Western Washington University: The School That Wants to Become “Less White”

Diversity A controversial questionnaire has recently appeared in the media as Western Washington University contemplates ways to diversify its student body. Specifically, the school-wide survey posed a question prompting respondents to brainstorm ways to make their student body “less white.” This controversial question carries the message University President Bruce Shepard has been supporting in recent speeches and blogs. While the president’s aim to diversify his campus community displays forward thinking, his views haven’t come without opposition.

President Bruce Shepard

During his time as president, Shepard has repeatedly supported the notion that WWU must become more diverse in order to progress and survive. From Shepard’s perspective, the fact that WWU’s student body is mostly Caucasian represents a failure to change with the times.

In a blog post on his website, Shepard discussed the dismal survival prospects for predominantly white universities. His bold statements brought on negative feedback from people who fear a shift in admissions policies that wouldn’t give qualified white students a fair chance of earning acceptance.

This is not the case, as Shepard is simply recognizing the facts. WWU draws 90 percent of its students from the state of Washington. The number of graduating seniors in Washington has been steadily decreasing while the percentage of minority graduates is on the rise. Shepard realizes that if the institution is to retain its student population, it must move away from its current demographic and respond to the shifting landscape in Washington.

If WWU doesn’t begin bringing in a more diverse range of students, it will continue to face declining tuition revenues. That will mean reducing the number of faculty members, shrinking the curriculum and offering a more generic academic experience.

He also cites research linking diversity to quality education. This research is related to the idea that students need a diverse educational experience in order to prepare for a diversified work environment.

Although Shepard’s language about mediocrity and failure is strong, given the issues he is contemplating, those statements seem warranted.

The Question

The most recent example of Shepard’s controversial push for diversity came in the form of a campus survey seeking out methods for helping the university to become “less white.” Distributed through the school’s communications and marketing department, the questionnaire has caught national attention.

Once again it was the language that raised eyebrows, as the prospect of shifting the color of a university’s student body seems extreme on the surface. This is especially true when that concept is accompanied by claims that WWU will decline and become mediocre without change.

Rather than utilizing a top-down style of teaching, Shepard stated that he believes in posing questions and allowing the broader WWU population to provide more well-rounded and creative answers. For Shepard, the issue of becoming a more diverse university is no different as his questionnaire was meant as a tool for gaining feedback on the subject.

Progress

While the questionnaire has put WWU and its president in the spotlight, this is not the first time Shepard has been public about the need for a demographic change in his school’s population. During all six of the convocation speeches Shepard has given as university president, he has advocated diversity and shifting away from the school’s historically white population trend.

During his most recent convocation speech, Shepard praised the university for taking steps toward becoming more progressive and diverse. Those steps included increases in female faculty members and faculty members of color.

Although Shepard’s statements seem controversial, they present a step in the right direction for a school that realizes its need to adapt in a diversified American culture. Shepard and Western Washington University can serve as an example for other schools across the country.