May 25, 2016

University Promotes Diversity on Multiple Fronts


As Princeton University alumni return for Reunions this weekend, many will remember an institution very different from the Princeton of 2016. It was 1909 when Princeton President Woodrow Wilson wrote to an African American applicant that it would be “altogether inadvisable for a colored man to enter,” but more recently, alumni from 70 years ago will recall a college that would not graduate an African American student until 1948. 

And 60 years ago, the Princeton faculty included just one African American professor, appointed in 1955. Only 50 years ago, it was still an all-male undergraduate body. There was not a single tenured female faculty member until 1968, and not until 1969 were women admitted as undergraduates.

Now, in 2016, “We have made important progress this year, but our work is ongoing,” stated vice provost for institutional equity and diversity Michelle Minter. “Ensuring an inclusive campus climate requires a sustained and long-term commitment. New activities and ideas will emerge, and we want to continue to engage students, faculty and staff in these efforts.”

But has Princeton kept up with the rapidly changing times, in terms of diversity, inclusion, equity? Has it moved into the 21st century in reflecting the transforming spirit and complexion of our nation? Has it successfully cast off the image of elitism and exclusive privilege evoked by its often proud С sometimes not so proud С heritage?

One year after a University task force presented their proposals to make the campus more inclusive, just six months after Black Justice League members occupied Nassau Hall to demand action to improve campus climate and inclusion, and less than two months after the University trustees’ called for expanded commitment to diversity and inclusion in support of proposals from a special Woodrow Wilson Legacy Committee, Princeton University recently announced that it has made significant progress during the past year to foster a more inclusive campus climate, and continues to implement new programs and practices to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion.

More and more widely accepted as a positive value in university education, diversity is prominent on the radar of university officials nationwide, sometimes less visible in classrooms, dormitories, organizations, and particularly faculty meetings.

Princeton University’s diversity website,, cites “significant progress in recent years, especially in the diversity of our undergraduate student body.” The numbers of undergraduate men and women are close to equal. “The number of first-generation college students is on the rise; and the current freshman class — 43 percent of which is composed of students of color—is the most diverse in Princeton’s history,” the website states.

The current undergraduate population includes 26 percent Asian, 8 percent Black, 10 percent Hispanic, 48 percent White, 4 percent multi-racial, and 3 percent unknown.

A gender imbalance becomes increasingly pronounced among masters degree students: 57 percent male, 43 percent female; doctoral students: 61 percent male, 39 percent female; and especially among full professors, with 77 percent male and 23 percent female.

In race/ethnicity balance, “at Princeton, as at other selective colleges and universities,” the website reports, “racial and ethnic minorities are generally more strongly represented among undergraduates than among graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty and senior administrators. Black, hispanic and other ethnic minorities are under represented in all university populations relative to their national numbers.”

Statistics on the socioeconomic status of Princeton students were not available, but, according to a recent report, “True Merit: Ensuring Our Brightest Students Have Access to Our Best Colleges and Universities,” from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, 72 percent of students in the nation’s most competitive institutions come from families in the wealthiest quartile of the population, while only 3 percent come from the bottom quartile.

Vice Provost Minter is aware of the disparities at Princeton, noting both the progress made so far and the important priorities for the future. “Over the next decade,” she said,”the priorities will include increasing the demographic diversity of the faculty and providing more support for our expanding population of high-achieving low-income students.”

Ms. Minter emphasized that “the University is deeply committed both to the demographic diversity of the campus community across many dimensions, and to fostering an inclusive climate that will allow all its members to equally thrive.” She noted the University’s recent “significant investments” in recruitment, retention and inclusivity on campus. “We’re pleased to be making progress but recognize that there will always be more work to do,” she concluded.

Dean for Diversity

One promising highlight of progress made so far was last month’s appointment of LaTanya Buck as the University’s first Dean for Diversity and Inclusion. Founding director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at Washington University in St. Louis, Ms. Buck will start her new job August 1, with a focus on educating and engaging the entire student body on issues of difference and identity.

“I am thrilled that LaTanya Buck will be joining us at Princeton,” stated vice president for campus life W. Rochelle Calhoun. “She brings not only a wealth of relevant higher education experience but also a deep and abiding passion for her work. A dedicated professional, LaTanya is perfectly suited to successfully fulfill this new role.”

At Princeton Ms. Buck will be a member of the campus life leadership team, supervisor of the directors of the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Center; and Women’s Center.

Ms. Buck mentioned the challenges ahead and her confidence in taking on the new position. “I believe that the Institution is committed to increasing its diversity efforts and putting the resources behind them. This is important,” she said. “I think Princeton is doing good work with regard to several areas of diversity, including socioeconomic diversity. I look forward to serving in this inaugural role. I believe that this is a very exciting time to be at Princeton University, as many diversity efforts are underway.”

Ms. Buck, who holds a PhD in higher education administration from Saint Louis University, where she wrote a dissertation titled “The Cultural and Structural Shifts in Race-Conscious Access Programs,” has worked at Washington University since July 2014. Before that she served for five years as director of the Cross Cultural Center at Saint Louis University for five years. She has also worked as assistant director and coordinator for minority student recruitment in the Office of Admissions at Maryville University and in the Office of Multicultural Student Services at Missouri State University and Morehead State University.

“I think my greatest challenge will be understanding a new institutional culture,” she said, “and my top priority this year is to listen, meet with various campus constituents, and learn about the institution and the local community. Relationship-building is critical. It helps me to shape my perspective and assess the areas of need and growth, as well as to determine who the key stakeholders and allies are.”

Ms. Buck continued, citing similarities and differences between her job at Washington University and her new post at Princeton. “Both Washington and Princeton are highly selective and attract very bright students who want to contribute to society. Being the inaugural director of diversity and inclusion at Washington has certainly helped me to deal with ambiguity and be more flexible in my approach.”

Other signs of progress in inclusion and diversity at Princeton include: additional funding for the Fields Center, Women’s Center and LGBT Center; adjusting programming and use of space at the Fields Center to better serve students of color, as well as creating a diversity peer educators program at the Center; funding to hire faculty and develop courses on race, ethnicity, culture and difference; expansion of communications to graduate students about identity-based resources for them; new and expanded diversity-related programming for student orientation; expanded training for administrators and student leaders about responding to bias concerns, and training opportunities on inclusive teaching practices for faculty; establishing the Campus Conversations on identities initiative to support campus-wide public programs about identity and difference.

Renovation of the Fields Center continues, in seeking to make it a hub for cultural affinity groups and focus programming on issues related to diversity, inclusion and social justice.

Expanded programs to address social and cultural needs of low-income and first-generation students and additional diversity and inclusion training for faculty, the eating clubs and other student organizations are anticipated in the next academic year.