ADVICE

How universities can instill diversity & inclusion on campus

SOURCE: Chris Barbalis/Unsplash
University decision-makers are responsible for cultivating a diverse and inclusive environment for students.


By U2B Staff 

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The US is no stranger to controversy when it comes to issues of diversity and inclusion, especially in higher education where student bodies are becoming more and more multi-ethnic. 

In comparison to the previously white male-dominated landscape decades ago, we are now seeing a larger proportion of females attending universities and the enrollment of more ethnic minorities. 

This places colleges and universities under greater pressure to demonstrate their diversity and inclusion credentials, making sure campus-wide policies fairly accommodate students, faculty and staff of all backgrounds, and recognise a new multi-cultural climate. 

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According to the Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education report by the American Council on Education (ACE), the years 2000 to 2017 saw a steady increase in the enrollment rates of African American (31 to 36 percent); Hispanic (22 to 36 percent); and Asian (56 to 65 percent) students.

But there are many who don’t enroll and significant numbers who end up dropping out, with reasons ranging from financial difficulties to a hostile campus environment.

To address the problem, universities offer a range of remedial strategies and initiatives, not just to encourage students to enroll, but also to create an ecosystem of support on-campus that helps guide them through to graduation

Some good examples of these are the Delaware Goes to College initiative and the School Counselor Corps Grant Programme (SCCGP) in Colorado, both of which focus on enabling college-ready students to apply for a course of their choice through the provision of recruitment drives, counselling services and financial outreach programmes. 

Some universities are also taking charge of implementing a more multi-faceted approach to diversity and inclusion, rolling out policies that affect every academic and administrative function of university management, instead of merely addressing student enrollment and retention rates. 

Colorado University at Boulder (CU Boulder) is one such university.

The Big IDEA

The Inclusion, Diversity and Excellence in Academics (IDEA) Plan was developed by CU Boulder’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement (ODECE), and serves as a blueprint for existing and new strategies to address issues in diversity, equality and to cultivate inclusivity in academic excellence.

The IDEA plan outlines benchmarks for progress in three areas – climate, infrastructure and leadership – and lists several actionable recommendations to improve the day-to-day teaching, learning and research experience for students, staff and faculty.

“We will need to prioritise the recommendations and ideas within the IDEA Plan within our resource realities,” said CU Boulder Chancellor Phillip P. DiStefano during the formal acceptance of the plan by university management. 

“But we will find ways to address its many recommendations—and the challenges they highlight—with all the creativity and innovation we can muster.” 

IDEA is organised under five action categories that form the acronym ‘CLIMB’, each one supported by recommendations to expand successful programmes, create new ones and put in place new structures to advance progress.

These action categories can serve as guidance for other universities to follow as they embark on efforts to instill diversity and inclusion at their respective campuses.

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#1: Cultivate success for a diverse undergraduate and graduate student body with new financial resources and programming

Based on a preliminary climate survey conducted prior to outlining the plan, it was found that many students from ethnic minority groups felt unwelcomed once enrolled in the university. 

According to the IDEA plan, structural diversity, which includes the presence of many diverse individuals within the university, can lead to a healthy campus climate and impacts education attainment over time due to constant interactions between students of varying backgrounds. 

In this sense, the campus climate includes individual attitudes, expectations, behaviours and perceptions regarding diversity, respect, and their sense of belonging on campus. 

To create an environment that supports diversity, universities are encouraged to revamp enrolment and retainment initiatives as well as improve or establish facilities and infrastructure to support students from different ethnic backgrounds. 

Universities should conduct enrolment initiatives such as recruitment drives specifically targeted towards historically underserved communities including Native Americans, Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders who suffer the lowest enrolment rates. 

Besides that, student services and facilities play an important role in providing a welcoming environment for students of varying backgrounds. It is important for universities to consider how to expand these services and make them available for all students. 

This includes student counselling services, specialised services catered to ethnic minorities, as well as housing and residential programmes to aid students with financial issues. 

Inclusion
Current university enrolment rates reflect an increase in ethnic minorities. Source: Javier Trueba/Unsplash.

#2: Learn and lead effective efforts to attract and retain a diverse faculty and staff

A university’s faculty plays an important role in determining its teaching and research activities and overall reputation in the global arena.

