Diversity Plan Trends Aim to Meet 21st Century Challenges
The current generation of diversity plans seeks to be more inclusive — and we’re not just talking about numerically
Campus diversity practitioners often complain that diversity initiatives aren’t integrated into the core structures of their colleges or universities. They argue that until diversity becomes a central feature of strategic planning efforts, little will change substantively with regard to campus diversity, and diversity initiatives will remain marginal and vulnerable.
Educational researchers basically agree with this assessment. They suggest that issues of diversity permeate many aspects of a campus environment and each aspect is connected with the others.
Researchers such as Dr. Sylvia Hurtado, an associate professor of education at the University of Michigan, have concluded that simply recruiting a more diverse student body without attending to other aspects of campus diversity — such as inter-group relations, curricular change, and faculty and staff professional development and diversification — can result in difficulties for traditionally underrepresented students and can minimize the potential positive educational outcomes that a diverse environment can bring to all students.
Dr. Daryl Smith, professor of education and psychology at Claremont Graduate University, defines campus diversity as encompassing four dimensions:
n access and recruitment,
n campus climate and intergroup relations,
n curriculum and scholarship, and
n institutional transformation.
Smith argues further that “comprehensive institutional change in teaching methods, curriculum, campus climate, and institutional definition and culture provides educational benefits for both minority and majority students.”
Research demonstrates that integrated efforts are more effective and that “the perception of a broad campus commitment to diversity is related to increased recruitment and retention of students from underrepresented groups and to positive educational outcomes for all students.”
So, how do institutions committed to campus diversity achieve this coordinated kind of institutional transformation? More and more colleges and universities are developing comprehensive diversity plans to guide changes in campus policies and procedures. Some institutions, like the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Michigan, have had diversity plans in place for a decade or so.
The Madison Plan and the Michigan Mandate are two examples of comprehensive diversity plans put in place in the 1980s. They provide vision statements, set broad goals, and make recommendations for change in a variety of areas. Madison Plan 2008 covers areas such as leadership and accountability, pre-college preparation, student retention, financial aid, campus climate, faculty and staff recruitment and retention, and community and alumni cooperation. The Michigan Mandate, launched in 1987 and led by the university’s former president, James Duderstadt, addressed areas such as faculty and staff recruitment and development, student recruitment, achievement, and outreach, and improving the environment for diversity.
Diversity plans are being developed at a wide array of institutions around the country and not just at large, public research universities. North Seattle Community College, for instance, passed a diversity plan in 1992 that addressed such issues as staff and faculty professional development, faculty research, student and faculty recruitment, support services for students of color, and campus climate.
North Seattle’s plan also included specific numerical targets for increasing the numbers of racial/ethnic minority students who matriculate and graduate from the institution.
When one reads through diversity plans from many colleges and universities, one is struck by how much they still focus on structural diversity — i.e., the representation of different racial/ethnic groups on campus — and how little they address student learning goals or issues of intellectual diversity. These sorts of planning documents cannot by themselves change how business is done in all spheres of campus life. Campus practitioners, however, suggest that they are crucial for creating an environment in which diversity initiatives are taken seriously, given support and respect from faculty and administrative leaders, and considered priorities on campus.
They provide tools for holding individuals in a variety of leadership positions accountable for addressing issues of diversity. They also provide vehicles to help those on campus who feel marginalized to voice their concerns. Finally, they provide a platform on which individuals on campus can build stronger diversity initiatives that go beyond just “numbers.”
Developing Diversity Plans Today
Diversity practitioners who have worked on these issues for many years suggest that the process of developing diversity plans has become much more inclusive in recent years. Campuses now are investing up to a year or more in bringing together various constituencies — including administrators, students, faculty leaders, residence life experts, alumni, and even community members — to provide input into the drafting of recommendations.
As the larger political and social environment changes and as new perspectives are brought to bear on planning processes, diversity plans have shifted in their priorities. At many institutions, the range of issues addressed under the umbrella of campus diversity has increased and now includes attention to issues of disability and the needs of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students. Kathy Sisneros, a residence life coordinator at Wisconsin-Madison, agrees that priorities have shifted over the years and the conversations have broadened on campus. While race still dominates as an issue, Sisneros says it is no longer just a matter of “Black-White” as it may have seemed earlier. Latino and Asian American students are much more engaged now and are increasingly defining their own issues and influencing the shape of diversity initiatives.
