German Fulbright

German visitors Josef Stockemer (left) and Tim Metje (right) listen to a presentation during Tuesday's meeting

Photographer: Ben Siegel

German Fulbright

Joe Stone, associate director in Undergraduate Admissions, speaks while Elmar Schreiber, president of Jade Hochschule in Germany listens

Photographer: Ben Siegel

German Fulbright

Bettina Jorzik of the German contingent makes a point during the meeting

Photographer: Ben Siegel

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German group visits University to learn new diversity strategies

A group of 11 educators, administrators and media members from Germany visited Ohio University's Athens campus on May 7 to discuss best diversity practices in student recruitment and program implementation.

The Educational Experts Seminar consists of a five-day visit to the United States and is sponsored by the German-American Fulbright Commission's Institute of International Education.

The German chatted for several hours with University representatives from Diversity and Inclusion, Enrollment Services, International Studies and the Ohio Program of Intensive English (OPIE) in the Baker University Center. Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit and Associate Professor and Khan Nandola Professor of Sports Administration David Ridpath, who has ongoing research in Germany, also came by the meeting to greet the visitors.

Benoit told the group that the Ohio University leadership values community and is committed to creating an expansive diversity, which includes gender, race, sexual orientation and geographic location.

"We have students of all kinds and that makes us a better campus as a result," Benoit said. "Our students get to interact with students from other countries and with various different kinds of perspectives."

The Germans came to the U.S. to learn new diversity strategies that will help them overcome some of their country's emerging diversity problems. As its population ages, the German workforce shrinks and societal segregation increases, German universities are forced to search for new ways to attract larger groups of the population, including those with diverse backgrounds and experiences.

A few of the topics the German group came to address included:

•Creating a strategic plan for diversity

•Finding and recruiting diverse students

•Infusing diversity principles into academic courses

•The role international students play in diversity

•Improving retention among diverse students

•Creating awareness and open communication channels

•Implications and consequences of increased diversity 

•Measuring the success and benefits of diversity efforts

Klaus Diepold, vice president for diversity at Technical University in Munich, talked about what he learned from the discussion with Ohio University administrators.

"It was an impressive meeting for me because I saw the technicalities of what you're doing," Diepold said. "It made me think that diversity is an element of excellence. People can embrace and accept their identity and see diversity as a good thing. The discussion was inspiring."

Diepold said diversity talk is a relatively new thing at his university, although there have been some gender equality activities over the years. He said coordinating the diversity efforts is a new challenge for him as a former professor, but that he has already learned a lot during the trip. 

The idea of increased student exchange between the U.S. and Germany was discussed at length during the meeting. The Germans, however, pointed out that the fact that a college education in their country is free makes it difficult to establish an equal exchange of students because of the difference in cost.

David Descutner, interim vice provost for diversity and inclusion, said "In my 34 years on campus, I've never felt better about the university than I do right now. It's very important for a university's leadership to be committed to diversity." 

Winsome Chunnu-Brayda, associate director of multicultural programs, used a popular book to highlight the importance of diversity in higher education. She read several quotes from "What Makes Racial Diversity Work in Higher Education," by Frank W. Hale Jr., a former Ohio State University administrator who is known as the "Dean of Diversity."

She said former Harvard University President Charles Eliot (dean from 1869 to 1909) was quoted as saying shortly after the U.S. Civil War that "Harvard should welcome children from the rich, poor, educated, uneducated and students belonging to all religions." She said that as a visionary, Eliot recognized that in order to move Harvard forward as an international university that is what they had to do. 

Cecil Walters, director of the Office of Multicultural Student Access and Retention, made a key point during the discussion when he said that diversity efforts are too often associated with catering to disadvantaged students. He said his office has three goals for its students: academic achievement, leadership and service.  

Walters asked the question, "How do we get the message out that we are producing students who are excelling in and outside of the classroom?"

"There is an overriding assumption that diversity means that you're dealing with disadvantaged students," Walters said. "Whether people say that overtly or not, that is problematic. As stakeholders in higher education, we have to change the paradigm in such a way so that performance and diversity are parallel to each other."

In addition to Ohio University, the German group will discuss diversity in higher education with staff members at Otterbein University, Ohio Wesleyan University, Columbus State Community College and Ohio State University before departing on Friday. On Monday, the group spoke with Benjamin Reese and Josephine De Leon from the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education and Kimberly Barrett, vice president of multicultural affairs and community engagement at Wright State University.