Making Diversity, Equity and Inclusion a Mission, Not Just an Initiative
This article first appeared in Academic Leader on February 3, 2020 © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.
When I was appointed Central Michigan University’s (CMU’s) first chief diversity officer in April 2018, I was charged with making the campus a more inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. At CMU, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is more than a feel-good effort; it is part of our mission and who we are as an institution. It is a set of goals we work for daily. Our campus thrives on the unique perspectives and backgrounds of everyone who is part of our community. Our conscious effort not only to invest in but promote and celebrate what makes CMU different is a major factor in why so many students choose to call CMU home.
We are already seeing positive results from our dedicated commitment to DEI at CMU. Our institution is above the national average in faculty diversity by race and gender at all teaching levels—from assistant and associate to full-time professors. Outside organizations and programs are recognizing and awarding our DEI efforts too. This year CMU was awarded a National Science Foundation ADVANCE grant to support women faculty in STEM fields and selected by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities to be part of the ASPIRE network to enhance faculty diversity and inclusive pedagogy in STEM disciplines.
Allocating finances and resources is part of the solution to help drive DEI initiatives forward and generate results, but it does not replace the groundwork needed to create an environment that is truly equitable and inclusive for all people, regardless of race, background, gender, or religion. Creating a welcoming and diverse environment is not simply the job of one single person; it requires full participation from faculty and students alike. We strive to provide concrete tools, attainable skills, and measurable goals to ensure that students, faculty, and staff feel welcome. Below, I provide pointers for universities to implement a successful DEI initiative.
Engage faculty and staff
For DEI initiatives to be successful, faculty and staff must embrace them. It is critical to provide training and education opportunities on DEI topics as well as to create an open dialogue about the challenges we face. Additionally, faculty and staff must hold each other accountable as we strive to create a fully inclusive campus.
I encourage you to engage faculty and staff with various online training programs and workshops tailored to meet the needs of your campus. Make these DEI efforts a part of your institution’s onboarding and orientation process so new hires are engaged and educated before stepping foot in the classroom. At CMU, we provide a variety of online and in-person DEI training opportunities; we also send teams of faculty, staff, and students to attend conferences such as the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity, Creating Change, and the Intergroup Dialogue Conference. It is also important for all members of the campus community to have a means to provide feedback. At CMU, our Hearing Diverse Voices series gives students the opportunity share their experiences with faculty and staff. These programs also include sessions focused on developing inclusive classroom techniques. Another way to instill DEI accountability among faculty is to give credit for DEI work toward tenure and promotion in department bylaws. This academic year, for the first time ever, all CMU staff will be asked to demonstrate their contributions to DEI during their annual performance reviews. Measures to this effect are rare at US institutions, but they instill real accountability among faculty and staff and help create a system focused on DEI.
From the first campus tour to graduation, we want students to be engaged with DEI initiatives. Institutions should incorporate DEI initiatives into the recruitment process and highlight the diversity of the campus. When you showcase that every single person, no matter their background, can enjoy the resources and activities your institution offers, it creates a sense of belonging and home.
To encourage a healthy campus culture, CMU requires all incoming students to complete a variety of online training courses on DEI. Promoting DEI initiatives should not be a one-time effort, though; it needs to continue throughout the entirety of a student’s collegiate education. Through our leadership institute, we offer Level Up, a workshop that explores social justice, power, privilege and oppression, and our volunteer opportunities give students diversity and inclusion training as part of the volunteer placement process. Additionally, all students are required to take a course on race and ethnicity and a second course on social disparity as part of their general education.
All our research studies and feedback show that inclusive diversity is a significant engine of excellence for higher education and improves the college experience before and after graduation. The National IDEALs survey completed in 2019 shows that compared to their peers at similar institutions, CMU students are more open-minded on all aspects of DEI. The survey results prove that improving open-mindedness makes our students better teammates and communicators—hirable skills they can take with them post-graduation. While students pay an institution to learn hard skills, learning soft skills and tolerance both in and out of the classroom through DEI initiatives is an added value.
Provide students, faculty, and staff with data and reports to show improvement
It’s one thing to say your institution is committed to DEI, but it’s another to prove it. I recommend having clear and transparent data, taken from yearly student and faculty surveys, about the success of existing DEI initiatives and opportunities for improvement. One way to do this is to hire a full-time data analyst to monitor and analyze institutional DEI programs and provide transparent results. This can drive honest conversations about the initiatives, highlight the positive changes happening at your institution, and identify needs, which can in turn drive engagement and participation among students, faculty, and staff.
Diversity and inclusion are essential to the excellence of higher education, and achieving success requires full participation at every level—from students and support staff to instructors and administrators. The IDEALS survey shows that inclusive diversity is a significant engine of excellence for higher education. CMU has taken steps to ensure that our students and faculty have access to and are participating in inclusive diversity through a variety of programs and initiatives. To affect real change and create a better, more inclusive future together, I encourage other institutions to review data derived from student and faculty surveys and feedback, along with national surveys such as IDEALs, to build an infrastructure that works for them, their faculty, and their current and future student bodies.
A. T. Miller, PhD, serves as Central Michigan University’s chief diversity officer. Miller has served the past seven years as associate vice provost of academic diversity at Cornell University. He previously had several roles at the University of Michigan, including faculty director of the Center for Global and Intercultural Study and chair of the Council on Global Engagement. He has taught, directed, and founded Africana studies programs grounded in the US African American experience and headed a secondary school in Kenya in the 1980s that now bears his name.