POPin Blog

Uncovering University Diversity and Inclusion Issues Before They Escalate

Today, universities all across the nation are tackling problems of engagement, diversity, and inclusion (or a lack thereof). As much as we wish that those issues didn’t exist, they do. And sweeping them under the rug will not solve anything. But you know what will solve them? Engaging faculty, professors, students, and alumni to collaborate and bring new ideas into the mix. A cautionary note can be taken from Harvard for instance. The official school shield adopted in 1936 portrayed wheat and the crest of a plantation owner and slave trader. A student group called Reclaim Harvard Law demanded the crest be changed in favor of something more inclusive and less racially offensive. This group protested and occupied the student center in order to make real change happen. They held discussion groups and had guest speakers during that time as well. Actually listening to your students is an integral step in combating inclusion issues. Engaging them to speak up about injustice will help you and the university tackle these problems head on. Work with each other to make changes, not against each other. Clearly, this is a very controversial issue affecting universities everywhere. If the faculty and staff do not get ahead of the game, major ramifications can and will occur. Unless of course your university likes negative press splashing the news. So, how does a university go about stemming the issue before it manifests? Communication is absolutely vital. Here are a few steps to uncover the important issues you want to undertake:
  • Set a Baseline with the Faculty and Staff. First you must engage faculty and staff in order to better understand the consensus on how close or how far away the university is to being considered diverse and inclusive. You’ll want to find out what the administration currently believes relative to the inclusion and diversity of the university. Once you’ve figured that out you can take it to the rest of the school.
  • Open the Discussion Up to Students, Professors, Faculty, and Alumni alike. To make collective decisions everyone can agree on, you need representatives from each group present in the discussion. Pretty simple right? It may be harder than you think so here are a few guidelines:
    • Establish a Brave Space. Maybe you’ve heard this term or maybe this is the first time. We’re going to explain it either way. A brave space is very similar to a Safe Space. Participants of the discussion should be comfortable in opening up and sharing their opinions without fear of judgment. The difference with a Brave Space is the ability to have real, genuine discussions. It’s not just a circle of each person taking turns sharing. Clearly this level of intimacy isn’t possible at the student body level unless you use a social media tool. But everyone should be encouraged to speak their truth, even if it is different than someone else’s’. The idea is to open up the space for learning and growth. When people fear disagreeing with others, no progress occurs. Sometimes it is necessary to have opposing viewpoints in order to see a whole new perspective and move forward productively. It is okay to create controversy, as long as it is done with care, respect, and empathy toward the other. A common theme in a Brave Space is to “Own your impacts and your intentions” If you want a more in depth look into how to create one of these spaces, check out this quick presentation on the subject.
    • Generally speaking, anonymity makes for a more open, honest, and inclusive conversation. It takes great courage to stand up and say ‘this is what is wrong with our school.” Often, people tend to fear pointing out the pain points. But of course, everyone knows that is a vital step to finding solutions. If you can’t uncover and acknowledge a problem, you can’t fix it. That’s where anonymity comes into play. Give your people a chance to speak up without fear of punishment or judgment.
  • Actionable decisions. Of course, all of this means very little without actionable steps to implement. After setting a baseline, hashing out the details of the problems at hand, it’s time to start brainstorming solutions. You want to come up with a punch-list that is measurable and accomplishable in a reasonable timeframe. The added benefit here is that because everyone was involved with the creation of the list, they will feel more engaged and involved– mostly because it was their ideas in the first place. They will take more ownership in the whole process.
It is your responsibility as the faculty and staff to get ahead of the game, to meet the problem with solutions instead of backlash. Are you ready to step up to the plate?