with University leaders, try to understand global diversity through TED Talks, and communicate with student groups. Their research topics include White privilege, inclusion models, affinity groups, and University of Pittsburgh demographics.

The team will produce a report for University leadership sharing their findings and potential recommendations.