Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

DU is on right track for diversity

The University of Denver Diversity Summit has grown into one of the largest and most important annual events on campus, according to Chancellor Robert Coombe.

“Diversity is a prerequisite to excellence,” Coombe told several hundred participants at the morning kickoff to the all-day summit May 4. “There can be no excellence at the University without inclusive excellence.”

Nearly 350 faculty, staff and students registered for the 6th annual Diversity Summit hosted by the Center for Multicultural Excellence on the DU campus. Participants began the day with speeches by Coombe and Jeffery Milem, professor with the Center for Higher Education at the University of Arizona. They attended morning and afternoon workshops on diversity topics, participated in an interactive theater presentation at lunch and topped off the day with a reception in the Driscoll Gallery.

Coombe said DU strives to reflect the diversity of its community in terms of race, religion, politics, geography and sexual orientation. The University must include different people and perspectives, he said, to create the best possible learning environment for its students. 

“Those differences are the fertile ground from which ideas grow,” Coombe said. 

Milem echoed Coombe’s call to embrace differing people and perspectives. Familiarity breeds complacency, he said, while unique perspectives and contradictory ideas promote deeper learning and complex thinking. Research shows that a kind of intellectual disequilibrium can engage students and benefit the University, Milem said.

Having the right numerical mix of students, faculty and staff is not enough, according to Milem. For a diversity program to work, he said, it needs to involve institutional leadership and resources and a welcoming environment with opportunities for cultural and academic interaction. DU, he said, has the kind of multi-dimensional, comprehensive program that is “a model of inclusive excellence” for other universities.

Presenters and participants agreed, however, that to continue to engage diversity as DU does means more work. Dean Beto Juarez of the Sturm College of Law warned that achieving a fair and just society doesn’t happen overnight and doesn’t happen without continued hard work. But DU, he said, is on the right track.

“Many universities talk the talk,” Juarez said. “We are one of the few places that walk the walk.”

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