“Ultimately,” says Sam Ruhmkorff, dean of academic affairs at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, “[diversity is] a matter of perspective, bringing different perspectives together, sharing them and seeing what happens.” As it is frequently defined, the word "diversity" represents a linked set of complex issues involving race, gender, religious beliefs, sexual preference, economic background and geography. Diversity is variously referred to in higher education as a mission, an objective, a mandate, an imperative and an obligation.
When Mary Marcy, provost and vice president of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, arrived on campus in 2004 she recognized an opportunity to deepen the College’s commitment to diversity. Like many initiatives at Simon’s Rock, the object was to go beyond the numbers and to help forge meaningful connections between and among students and faculty from diverse backgrounds with integrity, significance and context.
Beyond using creative financial aid packages which attract students from underrepresented demographic groups to craft a class, Simon’s Rock institutionally supports diversity engagement at all levels. The College has created new staff positions like the Director of Multi-Cultural Affairs, new spaces for students of color to meet like the Owl’s Nest, and deepened both the extra-curricular and curricular commitment to diversity. A curriculum prerequisite for all students requires at least one three-credit cultural perspectives course, for example. Students often transition from introductory courses to a broader study of other cultures, choosing among concentrations such as African-American Studies, Asian Studies, Cross-Cultural Relations, Cultural Studies and Gender Studies.
Campus wide events like Diversity Day help to promote frank and direct explorations of personal and group identity on a campus where many backgrounds are represented. Supplementing the institutional programs, the student-organized Race Task Force, Black Student Union and QueerSA develop their own initiatives to address matters of diversity on campus.
Diversity is not just a consideration in crafting the class but also in hiring faculty. “A diverse faculty,” states Sam Ruhmkorff, “not only provides that richness of vantage point and positive role models, but a diverse faculty challenges commonly held assumptions such as disassociating ethnicity with profession and recognizing excellence in different educational backgrounds.” Ruhmkorff has furthered this initiative by forging a partnership with the Consortium for Faculty Diversity, which will increase the College’s visibility when recruiting minority faculty. Currently, 15% of the faculty members are persons of color.
Beyond the statistics, recent data released by the National Survey of Student Engagement and reflected in the included graphs show Simon’s Rock ranking exceptionally high in diversity engagement. These responses, highlighted in the graphs on this page, go beyond the demographic numbers of incoming and returning classes or faculty hires. Instead, they indicate how deeply diversity matters are considered on campus, and how students are developing their own perspectives in response to the multitude of viewpoints they encounter at Simon’s Rock.