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Maintaining Students' Sense of Community in a Multiversity.


Colleges and universities are constantly dealing with issues of access, quality, and diversity that have the potential to divide faculty, staff, and students. The University is dedicated to developing intellectual and cultural values through quality academic programs, out-of-class experiences, and active learning. We strive to provide all students with the in-class knowledge and out-of-class experiences to help students achieve their educational goals. Students should have an appreciation for other persons, cultures, and ideas, which may be different than our own. As more and more non-traditional students come to the University, changes have to be made to meet the needs of all students in a multiversity. This paper examines issues related to recruitment and retention activities, student services, and faculty and staff development to promote intellectual and cultural values through active learning, academic programs, and out-of-class experiences.


The community, village-like orientation of the traditional university that flourished in the 1800s gave way in the 1900s to the multiversity, a "one-industry town" with many interests, specializations, and subpopulations (Kerr, 1995). It was Clark Kerr, who coined the term "multiversity" in 1963 that described a multiversity as a fuzzy edged, inconsistent institution encompassing several related internal and external communities.

The varied, and sometimes conflicting, interests of community members in a multiversity are often exacerbated by the changing educational needs and demands of contemporary society. Issues such as rising tuition costs, lack of financial resources, accountability, faculty productivity, and increased student diversity contribute to the fragmentation and departmentalization of the multiversity, creating an institution that is disconnected both internally and externally. The challenge faced by colleges and universities is how to establish a greater sense of campus community.

As one means of meeting these initiatives, the university supports a cadre of student development programs that address the needs of its pluralistic learning community. The divisions of Academic Affairs and Student Affairs have developed collaborations between student life and academic experiences to enhance the student's overall academic experience. The administration has asked the following questions: (a) How do we encourage community affiliation and commitment among students?; (b) How do we directly address student attitudes and perceptions of loss, change and alienation? and (c) How do we develop experiences and symbols that convey the essential character of the institution to both internal and external communities?

As we move into the 21st century, many institutions of higher education, both public and private, will share the challenging questions associated with being a multiversity and the continuing efforts at fostering "community" within a highly diverse student population. The purpose of this article, therefore, is to (a) describe the challenges of fostering community in a multiversity and the role that campus culture plays in addressing that challenge, (b) identify a cadre of student development programs that address the needs of a pluralistic higher learning environment, (c) communicate the elements that lead to the success of these programs, (d) describe the institutional core strategies used for building community, and (e) describe initiatives aimed at building community within specific student populations.

Culture and Context

Multiversities must move away from the highly specialized and isolated world in which they operate, towards a connected world where the mission of teaching, research, and service brings together the many disciplines, areas of knowledge, and diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, age, and ability that did not exist in the traditional universities of yesteryear. While small adjustments may bring about short-term change, it will take changes in the culture of a campus to produce long term changes in the community (Scott & Awbrey, 1993).

Culture, simply put, is "the way we do things around here" (Deal, 1987, p. 56). The way we do things, however, is complex and includes components such as folklore, myth, taboo, magic rites, ceremonials, collective representations, saga, story, language, gestures, artifacts, traditions, rituals, and symbols (Kuh & Whitt, 1988; Waller, 1932). Culture, as "collective, mutually shaping patterns of norms, values, practices, beliefs, and assumptions that guide the behavior of individuals and groups" (Kuh & whitt, 1988, pp. 12-13) is learned and transmitted by the observation of individuals and groups (Deal, 1987).

An institution's culture brings order and coherence to daily life by determining what people consider to be important (Louis, 1983). Although relatively stable, culture is not static; it is constantly evolving. Culture is shaped, in part, by the external environment, economic and social conditions, and values of those in the community that interact with the institution. This notion of mutual influence is called bi-directionality and suggests not only that the institution's culture influences how faculty, staff, and students behave, but that new groups and individuals who have different perspectives and values than those of the dominant culture also influence the shaping of the institution's culture (Kuh & whitt, 1988).

Barriers to Building and Maintaining Community

The Carnegie Foundation's 1990 document titled, Campus Life: In Search of Community, revealed several factors that appeared to work against achieving a sense of community including student conduct, crime, breakdown of civility, racial tensions, sexual discrimination, and separation between in-class and out-of-class activities. Other factors include the type of institution, values, and lack of student involvement (Astin, 1993a; Boyer, 1990; Carnegie Foundation, 1990; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991).

Size of Institution

Some might wonder how a university community could exist in a multiversity given its many diverse and often fragmented campus constituencies. Large, complex universities such as multiversities, have many academic and social divisions that often make the creation of common experiences difficult. Common experiences are necessary, however, in order to give meaning to the institution and to the student's academic experience (Carnegie, 1990).


