STUDY REVEALS Insight into ExperienceS OF CDOs in Higher Education
In 2016, along with my colleague William T. Lewis Sr., PhD, of CoopLew LLC, I launched a project that sought to shed light on the experiences of chief diversity officers (CDOs) in higher education. Sponsored by INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, the study was the result of survey data gathered online over a two-month period beginning in November 2016.
The CoopLew study, titled From Their Mouths: The Lived Experience of Chief Diversity Officers in Higher Education, is groundbreaking national research conducted to bring forth credible, personal sentiments and perspectives regarding CDOs’ attitudes, workplace perceptions, and skill applications in higher education. The survey garnered more than 260 responses from current and past CDOs.
The overarching theme of the findings was that CDOs harbor many untold and unseen perspectives about their work; these views are often the result of situations they encounter after being hired, alternative presidential agendas, and misconceptions about the role CDOs should play in institutional transformation. However, despite these challenges, CDOs persist to make gains in skill expansion, resource allocation, status, and the centrality to the academy’s transformation.
Target areas of the CoopLew study included the following:
● General work context – working with clear directions; being heard and respected
● Organizational values and behaviors – consensus on expectations; how one was treated
● Utilization of skill sets – degree to which certain skills could be used or were rejected
● Personal reflections – beliefs about whether schools are truly inclusive and value equity and diversity
Within and throughout the research, we maintained a focus on subcategories to reveal what CDOs thought about workplace matters such as the following:
● Skills for the 21st century
● Resources necessary to do the job
● Job satisfaction stemming from personal treatment and respect
● Expectations of the job from top-down and peer perspectives
● Imperatives for building strategic relationships
● Personal perceptions about how an inclusive campus behaves
● Relationships with students, staff, faculty, and senior administrators
The survey results indicate that higher education faces a tremendous gap in bona fide talent to fill the role and complete the necessary work of the CDO. On the one hand, baby boomer CDOs are set to retire in the next five to 10 years, and on the other hand, the pipeline of millennial CDOs is sparse, creating the need to pay serious attention to developing the next generation of diversity leaders.
The overall results of the study demonstrate a clear need for national conversations about CDO executive functionality and emergence, recruiting and training new diversity leaders, competency standardization, and CDOs’ views regarding equity among senior peers and relationships with university presidents.
Other studies pertaining to CDOs, such as those completed by the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) and executive search firm Witt/Kieffer, collected data regarding CDO peripherals such as years of service, position levels, institution types, and more.
The CoopLew study adds to this body of research by revealing the heart of the professional as a person in regard to some of the controversial issues that keep CDOs up at night. Its findings demonstrate that the CDO’s desire and need for a genuinely supportive institutional culture can be challenged by resistance. At CoopLew LLC, we call this the “shadow culture” — unwritten rules that can surface after the CDO is hired that confound and otherwise thwart his or her progress toward peace and tranquility among all campus constituents.
Data from the study tell a true story about how CDOs’ daily experiences unfold. The findings also paint the landscape for new paradigms in diversity expertise and administration. As co-authors of the report, Lewis and I stress that the findings do not reflect nor do they expand upon perceptions of presidents and others with whom CDOs are expected to develop strategic partnerships. More precisely, the results bring to light CDO insight on issues that ultimately affect their capacity to achieve transformative work at their institutions.
Given the national and institutional challenges with diversity and inclusion, the timing for conducting this groundbreaking research was clear. However, too often we focus so much on the war that we forget to ask about the welfare of those leading the charge.
The summations of the CoopLew research report speak for themselves. It is important to get in front of critical issues affecting the success of the CDO’s work in higher education. The next step must be practical, effective, and focused training to attract and develop these leaders for strategic advancement.
National workshops such as the newly created CoopLew Aspiring and Emerging Chief Diversity Officers Boot Camp will help bring research and solution-based training to the forefront of CDO development.
The first Boot Camp will take place
Feb. 21-23 at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, N.C. Guest speakers include Ken Coopwood Sr., PhD; William T. Lewis Sr., PhD; William B. Harvey; Kumea-Shorter Gooden, PhD; Carlos Medina, EdD; and Etheline Desir.
Prelude to the Next Paradigm Shift for CDO’s
The conclusion of the Obama era intensified the urgency for the pursuit of social, racial, and equity reforms. Citizens from all demographic groups — religious, socio-economic, and more — have rallied and erupted in protest across the country, all with varying demands. These demands are not confined to the U.S., but are an international cry. Among the many heard across the world, one message aimed at higher education rang loud and clear: To be competitive in the global market, as President Barack Obama said in 2009, we need to confer more degrees, especially to underrepresented populations.
One outstanding impetus of the Obama administration was that institutions of higher education should serve as conduits to meet citizens’ demands. Yet, even with continued protests and mass gatherings across the country, universities have gained little ground in providing salient experiences for underrepresented populations, and according to The Education Trust, the graduation achievement gap continues to widen.
The response of many universities has been to bridge this gap by establishing the position of chief diversity officer (CDO). A 2016 study conducted by the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) reported that “77 percent of the 196 respondents [were] considered part of the executive/administrative staff within their institutions.” However, despite the influx and position of CDOs, progress toward authenticating the expertise of diversity leadership is still very controversial. Consequently, the intended progress of Obama’s appeal is still not moving at the pace it should be in terms of infusing the form, function, and framework of the CDO role into higher education. This lack of progress has also meant that work to be completed by the CDO evolved significantly faster than the development of professional standards for the job. Now, with the Trump administration at the reins, the role of the CDO is in need of a paradigm shift to ensure excellence in diversity initiatives that address not only public angst, but also the systems that produce concerns about global unpreparedness.
INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine sponsored the CoopLew National Survey on CDO Attitudes, Workplace Perceptions, and Skill Applications, a crucial research initiative designed to study how well-equipped CDOs are to function in a post-Obama era and within the context of the Trump administration’s economic policies — what I call “Trumponomics.” Previous efforts to define and frame CDO work set the stage for introductory form and function, but the evolution of diversity as a term, a social paradigm, and an imperative for excellence has made the role like a palimpsest — written over, scratched out, and highlighted for the sake of improving visionary and specific competencies and principles. Regardless of what’s been written about the role to date, few studies, if any, focus on the CDO’s perception of diversity administration from lived experience.— which begs to be completed with all the candor possible. With this in mind, the CoopLew research mandates a new look at American universities from the perspective of those who wear the badge of “chief” regarding diversity, amidst social, relational, political, equity, and educational conundrums.
In anticipation of the national release of this next-level research, a few nuggets of the CoopLew findings are provided here as a prelude to discussions about the critical work conducted by CDOs at all types of institutions. It is a prep step for advancing national diversity thought capital and conversations that are surely on the horizon in the Trump era but that urgently need to begin today.
An unprecedented response rate — 263 CDOs, to be specific — to the CoopLew survey validated the premise that “lived CDO experiences” was a topic begging for discovery and discussion. The survey allowed respondents to reply from the perspective of either their current CDO position or that of their most recent CDO position. It contained relevant questions broken down into 10 sections that correlate to CDO relationships, expectations, resources, job satisfaction, skill utilization, and perceptions of inclusion. There is undoubtedly much more to come, as data is still being reviewed. The following extractions are but a sneak peek at what’s around the corner for CDOs on the stormy road to progress in 2017 and beyond.
Expectations of the Current Job
While “top-down” administration is the norm for higher education, data show that CDOs believe this is not true when it comes to modeling diversity. Of respondents who based their answers on their current role, 72 percent agreed or strongly agreed that accountability for modeling organizational diversity behaviors is expected to begin within the office of the CDO.
This finding could have profound effects on discussions between university CEOs and CDOs. Clarity of expectations involving what is officially delegated and what the CEO should demonstrate begs for distinction if accountability and reciprocity are to flow smoothly from one executive to another. In addition, on campuses where CDOs carry the torch for modeling diversity, the paradigm shift from “centralized resource” to “authorized source” may need to be expressly and publicly consented to, especially by peers whose traditional sense of “top-down” does not include a CDO. Also, because CEOs and their entire office must model diversity as publicized in an institution’s mission and aspirational addresses, detailing expectations to the CDO will not only set a precedent for new paradigm shifts in diversity administration, but will also establish a truer meaning of “top-down” at the institution.
Satisfaction at the Previous Job
Forty-two percent of respondents who based their answers on their previous CDO role disagreed or strongly disagreed that their reasons for leaving their previous institutions were due to matters of salary. Similar perspectives were aligned regarding campus environment (43 percent) and family obligations (65 percent). In addition, each category held unconfirmed (neutral) percentages of 29, 21, and 21 percent, respectively.
With common qualifiers off the table as majority-confirmed reasons for turnover, concern about the quality of CDO workplace interactions may be on the rise in 2017. Discussions about what CDOs need to feel safe and protected while navigating political, community, peer, and student uprisings may lend themselves well toward moving the needle away from early or unexpected turnover. While the campus environment in general was identified as the culprit behind most CDO turnovers (35 percent), more begs to be discovered about CDOs’ lived experiences from the seat of their offices and from hallway conversations that frame the environment. Moreover, CDOs’ preferred workplace conditions should be a topical discussion to differentiate from challenges such as limited resources and infrastructures perceived to impede progress to strained relationships, which culminate in the loss of talent for an institution.
Underutilized Skills of the Trade
More than 25 percent of respondents confirmed that they do not use the skill “fostering authentic and relevant international exchanges.” Another 22 percent were undecided about whether they used the skill or not.
One skill soon to be on the forefront for CDOs is the ability to interact with and unite diverse populations. With 25 percent of respondents indicating non-usage and 22 percent undecided about their usage of this skill, it is clear that nearly half the CDO population may not engage in fostering authentic and relevant international relations — at least to a point where this can be confirmed. Thus, preparation for using this critical skill to maximize resilience against social storms needs to be a top priority. The resulting 41 percent of CDOs who reported executing this skill in the field conveys a dismal perspective on how institutions will deal with current divides between ethnic, religious, and international groups, as well as the LGBTQ community — now and in the future. Considering the rise in suicide rates and palpable fears and anxieties, CDOs will need to ramp up this skill as early as yesterday.
A related piece of data from the CoopLew survey suggests that CDOs’ ability to influence what is taught about international and diversity circumstances at their institutions may evolve more acutely to influence who is teaching, should international relations become more strained as the Trump presidency unfolds.
These nuggets of lived CDO experiences, along with other findings from the CoopLew survey, have the potential to invoke some of the most crucial conversations in CDO history. Results of these discussions may very well shape future CDO job descriptions, resource allocations, staff support, and even rationale for CDOs to transition to institutions where people “get it.” The data clearly indicate the need for a renewed appeal to bring about a paradigm shift for the role of CDOs — one that identifies them as change agents — and perhaps sooner than we think. In fact, experience as a CDO may become a preferred expertise on the pathway to university presidency. Presently, there remains much concern about the CDO’s development process and the latitude afforded to those whose skills are both largely untapped and unknown to CEOs and other would-be supporters of campus-wide diversity leadership.
