Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

AAC&U Panel: Having a Diversity Officer Doesn't Mean Mission Accomplished

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

AAC&U Panel: Having a Diversity Officer Doesn't Mean Mission Accomplished

Article excerpt

Even for those colleges and universities that value diversity to the extent that they have a dedicated officer or dean of diversity, problems of inclusion and support for faculty and students of color may still be an institutional challenge. A single officer or the mere presence of faculty of color does not solve such issues in one fell swoop.

That was the consensus of a panel of faculty and senior administrators of color that discussed institutional issues regarding race at the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) annual conference last month.

Inclusion, in terms of numbers, is one of the most basic problems that has historically dogged institutions of all stripes.

Panelists said that colleges and universities must continue to work to increase diversity among the student body, faculty and administration.

A related problem, panelists said, was the relatively low premium institutions placed on valuable "service" work such as advising and mentoring. Several panelists said they found themselves spending much of their time advising students, formally and informally.

The session was moderated by Diverse cofounder Frank Matthews.

Dr. Sabrina Wesley-Nero, visiting professor of education, inquiry and justice at Georgetown University, said that students of color sought her out simply for moral support.

"My first few months in my first year I had multiple students of color come to my office and it took me a while, I would say, to realize they didn't want anything, they didn't need anything, until one of them actually said, ... "I just wanted to make sure you were real,"' said Wesley-Nero.

Wesley-Nero explained that the students wanted to have a connection with faculty of color, even if their expertise and areas of study did not align.

Panelist Toni-Michelle C. Travis, an associate professor at George Mason University (GMU), said that, one year, she had 96 assigned advisees, almost twice as many as some of her peers. Nevertheless, GMU did not formally recognize the extraordinary work she was doing as an adviser--nor did it necessarily count towards tenure.

"That's not what counts," Dr. Travis said. "It's just publishing."

Dr. Sean Decatur, president of Kenyon College, said institutions need to "build muscle memory" with regards to recruiting faculty and administrators of color. …

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