Many graduate schools invite some type of diversity statement as a part of their application. This may be a required element of the application or it may be optional. Schools should provide a clear prompt and perhaps a word count, But they may not fully answer the question: What is a diversity statement?
What is a diversity statement?
A diversity statement is a written explanation of your experience of and commitment to diversity. This can be defined in many ways. For some students, you may wish to discuss aspects of your heritage, educational background, family life, physical ability, gender identity, etc. that have informed your development in unique ways. A diversity statement can also address your own definition of “diversity” and ways in which you can contribute to the development of a diverse and inclusive community.
What is diversity?
Good question. Diversity can mean a lot of things! In the United States, diversity is most often used to refer to diversity of heritage–the ethnic, social, and economic background of an individual in terms of the groups with which they identify and participate.
The United States has a complex history that has included systemic racism and disenfranchisement of certain groups based on their heritage, physical ability, social status, family context, etc. When academic disciplines talk about diversity, they are often attending to groups whose representation in the population of the country is not proportionate to the representation of these individuals in a given field.
In chemistry, woman, LGBTQIA individuals, persons with disabilities, and people of color are among those who are not present as students or faculty at a rate commensurate to their presence in the broader population. Students who are the first in their family to go to college or to graduate school are also considered diverse as their family context does not necessarily provide full access to academic life. Academic institutions recognize that groundbreaking research engages the perspectives of as many people as possible. Attending to diversity helps ensure that biases and barriers do not keep certain groups from either access or participation in an academic community.
Importantly, diversity in an academic community cannot be achieved by access alone. A community must consistently interrogate the ways that they engage all of the people who are present. Our goal at Emory is full engagement–actively making space for and providing support to people from all backgrounds and experiences in order to ensure that all members of our community have the opportunity to participate as learners and leaders.
I’m an international student. How can I contribute to diversity?
International scholars are a key part of a diverse community. However, diversity as it is defined by American universities might not be familiar to students from some countries where the conversations surrounding equity and inclusion use different terms and engage most closely with non-U.S. history. It might help to reflect on the academic and cultural context of your home country. What perspectives will you bring to an academic community that might be unique to your experience?
It can also be helpful to place your experience in your home country into context. Americans are often unfamiliar with international political movements and traditions. If there are aspects of your experience in your country that affect your academic preparation or perspective, the diversity statement can be a place to share this information.
Do I have to talk about my background?
No! Being asked to define the ways in which you experience diversity can feel like a veiled request to commodify your personal experience. Just like with the personal statement, you should not feel compelled to share anything that makes you uncomfortable or that you simply prefer to keep private. There are many ways to contribute to a diverse community. Admissions committees should respect that not all applicants identify as diverse or wish to share their personal identity story. It is also appropriate to use a diversity statement to talk about ways you might contribute to supporting a fully inclusive community. Examples include:
- participation in student organizations
- starting a new organization (including a chapter of a national organization)
- promoting scientific exchange of ideas/interdisciplinarity
- supporting communities who may not have full access to your field with research-based practices
- understanding the concept of bias and seeking to mitigate your own biases in your academic work
It might be helpful to look at the school’s website and think about the programs they identify as supportive of diversity. How could you see yourself contributing to this work? At Laney Graduate School, the EDGE program is a collection of resources and programming dedicated to supporting a fully engaged graduate student community.
The definition of diversity provided in this blog could not possibly cover…well…the diversity of ways in which people define this concept. The following list gives an overview of academic organizations that provide a definition of diversity and/or are doing work related to diversity in STEM, inclusion, and full engagement. Exploring these websites might give you ideas for telling your own story about diversity.