The Impact of Campus Climate on Widening Achievement GapS
We have heard so much about the importance of campus climate over recent months. Its overall impact on any type of institution can be both staggering and complex. For students, “climate” is what cultivates the emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual experiences at a college or university. Its effects begin the moment they set foot on campus and can last indefinitely. It is the foundation for trust, excitement, enthusiasm, energy, and expectations during a student’s journey to the commencement stage. A negative climate can have psychological, emotional, social, and physical effects and can take its toll daily until graduation may no longer be an option or is put in question.
Psychological and behavioral components of climate are among those within universities’ control and can affect the academic performance of any student, especially when requisite supports are absent during adverse experiences. One category of academic performance affected by climate is graduation achievement. Yet campus climate is rarely correlated with student achievement, let alone viewed as
the cause of certain students’ failure to graduate even when descriptive climate studies consistently reveal patterns to this effect. Nonetheless, studies show that if left unaddressed, psychological and behavioral issues can wreak havoc on any college student’s academic success. Research also shows a disproportionate effect on graduation achievement for African American students, regardless of how many members of this group are present during the time the research is conducted.
One can better understand how climate affects achievement by reviewing the law of cause and effect, which is rooted in common sense science and causality. Simply put, one cause can produce one or more effects. However, when human subjects at a university are being considered, one cause can create a world of significant effects with no expiration date, including — but not limited to — failure to graduate.
An example that illustrates this impact and provides reasoning for examining correlations between climate and academic achievement is a study conducted by The Education Trust (ET). This 2016 study revealed that more students from underrepresented groups are attending college than in previous years; however, this increase has not had a positive effect on degrees conferred to African Americans compared with whites. This indicates a problem that is pervasive and provokes an untold number of adverse emotional, psychological, physical, and even spiritual responses that deter these students from graduating. The result is simply that although more underrepresented students make it to school, the same numbers of black students are not getting through school, which widens the achievement gap.
The study further reveals that more than two-thirds of four-year public colleges and universities have increased graduation rates for all students in the past decade. But according to the study’s authors, “Overall improvements often mask different outcomes for specific groups of students, and nowhere do we see this more clearly than for black students.”
One does not have to be a scholar to understand that on many campuses, the experience afforded to African American students is inadequate for increasing their graduation rates. Yet what we do need more education about is why some climates serve these students better than others. Authors and scholars Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal attribute this deficiency to “preconceived notions [that] determine what we see, what we do, and what we accomplish.” This statement suggests that failing climates underlie how black students should be seen, engaged, and graduated. Thus, it becomes necessary to revisit perceptions of what is best for them to counter antiquated and inadequate climate circumstances.
The ET study frames how alarming this situation is and should be enough to prompt steps toward finding an answer to the fundamental question: “What is the most likely cause affecting any student population’s graduation achievement?”The answer lies in a component of campus life big enough, broad enough, and yet definitive enough to consistently affect students’ ability to navigate adversity — however frequent or infrequent — while persisting to graduation. For any student, the cause is likely the campus climate.
The study supports this reasoning and even provides a listing of colleges and universities with widening graduation gaps despite increased overall graduation rates. The list is not limited to schools of one type or from one geographic area but includes four-year, liberal arts, comprehensive, and research institutions. All such schools show widening graduation gaps between black and white students — from 8.3 to 23 percent — in the face of increasing African American enrollment in recent years.
The authors of the ET study suggest targeted program content to improve achievement when graduation gaps begin to widen. They also recommend mentoring programs for support and monitoring, as well as continuous programs leading up to graduation. A key takeaway from the study is that such measures are needed for through- school assurance, especially in climates known to have contentious histories, exclusionary infrastructures, and a lack of diversity at executive levels. The study also encouraged institutions to see the improvement of co-curricular and curricular experiences of certain student populations as an investment in tangible outcomes and returns (i.e., to intentionally become a cause in pursuit of an effect — a closed graduation gap).
In terms of investments and actions to make campus climates conducive for turning out more graduates of any background, race, or ethnicity, a set of guidelines should be in place. These should include concepts with a focus on intrusive attention and climate transformation and promote salient encounters between students, faculty, and staff, as well as metrics that connect campus climate to graduation.
Below are several guidelines for improving campus climate while establishing a framework
for accountability and graduation achievement; they pervade campus leadership responsibility, curriculum, imagery, and representation.
• Clear expectations, an investment in human and fiscal resources, and accountability must be demonstrated through the words and actions of campus leaders.
• The principles of multiculturalism, pluralism, equity, and diversity must be adequately incorporated into the curriculum and the way in which it is taught.
• Learning experiences between faculty and underrepresented students must be reciprocal.
• The degree to which the events, messages, symbols, and values around the university community make the campus a welcoming and inclusive environment must be intentional.
• The degree to which the campus and community attracts, retains, and develops professionals of color as part of its mission, as well as service agendas, must be an ongoing and strategic investment.
• Intentional efforts to assess campus climate must include the degree to which campus infrastructure affects conditions that cause failing performance by students, faculty, staff, and administrators.
My experience in higher education has shown me that when these guidelines are genuinely and equitably employed, perceptions of trust, safety, respect, and reward, as well as graduation gaps, can be improved. Applying these effectively means going beyond overall statistics and addressing the impact campus climate can have. The ET study also noted universities that are “working to change the narrative” about African American student graduation rates (i.e., they are paying attention to climate data). These schools likely employ some of the guidelines listed above for demonstrated leadership and commitment and cultivate diverse methods of teaching and learning, intentional learning communities among diverse populations, and comprehensive climate studies.
