Author

Rob Buelow

Universal vaccination is the light at the end of the tunnel for the COVID-19 pandemic. The science is clear — the more people who develop immunity through vaccination or surviving COVID infection, the harder it is for the virus to spread.

And so, the most important public health metric is the percent of the population that’s been vaccinated. More vaccinations, more immunity, fewer infections, fewer deaths.

But what does this have to do with campus diversity, inclusion, and belonging efforts? 

If we think about acts and experiences of bias and discrimination similarly to how we think about coronavirus infections, then the outcome we’re striving for is the same: herd immunity. And the analogy isn’t a stretch. Data from EVERFI’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion for Students course show that 9% of college students have experienced unfair treatment because of their identity during the past year. At the time of writing this piece, there have been 29 million reported COVID cases across the United States – roughly 9% of the population.

Taking it a little further, experiences of discrimination vary in severity – same with COVID cases. Some of the “spreaders” of discrimination—like COVID—are relatively asymptomatic, harboring implicit bias or engaging in microaggressions. You get the point.

Before going further, I recognize that the analogy between vaccination and training on diversity, inclusion and belonging in college is imperfect. As an example, campus inclusion efforts require regular, multifaceted engagement whereas vaccines are typically more “one and done” initiatives. And, I acknowledge the disparate impact of the pandemic on marginalized communities, the historic and ongoing inequalities in healthcare access and outcomes, the complicated and painful legacy of unethical medical research that harmed Black persons in the US, and the anti-Asian xenophobia stemming from COVID-19. These experiences matter in how we think and talk about both vaccination and bias and discrimination. And still, there is common ground in the public health implications of these two complex (and inter-related) challenges that warrant consideration. 

How would “universal vaccination” through diversity and inclusion education work to create a campus community of belonging? 

 Similar to getting shots, large numbers of college students must build knowledge and skills to understand identities, recognize privilege and oppression, confront biases, and act as allies. And similar to wearing masks, college students have to consistently practice the skills of tolerance and inclusion, engage in dialogues across differences, and create a campus culture where feelings of belonging flourish.

As a public health professional and former campus prevention practitioner, I know all too well how the complexity of vaccination efforts mirrors the challenges of reaching and teaching large numbers of college students about issues of safety, well-being, and inclusion:

  • How do we establish the capacity to reach everyone on campus?
  • How do we drive campus-wide participation in these programs?
  • How do we prioritize support for the most vulnerable students?
  • How do we measure results and continue improving?
  • How do we provide ongoing boosters to sustain impact?

This is where the power of technology comes in

Just like web-based systems have streamlined the scheduling of vaccine appointments, technology-based education provides a lot of advantages for engaging students around diversity, inclusion, and belonging as well. First, today’s students just expect it. Putting aside how much they value social justice, they want push-button convenience and hyper-personalized content. Meeting students where they are increasingly means meeting them online. EVERFI has developed a suite of digital programs to engage students, staff, and faculty around the most urgent social impact issues facing campus communities: diversity and inclusion, mental health substance misuse, sexual harassment and assault, and beyond. 

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.

Then there’s the issue of scalability. Getting to herd immunity means huge numbers of students engaging in diversity and inclusion efforts. In the vaccine world, 80% of people must be vaccinated for polio herd immunity (and 95% for measles). If you truly believe that an inclusive community is good for your students and good for your institution, you can’t just put out a statement and host a few town halls. The reach has to be massive, which can easily exceed the capacity of understaffed student affairs departments or a Chief Diversity Officer. When campuses implement and mandate EVERFI’s online prevention and compliance programs, though, more than 90% of students complete them. And with 9 peer-reviewed efficacy studies, our programs work.

And just like most vaccines, a single dose of education isn’t going to eradicate bias and discrimination on campus. You need boosters for campus diversity initiatives to reinforce prior learning. You have to develop and deploy new programs to address evolving needs and harmful variants. The world is rapidly changing in the space of diversity and inclusion—the language, the practices, the expectations—and EVERFI is committed to keeping pace. We’re excited to launch fully updated diversity, inclusion, and belonging courses this May, built by a team of renowned experts. These will include action-oriented trainings for faculty, staff, and campus leaders that can be modularized for ongoing engagement, and fresh new content for students that is built mobile-first with even more opportunities for customization. 

Every good public health strategy requires data.

You need to know whether or not your diversity, inclusion, and belonging efforts are working, which means putting in place pre- and post-surveys for your campus-wide interventions. You need campus climate insights to guide you on where to focus next to stay ahead of future “outbreaks.” And you need benchmark data that puts the needs and strengths of your community into context by allowing you to compare your campus to peers. This is one of the most unique and valuable aspects of what we do at EVERFI. We gather rich insights from 5 million students, staff, and faculty across 1,200+ campuses every year, making our dataset the most robust source of safety, well-being, and inclusion insights in the world.

The social justice activism that exploded in 2020 made clear that we’re dealing with multiple public health crises as a nation and an industry. The challenges of discrimination and bias certainly overlap with COVID-19, including the shared destination of herd immunity. This gives campus change-makers a clear goal: to get every single member of their community inoculated through scalable, ongoing, and data-driven diversity, inclusion, and belonging programs. 

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