Diversity refers to the range of identities that exist in a group of people. Common identity categories referenced when discussing diversity include race, class, gender, religion and sexual orientation. Diversity in education represents a broad range of ideas and initiatives to create learning environments that are safe, inclusive and equitable for as many identities as possible. Recognizing, fostering and developing sensitivity to the needs of people in various identity categories are primary aims of educational diversity.

History

Initiatives toward creating more diversity in education began with the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Originally, civil rights scholars fought to change the negative stereotypes of African-Americans in mainstream scholarship. One result of this movement was a growth of African-American studies programs and other ethnic studies programs. In the 1970s, the National Council for Social Studies, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and other professional organizations pushed for the inclusion of more diverse cultural content in curricula. The concept of multicultural education sprouted from the civil rights movement and from the efforts of educators who vied for change.

Policy and Practice

School desegregation resulting from the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision was the first major law to recognize the importance of diversity in education. Affirmative action policies by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 and President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 sought to ensure equal opportunity and to foster diversity in the work place and in schools. Both desegregation and affirmative action stressed the benefits of diversity for all students. Beginning in the 1970s, colleges and universities across the country created positions to address issues of diversity. Now, multiculturalism training and diversity committees are commonplace in schools.

Diversity and Education Today

Today's diversity initiatives in education encompass an even wider range of categories and practices. Initially, affirmative action and equal opportunity policies recognized race, religion, gender, color, ethnicity and national origin. Since the 1980s, concerns have expanded to include such categories as ability, sexual orientation and learning styles. Educational practice has gone beyond providing access to minority groups. Now, many educators are discussing ways to revise teaching strategies so methods are more inclusive. Diversity practices are also responding to new developments in education, such as research about students with learning challenges. As an example, the movement toward differentiated instructional strategies aims to cater to the diversity of learning styles in the classroom.

Misconceptions

Though multiculturalism and diversity are used synonymously, these terms have different meanings. Multiculturalism concerns the understanding and acceptance of ethnic cultures, while diversity deals with a wide range of identity categories, including ethnic cultures.

Benefits

According to the Ford Foundation, two out of three Americans agree it is important that colleges and universities prepare students to function in a diverse society. Having more diversity in educational settings helps prepare students to interact on a global scale. According to the Diversity Digest, diversity in education increases a student's cultural awareness, satisfaction with college and commitment to fostering racial understanding.