The effect campus climate has on daily student life, let alone graduation, is essential knowledge for transforming colleges of all types. It informs the urgency of the above guidelines and the esprit de corps of various student groups. Remember, students’ experiences — from when they first step foot on campus to the celebratory toss of the mortarboard — are causes that fuse together as the climate. It is critical to know what experiences either cause certain students to advance to the toss or lead to widening achievement gaps despite increased enrollment. For those who seriously want to learn about and assess their campus’s climate, a resource like Viewfinder™ Campus Climate Surveys provides results that reveal the bones of campus infrastructure.
Prepping for “Trumped-Up” Students: Proactive Steps for College PresidentS
With the election and inauguration of President Donald Trump complete, many higher education administrators may be wondering how students will respond to our country’s new leader and the demonstrations that are taking place both for and against the new administration. The wave of protests that occurred just several months ago etched images of angry students in our minds. Now, more outrage and political upheaval threaten to spark the fire once again.
Because timing is of the essence, I am writing to offer fair and hard-hitting advice to university presidents. Nothing provided here is foolproof; however, after 25 years as a higher education diversity officer, I have witnessed the wrath caused by a lack of ongoing engagement, as well as what happens when institutions wait for something to happen before considering potential responses.
For a proactive approach to “Trumped-up” students, consider these ongoing and responsive options.
Ongoing: Take seriously the possibility that a student demonstration could happen on your campus.
Students today have far more information and methodologies for expressing themselves than ever before. A group can assemble overnight or even in a few minutes. Indeed, in a 2016 report, the majority of college presidents surveyed said they thought student protests would persist into 2017. Still, many of these individuals are naïve enough to think that such incidents won’t occur on their own campuses.
Responsive: If you are still addressing unresolved demands from a previous protest, be proactive about posting ongoing updates regarding your progress.
Expecting old demands to fade and give way to new ones can be a catalyst for increased loss of confidence and trust in the administration by the student body. Students need to know their original concerns were not forgotten and that requisite action is underway as opposed to still being considered. If you have overlooked certain demands, then a new list will be combined with old concerns, representing time when nothing was done.
Ongoing: Be a campus resident first and a president second.
Underrepresented students need assurance that you sympathize with them. Seek to champion what they believe is salient and what safety, respect, and inclusion mean to them, and determine where misconceptions might develop when it comes to perceptions of their care away from home. Don’t send anyone else on your behalf to have these types of conversations, and be sure to show that you live here too while remaining engaged. Sharing your own lived experience on campus will serve well to connect you to students, and demonstrating your personal desire to improve the campus experience will give them hope.
Responsive: Establish a campus model for engaging in important conversations before they are needed.
Taking this step will speak volumes to the university community. If your campus already has a framework in place for having these discussions that allows for emotional release, educational and cultural context, and collaborative resolutions, you may be able to avoid protests. Use best practices rooted in conflict resolution and difficult dialogues. Seek to master the stories of your students and develop a path to action as quickly as possible.
Ongoing: Respect your students’ abilities to distinguish appeasement from genuine action and accountability.
Proactively develop a team that can think on its feet, has authority to commit the university to minute and goodwill concessions, is trained in cross-cultural constructs and difficult dialogues, and has been accepted as a trusted source among student leaders. They will know if you send someone who is unsympathetic and unprepared to deal with them.
Responsive: Don’t spend money without knowing whether and how it will deliver measurable results.
Expanding a program frequented by ethnic groups in response to protests is a common mistake. This resounds loudly as an appeasement measure and uses more money to get the same results. Allocate funding where the data show students are gaining intentional and purposeful education through engagement and services. If a program serves 10 percent or less of a targeted population, chances are it is not money well spent.
Ongoing: Dedicate a pool of discretionary resources for the chief diversity officer (CDO), if you have one, and his or her response team.
If you don’t have a CDO, make sure you have identified a responsible administrator whom students can interact and communicate with on an ongoing basis. Keep the conversations going between both parties, and make sure the appointee always reports progress or a lack thereof back to you. Don’t underestimate the impact of engaging periodically with student representatives via conversations or meetings.
Having the financial resources to act quickly will confirm a willingness to care for students as family and help build new levels of trust between them and the administration. Use a previous list of demands or word-of-mouth news about potential concerns to inform how much you set aside to serve this purpose.
Responsive: Ensure that your CDO is surrounded by caring and competent professionals.
If you have a CDO, he or she needs protection from situational biases, from perceptions that he or she is acting as your buffer, and from others who want to run the diversity show. No one person or even a select few individuals, regardless of how competent they may be, can defend a university while navigating internal interference. Protections must shield your CDO from tokenism and otherwise unqualified personnel who think they can “calm the storm” because they share the ethnicity or orientation of those protesting.
Remember, there is nothing that will help you recover from a pretentious approach to student concerns. Unfortunately, the 2016 report mentioned above also found that presidents tilt toward being more unsympathetic than sympathetic to protesters’ demands and actions. Rise above this tendency; be there for your students and transform your institution on their behalf.
Why Colleges Need to Conduct Climate SurveyS
If you have ever felt “chilly” on your campus or wondered why some students, faculty, and staff seem to feel more at home than others, your institution may need to conduct a climate study.
American institutions of higher education should be examples of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Yet 2015 was marked with record numbers of student demonstrations, most held to demand what colleges and universities already proudly boast as core values of their mission — equal care for all students, a welcoming workplace for faculty of all backgrounds, and upward mobility for all constituents due to universities’ transparent ethics and civic responsibility.
To make matters more sobering, a 2016 Inside Higher Education report confirms that “presidents tilt toward being more unsympathetic than sympathetic to protesters’ demands and actions.” Given the conditions on campuses around the country, institutions should want to make change happen more quickly. If your institution does, consider using a campus climate study to launch transitional efforts and gain relevant information about students’ concerns before a list of demands lands on the president’s desk.
