The work of diversity officers at colleges and universities has become even more stressful, as the nation continues to grapple with the dueling pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice.
And yet many of these diversity experts and practitioners push forward, often with little resources and support, to make their campuses more equitable and inclusive. The day-to-day work, however, leaves far too many of them physically drained.
“How many of you feel like you’re on the front lines?” asked Dr. Anneliese A. Singh, at a session titled “Self-Care and Healing Practices for Senior Diversity Officers in the Time of COVID-19 and Liberation Movements,” held at this year’s National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education 16th annual conference.
“How many feel exhausted at work? How many of you feel exhausted after work?” asked Singh, associate provost for diversity and faculty development and chief diversity officer at Tulane University, who led a crowded room of chief diversity officers through a series of body exercises to help reduce stress.
Singh shared a historical photo unearthed by Dr. Stephanie Y. Evans, a historian at Georgia State University, showing Rosa Parks—affectionately known as the mother of the modern civil rights movement—doing yoga.
Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, sparked a massive boycott of the public transportation system and catapulted a relatively obscure Black Baptist preacher named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. into the national headlines.
“This was something she knew she needed,” said Singh about Parks’ decision to practice yoga. Diversity work is taxing and exhaustive, and yet too many practitioners are not engaged in self-care.
“You can’t pour from an empty cup,” Singh said, noting that author Audre Lorde once said that caring for herself "is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
“Advancing Equity & Anti-Racism Strategies on Campus,” was the theme of this year’s conference and included keynote addresses from Drs. Jelani Cobb, a journalism professor at Columbia University and Tabbye M. Chavous, who directs the National Center for Institutional Diversity and serves as associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion for the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at the University of Michigan. Activist Rosa Clemente and Dr. Jonathan Metzl, a professor of sociology and psychiatry at Vanderbilt University also delivered talks.
Over the four-day conference, there were a number of workshops including a focus on Latinx chief diversity officers (CDOs) and the use of DEI statements and rubrics in hiring faculty.
Dr. Rihana S. Mason, a research scientist at Georgia State University and Dr. Curtis D. Byrd, director of Faculty Programming for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Georgia State University presented on the strengths-based inventory called THRIVE (Type, History, Research-Roles-Responsibilities, Identity-Inclusion, Voice and Expectations) during a panel discussion.
Byrd said that the work of NADOHE fits nicely into his research to “help make people more aware of best practices of diversity, equity and inclusion programs and multicultural initiatives, as well as policies and procedures,” outlined in the book that he co-edited with Mason titled, Academic Pipeline Programs: Diversifying Pathways from the Bachelor's to the Professoriate.
Dr. Carolann Daniel, a professor of social work and chair of the Faculty Senate at Adelphi University said that attending NADOHE provides a supportive space to learn about "all of the innovative thing people are doing and provides a way to help me advance of the work at my university."
That's precisely why NADOHE exists, said Paulette Granberry Russell, president of the association.
"Our goal is to provide the support, resources and research that informs the work of senior diversity officers, diversity practitioners, and those committed to justice, equity and inclusion," she said. "We are committed to leading higher education toward inclusive excellence through institutional transformation."