The Discovery Tour: are we prioritizing a diverse student body? : The Admissions' funded program that looks to attract under-represented potential student groups

Posted by The Editorial Board

 Diversity: it's a 'hot' word in college campuses and admissions offices. The Princeton Review ranks colleges in terms of "Lots of Race/Class Interaction", "Most Religious Students", and whether or not a school is "LGBT-Friendly" -but carefully avoids using the term diversity. It's ironic then, that colleges are making great efforts to create and advertise campus diversity, when it's a concept impossible to assign a singular definition.

Since the early 90's, the College has hosted the Discovery Tour. It's a three-day, all-expenses paid tour of the Skidmore campus and community. It's goal? To enroll as many underrepresented and underserved students as possible, according to Mary Lou Bates, Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid.

In the past the invite-only program was exclusively for students of color. Since 2012, Admissions has begun to extend the invitation to small quantities of international students as well as white students from low socio-economic backgrounds. In the spring of 2013, approximately 600 students were invited to participate in the tour. Of the 134 attendees, six were from either Puerto Rico or Costa Rica, and four were white students from low socio-economic backgrounds.

Members of the tour attend classes, tour the campus, attend academic and performing art forums and student panels and have dinner with various faculty members. The students are assigned student hosts, which Admissions attempts to select from a variety of student groups on campus (including the Student Government Association, Athletics, and Residential Life). Any student invited who cannot make the tour will be entirely funded by admissions to visit the campus at a different time.

The College's Strategic Action Plan in 2005 aimed for 20% of the student body to be students of color. In 2003, approximately 12% of the student body comprised students of color. Currently, approximately 23% of the student body comprises students of color. Eight percent of the student body is composed of international students.

With 53% of the attendees of the spring 2013 Discovery Tour enrolling in the college, the tour does seem to be contributing to a growing geographically, racially, ethnically, culturally and socioeconomically diverse student body-further distancing the Skidmore student body from its "white from Westchester" stereotype.

But what does the tour mean for our campus community?

In the 2011 Graduating Students of Color Exit Interviews prepared by the Committee on Intercultural and Global Understanding, several students cited that they chose Skidmore after attending the Discovery Tour. Several students also stated that they found the tours to feel segregated and exclusionary, a concern that Bates says Admissions is sensitive to and has worked to address. Other students noted in the survey that the tour offered a false sense of diversity on campus. Bates stated that the tour is not meant to mislead potential students, and that Admissions states at several junctures of the Discovery Tour that the student body is approximately 78% white. The 2013 Graduating Students of Color Exit Interviews is not yet available through The Office of Student Diversity Programs.

The Skidmore News believes a diverse student body enhances the educational and social experiences of a college. It also applauds Admissions recent efforts to fund international students and students specifically from low socio-economic backgrounds. In the future, this paper hopes to see the Admissions office continue to reach out to students geographically and socio-economically diverse.

But it's not enough for Admissions to make the effort to encourage students from diverse backgrounds to enroll in the school. It's an ugly truth, but the Skidmore student body can often feel like it is divided into isolated groups rather than one cohesive unit. If we as Skidmore students place great importance on a dynamic and diverse student body, one way to become involved is through hosting a prospective student on the tour, as the Discovery Tour program is largely dependent upon volunteer student hosts. Being a meaningful member of a college community means working to not only improve the college in the present, but also in the future.

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