Higher education institutions—like many other types of organizations around the country—have been increasingly focused on diversity and inclusion in the midst of many social justice movements on and off-campus. Students are concerned about and committed to being a part of diverse, equitable, and inclusive campus communities.

Students also recognize that diversity is both multifaceted and intersectional—it encompasses, intertwines, and extends beyond ability, age, gender identity, race, religion and sexual identity. This socially conscious generation of students has an expectation that the campus community is an environment where all feel included and respected, that their opinions and contributions are valued, and that they will be treated equitably.

While many universities have had a longstanding focus on diversity, equity and inclusions, there is still substantial progress to be made. More and more campuses are committed to recognizing both the passion of students around issues of diversity and inclusion—and the power that their efforts have to increase the recruitment, retention, and success of students. The challenge for universities then becomes how to create engaging and effective diversity programs for all students.

Not Their Parents’—Or Even Their Older Siblings’—Messages

The types of messaging and programming that will resonate with today’s students is far different from the messaging that might have been used with their parents, or even with their older siblings. Communication around diversity, equity, and inclusion has moved far beyond the days of attempting to achieve quotas. Today’s discussions have expanded to the need to also be inclusive and equitable in terms of the lived experiences of all students on campus.

Also, importantly, when students hear those messages they don’t want to feel as though they’re being preached to, or scolded, and they don’t want to be cast in the role of being bad actors. Engaging diversity programs are those that ensure students and employees feel that they’re partners, not problems, when it comes to building an inclusive campus climate.

Engagement Online and Off

Even before the pandemic, many colleges were using online forums to communicate about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Today, though, it’s increasingly likely that much of the communication, training, and interaction around topics related to diversity and inclusion on campus will be taking place online. That requires different considerations to ensure engagement. Students never wish to be simply “talked to” when receiving information—but they resist being talked to even more in online environments. 

Even asynchronous diversity programs that students can watch at their convenience can incorporate elements of interactions that boost engagement—brief quizzes and questions, video vignettes that students are then asked to answer questions about, a variety of formats that include text, images, and sound, and the ability to navigate through the content at their own pace, selecting various elements based on how they prefer to be engaged.

Diversity & Inclusion Training

Diversity, equity, and inclusion training for college students can be challenging. EVERFI presents unique experiences of real people to explore key concepts such as identity, power, privilege, and communication.

Diversity Training in Higher Education That Creates Allies Not Enemies

Another best practice in creating engaging diversity programs for college students is ensuring that they are part of the solution and don’t feel as though the university considers them to be part of the problem. College diversity programs shouldn’t cast students in the role of being “guilty” of bad behavior; instead, the focus should be on enlisting students and others as allies in building a positive campus environment that supports diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Finally, engaging diversity training programs for college students should take into consideration student learning styles and preferences, and seek their input in terms of the type of information that would be helpful to them in helping to create a culture of inclusion. There are things they need to know; there are also things that many want to know. Understanding this and working to build diversity programs for students that meet their needs and address their concerns will go a long way toward encouraging, and sustaining, engagement.

Take An Inclusive Approach to Campus Leadership

Hear from four top diversity, equity, and inclusion leaders who share their best practices for creating an effective DEI Campus strategy.