Center on Diversity

Background and History

Indiana University has a unique and distinguished history of diversity among public institutions. Although in its first several decades the university was legally barred from admitting black students and hiring black faculty, the leadership of Herman B Wells in the mid-20th century transformed the university from an all-white institution to a national pioneer of diversity.

Wells attacked racial discrimination at every opportunity, vowing to expunge it from “every environment I can control,” while lamenting those environments he could not reach. Still, by the end of his Presidency in 1962, IU had become the first Big Ten University to desegregate its athletic teams, Residence Halls, Student Union, and to a certain extent, its faculty. By his powers of persuasion and moral example, Herman B Wells even effected the desegregation of restaurants and other institutions in the predominately white town of Bloomington.

In addition to these actions, Wells established IU as the most important destination for southern black students seeking graduate education through cooperative programs with southern states, which would not allow blacks to attend white universities in their home areas.

This was the legacy of Indiana University, and to this day black leaders and other minorities around the nation pay tribute to IU for it.

After Wells’s years of leadership, Indiana University went on to host the first academic degree and freestanding department in Afro-American Studies; to establish deanships in Afro-American Affairs and Latino Affairs; to create the Black, Latino and Asian American Culture Centers; to pioneer a variety of innovative programs for potential minority faculty; to develop a graduate program in African American and Diaspora Studies; and, in 1998, to merge many of its diversity programs and academic assistance programs into one division, the Office of Academic Support and Diversity. In 2000, Mike Davis was named IU’s first black head men’s basketball coach and in 2002, Adam W. Herbert was named the 17th president of Indiana University, making it the only CIC member institution with African Americans serving in two of its most visible positions.

Statement of Need

Despite this legacy of achievement in diversity, Indiana University has several areas of great need. First is the problem of the limited enrollment of Latino and African-American students in relation to their representation in Indiana’s population, and, compounding that, graduation rates for those populations that dramatically lag behind those of majority students. Second is the legacy of a decentralized academic governance system, which has resulted in a wide variety of impressive innovations across the eight campuses of IU but no single solution to the need for a diversity-infused curriculum. Although many fine efforts have been made by individual faculty, task forces, academic units, and diversity offices, currently there is no formal structure that would facilitate such an infusion.

A third area of need is a lack of comprehensive knowledge of best practices. It is clear that the will to improve our diversity at all levels exists; that, for the great majority of our faculty, staff, and trustees, we strongly desire cultural competence as an institution and for each of our graduates. But the university has not gathered the full array of known research and best practices in achieving our goals, and since so many other universities and national organizations are also engaged in this work, we believe the resources that are available in terms of models and research are numerous. The need exists to organize and understand those resources and put the best ones into practice on all IU campuses.

Fourth, there are great examples of successful freestanding, multidisciplinary centers or administrative units such as the Poynter Center on Ethics and the Center on Philanthropy. These entities have in common an ability to move swiftly and independently, without regard to campus and institutional politics and pressures. They can conduct research, gather faculty from multiple disciplines and campuses, and respond to issues, crises, and events in ways that an administrative office–such as the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs–cannot. A freestanding center will enable an independent entity to maximize IU’s chances to improve the level of its diversity efforts across the board, without usurping the authority of administrative offices and programming bodies that already exist.

Finally, there is the need to be able to anticipate and respond to future needs. Diversity is both a moving target and an area of multiple visions and needs. Though the issue of historical black oppression and the concomitant need for diversity programming has been known since the beginning of the 20th century, the migration to the north of millions of Latinos is more recent, as is the arrival of Vietnamese refugees and the generation of their children, who are now attending Indiana University and need services. Few could have anticipated, in Wells’s time, the national interest and the focus on diversity that exist today. Tomorrow will bring new needs, new multiracial issues, and a new context in which we operate. Recent Supreme Court decisions have altered the nature of some of our most cherished diversity programs, and future decisions, as well as federal and state laws, are likely to further transform the environment.

The Character and Structure of the Center

The Center on Diversity will stand not only for social justice in its support of underrepresented minorities, but it would also uphold the principle of global competitiveness in the 21st century. For the United States in general and Indiana in particular to succeed in the world economy, everyone must be able to participate. America’s unswerving support for equity and social justice demands that we ensure all of our citizens the opportunity to participate. Indiana University’s share of that obligation is to its own students.

In its functioning, the center will be collaborative at every opportunity. It will stand for value added to current programs as well as for the creation of new ones. It will not be in competition with already existing programs, but will instead enhance the campus climate and cultural competencies at every turn.

Structurally, the center will begin modestly, with two graduate assistants reporting to a part-time director. The planning process will begin in January 2006. At its maturity, the center will have an executive director, associate director, two staff positions, and several graduate and undergraduate research assistants. The center will be served by an advisory group comprised of representatives from all campuses, including chancellors, academic deans, faculty, students, staff, and faculty governance leaders. In addition, specialized advisory sub-groups will be convened as recommended or needed. The center’s advisory group will meet regularly to ensure that the center is fulfilling its mission of enhancing the life of Indiana University. To a large extent, the advisory group will drive the work of the center.

In addition to its full-time staff and graduate assistants, the center will be served by faculty associates, similar to the Center on Philanthropy. These will be full-time faculty already in place at IU who will carry part-time appointments in the center. These faculty associates will serve as diversity educators, as leaders of the efforts to enhance cultural competence and infuse diversity into the curriculum. They will also lead other projects such as seminars, retreats, and institutes. Growth of the center will be incremental, based on previous successes and the availability of funds.

Funding will come from a combination of institutional resources, user fees for services, and external grants from private foundations and corporations. Administratively, the center will report to the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs.

The Center’s Goals

The key goals of the Center on Diversity are fourfold:

  • Infuse diversity into the curriculum across all campuses, schools and programs;
  • Engage the university community in open dialogue on key issues of race, equity, and diversity;
  • Pursue equity and excellence for populations of underrepresented groups;
  • Enhance cultural competence for all IU students, administrators, faculty, and staff.

Potential Projects of the Center

The center will achieve its goals in a variety of ways and through a variety of approaches. Its first task will be to assemble a bibliography or inventory of best practices around IU and around the country. This task was successfully undertaken in regard to retention during the planning process that led to launching of the current $1.2 million Lumina-funded Indiana Project on Academic Success (IPAS). Knowledgeable graduate students under the direction of a staff or faculty member will carry out this task, which will be updated annually and which, at the outset, will provide the foundation on which new programs will be implemented.

Through the bibliography and its continuous updates, the center will serve as an authoritative resource on the higher education status of underrepresented minorities in the state of Indiana.

Subsequent to the analysis of best practices and potential programs that could be adapted to all or some campuses of IU, the center would undertake such projects as:

  • workshops for faculty on infusing diversity across the curriculum, to be led by faculty within the same discipline;
  • a biennial publication on the status of diversity at IU (a “diversity scorecard”);
  • periodic campus climate assessments, rotating across the university on a regular basis;
  • the Enhancing Minority Attainment/Diversity conference once every two years;
  • a minority male support group on each campus to enhance persistence and graduation among this currently lagging population;
  • a Leadership Development Academy for promising undergraduates on every campus;
  • a Summer Institute on Diversity for faculty and professional staff; and
  • responding to campus and state issues as needed and collaborating with other centers and programs.


In addition to evaluating participant responses to programs and services offered by the center, a comprehensive review will be completed in the fifth year of operation.