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A Multipurpose Palette

April 2018

By Margo Vanover Porter

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Institutions are addressing people’s differences in many ways, all with the singular goal of creating a campus where diverse people can succeed.

“Diversity” and “inclusion” take on different meanings in different communities, emphasizes Jesús Treviño, who likes to use a dance metaphor to describe what the two often-used words mean to him. “‘Diversity’ is being invited to the dance,” says the vice provost for inclusive excellence and senior diversity officer, University of Arizona (UA), Tucson. “‘Inclusion’ is being asked to dance.”

Interviews with leaders at four institutions make it clear that the actions they are taking to promote diversity and inclusion are indeed diverse, varying as much as the campuses themselves and typically reflecting the ideology of their students, faculty, staff, and communities. 

Regardless of specific approaches, these places of learning are united in a single goal: They want to truly welcome to their campus communities people who represent a variety of races, religions, sexual orientations, and physical characteristics. 

Excellence at UA 

Although he’s been at UA just over a year, Treviño is leading a systemic, cultural transformation designed to change the structure of the university to make it much more inclusive. Called Inclusive Excellence, the initiative embeds diversity and inclusiveness into every single system. 

Treviño cites hiring as an example. “Right now, we are asking everybody to include duties and responsibilities related to diversity in their job descriptions, expectations, and Inclusive Excellence statements,” he explains. “We are asking committees to vet all candidates for their track records on diversity and what they will contribute to the university related to those topics.  

“By doing this,” he continues, “you change the system and end up with a different kind of faculty member who has actually thought about these issues. If you don’t ask about their track records, you bring in people who haven’t had to think about diversity and inclusivity, and haven’t practiced it.”

A key element of the initiative is to disperse related activities throughout the university, so that ultimately including everyone becomes a habit and part of the culture. “While we don’t expect people to be diversity officers—that’s my job—we do expect people to look at their spheres of influence and figure out how they can embed diversity and inclusiveness into their areas. If we continue to do what we’ve done in the past, we get more of the same. Nothing changes.”

Treviño emphasizes that diversity should be broadly defined and it should be inclusive of different dimensions—not just race and ethnicity—and extend beyond staff and faculty to students. For example, he coordinates a five-week program, called Voices of Discovery, for 160 students who meet for two hours a week to discuss topics such as race in America, gender identity, LGBTQ/heterosexual relations, international/U.S. born, and disability/nondisability groups. 

“The students love the program, which fosters learning about complex issues,” he says. “The power of diversity is that it promotes new kinds of thinking and different perspectives and experiences, all of which are very valuable and allow us to get out of our comfort zone, and learn and grow and develop.”

He believes that not enough institutions are practicing inclusive excellence. “What we’ve done in American higher education is to rely on conflict and protests to make innovations,” Treviño says. “We’re approaching diversity and inclusion programs in a piecemeal fashion. We’ve got to get away from that and change our institutions by fully accepting the communities that come to our universities, but first we have to accept that diversity is an asset.”  

Notre Dame Encourages Questions

When he first came to the University of Notre Dame (ND), Notre Dame, Ind., three years ago, Eric Love noticed a recurring phenomenon: People didn’t ask challenging questions about diversity because they didn’t want to be viewed as politically incorrect. “I knew I would have to get people more comfortable in talking about issues,” says the director of staff diversity and inclusion. 

His solution: Set a simple ground rule. “We don’t have to agree, but we have to treat each other with dignity and respect,” Love says. “Even as a nation, we seem to have lost the art of civil dialogue.” 

In this workshop, he might cite the sexist examples of a male colleague who introduces all of the males in the room, but conveniently forgets to introduce the one female, or of a woman in a brainstorming session who comes up with an idea, but nobody responds to it. A minute later, a male introduces the same concept in a slightly different way, and everybody exclaims, “What a great idea!” 

These workshops are mandatory for all 5,500 employees. “I’ve trained 4,700 to date,” Love says. “We want everyone to have the same basic foundation to build on.” 

He also schedules a voluntary diversity discussion series on current topics. For instance, he is currently planning a seminar on Confederate monuments and controversial art on college campuses, and another on “What is the right way to protest?” 

“These are difficult, politically sensitive topics, but we want to model a way to have civil dialogue on our campus,” Love says.

UDC Sees Beyond ZIP Codes

The traditional definition of diversity and inclusion is no longer valid or reasonable, insists Troy LeMaile-Stovall, chief operating officer, University of the District of Columbia (UDC). “The notion of the simple two-by-two of gender and color is a very 1960s view of the world. Diversity involves socioeconomic differentiations, as well as racial, ethnic, and international boundaries.” 

For example, he says, grouping all white male students in one big bucket is unrealistic. “A white male who grew up in Georgetown has a fundamentally different view than a white guy who grew up in the foothills of Tennessee. We tend to want to simplify because we’re used to application boxes that [identify] male/female for gender or black/white/Hispanic for race. This has caused our mindsets to remain fixed on those options. That is not the real world.”

Stovall believes socioeconomic differences may be a missing link in many of today’s diversity programs and that institutions may need to seek more geographic variation when recruiting students. 

“I’m a black man who grew up in south Houston—which isn’t the greatest area in the world by any stretch of the imagination—but my mom did well by my sister and me,” he says. “One major point of education is to allow us to make one of two decisions: Do we stay in the ZIP code we grew up in and try to make a difference, or should we leave it?  

“ZIP codes can become prisons,” Stovall continues. “Many students don’t see beyond their immediate surroundings. Education is supposed to open up possibilities and opportunities so that students understand that there is much more out there.”