Values are an important component of institutional culture, and, therefore, greatly influence attempts to develop community. Values are the culture's widely held beliefs, beliefs that may be espoused, but not lived (Astin, 1993b; Kuh, et al., 1991). Community building can become problematic, however, when values that are espoused, such as community and collaboration, conflict with the actual lived values of the institution; for instance, rewarding individual scholarship to the exclusion of collaborative scholarship.

Lack of Student Involvement

Research consistently shows that the level of student involvement greatly impacts the quality of a student's educational experience. Research by Kuh, et al. (1991), for instance, shows that involved students are more positive about their college experience; more positively influenced with regard to social integration and institutional commitment; more satisfied with their social life, living environment, and academic major; and have higher self-esteem than students who are not involved. Low levels of student involvement, limited socialization, limited interaction outside of class, and student apathy produce a lack of student community (Astin, 1993a).

Strategies for Building and Maintaining Community

Where the lack of common experiences can limit an institution's ability to develop community, attention to institutional norms, values, and symbols as well as mission, philosophy, and practices can enhance community building activities (Kuh, et al., 1991). The values of care and purposefulness along with the characteristics of diversity and shared culture become evident in the programs and strategies identified by Brown (1991) as directly influencing the participation and success of minority students. These programs and strategies include financial aid, multicultural environment, academic retention programs, and faculty sensitization. Several strategies related to building community in a multiversity that are suggested by the values are (a) expanding leadership opportunities, (b) increasing access and diversity, (c) developing effective retention programs, (d) encouraging collaboration between schools and community, and (e) conducting assessment.

Expanding Leadership Opportunities

Leadership programs provide unique opportunities to blend classroom, social, and interpersonal activities into the teaching and learning of leadership theory, community building, and values. Enhancing leadership skills contributes to community by effectively allowing students and student groups to become involved in the shaping of the institutional culture. When students become involved, they share common experiences and, as the research shows, experience greater levels of student success than those students who do not become involved (Kuh, et al., 1991).

Increasing Access and Diversity

As many students are trying to assert themselves as leaders, many students are simply trying to get in. Gaining access may become more difficult, however, as affirmative action is challenged and financial aid programs for special populations are dismantled. Increased access and diversity contributes to community by embracing difference and creating new common experiences that are more broad, diverse, and inclusive than they have been traditionally. Increased diversity also enhances the richness of both in- and out-of-classroom experiences and discussions, increasing the potential for learning.

Developing Effective Retention Programs

Colleges and universities not only must provide increased access to their campuses, but also must foster a learning environment where students are given the opportunity to succeed. Persistence in college is a process of social and intellectual integration that leads to the development of competent community members. Social integration relates to involvement with peers, faculty, and university activities, while academic integration relates to academic performance, involvement with curriculum, and contact with faculty and staff. Effective retention programs focus on providing students with positive social and academic experiences to ensure the success of all students, not just the academically gifted.

Encouraging Collaboration Between Schools & Community

Campuses do not exist in a vacuum; the norms and values of the surrounding community often are reflected in the institution. It is necessary, therefore, to bring together the external community and the campus community for common academic, intellectual, and cultural pursuits, in essence, to build a community that recognizes the importance of embracing multiple perspectives from both inside and outside the institution. Education is the common thread that holds many communities together, yet the importance of building community coalitions as a means of improving access to higher education is often overlooked (Brown, 1991).

Conducting Assessment

Assessment serves two purposes: (a) it indicates if colleges and universities are achieving their intended goals and (b) it provides information that may be used by faculty and staff for improvement (Chafee & Sherr, 1992). As a strategy for community building, assessment plays a critical role because it provides information that can lead to the improvement of the teaching and learning process as well as the discovery of which policies, practices, and programs are effective and which could be more effective. An assessment program allows institutions to develop effective policies, procedures, and practices that are congruent with the characteristics and needs of its community members.

Building and Maintaining Community at The University of Toledo

Collaboration, flexibility, and innovation are key elements of campus community building. Faculty, staff, and students have joined together to collaborate on the creation of an educational community that works toward the development of common experiences while appreciating differences and recognizing and respecting the importance of individual contributions to the academy. Another key element in campus community building has been a highly active student governance system that gives students an active voice in assessing student needs and in presenting innovative options that take into account the diverse student population.

In its efforts to build community throughout the institution, the University of Toledo's Office of Academic Affairs has found several strategies to be helpful. These strategies include the First Year Information Program, an orientation initiative designed to help entering students adjust to the campus community, the Center for Teaching Excellence to improve undergraduate instruction, University College to advance adult learning, Writing Across the Curriculum, Study Abroad, and Tutoring Services. Additionally, in promoting student diversity, the University supports several initiatives aimed at building community for students of color. The Toledo Excel Program and Toledo INROADS programs are two of the numerous initiatives at UT aimed at building community for students of color.