Of course, conducting a climate study as a single act of good faith is far from doing anything that substantiates positive change. But it can certainly be more than just a simple exercise. It can be the gateway to learning what could or should be done in the eyes of those experiencing the climate as it currently exists. It can also begin the process of gaining critical insight into five components of campus life: institutional history, legacies of inclusion or exclusion, compositional or structural diversity, psychological dimensions of the climate, and behavioral dimensions of the climate. As such, climate studies possess the wherewithal to provide an institution the knowledge needed to manage the responsibility of global representation among its constituents.
In addition, diversity administration, if it is to be successful, needs data resulting from campus climate studies to support initiatives that satisfy the need for both institutional return on investment (ROI) and student development to help students transform into multicultural scholars and responsible citizens. There is an inherent responsibility for institutions to make the connection between institutional goals and human behaviors more visible and plausible to everyone. Climate studies, and the results of such studies, help make this a reality by providing data that identifies junctions between points A and B. Using this data to get from one point to the other sets a precedent for meeting students, faculty, and staff where they are on their respective journeys to pluralism, and even helps shape new constructs for campus traditions and local atonement. Without such data, institutions get lost in the creation of “feel good” or nugatory diversity programs. Researchers and authors L.G. Bowman and T.E. Deal caution about such a situation, reminding diversity administrators that “problems arise when structure is poorly aligned with circumstance.”
I have learned in my 24 years in higher education that pre- and post-work surrounding the implementation of a climate study serves to best ensure that those promoting, conducting, and summarizing the study are aligned for action and accountability. Pre-work such as determining why a study should be conducted and how respective populations will be afforded adequate participation is essential to an inclusive and credible research process. Equally important is a plan to keep the study’s final report from gathering dust on a shelf and ensure that it is referenced frequently like a mantra for social justice and constituent goodwill. It is critical to consider root causes and preferred outgrowths before and after such a major investment of institutional resources. It also makes sense to anticipate establishing structures that elevate how people are taught, trained, charged, and rewarded in regard to the campus climate.
Because each component of a campus climate study can be challenging, I applaud institutions’ valor in moving forward into the landscape of new beginnings and relationships of all kinds. As you do so, it is wise to seek external expertise and support to assist with outlining areas for pre- and post-work and provide surveys that result in substantial conclusions and insights.
Viewfinder™ is equipped with relevant surveys for each constituent group, as well as services for pre- and post-work that ensure appropriate and flexible thinking at the start and end of each survey.
The time is now to intentionally respond to America’s college students with benchmarking steps toward creating more diverse, respectful, safe, and welcoming campus climates. Conducting a climate study as early as possible not only sets the course for this response, but also carves pathways to achievement in diversity accreditation criteria, nontraditional partnerships, and return on investment.
Many attempts have been made to address social concerns within higher education, and while they claim to result in change, few actually achieve any. Yet, regardless of the methodology or results of these studies, one thing remains clear: The road to substantial change begins with relevant inquiry.
Sustaining High-Impact Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives Through Strategic Fundraising Management
When state funding to support public higher education began to recede in the ’90s and took a free fall during the 2007-2009 recession, many programs and initiatives saw damaging budget cuts. During these austere times, resources for diversity and inclusion efforts — which for some institutions have been seen largely as secondary to the core academic mission — have experienced reductions.
As I reflect on the necessity for chief diversity officers to engage in strategic fundraising to dull the sharp pain of retrenched budgets, I recall a conversation I shared over a lunch meeting with a major donor to our university. Although not an alumna, this woman had such passion for the university’s mission that she gave generous amounts of scholarship dollars to support students who were the first in their families to attend college. I was curious to know what fueled her philanthropy, so I inquired. She stated that she had not always had the financial capacity she currently enjoys. If she had, she would have given 20 years ago. She wanted to do her part in creating a more just society. She wanted to provide resources that had an immediate impact on students’ lives today. Her rationale for giving now reminded me of the adage, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
By applying this saying to fundraising, this alumna was using her wealth to help sow the lives of students now, knowing that four, five, six, or even 20 years from now, it would be too late to influence the arc of the trajectory of their lives in the present.
Given the reductions in state funding to public higher education, tuition caps, and increasing infrastructure costs, the time is now for chief diversity officers to engage in strategic fundraising management.
A strategic approach to fundraising management is comprehensive in scope and scale and includes the annual fund, special projects, planned giving, and a capital campaign. These four aspects of fundraising are known as the four-legged stool. I learned these four aspects and much more while completing a certificate in fundraising management from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
Prior to participating in the certificate program, I thought fundraising was simple. I thought you develop a relationship with a potential donor, and when the moment is right, you make “the ask” — similar to getting that first kiss. I was sorely mistaken. Barring unforeseen circumstances, it can take 18 to 24 months to secure a major gift.
The responsibilities of the senior-level diversity officer in higher education are complex and ever-changing. If you scan job postings for senior level diversity officers, you will discover an increasing expectation for these officers to engage in some sort of fundraising. This expectation was not as prevalent 10 or 15 years ago. Therefore, developing competencies in fundraising management is becoming more and more fundamental to the profession.
Fundraising is both art and science. It is a function that is extremely technical and nuanced. I have become proficient in the diversity-speak language. I can talk about inclusive excellence, inclusive pedagogy, and unconscious bias with the best of them. The language of fundraising, cultivation, prospecting, stewardship, gift range charts, and revocable living trusts are an entirely different story.
With ever-increasing pressures to do more with less, the time is now for senior-level diversity officers to learn the language of fundraising.
