Diversity research moves beyond mere numbers
Faculty, staff and students from eight UC campuses and researchers from around the country came to UCLA recently to attend a daylong conference on a burgeoning branch of research: diversity in academia.
The June 22 conference, "Diversity Research: Beyond Counting," drew approximately 200 people from UCLA, UC Davis, UC San Francisco, UC Santa Cruz, UC San Diego, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine, as well as researchers from as far away as the Netherlands. They heard scholars from UCLA, Claremont Graduate University and Columbia University discuss such issues as the relationship of diversity to outcomes, diversity science and even the meaning of diversity.
"Research on diversity in academia has usually focused on issues of representation, counting the numbers or percentages of students, faculty and others who are members of traditionally or currently underrepresented demographic groups," said Christine Littleton, UCLA vice provost of diversity and faculty development. "While such research is no doubt necessary, it is far from sufficient, and does not reflect the most interesting work being done today by researchers in the social sciences, the life sciences and even the physical sciences."
With financial assistance from Vice Chancellor for Research James Economou (whose office served as the major sponsor), Chancellor Gene Block and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh, Littleton and her staff were able to pull together the resources needed to plan the conference, the first of its kind at UCLA.
In his keynote address titled "Diversity: Beyond Numbers," Scott Page, professor of complex systems, political science and economics from the University of Michigan, explained that the direction of research has moved from simply recognizing talents displayed by members of traditionally underrepresented groups to encouraging diverse working groups in order to gain benefits in innovation, productivity and quality.
"We all believe that [this is] important, but putting some research behind it and showing that diverse environments will lead to better educational outcomes — that’s important," Chancellor Block told the audience. "I’d like to believe that UCLA is very diverse. In many ways it is, but in many ways, it isn’t. And if you look at historically underrepresented groups, we don’t do very well in some areas. Better than a few years ago, but certainly not anywhere near where we need to be. So it’s always a work in progress."
Littleton said that the conference was the first of a regular biennial roundup of the latest diversity research. "I wanted to encourage a wide academic audience (including graduate students, faculty and administrators) to think about diversity research as something that was both intellectually exciting and practically beneficial," she said. "According to the feedback I’ve received, the goal was met on both fronts."