Originally Posted: Mar 7, 2012
Last Updated: May 4, 2016
When students apply to schools and think about diversity, they’re mostly only wondering about the diversity within student population. But sometimes you have to think about the people who make your (potential) school so great! Yes, of course this includes professors and faculty members. But there is one person at the top of the food chain when it comes to colleges: the school’s president.
Because presidents have such power at colleges around the country, they are a reflection of the schools they represent. That’s why having a president with a diverse background is a great stepping-stone for the school community, as the president can bring new ideas to the table. I came across a great magazine online called “The Presidency,” specifically its Winter 2008 Special Supplement, which talked about diverse college presidents and what they can do for a school.
When I talk about diverse presidents, I don’t necessarily mean an African American, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, etc. My previous blog post will show you that there is more to diversity than just cultural or ethnic backgrounds. “Diversity” can mean different gender presidents, such as a female president—as opposed to the typical male president—or leaders in different age groups. These two changes alone are crucial. The magazine supplement explains, “ACE’s The American College President: 2007 Edition reveals that the typical college president is a 60-year-old white male who previously served as a chief academic officer or provost.”
People of varying backgrounds, which may include academic, socioeconomic, or cultural backgrounds, can all help college communities in a number of ways. One is by bringing different ideas to the campus. Having all come from different places in their lives and their life experiences, people of diversity will have special ideas, viewpoints, ethical concerns, and/or suggestions aside from those of people who are typically seen in the “average” president. I am definitely not saying that those presidents do their jobs inadequate, but it is very important to take a different stance, whenever possible.
This definitely makes a difference—in Forbes' 50 Best Colleges rankings, 15 of those schools have female presidents (while eight are the first female president of their school!). This includes the #2 school in the country: Princeton University’s president is Shirley Tilgham, and her presidency is not only a big deal because she is the first female president at Princeton, but because Princeton had a “long-time resistance to co-education” (information taken from 15 Female College Presidents from Forbes).
Another example of an amazing college president with a diverse background is the president of Hampden-Sydney College, a small private college in Virginia. Chris Howard, who attended the Air Force Academy and Harvard University, became the first African American president at Hampden-Sydney—and only at age 40! A great thing about what Howard has brought to the college campus is his ethnic background, which will help bring out the small black population at the school (5%), and his age, which makes him a lot more relatable to students (information taken from MSNBC’s “Black President Makes Splash at White College”).
If you’re a prospective student, do some research about the presidents of the colleges you’re interested in. It will help you for an interview, and will give you a sense of the school’s background and how the community functions. If you’re a current student, you should also find out what you can about your school’s president!