Exploring the “Scholarship of Belonging”: President Julio Frenke’s Thoughts on Diversity in the Academy

Earlier this month, I attended the 13th Annual Edward A. Bouchet Conference on Diversity and Education, held at Yale’s West Campus. The conference, named after the first self-identified African American to receive a Ph.D. in the United States, invites students, scholars, administrators, and community members from all over the country to discuss issues around diversity and education. This year, the conference honored Julio Frenk, President of the University of Miami, with the Bouchet Leadership Award Medal for his commitment to fostering and celebrating diversity in the academy.

In his keynote address, “Beyond Good Will: Committing to Diversity, Inclusion, and the Scholarship of Belonging,” President Frenk spoke powerfully about the opportunity universities have to lead around issues of diversity and inclusion. Institutions like the University of Miami, Yale, and others must be what Frenk calls “exemplary universities,”—places that honor free expression and foster tolerant, respectful dialogue around a diverse range of perspectives, beliefs, and identities.

What I found particularly moving about President Frenk’s speech was his adamant call to create a “scholarship of belonging”—for universities to create conscious and concrete policy and action that is incorporated into nearly every facet of university life. The hard work of fostering inclusivity, he argues, is not just about bonding, but bridging. Institutions must create environments in which a true celebration of differences encourages exposure to different perspectives, preventing students from having a homogenous, limited experience where they only interact with others like themselves. At an institution that builds bridges between students with diverse life experiences and backgrounds, everyone has a sense that they are adding value to a shared community, increasing each other’s exposure to an incredible range of beliefs and ideas. This is the beauty of the university.

I am proud of the work that Yale continues to do to encourage inclusivity on campus and beyond. As a global institution and one of the most student-centered research universities in the world, it is essential that we provide our students with the skills and tools they need to work in a remarkable variety of environments. As vice president for student life, I am always thinking about supporting a Yale education that persists in students’ lives long after they are on campus or enrolled at Yale. Part of this education is about exposing students to new ideas and teaching them how to meaningfully connect with the different people and communities around them, deepening and broadening their humanity and understanding of our complex world.

There is always more work to do, but Frenk’s call to action—to create a scholarship of belonging—creates an opportunity for universities nationwide to commit to developing a collective “curriculum” towards a more inclusive student experience and thus, a more inclusive world.

You can read more about the 13th Annual Bouchet Conference in YaleNews. Read the full text of President Frenke’s speech here.