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Can Diversity Stimulate the Creative Brain?

Mounting evidence suggests the value of diversity and inclusion to university communities.
Diversity is crucial to SDSU's success.
Diversity is crucial to SDSU's success.

When Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at San Diego State University in May 1964 with his message of equality for all races, American colleges and universities were just beginning to understand the benefits of a diverse campus community.

Today most universities strive to achieve and maintain a diverse student and faculty population. Those who do so receive national recognition and sometimes federal dollars.

But aside from the equality and justice issues, what are the advantages of diversity on a college campus?

“Accepting different interpretations of the world can lead to greater levels of innovation,” said Aaron Bruce, SDSU’s chief diversity officer. “The fact we all don't think alike is an asset in research, teaching and learning.”

Changing perceptions

Thierry Devos, SDSU psychology professor, has researched social identity, stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination.

He cited a wealth of research and documentation demonstrating that a mix of race, gender, sexual orientation, political views, disability and other diverse characteristics enrich the campus and the workplace.

“I personally benefit from having diverse students in my lab,” Devos said. “They bring knowledge and sensitivities that I don’t have. Their presence can change the lens of perception for the group and lead to more creative solutions.”

Students who experience diversity on campus are also better prepared for the diverse world in which they will live and work, Thierry said.

“San Diego is a great laboratory for the study of diversity,” he said. “It is a reality here.”

Measuring inclusion


Management professor Beth Chung also calls diversity a reality of American life, but says diversity without inclusion can erode workplace productivity and morale.

Chung is one of six academics, five of them from SDSU, who comprise the Institute for Inclusiveness and Diversity in Organizations.

The institute’s researchers have created tools to measure inclusion in the workplace and determine its relationship to factors like commitment and turnover intentions. Their goal is to develop an evidence-based ranking of the most inclusive companies and help organizations see diversity as more than just a numbers game.

“Validated research takes time,” Chung said. “We don’t want inclusion to become a buzzword, supported only by anecdotal evidence.” 

Chung and other members of the institute have already published two papers in academic journals and will present some additional findings at the annual conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology in May.  Members of the society come from a variety of disciplines, including management, industrial/organizational psychology, ethnic studies, social work, sociology, and labor relations.
 
“Based on our preliminary research, we think inclusion is a combination of belonging and uniqueness,” Chung said. “When people are valued for their uniqueness and feel like they are accepted in their work group, it allows them to be more creative and productive members of the group.”

San Diego State's 2014 Diversity Awards will be presented Wednesday, April 30, beginning at 4:30 in the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union's Montezuma Hall.

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