Guiding DEI principles for the Reimagined CampusCrises Forges Opportunities for Leadership
This is an incredibly tumultuous moment for higher education. A global pandemic has shuttered campuses, and has given way to an unprecedented beginning of the Fall semester; while also shining a glaring light on inequities in the student experience. Additionally, campus communities’ urgent and sustained demands for senior leaders to address systemic racism and social injustice will undoubtedly continue. In this moment, reaffirming and intensifying an institution-wide commitment to inclusive excellence is more important than ever to ensure that all students, faculty and staff are positioned to succeed with the relevant support measures in place.
Initiatives focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging historically have been positioned as adjacent to institutional strategic plans. However, the pandemic has illuminated the criticality of evaluating campus continuity plans through a lens of equity to support success of not only students, but the entire campus community. Doing so sheds light on some of the key considerations of how the student experience has been impacted and can serve as the catalyst to more innovatively redesigning the campus experience.
Key Factors to Consider
- The disparate impact of COVID-19 related deaths on communities of color
- The COVID-19 related under/unemployment of LGBTQIA, individuals with disabilities, and in communities of color
- The decreased enrollment rates of Black students
- Uneven access to technology and resources to participate in virtual learning
- The rise in harassing behavior based on race and national origin
- International civil unrest and protests of acute and systematic racial inequity
Institutions of higher education should weigh these factors and evaluate their commitment to an equitable and inclusive university community, as well as a path to reconciliation. The converging impact of these events has spurred campus leaders to consider a critical question: “Who will be a part of our living, learning, and working community and what support will they need?”
The Confluence of Access and Equality
A recent student poll showed that 12% of students who’ve already paid their deposit no longer plan to attend college full time. Impacted enrollment numbers, uncertainty about the timeline to a COVID-19 vaccine, anticipated on-campus activism, and many other variables necessitate innovative thinking to plan campus scenarios with incomplete and changing information.
Innovation to meet this moment will be found in focusing on who comprises working groups and your decision-making bodies. To adapt in a complex environment requires a sustained commitment to narrowing representational gaps. This applies both to intentionally inviting underrepresented voices to the table and to longer-standing efforts to increase and retain a representative student, faculty, and staff body.
A (Re)Orientation to Campus DEI Norms
Prior to the heightened tribalism and xenophobia resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,
over half of respondents to a 2019 EVERFI survey reported that they had witnessed an act of racism, yet only 7% of respondents had received training on topics of diversity, equity and inclusion. On top of that, digital civility is at its lowest levels in 4 years, according to the latest Microsoft Digital Civility Index; which also indicates a general increase in online discrimination and microaggressions. The topic that fuels the most incivility? Politics.
IHEs are planning continued virtual, hybrid, and on-campus learning experiences and all three will require a reorienting the campus community to institutional values of respect, civility and acceptance to proactively address interpersonal conflict.
The collective heightened awareness of systemic and acute racism—resulting in international protests and calls for change to policy, protocols and practice—have created a renewed focus on how diversity, equity and inclusion are embedded into the curriculum. Institutions, K-12 and Higher Education alike, are committing to campus-wide curricular and co-curricular experiences to not only expand understanding through dialogue, but also create strategic recommendations for institutional change.
Student Development and Learning
The ripple effect on experiential learning High Impact Practices (HIPs) comprise study abroad experiences, service learning, internships, and research with faculty. Preliminary research summarizes the effect of selected HIPs on certain measures of student persistence and success by demographic population including final GPA, time to degree, and timely graduation. Results varied by racial–ethnic and socioeconomic background, with HIP participation having differentially positive effects on the GPAs of both Latina/o/x respondents and Pell grant recipients. Likewise, Latina/o/x students had significantly lower average times to degree and greater improvements in timely graduation with increased HIP participation. These findings suggest that HIP participation supports student performance and success, with historically underserved students often benefitting more than their peers.
The pivotal High Impact Practice of engaging in internships has been remarkably disrupted by the pandemic. Over 50% of summer internship opportunities have been closed this year and may have a significant impact on the employment outcomes of graduating and matriculating students. This same study showed that 57% of the respondents who participated in summer internships were offered full-time employment compared to 43% of respondents who had not. By recognizing the opportunities that HIP participation has on students from underrepresented background provide, as well as the downstream impact of widening the employment outcomes divide, institutions are positioned to address this by focusing investments in innovative Career Services, such as concentrated externships, developing a catalogue of employers who have developed effective virtual internship practices, and creating specific programming on soft skill development, which employers have raised as a critical competency for early-career employees.
A Climate of Safety Culture
Safety culture sets a framework for viewing psychological safety, or being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status, or career. This moment in higher education calls the campus community to recognize that creating “safe spaces” in pockets and portions is insufficient.
The path forward is to expand the concept of psychological safety beyond programs supporting specific student demographics to a “whole campus” active appreciation of diversity— developing skill-based behaviors that promote inclusion and creating forums for deeper exploration of how systems, policies, and processes may be harboring biases that allow inequities to persist.
While the three-pronged crisis of health, economic and social justice continues to have a ripple effect on higher education; acknowledging the disparate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on various student populations creates the opportunity to redesign student services through an equity lens. By leveraging the four pillars of Inclusive Excellence (access & equality, curricular & co-curricular diversity, student learning & development, and climate) as a blueprint for that evaluation process, IHEs will be able to innovatively navigate through this experience.