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DOIT Pillar III: Cultivating Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive Institutional Climates With Intentionality

Research about university performance regarding diversity and climate matters is ongoing. However, few surveys inquire directly about institutional performance regarding the plight of diversity professionals responsible for instilling and modeling transformative leadership. Diverse: Issues In Higher Education and Coop Di Leu have partnered to create the DOIT (Diverse Organizational Impact and Transformation) certification program.

DOIT is a mechanism that will certify an institution’s progress on diversity and inclusion — specifically related to how diversity professionals are attracted, onboarded, retained and promoted. We ultimately seek to recognize institutional efforts by learning what institutions are doing or not doing to transform everyday experiences for their students, faculty and staff. However, progress begins by illuminating facets of institutional work-life that impact the diversity officer’s role. As a part of the DOIT certification process, a series of surveys have been designed to reveal levels of intentionality by institutions in four areas. These areas are collectively referred to as Institutional Pillars for Transformation (IPTs).

With this article, Pillar III, Institutional Climate, is examined. Pillar III involves the intentional creation, publicity and enforcement of events, messages, symbols and values that impact the degree to which all students, faculty and staff experience a welcoming environment.

Below are five schools that received the grade of B and two that received an A, noting exceptional efforts and impact in this area. You can find more information on the DOIT survey methods as well as the other three pillars here.

Adams State University

Receiving a B grade, Adams State University is a public Hispanic-serving institution (HSI) in Alamosa, Colorado with approximately 3,500 undergraduate students, over 50% of whom are from underrepresented populations as well as first-generation and low-income students. Associate vice president for academic affairs and HLC accreditation liaison officer Margaret Doell says Adams has been intentional in efforts to meet the needs of a diverse population and make the campus a welcoming environment.

Margaret DoellMargaret Doell

Over the past 20 years, Adams has hosted a series of equity institutes for faculty and staff — most recently online — that focus on biases, the challenges faced by different minoritized populations and how to employ equitable communication structures. The general education curriculum has become “The Adams Experience,” which strives to embed equity, place-based learning and high impact practices into the curriculum and co-curriculum. Professional development has focused on helping faculty use culturally sensitive and active learning strategies in their classrooms.

“We have also embedded diversity into the hiring process, requiring a trained diversity advocate on all search committees and highlighting diversity as a campus priority,” says Doell.

There are also periodic campus climate surveys.

“During our most recent strategic planning effort, we met with all campus constituents, including the Latinx caucus, the president’s advisory group on equity and others to get feedback on what we should prioritize in our strategic plan,” Doell says. “As a result, we made equity and inclusion one of our strategic plan pillars.

“Another initiative, ‘Grizzly Relationship Building (the university mascot is a grizzly bear),’ focused on providing training for supervisors and employees on conducting evaluations and having difficult conversations in a respectful and productive manner,” she adds. “Adams State University’s driving purpose is to provide equitable access to education for all.”

Augustana College

At only four years old, the Office for DEI is relatively new at Augustana College, so achieving the grade of B for institutional climate is extremely satisfying. Dr. Monica M. Smith, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at the private Lutheran liberal arts college in Rock Island, Illinois, says the mission and vision of the Office for DEI aligns with the college’s mission, core values and faith commitments.

Dr. Monica M. SmithDr. Monica M. Smith

The Office for DEI provides leadership for Augustana’s initiatives to enhance the intercultural competence of all students and employees. Smith notes the college wants to cultivate learning environments that emphasize diverse experiences and perspectives.

Diversity of the student body, which numbers approximately 2,500, has steadily increased over the past few decades. DEI staff have conducted belonging surveys for students as well as an institutional climate survey. They used the findings from those to craft programs and events that address the needs and interests of the community. Actions and activities include racial healing and justice community conversations, heritage month acknowledgements and celebrations, a preferred name policy, LGBTQ+ awareness training, a diversity committee in the student government association and diversity training for student leaders.

There are programs to support first-generation students, men of color and international students. Faculty has adopted a policy to include DEI in the promotion and tenure process.

