Indiana State has long had the most diverse residential student body of any public institution in the state — and programs such as student affairs and higher education, nursing and others are leading the charge to create an even more inclusive campus.
Throughout high school and college, Damonta’ Madden had never been in a classroom with more than two or three other African American students, so when he started graduate school at Indiana State, it felt a little surreal to find himself surrounded by students of color.
He was accustomed to teachers and peers tokenizing minoritized students, looking to them to represent their entire race, gender or culture during class discussions.
That didn’t happen at Indiana State.
“A lot of times when there are diversity talks in class, everyone stares at the one black student, the one Latino student,” said Madden, who’s finishing up a master’s degree in student affairs and higher education. “But in our cohort, when a person spoke up in class, it was, ‘Oh, that’s Katie talking. That’s Denzel talking.’ Everyone was able to have their own self-authorship because everyone was their own person.”
More than half of this year’s graduating class in the student affairs and higher education master’s program are minoritized students, including 11 African American students who call themselves the “Elite 11.”
As colleges and universities across the country grapple with how to make their schools more inclusive, the graduates of Indiana State’s student affairs and higher education program will take up campus administrative positions, bringing new perspectives and ideas to a predominantly white higher education system.
“It’s really important, because when you think about who will be coming into our college and university spaces in the next five to 10 years, you can see that it’s not just students who are minoritized, but also white students who are astute and aware of inequities in our society,” said Mary Howard-Hamilton, chair of the department of educational leadership. “We are preparing our student affairs administrators to effectively have conversations with students so they can speak their justice and have their voices heard.”
Diversity at Indiana State comes in many forms: racial, ethnic, gender, socioeconomic, geographical, religious, military status and more. The university has long had the most diverse residential student body of any public institution in the state — and programs such as student affairs and higher education, nursing and others are leading the charge to create an even more inclusive campus.
“We already have the most diverse student body in Indiana, but we want to lead the Midwest, at the very least, in being a model of inclusive excellence,” said Leah Reynolds, associate vice president for inclusive excellence.
Faculty in the student affairs and higher education program have been intentional about diversity in their recruitment efforts. With help from a Hoosier First grant, professors traveled across the state to encourage students from an array of backgrounds to apply to the program.
The program’s faculty is also highly diverse, which sends a clear message to prospective students about its focus on social justice, equity and inclusivity, said Kandace Hinton, professor of educational leadership.
When reviewing applications, faculty also consider each student holistically, rather than looking solely at their grade point average.
The makeup of the current cohort isn’t just a fad, either. Future classes will also be made up of Sycamores from different backgrounds, who will help diversify the administrative staff at colleges and universities around the country.
“Being able to send strong scholars and practitioners into the field who are from diverse backgrounds has the power to be transformative,” said Amy French, assistant professor of educational leadership. “It allows undergraduates to see that they can be successful — to not feel like an imposter, to feel like they are supported.”
As they head out into the professional world, Sycamores will do so having had challenging conversations about race, gender and other identities in the context of higher education and their own lives.
One course, for example, encourages students to think about how the physical environment can shape a school’s culture: How many buildings are named after women? African Americans? Latinos? Native Americans?
“We don’t shy away from the issues,” French said. “For white students, students of color and minoritized students in general, there’s real value in learning how to have those difficult conversations. Our students are going out prepared to challenge some systems, to have that confidence to say, ‘My voice does matter and I need to speak up for the minoritized students on my campus.’”
Madden, who grew up in the foster care system in Michigan, hopes to find a student affairs job working with the foster care population. He also hopes that his presence on campus, wherever he lands, will provide encouragement to minoritized students, and African American men in particular.
“That gets us through our trials and tribulations when we know someone who has walked the path and can help guide us — that we don’t have to do it alone,” Madden said.
The same is true for Jazmyne Smith, who wants to work with students as they transition from high school to college.
“I’m a first-generation student myself, so a lot of resources that were available to students, I had no idea even existed,” said Smith, who came to Terre Haute from Orlando. “I was just thrown in and kind of forced to figure it out on my own. That’s what drives me — I want to be the person that I needed when I was an undergraduate.”
Changes in nursing
The university’s traditional and accelerated baccalaureate nursing programs are also attracting students from all walks of life — Sycamores from rural and urban settings, Sycamores who speak multiple languages, Sycamores from varying socioeconomic backgrounds.
Even as recently as 20 years ago, the program consisted almost entirely of white women, said Marcee Everly, chair of the department. Today, classes are more representative of the general population, with more men and minoritized students in the program.
There haven’t been any targeted efforts to increase diversity in the program; Sycamores are admitted based on their academic credentials only. Rather, as broader societal changes have unfolded, the program has become more inclusive organically, Everly said.
For men in particular, nursing has become more popular as stereotypes and misconceptions about the profession fall away.
“People might still have the erroneous belief that nurses are like the handmaidens of the physicians and just do whatever they physician says to do,” Everly said. “That’s not accurate at all. Nurses have a lot of autonomy, a lot of decision-making that they do on their own.”
That’s exactly how Grant Blauvelt felt before switching his major from physics to nursing.
“Initially, I didn’t really feel like nurses did that much,” Blauvelt said. “I just thought they came in and did what the doctor said. I’ve realized now that my perceptions were way off.”
The current nationwide shortage of registered nurses also adds to the allure of Indiana State’s nursing programs for students from all backgrounds.
“It’s a high-paying job with really high job satisfaction and huge room for growth,” said Blauvelt, who will work as a critical nurse at Mayo Clinic after graduation.
There’s also been a profession-wide recognition about the increasing diversity in nursing. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing, for example, has rewritten questions on the nursing licensure exam to eliminate clichés and other phrases that might trip up non-native English speakers, Everly said.
In an ideal world, the nursing workforce would mirror the country’s population. And while Indiana State’s program has become increasingly diverse over the years, Everly said she hopes that progress continues.
“Our patients are highly diverse across the United States, and the nursing workforce hasn’t yet caught up,” she said. “Even though our nurses are taught cultural competence, patients are likely to be more comfortable if they’re taken care of someone who they believe understands them and their needs.”