A recent article on money.com describes the various considerations of prospective students when deciding the college or university of their future. But the focus wasn’t on degree programs or rankings or even COVID-19. It was the institution’s commitment to DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) on and off-campus.
The Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements have shown a bright light on continued race- and gender-based inequities and have continued to catalyze the expectations of social justice and activism that define this generation of youth. They are demanding accountability on police, on business leaders, and yes, on colleges and universities.
As campuses navigate the biggest health and safety crisis in modern history, a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion — in the students’ experience and their outcomes — can help ensure a thriving future for higher education and the diverse communities we serve. Here are five steps you must do to strengthen and promote inclusive excellence on your campus, which will demonstrate your DEI commitment to prospective students and their communities:
“The role leaders play in shaping the organizational climate is not merely correlational, it’s causal”. Presidential-level visibility creates the tone from the top necessary to set expectations and role model behaviors that demonstrate commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. But messaging and modeling from leadership needs to be reinforced by the institutionalized actions and investments needed to truly drive impact. Adequate funding and staffing levels are critical. For example, Vector Solutions (formerly Everfi's Campus Prevention Network) data shows that, on average, campuses allocate $4.78 per student to address issues like sexual assault or alcohol misuse. Leading campuses, however, invest three times more ($14.44 per student) in such prevention efforts. Similarly, hiring a Chief Diversity Officer who is not adequately empowered to implement structural changes across the institution and/or lacks a dedicated team to implement system-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion strategic initiatives creates the risk of commitment being seen as tokenistic and performative.
Inclusive excellence must be integrated into the mission and vision statements of an institution, prioritized and represented at the cabinet and board level, and supported by appropriate budget and personnel.
As the college-going population continuously diversifies, campus leaders must enact a set of critical processes to ensure equity in the student experience, both inside and outside the classroom. This starts with collecting and disaggregating a broad spectrum of data to better understand unique needs and strengths across your campus population, and the climate of the campus. These insights should inform the development of specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals that connect to both individual and institutional outcomes. They should also extend to informing initiatives to ensure equitable faculty and staff representation, culturally competent campus services, and understanding town and gown relationships. What do you want your students, faculty, and staff to know, feel, and do as members of your college community? And how do these knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors contribute to campus culture, academic success, retention, career readiness, and alumni engagement?
The work of examining the impact of identity and fostering inclusive excellence across all facets of the campus culture and experience requires rigorous intentionality, robust collaboration, and an ongoing institutional commitment to transparency, accountability, and action.
Strong DEI policies or initiatives are more than just a mechanism for defining and enforcing expectations. They are the backbone of your institution’s values. As such, policies must be developed hand in hand with stakeholders of all levels and identities. Every member of your campus must see themselves in the college community you are seeking to build, and feel a personal responsibility to uphold the collective values of equity, respect, and inclusion that undergird your policies. Active proliferation and appreciation of diversity go beyond “safe spaces” — your policies must ensure all people and places foster physical and psychological safety.
A campus culture of inclusive excellence clearly establishes and consistently upholds expectations that all students, staff, and faculty are welcome at your institution and experience the conditions that enable them to truly thrive.
Preventing bias, discrimination, and injustice is more than just a program -- it’s a process. However, skills-based education that is universally implemented, regularly built upon and reinforced is a critical component of demonstrating your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Similar to bystander intervention programs to address issues like sexual violence or substance misuse, a pre-requisite to teaching concepts like anti-racism and microaggression disruption is that your community feels like you’re engaging them as part of the solution, not part of the problem. And, as Vector Solutions data has demonstrated with other prevention programs, student participation in DEI initiatives will almost certainly increase feelings of belonging and, ultimately, persistence.
Inclusive excellence requires campus-wide programming that is tailored for your unique and diverse community, building both awareness and skills that will benefit your campus culture, your institutional brand, and the success of your students in the classroom, the workforce, and beyond.
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? This age-old philosophical question examines observation and perception. Put another way, communicating initiatives focused on building diverse, inclusive, and equitable campus culture is a necessary component of any effective DEI strategy. To not do so risks communicating a lack of investment to your current and prospective communities. Leading institutions recognize that this generation has heightened expectations around social justice. They are differentiating themselves by their commitments to inclusive excellence and ensuring that their commitment is messaged broadly and regularly.
At Vector Solutions, we’re committed to elevating the visibility of campuses doing exemplary work to create safer, more inclusive communities. Our Campus Prevention Network Seal of Prevention will be a mark of distinction for colleges and universities using comprehensive, evidence-based digital prevention education to strengthen their DEI commitment and to ensure their students (and institutions) are set up to thrive.