Therefore, universities should be committed to recruiting, tenuring, and promoting a diverse faculty to foster an inclusive environment. 

Studies suggest that by having faculty members of varying ethnicities, students belonging to these same ethnic backgrounds will be more motivated to do better in their studies as they view these faculty members as role models and people they can relate to. 

This extends to university staff who work to provide excellent student experiences and complete the cycle of a healthy campus climate. Universities who pay more attention to recruiting staff members from varying ethnicities will improve their reputation as an employer of choice for ethnic minorities and members of underrepresented groups. 

According to the IDEA plan’s recommendations, universities can improve the recruitment of diverse faculty and staff members by providing training for their Human Resource offices to equip them with the latest search practices to seek and recruit staff from varying ethnicities and social groups. 

Besides that, retention strategies should also be considered in order to encourage a fulfilling environment for a diverse faculty and staff as well. 

The plan suggests creating career liaison services to work with the university’s HR department which will put forth career development initiatives for these faculty and staff members. 

Other initiatives were also recommended, such as identifying barriers within the campus climate that may impact retention of ethnic minority and underrepresented staff and faculty as well as creating mentorship programmes between junior and senior staff. 

#3: Increase financial resources and incentives to undertake diversity and inclusion work

Besides outlining the initiatives to advocate diversity and inclusion within a university, financial resources need to be allocated appropriately to transform these initiatives into actionable solutions. 

Creating student, faculty and staff recruitment initiatives, as well as retention strategies, don’t come for free and by adequately allocating financial resources to support these programmes, universities will be able to demonstrate their clear priorities for diversity and inclusion. 

This can be done by ensuring existing funds are expended in ways to address issues of diversity and inclusion and by creating new funding streams to support these efforts. 

The IDEA plan recommends institution leaders to allocate ongoing resources to actualise these initiatives and ensure goals for diversity and inclusion are integrated into capital campaigns and other fundraising efforts. 

It was also recommended to cultivate more diversity-centric grants and industry partnerships to enrich the university’s teaching, learning and research experiences. 

A performance and evaluation plan was also suggested to be implemented to keep track of progress in the university’s efforts in perpetuating the plan’s goals across every level. 

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#4: Move accountability for diversity and inclusion from the periphery to core institutional functioning

The road to providing inclusivity across all aspects of a university’s activities and processes will not be easy. 

This is why it is important for university faculty, staff and leadership levels to be appropriately trained in delivering themes of inclusivity and diversity across pedagogy, student support activities and university-wide programmes and initiatives. 

It was noted by the ODECE during a preliminary study prior to the IDEA plan’s emancipation that more than 90 inclusive excellence narratives expressed the need for additional resources in delivering diverse and inclusive values across the university’s campus climate. 

Thus, in order to motivate and cultivate a campus climate driven on diversity and inclusivity towards academic excellence, universities are encouraged to provide more professional development courses to spread awareness among each member of staff and showcase the significance of providing this environment for students. 

The IDEA plan also recommends regularly conducted surveys to collect, analyse and disseminate data on the ever-changing campus climate.

This is to ensure universities are up to date and aware of the state of the campus environment and its progress in incorporating diversity and inclusion in every aspect of teaching and learning as well as campus life. 

#5: Build institutional infrastructures and human capacity to implement the plan

Lastly, in order to drive all the initiatives mentioned above into action, universities need to establish structural mechanisms and increased human capacity dedicated to the cause. 

The creation of the IDEA plan represents the early phase of a widespread structural effort that maximises on CU Boulder’s ongoing initiatives focussed on diversity and inclusion. 

Establishing a proper committee to drive implementation strategies like CU Boulder’s Council of Community and Inclusion (CCI) will ensure that the recommendations laid out by the plan will be actualised to facilitate a diversity, equity, and inclusion ecosystem that maximises resources and avoids redundancies. 

By having an institutional infrastructure in place, there will be a point of reference for the institution throughout the actualisation and sustenance of these initiatives. 

This ensures each action plan is thoroughly implemented and the university will be able to track its progress effectively. 

The full version IDEA plan has been published by the ODECE and is made available to the public on its official website.