How do colleges and universities respond to the seismic demographic shift that is occurring in the U.S.? Colleges and universities must better define themselves as social institutions and clearly articulate their institutional mission. They must rethink who they are serving and how they are serving. Institutions need to ask themselves the questions about who are they not serving and why. These are not simple questions and should not be treated as such. The focus of diversity has at times been redirected to discourse about “those people” or “those ideas.” Diversity is broader than that. Diversity has been a value of American life but it has not always been valued in American life. Higher education does and should continue to play a significant role in advancing the ideas, the people and the pedagogy. It is not merely reform in higher education that diversity warrants, it is transformation. Higher education should be about inquiry, increasing the base of knowledge in all subjects and disciplines, providing a new brand of leadership, and educating new minds to exist and compete in a diverse and global community.
Colleges and universities can use the following strategies as tools to redefine and restructure—using diversity as a theme. Many of these assertions have implications for institutional leadership—for leadership that proposes to be transactional and transformational. Leadership that is transactional addresses the internal needs of an organic and dynamic organization. Leadership is transformational in the sense that leading for diversity stands to change the culture and traditions, values, symbols, language and systems of how an institution lives.
- Define (redefine) institutional commitment to diversity. Because of the dynamic nature of diversity, institutions need to clearly articulate what influence diversity has on the institution and in what ways diversity should be reflected through the institution.
- Promote access, quality and diversity as a package. All three qualities should be viewed as interrelated and not mutually exclusive.
- Evaluate institutional and departmental missions with regard to diversity. Institutions should set new standards and expectations through institutional mission, policies and procedures and organizational culture.
- Institutionally speak a common language; define diversity through consensus. Leaders must realize that even though there may be a common set of goals, there may be a plethora of voices espousing ideas and methods that may be different. Leaders should qualify these varying views as strengths and not as weaknesses.
- Understand the historical and philosophical context of access and diversity. Diversity is complex in nature and historical, legal and philosophical perspectives provide a firm foundation in which to build understanding and hopefully consensus.
- Realize that diversity is inclusive not exclusive. An institution must refuse to “ghettoize” diversity by proclaiming that it only serves the interests of people of color. The benefits of diversity should serve the entire institutional community.
- Realize that divergent views contribute significantly to a growing body of knowledge. Difference is not necessarily disagreement. Instead, it should be seen as an attempt explicating what is perceived as reality by others.
- Continually provide information and resources for the community. The institutional community expands when diversity is fixed as an active part of the institutional mission.
Diversity is a true measure of quality and excellence and until our language, organizational structure, leadership practices, and institutional constituencies reflect these new measures, higher education will struggle behind a society that continues to grow exceedingly diverse- in all the ways diversity is defined.
Dr. Adrian K. Haugabrook is Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Success and Chief Diversity Officer at Wheelock College in Boston, MA. Follow him on Twitter @AKHaugabrook.