Humphrey School aims to diversify

School leaders say a more diverse faculty and student body makes for better future public affairs workers.

Molly Michaletz

Zachary Hylton entered his final year at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs last fall as one of about 60 students of color enrolled there.

For future years, the school’s leaders and students are trying to boost the school’s diversity through new curriculum and community outreach programs, with the goal of recruiting a more diverse pool of students and faculty to better reflect a changing society.

“Things are changing,” said Hylton, former president of the Humphrey Students of Color Association. “We are surrounded by diverse communities of people, including those right here in Minnesota.”

Last year, the Humphrey School had six minority faculty members — making up about 20 percent of all faculty. That year, white students accounted for about 70 percent of the student body, according to the University’s Office of Institutional Research.

The school’s associate dean, Laura Bloomberg, said diversity plays a huge role in public affairs careers and is a key element in the Humphrey School’s mission to “inspire, educate, and support innovative leaders to advance the common good in a diverse world.”

Diversity doesn’t just include ethnic backgrounds, she said, but also other identity markers like socioeconomic status and gender.

She said a career in public affairs includes working and communicating with many kinds of people on a daily basis, so it’s essential for students to understand people’s backgrounds to better understand their individual needs when forming policies, Bloomberg said.

“As members of a public affairs community, our experiences, our backgrounds and identities shape how we view issues of equity and fairness in policy and planning,” she said.

Hylton, who graduated last spring with a Master of Development Practice degree, now works at Ramsey County Corrections and said he’s currently working to address issues for communities of color.

In order to interact well with others in a public affairs job, he said, it’s imperative to know how to communicate with a diverse group of people.

A new partnership with Minneapolis Public Schools’ Social Justice Fellows Program that began this fall could also bring a more diverse student body. Through the program, local K-12 students can attend seminars about public policy and affairs at the Humphrey School.

The long-term strategy aims to “build a pipeline of potential graduate students in public affairs,” Bloomberg said.

Minneapolis Public Schools Office of Equity and Diversity Director Lawrencina Oramalu said the partnership helps spark students’ interest in the field.

“It is important for them to see the creation of change and its results and to know that they can be change-makers for their society,” Oramalu said.

While recruiting a broad range of students and faculty, the Humphrey School is ramping up efforts to instill diversity in its coursework.

In 2006, Humphrey students and faculty created the Cedar-Humphrey Action for Neighborhood Collaborative Engagement to increase its involvement with diverse communities, Bloomberg said.

Incorporating diversity into students’ coursework challenges their ideas about diversity and helps students understand how those ideas can affect their roles as public officials, Bloomberg said.

“As a school of public affairs, we have the opportunity and moral obligation to reflect this diverse society that we live in,” she said.