Who Are We?
By Lisa M. Cania M '82
I entered college, I attended an orientation workshop on career planning.
Actually, it had more to do with self-exploration than acquiring career
skills, which, as an 18-year-old-in-search-of direction, I hoped it
would provide. We were asked to list all the labels we could attach
to ourselves, with the purpose of illustrating multiple roles we all
have. At the time, I wrote "daughter, sister, student, fiance,
friend, roommate, cousin, niece, Roman (Rome, NY, that is), Catholic,
dancer, writer." This exercise didn't provide me with insight about
my career (well, maybe the "writer" label gave me a clue),
but it drove home the array of perspectives any one person brings to
Almost 25 years later, I remembered that exercise as I spoke with Professor
of Government Joseph Kling, who chaired a four-year project on campus
diversity funded by the Hewlett Foundation, and Christine Zimmerman,
director of institutional research, about the results of that effort.
The task of the Hewlett committee, according to Kling, has been to "dismantle
the mythical norm." In various ways, the committee has worked to
inform the community that if a society is truly diverse, the distinction
of group identity is critical, and should be promoted, rather than denied.
At the same time, all cultural groupings should be recognized in a given
society as having equal value and worth. Both conditions - promotion
of difference, rejection of any one specific identity grouping as representative
social norm - are necessary to remove the social power a culturally
dominant group exercises over those it defines as "other."
All members of a society, then, are different, even if some members
have more in common with one another and others have less in common.
Commonality is described by demography. Diversity is described by attitude.
Diversity includes everyone who might add his or her voice to a conversation;
every voice has a right to be heard and every voice has a different
tone and timbre.
The St. Lawrence magazine staff wants to share a glimpse of the conversations
that have been happening at the University, conversations about the
nature and expression of diversity. Kling offers his view of the Hewlett
Project in his piece "Pluralism and Unity: The Bridge-Building
Work of the Hewlett Committee." Former Vice President and Dean
of Academic Affairs Thomas Coburn, who returns to the religious studies
faculty after a six-year term as academic leader, writes about the difference
that difference makes in the classroom. You'll read about some of the
events in the successful presentation "Flippin' the Script,"
a spring semester collection of cultural and educational programs recognizing
diversity at St. Lawrence. And you can consider the points of view of
several students and alumni who define themselves, in part, as members
of groups on campus that, in demographic terms, have fewer numbers.
What is the Hewlett Project?
Four years ago, the Hewlett Foundation awarded St. Lawrence University
a grant as part of the foundation's Pluralism and Unity Project to "enhance
the campus climate to make it a more open and welcoming place for diversity
and difference." We formed a committee of faculty, staff and students
and decided that one of the most important activities we could adopt
would be "cultural audits" - we knew the demographic profile
of the University community, but we did not know their attitudes, the
perspectives they bring to the conversation. We looked at existing survey
data relevant to St. Lawrence, and comparative with peer colleges in
the nation. To augment the existing information, two members of the
sociology and education departments developed and applied a set of ethnographic
techniques - observation of social behavior in various settings as well
as focus group discussions. For more in-depth understanding of this
"cultural audit" process, Kling offers the perspective of
the committee chair in his essay. This article will focus on the results
of the student audit conducted in fall 2000.
Who are we?
If the three predominant descriptors of diversity are broadly defined
as gender, race and class, we already knew the demographics.
Gender: In the fall of 2000, 46.5% of the undergraduate students were
men and 53.5% were women. We take seriously our heritage of coeducation
and are watching carefully as the demographics of college-bound high
school men show a decline in this population.
Race: The numbers show that in fall 2000, about 6% of the student body
at St. Lawrence identified themselves as members of an ethnic minority
(African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American, Native American
or multi-racial). Another 2% represented international diversity, though
of these students are Caucasian. In fall 2000, 6% equaled 112 of 1,940
Class: The St. Lawrence student body was at or below the average for
family income for selective liberal arts colleges. For the fall of 2000
(when the Hewlett survey was taken), the average family income for first-year
students fell in the range of $60,000 to $75,000 annually. That same
fall, 74.8% of all students received need-based aid and 68.5% of all
undergraduates had taken loans to pay for their college expenses. A
senior student in the fall of 2000, planning to graduate in May 2001,
could, on average, expect to have $18,200 in loans to pay back.
However, demography and diversity are themselves different concepts.
What did the Hewlett survey tell us about the experiences and attitudes
of the students who comprise the statistics?
Overall, women and men bring different perceptions and experience St.
Lawrence in different ways. Gender differences emerged as significant
in virtually all measures addressed by the audit. Male students at St.
Lawrence see themselves as more accomplished and successful than female
students on almost all measures when they enter college, and report
greater gains on the same measures as exiting seniors. (More women are
in the top 10% of any graduating class, however.)
According to the Hewlett survey, students learn a great deal about
multiculturalism and difference in the classroom and through their academic
work. The best single predictor for students having frequent conversations
with other students who are different (with respect to economic, social,
racial or ethnic background, religious beliefs, political opinions or
different values) is working with classmates outside of class to prepare
class assignments. Sharing academic work is significantly stronger than
other predictors of interaction, such as gender, sports participation,
Greek membership and participation in co-curricular activities.
The Hewlett committee found evidence that St. Lawrence students operate
in clusters of non-overlapping groups more than at similar schools.
Approximately 50% of our students say they never or only occasionally
have serious conversation with students of different beliefs or personal
values, with students of a different race or ethnicity. The Hewlett
audits show that St. Lawrence students espouse, overall, more politically
liberal attitudes than students at peer colleges nationally. Men are
more conservative than women. In fact, the most liberal men are in the
same place politically as the most conservative women.
Greek membership revealed some patterns. Relative to independent students
at St. Lawrence, Greeks are more politically conservative, more likely
to report that being well off financially is a personal goal and less
optimistic that the individual can change society.
In the broadest terms, which were the terms used by the Hewlett committee,
St. Lawrence students are more different than mere observation might
propose, though a great deal
of demographic as well as attitudinal homo-geneity still exists. Do
they, and by extension, does the college, celebrate difference among
its 2,000 students? Are differences appreciated? Is the climate inclusive,
not just tolerant? We invite you to join the conversation.