Academic Benefits of Diversity at the University of Virginia

Friday, 2017, May 19

Office of the Provost: May 19, 2017

Learning to recognize and appreciate the complexities of a diverse community and to navigate its challenges is a crucial element of the educational experience at the University of Virginia. At the undergraduate and graduate levels, and through its system of student self-governance, the University educates students who emerge as leaders in every aspect of their lives and who carry with them our community’s values of honor and respect. The University is committed to graduating students with a greater awareness of the problems facing communities around the world, a greater empathy for those who struggle with those challenges, and a deeper commitment to improving the lives of others. The University strives to prepare its students for a rapidly evolving global economy and to work effectively in diverse communities around the country and the world.

Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the University of Virginia, intended to establish an institution that would be, in his words, “based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind.” Yet, the University’s construction and operation relied in large part on enslaved labor for almost fifty years. In the 20th century, as a result of de jure segregation, the University was one of the last public institutions of higher education in the country to admit minorities and women. Although our commitment to diversity today is more than a product of our history, an awareness of this history makes our commitment particularly compelling.

The University believes it is not enough to speak of the aspects of human experience; we must cultivate them as integral and celebrated parts of our community. Individual backgrounds and experiences can have powerful effects on lives, and these differences have the potential to enrich educational experiences. These aspects of diversity include, among others, family economic situation, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, disability, ethnicity, age, veteran’s status, and geographic and rural experience. Perspectives deriving from these diverse characteristics—and the teaching, learning, and research shaped by them—contribute to our understanding of the world and our place in it. An engaged diverse community stimulates deeper thinking and more rigorous questioning, leading to insights and ideas that might never be conceived in a more homogenous environment. The knowledge created by a richly diverse and deeply engaged community is likely to be more revealing, more relevant, more meaningful, and more questioning and less reinforcing of conventional thought than the knowledge that derives from a less diverse educational environment.

The University aspires to be a place in which all faculty, students, and staff are active participants in its work, where those groups historically excluded from participation in University life are present in numbers that prevent isolation of the spirit and of the mind, and where each individual is conscious of the many ways in which she or he contributes uniquely to the creation and dissemination of knowledge that enhances the well-being of our community, our state, our nation, and the world.