President's Blog

Diversity at Mason

With Kirk Heffelmire

Ask any member of our community what attributes describe George Mason University best and you’re likely to hear “diversity” on top of the list.  I did that (many times!) when I first arrived to Fairfax and that’s how we ended up coining the Mason IDEA (innovation, diversity, entrepreneurship, access).  We not only see ourselves as a diverse community but consider diversity to be our strength.

So, are we really that diverse? As it turns out, very much so. We are actually one of the most diverse universities in the nation.

In a blog posting last year, Jon Boeckenstedt analyzed Fall 2013 undergraduate enrollment data and calculated what ecologists call the Simpson’s index, that is, the probability of two randomly selected students from a university being described by different racial/ethnic categories.  The index ranges from zero (all students share the same background) to one (each student is from a different category).



Source: Boeckenstedt, Jon (2015) “Using an Ecologists’ Measure of Diversity in Higher Education” Higher Ed Data Stories (it includes an interactive data visualization feature that allows you look at the data in multiple ways).


Mason has a Simpson’s index score of 0.6977, meaning there is a nearly 70 percent chance that two randomly selected Mason students are from different racial/ethnic categories. This score ranks Mason as the most diverse public university in Virginia, and the second-most diverse public doctoral institution in the Southeast, behind only Georgia State University.

There are other ways to measure diversity. But the fact is that our self-perception seems to be backed by data.

Diversity is of course not enough. We need to continue to work to be the inclusive community we aspire to be, a community where everyone can thrive and where our differences not only don’t separate us but contribute to enrich our learning and our lives.