Charles H. Whiteman
Charles H. Whiteman, John and Karen Arnold Dean

Across our country and in many other nations around the world, organizations of all types are taking steps to create diverse and equitable workforces. In a June 2022 Harvard Business Review article, authors Oriane Georgeac and Aneeta Rattan explain how most of these employers make the “business case” for diversity, citing how such an environment benefits a firm’s financial health. Others, the authors explain, use the “fairness case,” relying on the intrinsic value of “doing the right thing,” to justify the measures.

I appreciate both perspectives — as well as the authors’ point of view that no justification is really needed for efforts to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion. But as I read the article, I couldn’t help but question whether these organizations are missing a more important point. Or, as Jamie Campbell, our assistant dean for diversity enhancement programs has often asked, “does diversity, equity, and inclusion alone translate to a greater sense of belonging for all members of a community?”

Smeal is making great progress in nurturing and promoting a culture in which everyone feels safe, valued, respected, and empowered to bring themselves fully and authentically to our building and classrooms. Indeed, diversity, equity, and inclusion are powerful elements of this greater good.

That’s why, in 2020, we drafted our first diversity statement, which clarifies and acknowledges our commitment to creating a truly diverse and equitable environment.

But, what about the diversity of our student body? Roughly 50 percent of first-year students who elect to begin their education at one of Penn State’s 20 Commonwealth Campuses are never admitted to a Smeal major. We are working closely with Penn State’s Undergraduate Admissions Office to enhance recruitment and admission processes — something we believe will have a profound impact on the number of underrepresented students who ultimately graduate from Smeal.

Several years ago, one of our Big Ten peers began offering students direct admission to the university and their chosen major prior to enrollment. By creating a guaranteed path, rather than relying on college GPA at what we refer to as the “junior gate,” the number of underrepresented students at that school tripled.

As Pennsylvania’s sole land grant institution, we must have a similar impact here.

Likewise, as we look to recruit a more diverse faculty, organizations like The PhD Project can help us identify outstanding prospects for new faculty hires. Endowed faculty positions, such as the David and Susan Marcinek Early Career Professorship will help ensure we can recruit and retain faculty members who reflect the demographics of the commonwealth.

Smeal has taken other important steps to foster a sense of belonging, including a robust toolkit to help managers conduct fair and equitable searches and attract a diverse pool of candidates for staff and faculty positions. For alumni, we have introduced a Minority-Owned Business Network, which strives to help alumni of color who own businesses to network and engage with the University. Finally, we recently engaged Compass Consulting Services, LLC to conduct an in-depth diversity audit of the college.

We have come a long way in the past few years, but we acknowledge that there remains much to be accomplished. I remain steadfast in my commitment to this important work.