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Study Questions Concordia’s Diversity

Concordia has been presenting two very different messages when it comes to campus diversity — that is, according to the findings of a new study by three Concordia professors titled “Messages of Community and Diversity at a Small Liberal Arts College.”

The study is based on student focus groups, archived college documents and the college’s marketing materials, and argues that the school is promoting two different images to the public regarding campus diversity: one showing the school as a place filled with diversity, the other showing the school as being overwhelmingly Lutheran.

The introduction to the study outlines the concern at hand:

“Maintaining a balance between issues of community and diversity has become a challenge on many college campuses as they strive to create a positive learning environment, knowing that campus members who feel like they ‘belong’ are more likely to be satisfied with their college experiences.”
The major problem, argues the study, is that these values often come into conflict with each other, sometimes causing the wrong image to be represented.

The college’s Web site is a particularly good example of this dilemma, according to Don Rice, chair of the communication and theatre art department. Rice conducted the study along with professors Aileen Buslig and Tony Ocaña.

“On some pages, it seems to be emphasizing conformity, and on some parts it seems to be emphasizing diversity,” he said.

For instance, according to the study, the school’s new Web site claims the college is rich with Lutheran tradition, citing that 50 percent of students are Lutheran (a very high rate compared to other Lutheran colleges).

Sean Volk, a student ambassador for the admissions department who helped carry out the study, argues that the college reflects the role of a Lutheran college only when it is beneficial.
“I think Concordia is selectively Lutheran,” he said. “We are only Lutheran when there are alumni or donors around.”

The study also points to the way the school Web site sometimes implies more diversity exists on campus than there really is. The site says Concordia “represents 53 different religious denominations [that] come from 40 different states and 36 different countries,” when, in fact, only 98 international students are currently enrolled at Concordia, according to Angelique Goulet-Newcomb, director of recruitment for the college.

Rice attributes this somewhat mixed image to what he calls “aggressive marketing strategies” from outside firms hired by the college to help recruit students. This type of marketing is done so the college can appeal to almost any prospective student.

“Concordia’s admissions department is brilliant at catering Concordia’s message to individual students to show them the Concordia that fits their needs,” Volk said.

Volk maintains that while this shows the versatility of the college, it also could be perceived as manipulative.

In response to this, Newcomb maintains that the goal of the materials is to “make evident all students are welcomed at Concordia,” not to necessarily show the actual representation of students on campus.

The problem with this, argues Rice, is that students who decide to attend Concordia are at times given a rude awakening after they’ve arrived on campus. Specifically, international students are adversely affected, Rice said.

“International students find the welcome less welcoming than they thought,” he said.

He argued that many times international students end up spending most of their time with other international students.

Omar Correa, vice president for enrollment at Concordia, disagrees.

“What we as a community have shown is that we are welcoming and that we are willing to learn more about other people,” Correa said. “I never have experienced in the Midwest that because there is a homogeneous area that it is not welcoming. We have plenty of students of different backgrounds and different religions that are extremely successful here at Concordia.”

Rice also believes the school’s marketing, which suggests the school is very diverse, doesn’t accurately represent diversity on campus.

“It’s talking diverse, but it really isn’t diverse,” Rice said.

Correa disputes this, citing that Concordia has continually been on the leading edge of creating a diverse campus.

“If we actually look at the countries and in terms of our diversity . . . this college has a lot more diversity than our sister institutions and other private institutions,” he said. “We are very proud of our international diversity.”

Additionally, he referred to the fact that Concordia has attracted students from about as many international countries as domestic states.

“When you think about it that way, [it’s] a pretty amazing thing,” he said.

He also brought up the fact that the college was a 2006 recipient of the Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization, which “recognizes institutions for overall excellence in internationalization efforts as evidenced in practices, structures, philosophies, and policies,” according to the Association of International Educators Web site.

But the situation, the study argues, can be remedied if future marketing strategies focus on the things Concordia does possess.

“[We can] compete without losing our identity,” Rice said.

This identity, the study found, is mostly diverse in non-traditional ways.

“While students did not see Concordia as having a great amount of ethnic or racial diversity,” the study states, “they did report seeing diversity on campus in different ways: in religion, home-regions, majors and interests, level of physical or mental ability and disability, or even perspectives on politics, morality, and interests.”

Volk agrees, insisting that Concordia’s diversity is difficult to measure.

“I think that Concordia is focusing too much that they’re missing the diversity we already have,” Volk said. “I think Concordia focuses on ethnic diversity and diversity that can be showcased and marketed.”

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