Essay: NH’s Path to an Inclusive Society

IT Begins with Higher Education for all Residents

New Hampshire is a state that has historically been predominantly white, rural and conservative. However, in recent years, the state has experienced significant demographic changes that have increased its racial, ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity.

According to the Department of Education, students of color comprised 15.8% of all public-school students in New Hampshire in 2019-2020, up from 10.5% in 2010-2011. Having several refuge cities, the state has seen an influx of immigrants and refugees from various countries, such as Sudan, Bhutan, Somalia and Congo. These changes pose both opportunities and challenges for the state’s society and economy, as well as for its higher education system.

In “The Sum of Us,” Heather McGhee describes how embracing diversity can make a community better and stronger. Higher education can help society in New Hampshire become better and stronger as it becomes more diverse by fostering an environment of inclusive excellence.

Inclusive excellence is a concept that recognizes that diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion (DEI) are foundational values that are inextricably linked to achieving academic excellence and social responsibility. This leads to a more inclusive, tolerant and democratic society that respects and values the diversity of its people.

Hopefully, we all want a society where there is recognition and respect of diversity — different identities, backgrounds and perspectives, and the promotion of equal access and opportunity for all. This is what DEI is all about. Higher education can help achieve such a society by creating an environment where students, faculty and staff can thrive and contribute to the common good.

By exposing students to the presence and interaction with people with different backgrounds, perspectives, experiences and identities in the learning environment, higher education can enhance students’ academic and personal growth improving their cognitive skills, social skills, cultural competence and civic engagement.

Studies have shown that students who learn in diverse environments tend to show improvements in several areas:

Cognitive skills: They perform better academically, because they are exposed to different viewpoints, arguments, evidence and methods that challenge their assumptions and stimulate their curiosity.

Social skills: They develop better social skills, because they have more opportunities to collaborate, cooperate, negotiate, empathize and resolve conflicts with people from different backgrounds and cultures.

Cultural competence: They develop higher levels of cultural competence, because they gain more knowledge, awareness and appreciation of different cultures and their histories, values, beliefs and practices.

Civic engagement: They develop higher levels of civic engagement, because they become more aware of social problems and injustices, more committed to social responsibility and action, and more confident in their ability to make a difference.

These skills will help prepare students for entry into the workforce and citizenship in a multicultural and globalized real world, where they will encounter people from various races, ethnicities, cultures, religions and backgrounds.

Workforce: Higher education institutions can implement policies and practices that promote equity and inclusion in admissions, financial aid, scholarships, academic support services, mentoring programs and career guidance.

Citizenship: Higher education can empower leadership and civic engagement through support of student organizations, initiatives and movements that advocate for the rights of diverse people.

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In addition to preparing students, higher education can help society in New Hampshire as it becomes more diverse by supporting faculty and staff diversity and development. Faculty and staff who have the quality, climate and engagement that diversity and development supports can provide better education for students, create a more inclusive environment for themselves and others, and produce more innovative research and scholarship for the state and the world.

This can be critical in helping students from underrepresented groups who may face barriers or challenges in their academic journeys and keep quality faculty and staff who are members of the community: New Hampshire’s society.

Higher education also can help society in New Hampshire as it becomes more diverse by engaging with the community and stakeholders. This can increase the access, outreach, impact or accountability of higher education. In this sense, higher education becomes a training ground and an exemplar for how society should look and behave.

Higher education plays a pivotal role in shaping individuals and society as a whole. In New Hampshire, a state known for its picturesque landscapes and strong sense of community, the importance of higher education cannot be overstated.

By embracing the transformative power of higher education living into DEI — which is the recognition and respect of different identities, backgrounds and perspectives, and the promotion of equal access and opportunity for all — not only does higher education provide individuals with knowledge and skills, but it also serves as a catalyst for a better society.

Through fostering awareness and understanding across difference, it will help everyone enjoy higher income, better health, more job opportunities, job security and personal development.

This will make New Hampshire a more inclusive society, fostering economic growth, social progress — and a brighter future for all its residents.

This article is featured in the fall 2023 issue of 603 Diversity.603 Diversity Fall 2023

603 Diversity’s mission is to educate readers of all backgrounds about the exciting accomplishments and cultural contributions of the state’s diverse communities, as well as the challenges faced and support needed by those communities to continue to grow and thrive in the Granite State.

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