Preparing Students to Protest in the Millennial ErA
In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a searing rebuke to his white clergy brothers, who had voiced their disapproval of his visit to Birmingham while remaining silent regarding the racial injustices that the city’s African American citizens were experiencing, which had brought King to the city in the first place. Of note, King addressed his critics’ notion that negotiation should be sought as a more acceptable approach to resolving racial injustice over direct action, such as sit-ins, marches, and protests. On this matter, he and his brethren shared the same perspective. Indeed, direct action is the last step in any nonviolent campaign and is preceded by the collection of facts (to determine if injustice exists), negotiation, and self-purification.
After further examination of King’s letter, one learns that negotiation should occur twice within a nonviolent campaign: prior to and following direct action. In fact, the principal outcome of direct action is to catalyze negotiation. King explained, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”
With so many protests — on college campuses and beyond — over the last few years, I’ve often wondered how many organizers of such demonstrations have used the four steps of a nonviolent campaign developed and executed by King and other civil rights activists during the 1960s. In particular, I have been curious about the knowledge and preparation of college student protesters. In fall 2016, my curiosity led me to ask students in my nonprofit management class if they have ever participated in a protest on campus. Many of them said they have. I also asked them if they were aware of the four steps of a nonviolent campaign championed by King — a question that was greeted by blank stares.
Students who want to or have already engaged in protests should have a solid understanding of the motivations that drive their desire to be part of a movement — beyond simply participating in our nation’s democratic process.
In that moment, I had to remind myself of the fact that most of my students are 19- or 20-year-olds who were born and reared during a time of relative peace, compared with the social unrest experienced by college students of the 1950s and ’60s. The Black Lives Matter movement, the rise of white nationalism, and President Donald Trump’s travel ban, along with his crackdown on undocumented immigrants, have disrupted the status quo. Fear, discontent, anger, and distrust are now the new normal on U.S. college campuses.
Thus, it is incumbent upon university leaders, faculty, and staff to be intentional and provide students with training and other capacity-building development as they engage in nonviolent protests on college campuses. There are three big ideas I share with those in my student protest and activism class that I believe should be covered as faculty, staff, and university leaders prepare students to engage in nonviolent protests: protest is costly, protest is strategic and multidimensional, and protest is influenced by biography.
Protest Is Costly
The fundamental reason people protest is to give voice to the experiences of injustice, unbalanced treatment, and violations of moral or ethical codes that govern a given society. Put simply, people protest to give voice to those issues for which they are most passionate and to bring an end to oppression — the circumstance where a person’s ability is arrested and he or she is withheld from reaching his or her full human potential by either a person, a group of people, or a system. In order to become liberated from the shackles of oppression, people must fight for their liberation — and this does not come easy.
Some 20 years ago, when I was the vice president for the Black Student Union at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, I recall our faculty adviser, a tenured professor of history and an activist during the ’60s, imploring us to “burn the place down!” We all thought he was kidding, but our response was no laughing matter. Indeed, we wanted to fight the good fight against injustice, but we also wanted to graduate, not do anyone or anything harm, and not face felony arson charges.
My point here is that the consequences of fighting injustice can be costly. As educators, we should not gloss over this reality. We should prepare our students to consider the costs associated with “fighting the power,” and I can think of no better tool than that of self-purification. Students need to go through a self-discovery process in which they ask themselves questions to ascertain their level of grit, tolerance, and wherewithal as they face the prospect of being arrested, harassed, and physically and mentally harmed, among other acts of intimidation.
Protest Is Strategic and Multidimensional
One protest over a particular issue is not going to bring about the change that many are seeking. Successful protests and movements use a multipronged, strategic approach. It is my sense that many students have engaged in direct action — protests, marches, and sit-ins — without a full understanding or appreciation of its nuances. As noted above, it creates tension so that negotiation can be achieved.
A noteworthy example of students’ direct action leading to negotiation and resolution occurred at the University of Missouri, where, in 2015, students protested and the football team threatened to boycott games if university leadership did not resolve racial unrest on campus. The resolution was the resignation of the university president and system chancellor. There are many components to direct action, such as constituent pressure (the football team) not to perform, which leads to economic concerns, political pressures, or media and social media exposure, which tarnishes the institutional brand value and credibility.
Protest Is Influenced by Biography
As I witnessed the Women’s March on Washington a few months back, I tweeted, “One person, one rally, one march, one movement can make all the difference in the world!” Just like a fire can be ignited with a single match, a movement can start with a single person. The match is devoid of diversity, but the person is a very complex, diverse being. To understand why protests and movements are started, we have to understand the person or people who ignite them.
Students who want to or have already engaged in protests should have a solid understanding of the motivations that drive their desire to be part of a movement — beyond simply participating in our nation’s democratic process. These motivations are born from one’s life experiences and perspectives on what is just, moral, and equitable. Unearthing one’s motivation to protest can prove to be a powerful weapon as students prepare to fight injustice and oppression on campuses across the U.S.
Political Situations CDOs Should Avoid or Manage
The role of the chief diversity officer (CDO) in higher education continues to evolve into a position of increasing authority and one central to university leadership. However, these professionals are faced with myriad challenges that are political in nature. These issues are characterized by L.G. Bolman and T.E. Deal in their book Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership. The political frame they discuss assumes that organizations are coalitions of individuals and interest groups who lobby, bargain, jockey, and negotiate for limited human and financial resources, as well as unlimited power and authority.
As CDOs go about exercising the duties of their role, they should be mindful of five political situations to avoid or at the very least, mitigate, lest they risk triggering a land mine unknowingly.
The university has many constituents with divergent concerns. The CDO is one of few university administrators, aside from the president, who interacts with these constituents on a regular basis. As CDOs execute the duties of their position, they must stay mindful that they need to balance the roles of advocate and administrator.
