Opinion: How The Diversity Officer Can Help Transform Curriculum

Increasingly, institutions of higher education are embracing the need to produce culturally competent graduates. Research demonstrates that students taught from a multicultural curriculum — one that includes new scholarship on race, ethnicity, gender, physical ability, sexuality and orientation in a manner that amplifies the diverse worldviews — are enthusiastically engaged in the learning process. They are also more likely to attain their educational goals and are better equipped as global citizens. Consequently, faculty and administrators are reconceptualizing the curriculum and seeking effective ways in which to implement it.

An appropriate question for diversity officers, then, is how might they best collaborate with faculty to align curricular development with institutional cultural competence initiatives? With multicultural competencies being adopted into the general education core curriculum at many institutions of higher learning, I decided to re-examine my role as diversity officer in fostering institutional multicultural education. I have learned several key lessons that better prepared me to contribute to the multiculturalism discourse. 

First, I quickly learned that it is imperative to possess a solid understanding of the culture of academe from a faculty member’s perspective. Several faculty I interviewed discussed the “ownership” issue related to the curriculum. As the gatekeepers of the educational canons, faculty may initially be reluctant to engage in discussions with diversity officers that appear to encroach upon their professional autonomy regarding course content, pedagogical styles and teaching methodologies. Once the respective roles are clarified, there is greater likelihood for meaningful, transparent conversations about how faculty and diversity officers might partner in curriculum transformation initiatives. As described by Dr. Sandra Mayo and Dr. Patricia J. Larke in “Multicultural Education Transformation in Higher Education: Getting Faculty to ‘Buy In,’” well-supported faculty often exceed an institution’s expectation for transforming its curriculum to be more inclusive and reflective of a global and interconnected world. 

While most faculty will value the anticipated contributions of experienced diversity officers, it may be wise for diversity officers to underscore that, in their consultant role, they possess critical interdisciplinary knowledge about diversity issues. In addition, it is reasonable for faculty to expect that diversity officers possess a thorough understanding of the historical origins of prejudice, discrimination, privilege and oppression of women and people from diverse backgrounds in the United States and beyond. Further, most diversity officers capably articulate diversity from multiple perspectives and therefore can engage in intellectual discourse with faculty about esoteric multicultural issues from a global perspective.

Continuing on this journey, I was reminded that faculty often approaches its disciplines from a compartmentalized perspective. This academic isolation separates people and resources from each other and creates barriers so that faculty rarely communicate with other faculty outside their departments. Fortunately, the cornerstone of a diversity officer’s training is intercultural communication. Diversity officers can engage faculty from various departments to achieve a shared vision of multicultural curriculum transformation.  Moreover, these interdepartmental discussions can become the basis for aligning multicultural programming more closely with existing and future diversity courses and programs. 

 This journey taught me a third and powerful lesson: diversity officers must identify all the institutional divisions engaged in multicultural education. Along with reviewing organizational charts, I sought first-hand knowledge about academic and administrative groups that are currently engaged in this work. On many campuses, multicultural curriculum transformation is in an embryonic, decentralized state. As a result, diversity officers will need to “connect the dots” and find answers to a plethora of questions, such as: What academic courses address diversity? What academic programs provide certificates or majors in diversity?  Are there courses that address diversity but do not lead to a certificate or major or minor? Who is dealing with campus climate issues? What is the role of multicultural centers in multicultural education? Who funds diversity initiatives? Are institutional diversity councils informed when faculty senates approve diversity courses or programs?

Since the 1970s, fueled by the civil rights’ and women’s movement’s demands for recognition by academia, faculty has committed to examine and substantially revitalize its curriculum to reflect real-world perspectives. Diversity officers possess the skills, educational background and disposition to collaborate with faculty on multicultural curriculum transformation. The educational benefits that students receive from diverse learning experiences are well recognized throughout the Academy. With the requisite qualifications and the appropriate information, emerging diversity officers can play a vital role on an interdisciplinary committee charged with fostering institutional multicultural curriculum transformation.

 — Hazel Rountree is assistant director of affirmative action at Wright State University and founding president of the Ohio Diversity Officers Collaboration.