Create a free Diverse: Issues In Higher Education account to continue reading

Diversity, Equity and Student Success Conference Plots Agenda for the Future

Watson Headshot


Despite the ongoing attacks to diversity, equity and inclusion within higher education, more than a thousand educators gathered in-person and virtually late last week to share strategies and brainstorm ways to center equitable outcomes for the students who attend their institutions. 

Sponsored by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), this year’s “Conference on Diversity, Equity, and Student Access: What Unites Us,” drew faculty, students, administrators, policymakers, and community members to Philadelphia for a three-day convening that focused on pillars for student success, including strengthening retention, student engagement, expansive teaching and learning practices and efforts to diversify the faculty and staff. 

In the opening keynote to the conference, Dr. Michael A. Baston, president of Cuyahoga Community College pointed to the “opportunity deserts” that exist within higher education that stretch beyond race and ethnicity. 

In his speech titled, "From Mirage to Oasis: The Role of Higher Education in Advancing Opportunity for All,"  Baston noted that food and housing insecurity and access to the internet, are among the litany of challenges that continue to serve as barriers to student success.Dr. Michael A. Baston, president of Cuyahoga Community College delivered the opening keynote address at this year's AAC&U Conference on Diversity, Equity, and Student Success: What Unites UsDr. Michael A. Baston, president of Cuyahoga Community College delivered the opening keynote address at this year's AAC&U Conference on Diversity, Equity, and Student Success: What Unites Us

“You can’t get to genuine equality without equity,” said Baston, who added that students have to be an integral part of the conversation focused on yielding positive outcomes. “We’ve got to begin to listen to the voices of students and not decide what they need without them being part of this conversation.” 

That was the case at this year’s conference, where more than 100 students were in attendance and active participants in all of the conference sessions. 

“I think for many of our attendees, the ability to come together with colleagues to understand the challenges that we’re facing, but also the opportunities that are there to support the diversity of our student populations and their human dignity across the board regardless of all circumstances, but understanding deeply what those circumstances are, is important” said Dr. Tia Brown McNair, Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Student Success at AAC&U, a global membership organization centered on undergraduate liberal education. “We were very intentional about the selection of the sessions to make sure they were practice oriented, that they were evidence-based but also that they reflect the good work that was happening at our institutions and in some instances and in some places, can’t be shared right now but we want to let people know that this work is still happening and it’s still important and critical to the success of higher education.”  

Dr. Naomi Yavneh Kios, who is the Reverend Emmett M. Bienvenu, SJ, Distinguished Chair in Humanities, and Professor and Co-Chair of Languages and Cultures at Loyola University New Orleans joined Dr. Carolin Aronis, an assistant professor of Ethnic Studies at Colorado State University, to call attention to the dramatic increase in antisemitic incidents on campuses over the last few years.

Aronis said that her research reveals that many Jewish students feel unsafe on their campus and also feel  that they have been abandoned by DEI offices throughout the nation. She said that college leaders have to do a better job at “refuting assumptions about Jewish people” and to “see them in a more accurate and fair way.

Kios said that attendees who participated in the workshop titled “Addressing Antisemitism on Campus through a DEIJ (diversity, equity inclusion and justice) Lens," were engaged and eager to learn more. It’s that kind of engagement is what prompted Syra Shakir, an associate professor of School of Children, Young People and Families at Leeds Trinity University in England to travel across the pond to attend the conference as a first time attendee. 

“It’s been a really nice space to come together with other people who are working on the same agenda, but to also see that even though we are far away in England, there are so many shared commonalities,” she said. “We are all experiencing the same problems.”

Shakir, however said that she is surprised to learn of the legislative efforts throughout the U.S. to restrict DEI efforts and to do away with certain words and phrases. She's worried that political leaders in England could eventually follow suit. Such a move, she said, would be a devastating blow to her campus which is racially diverse, with students of color making up about 26 percent of the campus population. 

In her powerful closing keynote, Dr. Toby S. Jenkins encouraged conference attendees to embrace “Hip-Hop: A Culture that Unites Us in the Pursuit of Excellence.” 

Jenkins, who is Associate Provost for Faculty Development and a Professor of Higher Education at the University of South Carolina said that the power of Hip-Hop can't simply be reduced to music. 

“What started off as music has become more of a cultural way of being,” said Jenkins who is the author of The Hip-Hop Mindset: Success Strategies for Educators and Other Professionals. “One of the foundational truths about Hip-Hop culture is that it completely rejects –I mean it absolutely will not allow you to shrink yourself for your dreams.” 

Jenkins said that Hip-Hop demands that individuals think and dream big—a poignant metaphor for educators who should want to help their students achieve what they “want, deserve and need in their educational experience in order to thrive,” said Jenkins.

“Hip-Hop requires truth telling, regardless of how bad or ugly that truth is,” Jenkins said. “You have to fully and honestly tell that truth,” she said, adding that colleges and university leaders have to stop creating environments “where your most different thinker feels too intimidated to speak up even with their DEI practice” 

She challenged attendees who do DEI work to not be wedded to doing things the way that they have always been done.

“Hip-Hop is a culture that encourages everyone to believe that they can win in life,” she said. “Hip-Hop and culture encourages us to claim space to know, not wonder if we belong; to recognize that we have a right to contribute because we were hired for the job, because we were admitted into the school and because we were invited to the meeting. So speak.” 

The trusted source for all job seekers
We have an extensive variety of listings for both academic and non-academic positions at postsecondary institutions.
Read More
The trusted source for all job seekers