How to Visibly Value Diversity in Higher Education

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Colleges and universities always include in their mission statement a notion of equity, inclusion, or a global citizenship in hopes that they are looked upon as an institution that values diversity. However, the reality is that many institutions of higher education fall short on their promise to value diversity. In order to successfully exhibit their value of equity and inclusion institutions of higher education must increase their commitment by creating inclusive environments for faculty, staff, and students.

Below are six action items that institutions can do to increase their commitment to diversity:

1. Assess their current climate and ensure that they are “walking the walk”How to Visibly Value Diversity Copy Copy Copy.jpeg
It is very easy to state that an institution values diversity but what does the climate of that institution say? Institutions must do the leg work in assessing the current climate at the institution. Surveys, focus groups, SWOT analysis, and other creative assessment techniques must be utilized to gain an understanding of how inclusive the institutions’ services are for all populations. In addition, it is important that the institution takes time to hear the voices of not only students but faculty and staff as well. Are institutions seeing a high turn over rate for folks who identify within marginalized populations? Are institutions seeing a diverse pool of applicants during the search process? Furthermore, institutions’ assessment plans should be on-going to match the continuous turnover of students, faculty, and staff.

2. Provide adequate opportunities for professional development for faculty, staff, and student employees
Institutions of higher education are hubs of continuous educational growth; however, staff members and faculty members can, at times, become complacent with their own professional development. We must not assume that employees are culturally competent and conduct themselves in a way that does not marginalize, token-ize, or isolate certain populations. Institutions should strive to provide professional development opportunities that raise awareness, educate, and provide the skills necessary to create inclusive environments.

3. Value equity and diversity offices not only with words but with money and bodies
Equity and Inclusion offices come in all different shapes and sizes but they share very similar experiences across the board: most are underfunded and understaffed. It is time that colleges and universities “put the money where their mouths are” and create sustainable environments to do this work. The work that is expected to be completed by these offices and/or should be done cannot be accomplished with one or two full time professionals. “It takes a village to raise a child” and so it should not be expected that an underfunded and understaffed office can keep up with the changing needs of the current and future students at our institutions. Most often these offices are doing the best they can with the resources they have but it would be amazing to see the types of environments that could be created if they were valued by their institutions for the work that they do.

4. Adopt a universal design
Many institutions’s equity and inclusion initiatives are provided based on a structure formed by a reactive response to a crisis on campus. In addition, institutions rely heavily on one or two individuals to plan, implement, and assess educational initiatives for all students on campus around topics of equity and inclusion. A more appropriate approach to education around topics of equity and inclusion would be for institutions to adopt a universal design that is proactive in nature. Lewin (1951) states, organizational change only occurs when the forces driving change increases while the forces resisting change decreases. Equity and inclusion offices cannot be the sole offices on campus that provide education to students, faculty, and staff on issues related to diversity. Williams (n.d.) suggests that institutions adopt decentralized diversity plans which compliment the centralized structure already in place at many institutions to approach education through a universal design. Currently, this can be seen at institutions such as Kent State through the use of the Equity Scorecard. This tool is a program and data tool which holds each college, department, and division responsible for implementing a complimentary diversity plan within their own areas to ensure consistency and accountability. Each department, division, or college is then provided a score based on their services. Institutions cannot be complacent with the current structures in place.

5. Hire a visibly diverse faculty and staff 
In order for students to succeed academically and socially in institutions of higher education they need mentors who they can identify with on multiple levels (American Federation of Teachers, 2010). In addition, underrepresented students benefit from an environment where they do not feel as if they are “token”-ized by their fellow peers and faculty members. The development of a visibly diverse faculty and staff base will bring upon new perspectives, scholarship, and ideals to institutions of higher education.

6. Diffuse multiculturalism into the curriculum
Institutions of higher education consistently state their value in creating global citizens; however, many curriculums do not reflect a learning environment in which students learn about varying perspectives. Thompson and Cuseo (2012), define multicultural curriculums as “inclusive curriculums that represent and respect diverse cultures.” The reform in traditional curriculum can look one of two ways: integration or structural reform. Integration is the process of including classes on specific topics and populations into the list of courses provided in a set curriculum. For example, this may be represented by offering classes on Women in sport or African Americans in sport. Structural reform is the process of integrating multicultural topics into the mainstream curriculum. Thompson and Cuseo (2012) explain that structural reform is the most ideal stage of multicultural curriculum because “diversity is woven seamlessly into the mainstream curriculum and is presented in the form of multiple perspectives thereby encouraging students [to] learn to view the curriculum’s major ideas and events through different cultural lenses.” An example of this type of curriculum is approaching American history from the lens of women, African Americans, Latino(a)s, Asian Americans, etc…(Thompson & Cuseo, 2012).

Please note that this list is not exhaustive but instead a manageable list for institutions to begin their process of visibly valuing diversity. Please leave a comment below with some additional steps institutions can do to create inclusive campus environments.

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