Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Beyond Diversity: Implementing a Dynamic and Evolving Diversity Change Project

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Beyond Diversity: Implementing a Dynamic and Evolving Diversity Change Project

Article excerpt

A quick Google search using the terms "higher education" and "diversity plan" will yield about 41 million links, most describing the work of diversity task forces and commissions at institutions across the country. These plans often emerge in the wake of a diversity-tinged conflict, like those at Harvard or Duke universities, or perhaps after the appointment of a new executive officer who prioritizes diversity as part of his or her leadership agenda.

Writing a campus diversity plan is easy, once the institution has defined exactly what diversity is. The real hurdle is implementing recommendations that invariably include a range of factors, including increasing the representation and retention of historically under-represented students and faculty, improving the campus climate and leveraging diversity in the service of all students' learning and development.

But as many of us have learned, top-down mandates and isolated diversity plans are not enough. What happens after diversity Web sites have been launched and senior leadership accepts the plan? How do we ensure that the diversity plan will result in material change? In too many instances, the momentum slows once the low-hanging fruits have been picked.

At the University of Connecticut, we have engaged in a diversity implementation effort for the last several years. We quickly learned that encouraging people to "do the right thing," "be more committed" and "try harder" was not enough. The systems, politics, structures, values and entrenched mental models of the institutional culture were too strong.

To achieve success, we learned that our implementation process had to be multifaceted, decentralized, integrated and dynamic. It requires numerous diversity levers, which must be turned simultaneously and continuously. Some of these levers are in place at UConn, others are in place at other institutions. Still others, suggested by the organizational change literature, have yet to find their way to campus.

* Lever One: Write diversity into the formal mission of the institution.

Given the permanence of the institutional mission statement, referencing diversity constitutes a deep and broad commitment and is an important building block for other campus efforts.

* Lever Two: Build diversity goals and initiatives in all academic and strategic plans.

These documents communicate the campus-wide vision for current and future priorities. Incorporating diversity into these materials positions it in all discussions of institutional learning goals, curriculum, and the allocation of limited institutional resources. …

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