“We’ve noticed increased engagement across the campus,” says Smith. “The Office for DEI collaborates across the institution to develop programs that are inclusive of the varied diversity that exists within our student body and employee demographics. We are intentional about acknowledging the cultural differences that exist at the institution and celebrate that diversity.”

Central Washington University

A public university in Ellensburg, Washington, Central Washington University (CWU) has approximately 12,000 students, mostly undergraduates. Within the division of Academic and Student Life (ASL), there are four colleges: the College of Arts and Humanities, the College of Business, the College of Education and Professional Studies and the College of the Sciences. CWU received the grade of B.

Dr. Kandee ClearyDr. Kandee Cleary

Dr. Kandee Cleary, vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, says DEI work is a comprehensive effort across the university.

“It is the duty of the larger CWU community to help create spaces where differences are valued and everyone feels like he, she or they belong,” says Cleary. “In that spirit, we develop initiatives that focus on the collective goal of becoming a great university for students, faculty and staff from all backgrounds.”

A campus climate survey was conducted in 2018 addressing issues raised in focus groups, including a critical need to increase the diversity of faculty and staff. In 2019, campus leadership set the goal of a 5% increase over the next five years. Toward that end, the leadership team created a diversity advocate program, which provides faculty and staff members the skills to identify explicit and implicit bias in the search and hiring process. The university has also established relationships with HBCUs and HSIs to broaden its recruitment pool.

“We also have developed a two-prong mentoring system for faculty and staff of color that addresses both social and work needs,” says Cleary. “Additionally, we developed a faculty fellows program that focuses on anti-racist training, scholarship and pedagogy related to faculty research and teaching. Central has also worked with students to identify critical ways it can promote a welcoming environment, such as providing ‘healing spaces’ where students, faculty and staff can gather together and support one another in healing trauma.

“The ultimate goal is to create institutional policies, procedures and practices that are equitable to all backgrounds and address the racism that is embedded in our society, including our institution.”

Coe College

Located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where approximately 11% of the population is people of color, Coe College received an A grade for its campus climate and commitment to DEI. This does not surprise provost, dean of faculty, interim dean of students and Title IX coordinator Dr. Paula O’Loughlin, who says achieving such high marks requires buy-in from all stakeholders.

Dr. Paula O’Loughlin,Dr. Paula O’Loughlin,

“We have committed individuals in all our stakeholder communities asking what more can we do to interrogate our practices, conventions, etc., and we always hold space to listen to them,” says O’Loughlin. “It starts with listening and then moving toward action as a community.”

This commitment shows up in actions taken by university leaders, like holding Zoom conversations when significant things happen such as the upsurge in violence against members of the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) community. There are also regular get-togethers for faculty/staff of color and LGBTQ+ members of the campus community. Students, faculty and staff participate in study groups to educate themselves on how to be actively anti-racist.

“We have also shown our commitments by hosting some national meetings devoted to DEI and making these conferences educational opportunities for those who work and learn at Coe,” O’Loughlin says. “We make a special point of honoring all the first-gen members of our community at important academic events.”

There is required anti-bias training for the board of trustees, faculty, administration and staff. There are institutional benchmarks tied to Coe’s commitment to DEI and that commitment is showcased in the college’s public presence.

“Our continuing efforts to become a more diverse, equitable and inclusive institution has helped each of us individually and our community grow,” says O’Loughlin. “In the process, I think we have come to understand how this moral imperative gives us so much more as individuals, stakeholder groups and as a community than the work it takes.”

Frontier Nursing University

Located in Versailles, Kentucky, Frontier Nursing University is a graduate institution at which registered nurses pursue master’s and doctoral degrees in various areas of advanced nursing practice. Approximately 25% of the student population, which numbers about 2,500, are people of color. In March 2020, Dr. Geraldine Q. Young became the university’s chief diversity and inclusion officer. Her impact has been decisive, and Frontier received the grade of A.

Dr. Geraldine Q. YoungDr. Geraldine Q. Young

“It is my job to ensure the promotion of diversity, equity and inclusion and anti-racism,” says Young. “It’s promoted throughout the university and to ensure the success of all community members.”

Since coming to Frontier, Young has developed and implemented climate assessments and held focus groups to hear concerns. Young recently developed the Frontier Nursing University comprehensive mentoring program, which is currently in the pilot phase. She is in the process of developing special interest/affinity groups.

