Diversity Experts Focus on Making Boards and Institutions More Equitable

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In March, the board of directors of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) released a new mission statement focusing on achieving justice, equity, and inclusion at all institutions. That mission statement came with three strategies: calling for governing boards to apply equity to all their processes; for institutions to apply an equity lens to the entirety of their organization; and for institutions to contribute to the equity of their surrounding communities.

On Wednesday, the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) hosted a webinar to discuss strategies to achieve this three-part goal. A panel of experts advised that diversity officers should be a part of every major conversation happening at an institution, and that changes made in an effort to improve equity should be made fully transparent to the public.

Dr. Kevin McDonaldDr. Kevin McDonald

Dr. Babur B. Lateef, a member of the University of Virginia’s (UVA) Board of Visitors, said that achieving AGB’s first goal of having a fully supportive board committed to the idea of equity, is critical to the success of their new mission statement.

“In these polarized times, you can be faced with bad press about critical race theory or some nonsense,” he said. “But if the leadership is unanimously behind this effort, a lot of that press will float to the side. People give up when they know the leadership is behind it.”

Dr. Kevin McDonald, vice president for diversity, equity, inclusion, and community partnerships at UVA, said diversity officers are charged with creating strategic plans and implementing those into different areas of an organization. That task, he said, becomes easier when there is a shared responsibility for all to engage in intentional conversations around equity.

“We need a shared narrative,” McDonald added.

Applying equity across the whole of an institution, will look differently according to where institutions are in their own journey, said Lateef. But no matter what stage of that journey the institution is at, he said, “if [it] doesn’t have diversity, equity, and inclusion in its mission statement somewhere, it needs to get there.”

Dr. Clyde Wilson Pickett, vice chancellor and chief diversity officer at the University of Pittsburgh, said it was important to remind boards, faculty, and staff of why institutions were created in the first place: to provide students with access to a quality education. Institutions that incorporate equity will help to promote a sense of belonging in their traditionally underserved populations, a feeling that is “starting to decline for many students from diverse backgrounds,” he added.

Dr. Clyde Wilson PickettDr. Clyde Wilson Pickett

Institutions must engage with surveys, the panel said, to self-assess their progress. NADOHE President Paulette Granberry-Russell said she has no doubt institutions can do this work.

“You can measure success or failure of any policy, any guideline to promote equity, diversity and inclusion goals,” she said. “First, you identify a goal. You develop baseline data, and then you engage in a set of strategies and tactics that will help move that agenda. Then, evaluate whether those measures have contributed to that success.”

Institutions that make changes with full transparency should also share disaggregated data with the public, which can help with AGB’s third goal of greater community involvement.

“There are times when our communities feel excluded from the life of the institution,” said Granberry-Russell. “When we’re more transparent, we build more trust. Too often we don’t trust our communities enough. We fear our being transparent and sharing data and positions will lead to disappointment. It can be uncomfortable, but it’s not bad. We’re still standing.”

Liann Herder can be reached at lherder@diverseeducation.com.