Welcoming the stranger at St. John’s – Where diversity lives

Courtesy of St. John’s University

“Diversity is such a part of who we are, to a certain extent we take it for granted,” said Robert Mangione, provost and vice president for academic affairs at St. John’s. “Where other schools set diversity as a goal, we consider it our identity.”

The statistics back up his comment. “For the past 15 years, St. John’s has been named by U.S. News and World Report as one of the top schools for campus ethnic diversity, reaching the No. 2 spot among national universities in 2015, and tying at No. 5 in 2016.

Jamie Manson, frequent NCR contributor and herself a 1999 graduate, writes in a recent edition, “St. John’s University, diversity is the ‘timely application of a timeless value’”.

Mangione, who has served in various administrative roles at the university for nearly 40 years, said that when he visits other institutions that are not as diverse, he feels “out of place.”

“If I were to pinpoint a specific reason why St. John’s is such a diverse institution, I think the most significant reason is that students from all backgrounds feel welcome here and they have an identity here,” Mangione reflects. “That’s very consistent with Catholic social teaching.”

St. John’s students come from New York City, and an additional 28 percent come from Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk counties. Of these students, 42 percent are white, 14 percent are Asian, 13 percent are black/African-American and 13 percent are Hispanic/Latino.

James Salnave, associate dean of student development. believes that the racial-ethnic diversity at St. John’s is in some ways self-perpetuating. “When prospective students come to an open house or on a tour, they see the students, they feel the vibe of the campus, and they say, ‘This feels like home.’ ”

Decades ago, St. John’s was one of the first schools set up a multicultural advisory committee. Recently, the university identified a chief diversity officer and appointed a presidential committee on diversity and inclusion.

After spending nearly four decades watching students cross the stage at commencement, Mangione said that what strikes him most is that today’s students are essentially the same as when he was an undergraduate at the St. John’s.

“They may look different or embrace a different faith, but it’s the same person. Nothing has really changed,” said Mangione. “That’s the timely application of a timeless value.”

St. Vincent would no doubt agree.

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