The students at Frontier aspire to be transformational leaders, says Young, and they will be crucial in directing change in healthcare. Therefore, they need to be fully aware of systemic inequities and embrace the concept of healthcare for all, which includes rural and underserved populations.

Young places a priority on cultural competence and sees to it that leadership places it at the core of the university’s mission. It is a concept introduced at orientations for faculty, staff and students and is continuous through student support programs and initiatives, such as the annual diversity impact conference (this year’s theme was dismantling systemic racism in healthcare: our roles and responsibilities).

“The key to cultural competence is integrating the concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion, anti-racism throughout the university,” says Young. “This is the current trajectory that Frontier Nursing University is on. We also have an anti-racism and bias reporting policy that allows students to submit their concerns.”

Grand Valley State University

A public university in Michigan, Grand Valley State University received the grade of B. Dr. Jesse M. Bernal, chief of staff to the university’s president, Dr. Philomena V. Mantella, and vice president for inclusion and equity, says campus leaders place a priority on campus climate. He oversees DEI programming, with the goal of removing barriers that may exist, hoping positive experiences lead to positive outcomes.

Dr. Jesse M. BernalDr. Jesse M. Bernal

“We administer climate surveys to all of our faculty, students and staff every four years,” Bernal says. “We use that data to inform practices across our university.”

“When we conduct climate studies, we actually form action teams that are focused on faculty, staff and student climate,” he adds. “Each of these action teams issue recommendations that are … issued to the president and senior leadership. They’re prioritized for resources.”

Mantella, Bernal and other senior leaders work on strategies and innovation for university-wide initiatives related to inclusion, equity and campus climate. Mantella issued a 15-point plan for racial equity and created a network of racial equity advisors focused on the experiences of Black faculty, staff, students and alumni. Employees from underrepresented groups may avail themselves of Cultivate, a leadership development program sponsored by the social justice education program.

Within the division of inclusion and equity, there are various supports for students, including an LGBTQ center and a multicultural center, all of which have dedicated personnel.

“Our president is always vocal about the expectations around inclusion, equity and diversity and our expectations for the kind of climate we’re trying to create,” says Bernal.

University of Oklahoma

Now more than a year into his presidency at the University of Oklahoma (OU), Joseph Harroz Jr. (who served as interim president for a year prior to his May 2020 approval by the Board of Regents) has put a strategic plan in place that makes DEI a key focus of the OU community. The Office of DEI is chiefly responsible for driving the emphasis the university places on DEI matters. OU received the grade of B.

Dr. Belinda Higgs HyppoliteDr. Belinda Higgs Hyppolite

Dr. Belinda Higgs Hyppolite, vice president of DEI and chief diversity officer, says her team is made up of diverse members who impact campus climate and lead change by infusing DEI into the fabric of the university culture.

“To keep our work specific and relevant for different constituents, we design our programming according to three pillars: awareness, education and advocacy,” says Hyppolite. “Because of that approach, we consistently deliver high quality and innovative programs and results that foster a welcoming community for all.”

The Office of DEI utilizes careful project management to make sure programming is thoroughly and effectively executed. Honest and sincere dialogue is crucial. “Dialogue is based on trust and mutual respect, which we cultivate in our team and with everyone around us,” Hyppolite says. “Although we are leading OU’s DEI effort, we rely on collaborations and partnerships, which we also forge through trust and mutual respect.”

Due to the pandemic, fall and spring events were largely virtual. These included training sessions, panels, symposia, summits, learning series and guest speakers. Throughout the academic year, the office offered workshops on cultural humility, implicit bias and microaggressions.

“Culture shift is a long-term goal, and the results may not come right away,” says Hyppolite, who is in the process of hiring for five new positions in her office. “To track progression toward the goal of the strategic plan, each college, division and administrative office is developing a dashboard with key performance indicators.”

Results of an institutional climate survey are due in fall 2021. Hyppolite says this will help the DEI team understand the extent to which programming impacts campus climate and where to proactively focus attention.

This article originally appeared in the July 8, 2021 edition of Diverse. Read it here.

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