At nearly every college, university and now even the private schools in the country you'll find a position, if not department, dedicated to the job of diversity inclusion. While certainly, a hot trend, more diverse college campuses are the future as evidenced by the changing demographics.
RBC.com defines diversity as any dimension that can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another while showing appreciations of differences in ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, and religion.
Conversely, inclusion is a state of being valued, respected and supported and creating an environment and culture where each person can achieve his or her full potential.
When you think about it, these two concepts are quite contrary, opposites in fact. Can we highlight individuality while asking for togetherness? Here in lies the challenge with Diversity Inclusion. While on the surface a noble concept, but for many schools its a Utopian environment that we can only aspire to. However, with the most diverse institutions realizing the greatest success, forward-thinking educators must look to diversify their student bodies, faculty, and staff. Here are six tools for attaining a more diverse college campus.
Why Invest in Diversity Infusion?
In an effort not to get too far ahead of ourselves, let's discuss why diversity is important and why your campus should invest in it. Contrary to commonly held belief, we do not live in a post-racial society devoid of racial bias. We are even less removed from the fight for equality on issues surrounding gender, sexuality, and religion. Even those without malicious intent are guilty of blind spots. These unintended biases that affect our behavior or block our awareness of other's challenges mandate that diversity must be an intentional process and in fact rarely occurs organically.
As institutions of higher learning, it's important that we ourselves take stock of the lessons of the recent social and political climate. Its proven that we, as global citizens, have failed to listen to one another. Diversity in our schools may assist efforts to do so by developing wide-ranging viewpoints and ideas within our society. There is value in diverse environments, shared experiences and perspectives. These differences only enhance education and bring out the best for the future. Above all, a commitment to multiculturalism creates a clear competitive advantage over the competition that is reluctant to do so. By providing programs and curriculum that encourage the success and retention of diverse faculty and students, you can attract, retain and develop more talent and have better stories to tell.
What's more, this approach, by a measure of numbers, allows you to draw from the largest possible pool of talent. At the leadership levels, diverse environments drive innovation, improved and more globally informed decision-making and help institutions to become more ingrained and relevant citizens in the communities in which they reside. By increasing measures of accountability, you can demonstrate that diversity is a top/ down commitment which empowers faculty and staff and develops better leaders.
The Tools of Diversity Infusion
Now that we know why diversity is important, let's discuss how we accomplish it.
Having a diversity inclusion department is great, but if there is no buy-in and support from the administration, they'll just be collecting a check. The administration and board of directors must understand that a diverse student body, faculty and staff is not only the right thing to do but will help improve the bottom line.
Your diversity infusion strategy must start with how you recruit students and hire employees. Develop a hiring strategy to make your faculty, more diversified. Start with your existing students and current employees. Ask them for referrals. Consider hosting a focus group to gain insights on your blind spots and to develop best practices on how to best recruit diverse talent. Of course, hiring an agency with experience in the multicultural arena is also a great step (wink, wink!)
Unfortunately, when you don't have a sound strategy, it can lead to a one-dimensional approach to diversity. Attracting multicultural students and staff is great but if you have no plan for them when they arise, you can expect most won't stay. This is even more tragic than not recruiting them at all.
Your campus culture must promote inclusiveness. While many groups may have felt unwelcome in the past, it's important to leverage communication tools and marketing that is inclusive and intentionally demonstrates that intolerance will no longer be accepted.
While the Harvey Weinstein revelation and subsequent sexual harrassment fallout have opened our eyes to a world of men abusing power, its also forced organizations everywhere to be introspective and examine policies. This is a great opportunity for comprehensive training and reform. Developing a diverse learning environment requires that diverse students, the most vulnerable among us, feel comfortable and included in the culture in order to be successful. Invest in staff and faculty training that addresses topics such as:
- resistance to change and diversity,
- sensitivities to identity terms
- making assumptions
- and microaggressions
While easier said than done, the key is to remain committed. Diversity doesn't happen overnight and can't happen unless there's a systemic shift in thinking and culture and it starts from the top. Regardless of your efforts, there will be students and even faculty and staff that are reluctant to your more concerted commitment toward diversity. Its important to stay the course. Remember, you've open the doors and welcomed a new community. Closing the doors behind them is dangerous. Understand this is a long-term commitment and one that will reap benefits and rewards in the end.