Stovall indicates that elite schools often recruit from geographic locations with similar demographics. “At UDC, I don’t get that luxury,” he says. “The areas where we recruit aren’t the same ones that Harvard goes after.”  

According to Stovall, UDC has several doors of entry. One is a completely free, certificate-based program for District residents. “Students learn a skill from a six- or 10-month program and can enter the workforce,” he says. Students needing a little more development, as well as those pursuing associate degrees, enter through open admissions. “We go after the students who may not be accepted elsewhere and who can enter UDC through our workforce and open-admissions doors,” he adds.

“Our more selective door is for our four-year college, where we have undergraduate and graduate programs, including a law school and a new engineering Ph.D. program. We actively recruit these students, who have opportunities to go to multiple places. If you graduate No. 1 or No. 2 in any D.C. public or charter school, you automatically get a full ride and an $8,000 stipend.” 

About 60 percent of UDC students are from D.C., 25 percent from other U.S. cities, and 15 percent from other countries. “People need to recognize that historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are historically black, not exclusively black. The last two letters are sometimes forgotten,” Stovall says. “At the end of the day, we are a college or university. My point is that we at HBCUs do not need to run away from our past but to cultivate, acclimate, and accept the new types of students we have.” 

Cal State Fullerton Competes for Faculty

Changing demographics and heightened awareness of diversity’s value are prompting institutions to develop and focus on the benefits that come from diversifying campus communities in terms of students, faculty, and staff, says David Forgues, vice president for human resources, diversity, and inclusion, California State University, Fullerton (CSUF).

“For us, diversity really means having a workforce that reflects the great diversity of the region, state, and country we serve,” he says. “It cuts across all types of different dimensions—social, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds. We want a workforce that reflects our community, that is ready to teach our diverse student body, and that provides a real breadth of perspectives and experiences.”

Inclusion, Forgues says, creates an environment where people can find a place, feel at home, and be productive—and where they are embraced, can contribute to teams, and are welcomed to many decision-making tables. “We seek to provide an inclusive learning environment and workplace where everyone’s voices are heard.”

One of the challenges, he admits, is trying to recruit, hire, and retain a diverse workforce, particularly when it comes to faculty members, who with few exceptions must have a Ph.D. “The number of African Americans earning doctorates is far below the representation in the greater population,” he explains. “The same goes for Latinos and women.” 

Because of the fierce competition for those few folks with the required credentials, when leaders make their case to candidates they emphasize a value proposition that goes like this: By coming to CSUF, you have the opportunity to change the lives of students and their families, because most of the students are the first in their families to go to college.  

“It’s what we can offer to our faculty candidates,” Forgues admits. “They don’t come here for the financial benefits, because we don’t pay as much as other institutions. They’ve got to come here because they want to make a difference in the experience of students, and, equally important, a transformational positive difference in the lives of their family members and their community. When we educate, after all, we change countless lives.”

Forgues is proud of the fact that CSUF has eliminated the opportunity gap that often exists between the rate of achievement of the white or majority population students and minority population students. “Through intentional intervention, we have pretty much eradicated that gap from 10 points to zero,” he says. “We did it by going out and working very closely with our students and finding out and providing the support mechanisms they needed.”   

At CSUF, about 30 percent of students are Latino, 25 percent are Asian American, and 30 to 35 percent are Caucasian. 

“We do not have a majority population on our campus any longer,” Forgues says. “Our student demographics reflect our diverse community. What we still have to work on is ensuring that our faculty and staff demographics are equally as representative.”

Dealing With Privilege

When discussing diversity, the biggest lesson Treviño has learned is dealing with privilege—whether it’s male, heterosexual, white, or class privilege. “We make decisions about communities on campus on the basis of our experiences, which are fueled by whatever privilege we have,” he says. “A lot of the training that I do is trying to get people to understand that ‘Just because I don’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.’”

Other advice from diversity and inclusion advocates includes: 

“It breaks the ice, and people start laughing,” he says, “because that’s exactly what they are thinking. I tell them, ‘We can’t solve these issues unless we talk. We have to put political correctness aside and sincerely engage with each other.’” 

“We have to rethink who and what we are in higher education,” Stovall continues. “If you look at the structure of our classrooms, it is the same as when Aristotle was teaching. We have a calendar based on a Gregorian, Christian model. We are beholden to an economic structure that rewards admissions growth, but not the success of graduates.” 

He advises business officers to examine whether the climate on their campuses welcomes people from all backgrounds. “One of the strengths of our campus is that we reside in a very diverse community,” he says. “We’re able to draw on that diversity. Students, for the most part, expect diversity and as responsive educators, we are called to provide that. We celebrate it and embrace it.”    

Micro aggressions send messages to the targeted communities that “you don’t belong here,” he says. “They can be demoralizing. Someone once told me that micro aggressions are like mosquito bites. You won’t die from one, but if you get a lot of them, mosquito bites become really irritating.”

MARGO VANOVER PORTER, Locust Grove, Va., covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.

Related Topics

“Diversity should be broadly defined and it should be inclusive of different dimensions—not just race and ethnicity—and extend beyond staff and faculty to students.”

—Jesús Treviño, University of Arizona

“We seek to provide an inclusive learning environment and workplace where everyone’s voices are heard.”

—David Forgues, California State University, Fullerton

“If your campus really values diversity and inclusion, you need to put the right resources into the program. You can’t espouse it, but not fund it.”

—Eric Love, University of Notre Dame