History of Diversity & Inclusion
An institution's history inevitably shapes the context for its current state of diversity and inclusion. In its 117th year, Carnegie Mellon University is still very much in a state of evolution. Over the course of a century, we have transformed ourselves from a regional technical institute to one of the premier research universities in the world. We have made enormous strides in learning how to achieve excellence in research and instruction, but on other matters — such as building a diverse and inclusive community — we are still on the early part of the learning curve. We realize, moreover, that one goal should not and need not be achieved at the expense of the other.
At the Carnegie School of Technology's founding, the university's founder, Andrew Carnegie, was concerned with one main group of students for the school to serve — the sons and daughters of Pittsburgh steel workers. Carnegie was far ahead of his time in his commitment to provide education to the underserved, explicitly singling out women as an important target group. The Carnegie School of Technology's advisory committee noted that the goal of the school was to "supplement, broaden and enlarge the existing systems of education, and give their principal aid to those who are at present but partially or not at all provided for."2 Moreover, that "It should offer to that large and ever increasing group of women wage earners an opportunity to acquire skill and efficiency, that they may be lifted from the unskilled group to the skilled."3 The singular values of hard work, creativity and innovation in problem-solving defined the school then, and continue to guide its ambitions to this day.
Though equal opportunity among ethnic and racial groups was not a significant initiative in the first incarnation of the institution that would become Carnegie Mellon University, it should be noted that Andrew Carnegie was one of the early industrialists to lend an ear to African American activists and leaders in the early 20th century. Most notably, he befriended Booker T. Washington, holding meetings and correspondence with him regarding African American matters of fairness, equality and educational funding. In fact, Carnegie was so impressed by Washington's life journey and how his self-made image so closely aligned with his own, he became one of the Tuskegee Institute's most generous benefactors.
Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress
2,3 From the "Plan and Scope of the Proposed Carnegie School of Technology at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Preliminary Report", Printed by Order of the Board of Trustees of the Carnegie Institute, March 1903.
In the late 1960s, a time when traditional social relations and educational practices were being challenged the world over, Carnegie Mellon University started making significant changes of its own. In the intervening years the institution launched a number of programs with diversity as their goal. Each was well-intentioned and effective to an extent. We made progress. But we knew the university could do more to reinforce a deeply-rooted and broadly-embraced commitment to change.
In 1968, for example, responding to a nationwide call for equal opportunity, the Carnegie Mellon Action Project (CMAP) was founded with the aim of boosting recruitment and retention among African-American students. Today CMAP, now CMARC, serves African-American, Hispanic, Native American and First Generation students not by providing remedial services, but by guiding and reinforcing talent through services including recruitment, academic and professional counseling, tutoring and assistance in job placement.
Carnegie Mellon University's most deeply rooted and enduring foray into diversifying the university community also dates back to 1968, when the H. John Heinz School of Public Policy and Management was founded (as the School of Urban and Public Affairs). Aiming to make a professional career in the public sector accessible to the broadest possible set of people, the Heinz School has been committed to diversity from the start. Today, international students make up 30 percent of each entering class. African-American and Hispanic students compose 50 percent of all domestic students. The retention rate of minority students in the Heinz School also exceeds that of the full university.
Carnegie Mellon University continued to make progress in addressing diversity on a number of fronts. Most of these efforts resulted from the initiative and personal commitments of individual faculty, staff and students working in their home departments. In addition to the Carnegie Mellon Action Project initiative and the founding of the Heinz School, for example, students in the Graduate School of Industrial Administration provided tutoring and mentoring services to students in Pittsburgh's urban neighborhoods; when these elementary school students graduated from high school they received scholarships for college through the I Have a Dream program. Heinz's InfoLink program was a unique initiative that linked low income youth, businesses, public school districts and community revitalization efforts through learning systems that emphasized information technology.
Professional development, networking and support programs were developed for graduate women in the sciences and engineering and for graduate students of color in all disciplines through the Office of the Associate Provost for Academic Projects. Through a variety of offices and departments the university was highly successful in attracting women to the fields of science and engineering through activities and career workshops for high school sophomore and junior women, parents and guidance counselors.
The Role Models Program provided tutoring programs that brought undergraduate tutors into predominantly African-American city schools, boosting the minority applicant pool. CAUSE (The Center for African American Urban Studies and the Economy), jointly sponsored by the History Department and the Heinz School, sponsored innovative historical and public policy research on African American topics and brought senior and young minority scholars to campus to introduce their research to students, faculty and the broader Pittsburgh community. Another community enhancement initiative used Interactive Theater scenarios dealing with issues such as race, chilly climate in the classroom and sexual harassment to create a shared set of experiences, thus facilitating organizational development. These are just some examples of the many programs designed to enhance the experience of underrepresented groups.
The university's strong commitment to institutional growth needed to be expanded to bolster progress toward diversity. Then president Jared Cohon assumed personal responsibility for bringing about change, responsibility that began with inspiring a growing portion of the university community to demonstrate a stake in the institution’s transformation.
"We need to be a place that celebrates diversity," President Cohon said, "because being a more diverse institution will make us a better institution." In the classroom and across the campus, a multitude of experiences, perspectives, beliefs and teaching and learning styles enriched the educational process. "Diversity is not just about numbers," as President Cohon very succinctly put it at his first annual State of Diversity Address. "It’s about the culture of this institution," he added. "It’s about whether people feel like they are a part of this community."
In November 1999, the Diversity Advisory Council (DAC) was established as a direct outcome of the university's then strategic planning effort, which identified diversity as one of the top priorities for the university. The role of the Council was to "identify initiatives, build awareness of diversity issues and support for the university's initiatives, and monitor our progress."
The first endeavor for the council was to articulate a description of the current state through the development of a "problem statement." The problem statement included three components that the university believed needed to be addressed through sustained and conscious efforts: the campus climate; underrepresentation of females and certain races; and community consciousness. The goal in addressing these three areas was to assure that every individual had the opportunity to reach his or her full potential without regard to unrelated attributes such as race, creed, color or gender.
President Cohon's initiatives laid the groundwork for a more diverse and inclusive campus community. Today, Carnegie Mellon University's ninth president, Dr. Subra Suresh, has maintained these commitments and built upon them, recognizing that there is still much work to be done to ensure a safe and welcoming academic and social environment for all members of the CMU community.
President Suresh's commitment is solidified in the 2025 Strategic Plan, from which new programs, events, committees and campus activities have and continue to emanate. He said, "A diverse and inclusive community is the foundation for excellence in research, creativity, learning and human development, and is, therefore, at the core of our mission as a university."
Now more than ever before, community members have an opportunity to share their concerns and experiences through town hall meetings, roundtables, student organizations and other open forums. And with new learning and training programs, such as the Racism is REAL lecture series and BiasBusters, community members can all engage, shaping a more aware and inviting atmosphere for both current and prospective members.
Major breakthroughs serve as proofpoints to this endeavor. For instance, enrollment of women in computer science and engineering is at an all-time high and well above the national average for tech-related fields.
But to be the most excellent institution, much more is needed to recruit and retain the best talent from all backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures. Carnegie Mellon University continues this necessary pursuit today.