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Global Connections

Diversity efforts flourish on campus in the 1990s

February 22, 2010

Although Colorado State strives to make the campus a more welcoming and inclusive community, diversity efforts have not always been a major focus of the university. The turbulent eras of the 1960s and 1970s were defining moments in the university's history, as it began to recognize the importance of diversity in all its wealth of meanings.

 Increased awareness

In the 1990s, the university’s commitment to multiculturalism and diversity became a top priority, beginning with the tenure of Interim President Jud Harper (1989-90) and continuing under the leadership of President Albert Yates (1990-2003).

A Japanese tea ceremony on campus in September of 1990.

“Diversity until the late 1980s wasn’t really on the campus’ radar screen,” said Harper, who now is retired. “What has changed since then has been a substantial increase in awareness – people are not arguing the question, ‘Why do we have to be concerned about it?’ That question has been answered: Yes, it’s the right thing to do if we’re going to move forward as a nation where people can aspire to a better life with a sense of equality.

"One important aspect is access to education on a diverse and welcoming campus that fosters free and intellectual dialog. The most significant progress we’ve made has been the change in focus from ‘Why diversity?’ to how to achieve it.”

Broader perspective emerges

Harper also noted that, in the 1980s, discussion centered mostly around racial diversity. “I think diversity has taken on a much broader perspective over the past decade – we’re talking not only about racial diversity but about diversity in age, gender, religious beliefs, geographical origin, political perspective, physical ability and sexual orientation.”

As interim president in January 1990, Harper challenged the university to “change the university community to one that more closely reflects the multiculturalism of our society” by increasing “the number of minorities, women and people with disabilities on the faculty, staff and student body.”

Harper’s challenge was part of a continuing effort that started with major diversity goals endorsed by Faculty Council in late 1988 and culminated in April 1990 with the announcement of 33 major initiatives. Those initiatives focused on recruitment and retention of students, faculty, staff and administration from underrepresented groups at Colorado State. In 1991, the State Board of Agriculture formally endorsed the university’s plan, called “Commitment to Diversity.”

New era

University President Albert C. Yates (far left) participated in the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day March on Jan. 19, 1998.

From that point on, the university's diversity efforts began to reap significant results. In 1993, President Yates noted in Denver’s Rocky Mountain News: “CSU has worked tirelessly toward (building an open, supportive and welcoming campus) over the last three years since the creation of the university’s first campuswide diversity plan in 1990…In each of the last three years…the university has achieved all-time highs in both percentages and absolute numbers of ethnic minority students and faculty.”

Also in 1993, Yates created the President’s Commission on Ethnic Diversity Issues at the recommendation of the Minority Faculty and Staff Caucus.

One of the top national news stories of 1993 was Colorado State’s effort to appeal court decisions that ordered the university to reinstate the women’s softball program. Women’s softball had been discontinued along with men’s baseball because of lack of funds. The court order was made in regard to the university’s violation of Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex by any educational program that receives federal financial assistance.

Colorado State took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court to seek clarification of Title IX rules, but in December 1993 the Supreme Court decided without comment to let stand a lower-court ruling that ordered the university to reinstate women’s softball. The university took aggressive steps to meet both the letter and intent of the Title IX legislation.

Diversity Plan creates focus

Over the course of the early 1990s, the university's first Diversity Plan became an integral part of the organization's planning focus. Guided by the plan, the university saw an increase in the numbers of ethnic minority students and faculty; curriculum changes, including the creation of cross-cultural requirements; creation of a Task Force for Accessibility and a Barrier-Free Campus; and more.

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Excerpt from "A brief history of diversity at Colorado State," first published in Comment, Feb. 6, 2003, and written by Paul Miller.