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Benefits and Challenges of Diversity in Academic Settings

This booklet summarizes research on the benefits and challenges of diversity and provides suggestions for realizing the benefits. Its goal is to help create a climate in which all individuals feel included, valued, respected treated fairly.

It is produced by The Women in Science & Engineering Leadership Institute (WISELI), a research center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. WISELI was formed in 2002 with funding from the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE: Institutional Transformation program.

The diversity of a university’s faculty, staff, and students influences its
strength, productivity, and intellectual personality. Diversity of experience,
age, physical ability, religion, race, ethnicity, gender, and many other
attributes contributes to the richness of the environment for teaching and
research. We also need diversity in discipline, intellectual outlook, cognitive
style, and personality to offer students the breadth of ideas that constitute
a dynamic intellectual community.

A vast and growing body of research provides evidence that a diverse
student body, faculty, and staff benefits our joint missions of teaching
and research by increasing creativity, innovation, and problem-solving.
Yet diversity of faculty, staff, and students also brings challenges. Increasing diversity can lead to less cohesiveness, less effective communication, increased anxiety, and greater discomfort for many members of a
community.

Commands