Gustavus Adolphus College has a long history of diversity, one that extends as far back as the 1870s when the College began debating whether the institution should remain an American college that was predominantly Swedish.In 1989, President John S. Kendall commissioned Dr. Joyce Parks to evaluate the climate for diversity and organized several task forces to review and enhance inclusion for underrepresented students on campus. The Parks report called for more diversity and inclusion on campus, noting that the majority of the underrepresented students at Gustavus at the time were Black Americans.
In the same year, Gustavus established a minor in Women's Studies, following a keynote address by Dr. Inez Talmantez, a Hispanic/American Indian professor of women's studies and religion at the University of California, Santa Barbara, during a January term focused on racism and sexism.
Gustavus has also brought many other prominent authors, activists, and scholars to campus to speak on a variety of topics related to diversity and multiculturalism, including film director Spike Lee in 1991, Dr. Ronald Takaki and Dr. Samuel Proctor in 1992, Dr. Bernice Johnson Regan in 1933, Dr. Cornel West in 1994, Dr. Joycelyn Elders in 1995, Dr. Toni Morrison in 1997, author Tim Wise in 2008, and Dr. Joy DeGruy and Rev. Dr. Bernard LaFayette in 2011.
In the Spring of 1999, the College opened the Diversity Center in the Campus Center with Denise Iverson-Payne as its first Director. Since then, the Diversity Center has had two more Directors, namely Nadarajan Sethuraju (2001-2006) and Virgil Jones (2006-2013). The current Director is Pearl Leonard-Rock who arrived July 2013. In the fall of 2012, Glen Lloyd became the Assistant Director in the Diversity Center after Nengher Vang (2010-2012). The Diversity Center has also had two administrative assistants, including Cheryl Hastings (2001-2007) and Laura Shilling (2008 to present).
Today, the underrepresented students at Gustavus come from all ethnic, racial, sexual, religious, class, and national backgrounds, with the majority being Hmong, Latino/Latina, and Black American students.