June 25 2019

With important but disparate diversity resources spread across our campuses—from human resources to student affairs to the enrollment office to academic affairs—true culture change can only be achieved with the adoption of a framework that contextualizes, contains, and guides diversity and inclusion work at a strategic, cross-functional level. Damon A. Williams writes, “If we can give this loosely connected organizational structure a stronger conceptual tethering, we see capacities despite different administrative locations have the potential to link together in new and powerful ways, particularly at those institutions that desire to create a more rigorous, disciplined, and cohesive campus diversity agenda.” 

Three dominant models exist that offer opportunities for institutions to enter into diversity and inclusion work as summarized by Williams in Strategic Diversity Leadership.

Level One: The Affirmative-Action and Equity Model. Originating and evolving between the 1950s and the 1970s with social justice at its core, the equity model aims to increase demographic diversity of the campus community from administration to students, eliminating discriminatory policies and practices. With an emphasis on legislative and organizational policy, this model represents an operational approach to the removal of institutional obstacles for diverse populations, while largely neglecting the engagement of those populations during their collegiate experience.

Level Two: The Multicultural and Inclusion-Diversity Model. Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s and rooted in the cultural movements of those decades, the multicultural and inclusion model seeks to embrace the diverse identities and experiences of underserved and underrepresented groups through building mutual appreciation and appreciating differences. Focusing primarily on students and with a concentration of efforts along racial, ethnic, social-identity, and gender lines, this model led to much of the expansion of diversity services and units across the student-affairs division, as well as to a variety of new programs and institutes focused-on-ethnic studies, gender studies, and international studies. Where the multicultural and inclusion model falls short is in creating connections between these services and academic schools and critical institutional outcomes such as retention, moving beyond only the social-justice and appreciative value of multicultural engagement and linking it to broader educational benefits.

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Level Three: The Learning, Diversity, and Research Model. Emerging in the late 1990s, the learning and diversity model “recognizes, at long last, the educational and social benefits of a diverse student body, as well as the scholarly opportunities for advancing research around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. More than any other, this model is firmly anchored in the intellectual core of the academy,” writes Williams. Driven by so many of the societal and cultural change agents we examine in this book—demographics, the needs of the workplace, growing inequality, and increasing ideological polarization—the learning and diversity model connects an individual’s cognitive exploration of these complex issues to the importance of relational group dynamics and skills to the need for a deeper academic understanding of diversity. In short, when applied effectively, this model connects most clearly to diversity and inclusion as critical components of student learning and thinking.

See chapter three in Williams’ book (Higher Education Organizational Diversity Models) for a clear, in-depth explication of the three predominant diversity models, including drivers and limitations.

Universities must assess their institutional readiness for the implementation of a diversity and inclusion framework. Frequently, external assessment is useful and needed in order to truly examine the institution’s environment and explicate any issues of which leadership may not be fully aware. Once that assessment is made, a strategy can be developed that draws upon the best elements of all three models to move the university toward being a truly diverse and inclusive community.

Opportunity and Inclusion: Diversifying the Campus Culture Challenge Questions

  • Do you moderate access to your institution using standardized test scores?
  • Do you have processes in place that support a recruitment and retention culture?
  • Is the university as a whole moving toward a more representatively diverse campus community that is reflective of national demographic trends?
  • Does your institution have cultural barriers to diversity and inclusion?
  • Does the president own and lead diversity and inclusion at the highest level?
  • Have you moved your institution from a passive hiring culture to a recruitment and retention culture?
  • Are there campus dialogues around diversity and inclusion held on a regular basis?
  • Do all of your faculty and staff engage in ongoing training/workshops on diversity and inclusion?
  • Do you actively recruit and retain underrepresented groups into your senior leadership team?
  • Do you promote free debate and discussion within a framework of civil discourse and respect?
  • Do you create opportunities and experiences where students, faculty, and staff of diverse backgrounds and experiences can engage in conversations that enhance understanding and awareness?

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