How Gen Z’s multifaceted diversity changes higher ed’s approach to equity and inclusion

Expert Insight

How Gen Z’s multifaceted diversity changes higher ed’s approach to equity and inclusion

One of five forces shaping Gen Z students and higher ed

Gen Z demographics demonstrate they are the most diverse generation in North American history. In the United States, 25% of Gen Z identify as Hispanic and 24% identify as black, Asian, or other. In 2018, 52% of Gen Z identified as white, compared to 61% of Millennials in 2002.

“Generation Z reflects a whole new way of thinking about difference… They are less likely to fall into previously recognized categories and much more likely to be mixing and matching various components of identity and points of view that appeal to them. They are ever creating their own personal montage of selfhood options.”

Bruce Tulgan
Rainmaker Thinking, Inc

Gen Z brings to the table a greater comfort level and fluency in diverse identities beyond racial and ethnic diversity: sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, abilities, and more. They’ve had opportunities to explore these aspects of their identity more deeply than previous generations, thanks in part to online communities where they can explore dimensions of themselves and affirm their experiences.

Impacts of multifaceted diversity

How does this force impact Student Affairs? EAB research revealed some common impacts across a variety of colleges and universities:

  • Students expect to see their diverse identities reflected in staff, programs, services, curriculum, and fellow students.
  • Students want their identities served holistically rather than through siloed identity or cultural centers.
  • Identity-based flashpoints are increasing as perspectives clash on campus.
  • Student affairs leaders are called on to coach faculty and staff on supporting and respecting diverse identities.
  • Students seek support from staff who share their diverse identities.
  • Services, spaces, and policies are outdated and don’t reflect the needs of students’ identities (e.g. gender-inclusive housing, preferred name, inclusive pronouns).

Top challenges for student affairs

Currently chief student affairs officers struggle to adapt traditional identity center models to meet the needs of an intersectional student body and support growing communities not represented in existing models. On some campuses, leaders have encountered strong resistance to change from alumni, faculty, and staff with strong connections to legacy centers.

It’s increasingly clear that while co-curricular intersectional resources are important, work remains to remove barriers to equity and include diverse Gen Z demographics in the classroom and the curriculum.

Across the last few years, student affairs leaders have worked hard to diversify their workforces to reflect an increasingly diverse student body. While more progress is needed, those who have been successful are now struggling to retain and promote diverse early-career-level staff due to low turnover in mid- and senior-level positions. At all levels, staff with diverse backgrounds face a greater risk of burn out as students who share their identities seek them out for support.

Beyond student affairs: The impact of multifaceted diversity across campus

The most diverse generation in North American history doesn’t want to check any aspect of their identity at the door when they arrive on campus. We asked EAB experts to share how this force impacts the whole institution. Here are some of their top insights:


Students look for diversity in top leadership roles to assess if the institution is a good fit for their needs.

Enrollment management

Campuses who fail to effectively respond to diversity-based flashpoints struggle to meet enrollment targets.

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Academic affairs

Students demand curriculum and pedagogy that is inclusive of diverse identities and ways of learning.


Advancement strategies and staff are not aligned with an increasingly diverse alumni population.

Impact of Gen Z’s mindset on campus

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