Good morning everyone!
Welcome to campus – no matter if you can’t remember being anywhere else in late August or if you are the first person in your family to start your fall on a college campus! No matter how you got here, how long you’ve been here, or how soon you’ll be diving into your next great adventure, I’m really glad each of you are here right now.
Somehow you’ve stumbled onto a blog called “Delicious Ambiguity” written by me, Mark Salisbury. (Ok, so I emailed you the link and you clicked on it thinking it might be important). I’m the Director of Institutional Research and Assessment at Augustana College or, as some students have taken to calling me (a supreme compliment, IMHO) the Chief Nerd. I started writing this blog in 2011 as a column in the Faculty Newsletter. The goal then was to share snippets of Augustana data with everyone and hopefully encourage each of us to take a moment to ponder the implications of that data. Most of the time, it’s been statistical data (hence the name Chief Nerd), but sometimes it’s data that comes from interviews or focus groups. No matter the source, I try to explore data points that can help all of us – faculty, staff, and students alike – maximize our experience at Augustana. In case you’re wondering, if you ever think to yourself, “Why doesn’t Mark write about that?” send me an email or comment at the bottom of a blog post. If we’ve got the relevant data, I’ll try to write about it.
With every new group of students, be they traditional freshmen or non-traditional transfers, we gather a set of data points that help us better understand the breadth and depth of the diversity contained within that group. Tracking these data points is one way to remind all of us that cultivating a diverse and vibrant community is about exponentially more than just tracking skin color or biological sex.
Today I’d like to share two data tidbits from our incoming class that seem worth pondering.
First, 31.8% of our new students indicate that neither of their parents earned a four-year college degree. Certainly a substantial proportion of these students come from families where they are the first to go to any kind of college. Equally important, this is not a new phenomenon; this proportion has stayed near 30% since we began asking this question of incoming students in 2012 and, as best we can tell, Augustana has already enrolled a substantial proportion of “first generation” college students. While we can certainly parse the nuances of this student category, our reality remains that many students may not grasp the unstated but oft-assumed implications of our liberal arts college culture, both in terms of the intentions behind various policies or the behaviors that many of us enact every day without a second thought. Moreover, many of these students likely harbor an additional layer of internal anxiety about whether or not they truly “belong” in college at all, let alone a private institution like Augustana.
Second, Augustana’s growing enthusiasm for interfaith understanding in recent years couldn’t have come at a better time. Our incoming class is peppered with students from every kind of western and non-western faith. We have new students who self-identify as Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Mormon, Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, non-denomination, and a whopping 6% of students who categorized themselves as “other.” Oh, and to top it off, 16.7% of our incoming students identify as “no religious background” or “atheist.” I don’t know if this is a one-year phenomenon or if we’ve crossed a tipping point of some sort, but this year that group of students is larger than our incoming proportion of Lutheran students (14.4%).
These two data points hold important implications for the assumptions we make about individual students. All of us probably have some growing to do as we think about the way that we interact with each student. I certainly do. I’ve already made the mistake of assuming that someone I had just met came to Augustana from another country. Based on this faulty assumption, I made a comment that I wish I could take back because it might have been interpreted to reiterate the sense that I am a part of the “natural” in-group and they are still a member of a “probationary” out-group. I owe that person an apology, one that I intend to deliver soon.
I don’t say any of that to hold myself up as some grand example, but rather to suggest that adapting to this increasingly prevalent and multifaceted diversity is a process during which we are each likely to stumble. But in stumbling, depending on how we respond to it, we might just be able to communicate more clearly that we genuinely want to make Augustana a welcoming and inclusive place for everyone – no matter where they are from, who they are, or what they want to become.
Make it a good day,