How Students Benefit From Diverse College Presidents

Nearly all college presidents are white. Learn how increasing faculty diversity can create inclusive campuses.
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According to the Southern Regional Education Board, almost 35% of undergraduates identified as Black or Hispanic in 2020, while only 9.5% of faculty shared those identities.

Additionally, only 30% of college presidents are women. Of those women presidents, only 5% are women of color.

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College presidents have the highest influence over the academic experience. When they come from different cultural backgrounds, they can better support students. However, current data shows college campuses need to push further with their hiring practices to match students' needs for diversity in faculty.

Why Having College Presidents With Diverse Backgrounds Matters

Student support helps students achieve academic success. But campus support has a limited reach if faculty identities don't reflect the variety of student identities.

Equity-Minded Leadership

Equity-minded leaders are willing to assess their assumptions, especially about underrepresented groups — including racialized assumptions and stereotypes about disabled, neurodivergent, and queer students.

These leaders view higher education as institutions designed for dominant groups by dominant groups and work with a compassionate lens towards supporting the wide variety of thinking styles, abilities, and cultural backgrounds students bring to campus.

Dismantling Racist Norms in Higher Education

Historically, college and university presidents have failed to address racial and social inequities, refusing to acknowledge that higher education was founded exclusively for white students.

College presidents have considerable influence and can help dismantle racist norms across U.S. campuses. By hiring a body of academic leaders with diverse experiences — including presidents of marginalized identities — higher education institutions can employ presidents who share many of the students' experiences. Achieving proper representation is a part of dismantling systemic injustice and can empower students by showing them that success is possible.

Improving Underrepresented Students' Experiences

Many students need role models. Many more need mentors. Students who don't see leaders who mirror their backgrounds can struggle to see themselves in leadership positions. These are just a couple of the many reasons representation matters.

Hiring a faculty with members of many different identities — whether considering race, gender, ethnicity, disability, queerness, neurodivergence, or other characteristics — also challenges stereotypes about who can and is allowed to lead, produce knowledge, and influence society.

Marginalized faculty tend to introduce new perspectives to their disciplines. These leaders approach academics with unique research interests and techniques, exposing students to unique learning experiences.

How Your Campus Can Hire More Presidents of More Diverse Backgrounds

According to a Hopkins Medicine review, here are some proven ways to promote diversity on college campuses.

  1. 1

    Improving job description language

    Insight Into Diversity shows that job postings can suggest whether each campus is inclusive. Inclusive job descriptions go beyond including EEO statements, as candidates may choose not to apply if the job ad portrays language that suggests a campus that perpetuates systematic oppression.

  2. 2

    Establishing search committees with members of a variety of backgrounds

    A report from 2021 showed that untrained search committee members favored applicants who were most like themselves, resulting in unintentional discrimination. Job search committees must be trained to create fair search and hiring processes. These committees should be diverse as well, comprising people from a variety of different identities.

  3. 3

    Developing diversity and inclusion metrics

    Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) metrics measure hiring, retention, and advancement while allowing universities to know what demographics they are serving and how to best serve them. Metrics help universities maintain their DEI commitments by:

    • Identifying and managing bias and areas of risk
    • Measuring the impact of diversity and inclusion initiatives
    • Assigning accountability to remove homogeneity
  4. 4

    Ensuring Equity in Compensation

    On average, women earn 82 cents for every dollar that men earn, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Women of color, however, tend to earn even less. On average, Black and Hispanic women earn $0.79 and $0.78, respectively, per dollar that men earn. Unequal pay may result in lost talent as women avoid certain schools and leave underpaid positions.

College Presidents Who Made a Difference

Leaders of marginalized backgrounds have already made significant changes in higher education. Learn about five leaders who have worked to increase diversity and inclusion.

Dr. Joyce Brown, Fashion Institute of Technology

Dr. Joyce Brown became the sixth president of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in 1998. Among her many community and civic efforts, Dr. Brown implemented the Social Justice Center at FIT, a novel higher education initiative that addresses systemic problems that challenge BIPOC college students and creative professionals.


Ronald A. Crutcher, Wheaton College

Ronald A. Crutcher, the seventh president of Wheaton College, has a long history as a leader in education. Crutcher advocates diversity, inclusion, and free expression on higher education campuses and has written a memoir, "I Had No Idea You Were Black: Navigating Race on the Road to Leadership."


Valerie Smith, Swarthmore College

Valerie Smith is the fifteenth president of Swarthmore College, where she works to improve and expand DEI initiatives across campus. Her various programs include the fundraising campaigns Changing the World and Changing Lives. Smith also founded thePresident's Fund for Racial Justice to support Swarthmore's transformative racial justice programs.


Diana Natalicio, The University of Texas at El Paso

Listed as a TIME 100 most influential person in the world, Diana Natalicio was the 10th president of The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). In 2021, Dr. Natalicio founded the Diana Natalicio Institute for Hispanic Student Success, which uses research to develop future Hispanic and Latino/a leaders.


Raymond E. Crossman, Adler University

Appointed the fifth president of Alder University, Dr. Raymond E. Crossman was the first university president to publicly disclose their HIV status. As an education leader, he's helped lead other LGBTQ+ presidents and chancellors to promote the importance of DEI initiatives to meet today's political and social challenges.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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