Inclusive Design to Support Equity and Diversity
- September 15, 2021
- Anthony Bowie
Diversity in universities is rapidly expanding, and the current generation is known as the most diverse generation in history in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, and more. So many of the needs of students have changed over the past couple of decades, with many students being the first generation to attend college, working full-time, or having families to support. With this in mind, it’s important that universities are able to support students’ unique needs, utilizing inclusive design to support equity among diverse populations of students.
University environments have the potential to contribute to a more equitable society in a variety of ways, through engaging, social, and welcoming spaces. Schools should strive to create spaces where students feel like they belong, and it’s especially important to consider underrepresented students when designing these environments. Spaces that utilize inclusive design principles support equity and diversity by promoting critical thinking, cultural awareness, self-knowledge, and empathy across all members of the student body, faculty, and staff.
Inclusive design results in environments that promote social interactions and community connections. Designers can encourage collaboration on campus with both informal spaces and formal classrooms and labs where students can interact, work together on school assignments, and form community. These spaces should feel inclusive and accessible to all and engage students in interactions that promote empathy, cultural awareness, and community building.
Spaces that utilize inclusive design are focused on providing equitable access to all students. This can include adaptive environments to support students with disabilities, equal opportunity for all students and student organizations to reserve and use private meeting spaces, and flexible study spaces throughout campus. Equitable access to all resources promotes diversity and inclusion, as every space is designed to support any student’s unique needs.
When designing university spaces, it’s important to consider the needs of different students who experience various mental health concerns, personal struggles, cross-generational inequities, and traumas. Inclusive design takes all of these unique experiences into account and provides safe and pleasant spaces that support student wellbeing. These environments provide more equitable access to students of color, LGBTQ+ students, foreign exchange students, and other marginalized students. Easily accessible bathrooms, quiet and private study spaces, “Safe Spaces,” and well-lit outdoor areas all help these students feel more comfortable and safe on campus, but also improve wellbeing and acceptance across the entire student body.
Inclusive design helps accomplish important goals that enable schools to support equity and diversity on their campuses. By making thoughtful design decisions that consider the diverse student body––including minority students, students with disabilities, and other underrepresented students––universities can create engaging, functional, and equitable environments that support students’ wide variety of needs while attending college.