The University of Toledo's community building initiatives enhance community both internally and externally. Their strength comes from the faculty and student collaboration that is strategically facilitated and encouraged in serving both student life and academic support needs. Those programs most closely connected with the community building strategy of "expanding leadership opportunities" include Leadership UT, Freshman Aides, Student Advocate, and Honor's Program.

Leadership UT

Leadership UT is a highly selective student leadership education program based upon the premise that leaders are made not born. The fifty incoming freshmen chosen to participate in the program engage in a progressive and successive leadership experience that encourages personal leadership growth during their career on campus. The program has been successful in producing "citizen leaders" who take significant leadership roles in student government, residence halls, volunteer organizations, and numerous student groups. Interested first-year students submit an application that is evaluated on GPA, out-of-class activities, a creative essay, and letters of recommendation.

Freshman Aides

The Freshman Aides program connects freshman students with upper class student leaders in Student Government. Each student aide becomes involved in various aspects of student government and becomes a problem solver for student senate, student judicial council and the student government cabinet. All interested first year students are invited to join this group.

Student Advocate

The Student Advocate program provides a link to our own campus community. This program was initiated by students for students and has resulted in the addition of a full-time staff member to implement and resolve issues related to institutional policy and/or student programs. The student advocacy program has created a mystery student shopper program and has focused on consumer issues that relate directly to service to students at every level of the University. The mystery student shopper is a student evaluator who is sent out to assess student service areas. This person randomly goes to service offices and provides a rating on performance, friendliness, knowledge, help, etc. This person then meets the appropriate supervisor in an effort to improve services for all students.

International House Residence Hall

The University opened the International House residence hall during the fall quarter of 1995 to serve the needs of both domestic and international students. This state-of-the-art facility also serves as a site for international programs and activities, many of which are coordinated by the University's Center for International Studies and Programs. International House was featured in the February 2, 1997 edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education, which reported on the initiative's success in promoting a "spirit of cultural exchange" at UT.

The community building strategy of "developing effective retention programs" is demonstrated through other program initiatives at UT.


The University of Toledo On-going Orientation consists of academic advising during the summer and is aimed at connecting incoming students with continuing students, faculty, and staff in a number of ways.

First Week

First Week is a week of selected community building activities for all students that is planned and undertaken to ensure that UT begins community building at the earliest possible juncture in working with its incoming freshmen. First Week concludes with a formal presentation by the University President and his cabinet, with continuing student leaders previewing the coming year at UT.


The FYI program is designed to increase student satisfaction, success, and ultimately graduation. The program accomplishes these objectives through several university-wide efforts: (a) new Student Assessment, (b) mandatory Student Orientation Course within each academic college, (c) Peer Mentoring, and (d) Advising Programs. Approximately 1,500 new students, enrolled in all undergraduate colleges, participate annually in the program.

While some program initiatives are clearly connected with one community building strategy, two programs at UT are representatives of multiple community building strategies. The Toledo Excel program and the INROADS program are designed to encourage collaboration between the University and the community and to increase access and diversity.

Toledo Excel

Fifty talented, high achieving eighth grade students are recruited annually from groups underrepresented in institutions of higher education, including African, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, Appalachian, and low-income students. A scholarship incentive program is available that assists students throughout high school, and awards scholarships that amount to the difference between State and Federal grants and the cost of tuition, fees, and books at UT. Program activities encourage high academic performance, responsible citizenship, and cultural sensitivity.


The mission of INROADS is to develop and place talented minority youth in business and industry and prepare them for corporate and community leadership. Preference goes to Hispanic, African American, and Native American high school and college students with 3.0 or better grade point averages.

Looking Toward the Future

In a multiversity made up of diverse student profiles, it is easy for students to fail to develop a strong sense of community. The Divisions of Academic and Student Affairs are committed to integrating in-class and out-of-class experiences to meet the needs of the campus community. These programs have been put in place to help members become effective leaders, develop teamwork skills, and participate in this exciting learning community. While UT has instituted initiatives aimed at building community in a diverse student population, the University has further to go in creating a learning community in which all students feel vested.


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Brown, C. (1991). Increasing minority access to college: Seven efforts for success. NASPA Journal, 28(3), 224-30.

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Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (1991). How college affects students. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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Dr. Atwater earned a Ph.D. in Communication from Michigan State University. Prior to his appointment as Dean of NKU's College of Professional Studies, he served as Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Toledo. Dr. Meabon is an Associate Professor of Higher Education. He was the vice president for student affairs at the University of Toledo from 1991 to 2000. Dr. Poplin Gosetti is an Associate Professor of Higher Education. She received Doctor of Philosophy degree in Instructional Leadership from the University of Oregon. Dr. Manns is the Assistant to the Vice President of Academic Administration and the Assistant Director of Multicultural Affairs at Madonna University.
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Author:Manns, Derrick
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2001
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