They’ve called us a melting pot, poured into a single space to blend together and become one.
We know this is not exactly the way America works, nor the way schools function. We are so much more beautiful than this: We have become mosaics, stained glass windows.
We are different, and we share the same spaces together, but have we become one? Can we be connected yet different enough to let our humanity show through in all of its variations?
Students at UMKC agree that diversity is about more than melting everyone together.
“Diversity is an environment of people with different ethnic backgrounds, beliefs, sexual orientations. It can also be what kind of status you have in regards to geography,” says Jayla Rainey, a junior in Health Sciences. “It’s what will help you understand people.”
Noorul Huda, a pre-med student, offered her own definition for diversity.
“It’s more than just skin tone, it is schools of thought,” said Huda, who added that age, ability and gender are also important factors in creating a diverse environment.
Diversity isn’t just about numbers that improve a campus’s image, though it does appeal to prospective students looking to broaden their horizons. In a diverse environment, students are able to learn with greater ease.
“There is something to be said about learning in an environment where you are comfortable being who you are without fear of judgement,” said Emily Kovacs, a senior in Interpersonal and Public Communications.
As noted in the Reply All podcast episode “Raising the Bar”, diversity allows groups to more effectively problem solve, strengthening teams of all kinds including those with scientific, intellectual, and technological pursuits.
Dr. Makini L. King, Director of UMKC’s Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives, believes, “Innovation is a product of being challenged; in other words, the ability to assess ideas and experiences through different lenses, enhances one’s ability to produce extraordinary results.”
This is one reason why King believes in the importance of diversity on UMKC’s campus.
“Once we are able to accept our differences as equally valuable and necessary for growth and innovation, it allows us to then see the humanity of the person (or people) who are different than ourselves,” said King.
Huda and Doreen Mbugua agree, saying that listening to those with different ideas, even those we disagree with, allows people to become holistically minded, viewing the world as one community.
“It helps us to become mindful,” adds Mbugua, a Kenyan Student Ambassador.
Huda also thinks diversity is intellectually enlightening, and the environment at UMKC allows her to explore, learn, and connect with people.
“When we go into the workplace, it helps us interact much better with people from different backgrounds or ages,” said Huda. “We can be more mature and reliable because we understand more types of people; we become more independent.”
The University of Missouri-Kansas City is certainly a diverse school, with enrollments representing all 50 states and more than 80 countries.
While Caucasians are not the minority, they account for 60 percent of enrollments. 40 percent of students belong to minority groups and 72 percent of students are between ages 22 and 29.
Diversity at UMKC is further indicated by its inclusivity of the LGBTQ+ community with the university receiving a four out of five star rating from Campus Pride.
This commitment was fought for in 1977, when the Federal 8th District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of gay students assembling the UMKC Gay Peoples Union.
Kellan Bales-Wood, a non-binary former student, recalled the sense of community established by the programs and services available for LGBTQ+ students.
“I went to the Trans + Allies group here; I went to that all year, and it’s a fantastic group,” said Bales-Woods.
UMKC’s diversity impacts not only the students, but the community. 48.7 percent of alumni remain in Kansas City after graduation. Diversity on campus enables Kansas City to remain a more forward thinking, educated, and harmonious city.
The UMKC Diversity Statement says, “We create a positive environment by recognizing and acknowledging personal biases and being responsible for positive change.”
Rainey acknowledges UMKC’s great diversity, but feels that sometimes the “salad” of diverse people is still separated, “Like the lettuce is in one container and the tomatoes are in another container.”
Huda and Mbugua agree. While across the board students are happy with the specific associations and groups, students desire more integration- and for these community groups and events to be made more known to all students.
“[We need to] let every student know that there are places they can be included and feel at home, where they can feel welcomed,” said Rainey. “That way they can have the right tools and environment to blossom.”
The need for places for Islamic prayer and for more gender inclusive restrooms have also been cited as campus needs in order to be truly inclusive of the diverse student body.
King encourages students to assess their friend groups and social activities for diversity.
“Are they the same race, gender, have the same sexual preference, ability status, speak the same languages, live in the same neighborhood, from the same country etc.? Similarly, assess your social activities.”
She recommends students “purposefully and diligently [commit] to exposing themselves to people who are different from themselves.”
King encourages students to cultivate “true and genuine relationships” and to “expand their repertoire of knowledge by learning about those different from themselves through literature, historical texts, movies, museums and other more concrete forms of diverse content.”
Coincident with King’s beliefs, Rainey wants students to know that they provide the foundation for UMKC’s diverse community.
“As students, we are the UMKC community, so if someone doesn’t feel welcomed or like they have a space, the community is going to crumble,” she said. “It’s like building a house without a firm foundation. You have to use different types of things to build a building. We are the people who build the foundation of UMKC.”
UMKC offers students a range of resources, including international student associations, the Women’s Center, the At Ease Zone for veterans, and the Rainbow Lounge.
A complete list of resources, groups, and more information about UMKC’s strategic plan for diversity can be found at http://info.umkc.edu/diversity/.
At the end of the day, Mbugua believes promoting diversity on campus shouldn’t require a massive undertaking.
“If everyone takes a step to be welcoming, it’s going to be a welcoming place,” said Mbugua. “That’s all it takes. We don’t have to have a huge conference if we all just take small steps, it works.”
She encourages students, international and domestic, to connect with one another, even if it only results in the ability to acknowledge one another in the hallways.
“We could always do a better job at loving each other as a community.”