On the one hand, CDOs are expected to advocate on behalf of the university’s diverse constituents, such as an LGBTQ faculty and staff council, a student veteran committee, or an African American alumni group. Each of these groups adds value to the university, and each has individual concerns that it voices to the CDO to address with university leadership. A good outcome would be that the university president acknowledges receipt of the concerns; the optimal outcome would be that grievances are addressed and resolved by the university.
On the other hand, the CDO represents the administrative and leadership structure of the university. This is a delicate balancing act. If CDOs lean too far on the advocacy side, then their effectiveness as stewards of their universities is called into question, and if their advocacy does not meet the expectations of the diverse constituents they serve, then they appear untrustworthy and indifferent. Therefore, as they advocate on behalf of different constituents, they must always remember that there are limits.
From my experience, diversity is often viewed as a racialized proposition. Publicly, diversity is broadly defined as an effort to achieve inclusion. Privately, it is wrapped in a tacit agreement that race is the order of the day.
As a former chief diversity officer who is black, I was faced with this dichotomous situation daily. When I entered into a conversation about diversity, I was cognizant that my race might color the conversation. With a black person or audience, I often felt as if my role was viewed as one that would lift the veil of racism on campus. When talking to a white person or audience, I sensed as if my role was viewed as the administration’s champion for black students or, in effect, the token black administrator. And when I was talking to an LGBTQ audience, I felt as if my role was viewed as a symbol of empty promises regarding their marginalized status on campus. CDOs are supposed to represent the concerns and interests of all constituents on their campus; therefore, they must be fully aware of how their own intersectionality can affect their perceived agenda.
The ‘Unofficial’ Diversity Officer
Colleges and universities have rich histories of working to create more diverse, inclusive, and equitable academic environments. As CDOs transition from one institution to another, they would be wise to map the historical context of diversity and inclusion on campus. Tracing an institution’s history will unearth valuable artifacts that can link past efforts to future successes. Another benefit of this kind of discovery is that it will allow them to shine a light on those colleagues who have been working tirelessly on diversity and inclusion efforts long before they walked onto campus. These trailblazers have deep knowledge of the institution, and many are trusted by senior administrators. They can end up being a CDO’s biggest advocate, as well as his or her biggest detractor.
Of this group, CDOs must be mindful of the “unofficial” diversity officer. This is a person who has longevity, the ear of the president and or provost, and is perceived as a superstar among his or her colleagues on campus. These people are the ones most others go to regarding matters of diversity and inclusion, despite diversity and inclusion not being their primary role or function. One would hope that they would be great colleagues for the incoming CDO, but the outcome is usually not positive. Although these people do not hold any formal title in the diversity space, their social and political capital is vast, affording them unparalleled influence over the incumbent’s work in an unquestioned manner. Gaining these people as colleagues is key to not being undermined at every turn in the organization. However, in the event that relationship is not established, the CDO will need to increase his or her credibility and deepen relationships within the institution in order to mitigate the influence these people have over senior administrators.
Centralized Leadership within a Decentralized Structure
Diversity and inclusion should be the responsibility of everyone within the university. This statement, although true, can be problematic for CDOs. Indeed, everyone within an institution should feel an obligation to break down barriers of injustice and inequity. Everyone should have an abiding desire to create inclusive spaces where individuals can be their authentic selves.
In principle, this notion aligns with the decentralized nature of higher education. By looking at a university’s organizational chart, a CDO may feel extremely optimistic knowing he or she has a legion of collaborators — constituents ranging from student affairs, the provost’s office, human resources, alumni affairs, and the office of admissions to the individual colleges and the graduate school. In theory, these colleagues should all be helping the CDO shoulder the responsibility of this work with a shared vision.
In practice, though, the notion of collaboration is like the wind — always felt but never touched — which is typical in higher education politics. In a decentralized organizational structure, there is no true incentive for collaboration. As is often the case, departments wrestle with each other for the largest share of the general fund budget, and often, individual diversity efforts are not funded to capacity.
Interestingly, if one looks at the resource allocation for diversity and inclusion across the institution, one finds that these efforts are substantially funded as a whole. The role of the CDO is to provide a central, unifying diversity and inclusion vision for the university at large. Still, at times, achieving that outcome can be daunting when the CDO is faced with colleagues who put personal power and influence or group affiliation over the good of the university.
When faced with a competitive and, sometimes, combative culture, CDOs should listen with empathy for opportunities to present themselves as a resource to colleagues. They should roll up their sleeves, get in the trenches alongside their colleagues, and carry the water of change with them.
Transforming Data Into an Institutional Narrative
I recall giving a presentation to my institution’s board of visitors on the status of our strategic diversity plan, after being with the university for just five months. My colleagues had advised me that the board liked to see a lot of facts and figures, so I was provided all types of data on students, faculty, and staff. As I prepared for the presentation, I asked my colleagues who had worked closely on the diversity plan prior to my arrival on campus if we had any context for the numbers. I wanted to know what the data meant. I wanted to know the student experiences that would give life to and help make sense of the data. But that type of information was not provided. I knew in my gut that this was a bad move.— to present data without context, without meaning, without a narrative.
At the end of the presentation, I was asked the one question that I didn’t want to be asked but that I knew, if I were in the audience, I would have asked: “So what does this mean?” My response — crickets. I was the proverbial deer in headlights. The lesson here for CDOs is to never present data without providing context, and more important, always present an institutional narrative with the data.
As CDOs work to transform data into an institutional narrative for their campus, here are 10 questions to consider that may help throughout the process:
● Does your campus have a narrative of inclusion? If so, who shares that narrative (students, alumni, senior leaders, board members, advancement professionals, diversity and inclusion offices, and so on)?
