October 14, 2004
To: University of Massachusetts Amherst Commission on Campus Diversity
From: John V. Lombardi, Chancellor
Re: The Challenge of Diversity at UMass Amherst
The University of Massachusetts Amherst has a long commitment to building a racially and ethnically diverse campus community of faculty, staff, and students that contributes to the classroom and co-curricular education of each student. This commitment has resulted over the years in the development of programs and the engagement of campus leadership in working towards this goal. At the same time as the ethnic composition of the population of Massachusetts, reflecting trends visible elsewhere in the United States, continues to change, and as the patterns of high school graduation and college attendance become clearer, UMass Amherst has on occasion found it necessary to review, modify, and adjust its programs and approach to supporting the minority students on our campus. National data indicate that the number of minority students graduating from all high schools will increase significantly in the next decade while the number of white, non-Hispanic graduates will decline within an increasing population of total high school graduates that will reach a peak of about 3.2 million by the end of the decade.
Although the Massachusetts experience may not follow national trends exactly, we anticipate that the college-bound high school graduates from Massachusetts institutions will reflect this change with increasing numbers of minorities (especially Hispanic-Latinos) as programs to improve Massachusetts high schools continue to succeed. These data give a sense of the challenge facing every college campus because the programs designed in a prior generation to serve a minority population with one set of characteristics and needs may not be as effective in meeting the needs of this generation of college students.
The Amherst Campus Challenge
On the Amherst campus, the history of minority recruitment, retention, and support has had some significant success thanks to strong leadership from many faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends. At the same time, many concerns continue to remain unresolved and new issues have appeared. Today’s students from all racial and ethnic groups come to college with different attitudes, expectations, and needs than their counterparts of a decade or more ago, and programs optimal then may not now be as effective.
On our campus, we know that the racial and ethnic conflicts that exist in the communities from which our students come carry over into campus life. We know that education programs designed to establish the standards of behavior we expect from all members of our community must be constantly revised and reinforced since each new generation of students requires clear direction about our expectations within this campus community. We know that some among us believe that encouraging conflict is an effective tactic while others believe that disengagement from these difficult issues is the appropriate response. Neither approach produces the kind of university community we require, and both approaches are indicative of a need to review and reframe our commitment of resources, our organizational structure, and our programs to improve the conditions and reduce behaviors that create occasions for conflict and provide the opportunities that reengage more of our campus community in the work of improving the campus.