While some new issues are finding their way into current plans, one administrator who has worked on drafting and implementing the various diversity plans at Wisconsin-Madison suggests that the problems are basically the same as they’ve always been, but the political context is very different today than it was 10 years ago.
During the 1980s and early ’90s, for instance, some institutions put into their plans specific targets for increased representation of minority students. Given the current climate of hostility towards traditional affirmative action plans, institutions seem much more reluctant today to include specific numerical targets in their plans.
Dr. Rick Olguin, a faculty member involved in North Seattle’s diversity plan, isn’t sure what impact the challenge to affirmative action in his state will have on their future planning. He does argue, however, that realistic numerical targets are very important if diversity plans are to be seen as credible across the campus and in the community.
Dr. David Schoem, a faculty member and academic administrator at Michigan, cautions that one shouldn’t measure progress only by what is emphasized in written diversity plans. He suggests that some issues that may not seem prominent in written diversity plans are, in fact, emerging as key areas of progress on campus. Ten years ago, the focus was clearly on access, and diversity was defined primarily around issues of race. The current furor over affirmative action policies and the attention the media has paid to these policies have kept issues of access in the spotlight.
Schoem argues, however, that people working “on the ground” have broadened their focus to attend more and more to issues of teaching and learning. He argues that many diversity practitioners are more focused on scholarship and transforming the curriculum.
And while diversity plans may appear on the surface to be mostly about “numbers,” plans have provided the impetus and needed momentum for a variety of other campus change efforts. Schoem, for instance, has seen an increased focus at Michigan on interdisciplinary conversations among faculty.
Student inter-group dialogues, which Michigan has facilitated for years, are now also expanding to include faculty members.
Dr. Hazel Symonette, a senior administrator in the Office of Quality Improvement at Wisconsin-Madison, suggests that there is now a more concerted effort on her campus to truly transform the campus environment. This new emphasis has led to the development of diversity leadership institutes involving large numbers of faculty and staff who meet weekly over a nine-month period to cultivate different ways of doing their jobs so that diversity issues are more systematically and “organically” integrated into the day-to-day business of campus life.
In addition to different approaches to engaging faculty and attending to seemingly intractable issues like campus climate, the more collaborative nature of the planning process has resulted in a few other issues gaining in prominence. The recruitment of a more diverse faculty, for instance, has been elevated as a concern because of the relative lack of progress in this area on many campuses.
Another distinctly new feature of diversity plans is the attention being paid to partnerships with constituencies outside the campus — including alumni, business and community leaders, and local governmental agencies. In the current climate of attacks on affirmative action, partnerships with K-12 educators are also emerging as key elements of diversity planning. This is a particularly strong component of the Madison Plan 2008.
Curricular Transformation: A Limited Role for Diversity Plans?
Many diversity plans include curricular change in their statement of goals, but few seem to offer concrete recommendations in this area. The curriculum does not seem as central to diversity plans as do issues of recruitment, retention and climate. There is a strong tradition in U.S. colleges and universities of individual faculty autonomy when it comes to curricular development. It seems to be more difficult, then, for these sorts of diversity plans, generally coordinated by central administrations, to “mandate” curricular changes.
The larger social and political climate has also affected the ways in which the curriculum is addressed in diversity plans.
Symonette notes that the current diversity plan at Wisconsin-Madison does address curricular issues, but not via the same strategies as before. The new plan calls for an evaluation of the current ethnic studies requirement, but also sketches out ways that diversity issues should be infused into some key areas of the curriculum — including into newly structured freshman seminars.
As with any kind of comprehensive change effort, nothing replaces strong and courageous leadership. The early institution-wide diversity plans were all initiated by individuals who took risks, articulated powerful visions, and followed through with specific initiatives. These kinds of visionary leaders are needed now more than ever — and not only at the top of institutions, but in locations all across college campuses. Diversity plans are still a key tool for making lasting changes that will improve college learning for all students.
— Debra Humphreys is the editor of Diversity Digest, a publication of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. To view the online version of this article or to peruse the diversity plans of several of post-secondary institutions, visit the DiversityWeb at: < http://www.diversity web.org >
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