● How is your campus’s narrative of inclusion woven into its narrative of excellence?
● How is qualitative and quantitative data used to create and articulate your institution’s narrative?
● What does successful diversity and inclusion collaboration look like in your institution and how does it advance student success?
● How does your institution empower and engage students in the process of creating an inclusive campus environment?
● How has your university constructively harnessed the emotion and energy of students who have expressed feelings
of exclusion on campus?
● Do your espoused values of diversity and inclusion align with your current actions? If so, in what ways?
● How does your university map diversity programs across the institution?
● How does your university leverage the curriculum to introduce students to concepts of social justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion?
● What institutional structures on your campus support diversity, equity, and inclusion?
Intrusive Attention Key for Black Males in Higher Ed
With more than 22 years in higher education, I am no stranger to what can be achieved when diligent and personal service is afforded to young Black and Latino men. The recent call to action by President Obama on behalf of Black and Latino young men provides startling statistics and realities to those responsible for integrating, collaborating and elevating the social position of these underrepresented populations.
To the point, they need to graduate, and we’re failing at getting them to the stage. Many programs across the country use “intervention” tactics to “spark” graduation rates. Although some have been successful, most intervention tactics hit nowhere near the mark. Still these programs are administered everyday around the country, and what I’ve found as a critical ingredient in the most successful programs is that they seek to make immediate and sustainable impact by applying a concept I call “Intrusive attention.”
I was fortunate some years back to start a male development program at a mid-western university. The students named it, Da BOMB, an acronym for Black Optimistic Men and Brothers, which represented the powerful energy released when positive Black men come together. This program took athletes, choir boys, Greeks and geeks and turned them into progressive scholars, spiritual beings and overcomers. The students even came together and actually paid their president at a rate that was the highest among student workers throughout the university. The BOMB still exists today, but there was something missing from its core, and I knew it, so I began to search for a better mousetrap.
About 15 years ago, I heard about the Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB). SAAB, now sometimes referred to as SAAB/B2B (Brother 2 Brother for a more inclusive title) began in 1990 at Georgia Southern University. Today it has grown to more than 250 chapters across college and university campuses; middle and high schools in more than 39 states in the U.S. Each chapter is run by student leaders.
I saw early-on that SAAB/B2B employs what I’ve come to know as intrusive attention ― the in-depth, whole-person approach to self-image transformation and societal responsibility. SAAB /B2B was designed to ensure that young men of color enjoy the privilege of social, cultural and spiritual enrichment while achieving academic advancement to graduation. The program increases the number of African American and Latino men who graduate from college by creating a positive peer community based on a spirit of caring.
I had the privilege of oversight for a SAAB/B2B chapter in Northwest Indiana from 2005 until 2011. It boasted a roster of 60-plus junior college and four-year university men with ages ranging from 17 to 62 and a four-year retention rate of 87 percent. Intrusive attention provided to the life structure of these men was the key to success. We knew when the students were in class, and when they were at work, or not. Most importantly, we knew who they loved and who they wanted to love them. We counseled about their closest friends and about being good fathers, men of faith, financially savvy and socially straight. The model in Indiana was the first of its kind for SAAB/B2B, a two-year/four-year school chapter, and it worked beautifully. In 2010, this chapter was dubbed “the most stellar chapter in the Mid-West.”
It’s a pleasure to now oversee another model for SAAB/B2B in Springfield, Mo., a place known well as the second whitest city of its size in the United States. This time, a pipeline for male development and academic advancement is expected to be built with support for universities, high schools and middle schools. This work is timely and aligns perfectly with the onset of President Obama’s Initiative for Young Black Men. We are just getting started, so let me tell you what has happened thus far, what took place this weekend and what will happen in the coming weeks.
Students ranging from 6th grade to graduate school began their exposure to SAAB/ B2B via an introductory meeting with two notables, Dr. Tyrone Bledsoe, founder of SAAB, and Mr. Hezekiah Griggs III, a highly successful entrepreneur and CEO of multi-media companies. I joined them in addressing the students about a journey to graduation and success that was to begin that day. The students underwent get-to-know activities, including afternoon sports, and finished the introductory weekend at church Sunday morning. What followed two weeks later was an intense “get-ready-for-tough-love” weekend leadership camp, led by Griggs, which started each day at 5:30 a.m. and ended at 11 p.m. Prior to the leadership camp, a call for mentors and support for this program to the Springfield community was made by the Program Coordinator Francine Pratt. The community responded well to this needed initiative, and the mentors were present during the entire leadership camp weekend.
This past weekend’s activity included more leadership activity, business planning and officer selection by about 35 Black and Latino young men. They set personal goals that extend over the next three years. They received “the program,” a three-hour orientation about how to run their meetings, support each other and hold each other accountable for committee responsibility. That was the third start-up meeting of a five-university, three-high school and two-middle school chapter of what the students call the Bridge Springfield Brother 2 Brother initiative for male development.
This coming weekend, students will travel to the SAAB/B2B National Conference in Dearborn, Michigan.
Ultimately, the students who remain in Bridge Springfield are expected to graduate and be prepared to serve their home community, or anywhere they find themselves.
I believe it is clear that the leadership of this landmark male development program understands the value and impact that intrusive attention can have on young men who are in most cases left to define life through their own devices.
I further believe that every Predominately White Institution, Hispanic-Serving Institution and Historically Black College and University should adopt this or a similar model for male development. We are committed to “saving lives and salvaging dreams” because the data show that it works. And, as implied in the SAAB/B2B motto: “I am my brother’s keeper and together we will rise!”
Dr. Kenneth Coopwood, Sr. is Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion at Missouri State University.