Diversity at Brown

The NSF has established grant proposal criteria for broadening participation to underrepresented groups (see the Merit Review Broader Impact at the NSF website). While not always so explicitly stated by other granting agencies, it is usually expected that this issue will be addressed (and plans for broadening participation fully incorporated) in the grant proposal. Below are some statistics regarding diversity at Brown. If required, the staff in the Office of the Vice President for Research can provide statistics specifically targeted to a researcher’s field. The OVPR can also suggest ways by which the researcher might meet the criteria by broadening participation in their project to underrepresented minorities.


Brown University is an internationally respected Ivy League institution with a firm commitment to academic excellence and diversity in its student population. In addition to providing a rigorous undergraduate program, the University has outstanding graduate and medical schools. In 2004, the University launched its Plan for Academic Enrichment, which is designed to support faculty research and increase the number of faculty; add more courses and research opportunities for undergraduates; improve support for graduate and medical education; and invest in libraries, information technology, and new academic space. Recognizing that academic excellence can only be fully achieved through institutional diversity at all levels, the University has made this a prime objective of the plan.


The undergraduate student body numbers over 5,800, and women make up more than half of this population. In 2006, 1,877 undergraduates completed their degrees (see figure 1).  Of these, 29% majored in the sciences and engineering. Underrepresented groups account for at least 14% of the graduates, and perhaps more if some of the unreported graduates can be included. A small percentage of Asian students, specifically Pacific Islanders, can be included in the group of underrepresented minorities as well.Figure 1Figure 1

Due to several important initiatives, Brown University has been increasing its numbers of underrepresented groups in the sciences at the undergraduate, graduate, and faculty levels. One such initiative is The Leadership Alliance, an academic consortium of 33 institutions of higher learning, including leading research and teaching college and universities, historically black colleges and universities, and several institutions that primarily serve Hispanic and Native American students. The mission of the Leadership Alliance is to address the shortage of underrepresented minorities in graduate programs in all disciplines at competitive universities by increasing their representation through a variety of initiatives. Further, the Leadership Alliance has developed strategies and approaches for mentoring across other critical academic transitions leading to first careers. Contact Associate Director Dr. Medeva Ghee, (401) 863-1474, to discuss ways to partner with the Leadership Alliance.


The percentage of biology and medicine concentrators from underrepresented groups (16%) is slightly higher than the general undergraduate population (see figure 2). Again, this percentage might be greater with the inclusion of some unreported students, and Pacific Islanders. Women make up 69% of the 336 graduates in biology and medicine.

Figure 2Figure 2At the graduate level, the Brown Medical School has 345 students enrolled, 44% of whom are students of color and 16% (a total of 55 students) who are from underrepresented groups. There are 200 women (58% of the total population) in the Medical School.


The physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering have traditionally been areas where minorities and women are underrepresented. The two figures below show the percentages of undergraduates from underrepresented groups who completed concentrations in mathematics and physical sciences and in engineering in 2006 (see figures 3 and 4).Figure 3Figure 3


Figure 4Figure 4Mathematics and physical sciences in particular show rather low percentages of underrepresented students (6%), with engineering at double that amount (12%). Women make up 39% of the undergraduates earning degrees in mathematics and physical sciences, and 27% of those earning degrees in engineering.  However, Brown is encouraging underrepresented groups to pursue degrees in these areas with programs such as WiSE (Women in Science and Engineering) and the New Scientist Program. WiSE supports women scientists through mentoring, affinity groups to create scholarly and collegial networks, and outreach programs. Undergraduate women are targeted for the mentoring program in their first and second years, when they are paired with upper class mentors who can help guide them.  The New Scientist Program is an initiative to help increase academic excellence among underrepresented minority undergraduates at Brown University concentrating in engineering, math, or science.


Faculty diversity is also considered to be of great importance at Brown. In the interest of increasing diversity on campus, President Simmons created the Office of Institutional Diversity in 2003. Its goals are to “(1) redress historical patterns of exclusion and (2) foster opportunities to embrace the greatest mix of ideas, opinions, and beliefs so important to the achievement of academic excellence.” The Target of Opportunity Program, part of President Simmons’ Plan for Academic Enrichment, provides one mechanism for achieving these goals.  The positions available under this program are intended to provide a permanent pool of funds to bring stellar faculty to the University outside of the regular search process.  In general, such appointments are made at the senior level where candidates have achieved distinction in a particular area.  Note that the Target of Opportunity Program is not a gender program or a program to hire minorities.  It is a program to hire outstanding faculty.  However, because this program allows departments to target specific individuals outside of the regular search process, it can be used as a mechanism to increase the number of faculty in specific underrepresented areas.  To acquire a diverse applicant pool, ensure candidates are treated equitably, and to encourage fair hiring practices, the Office of Institutional Diversity partners with every department conducting a faculty search. Since the Plan for Academic Enrichment was implemented, 15 new Target-of-Opportunity faculty have been hired.