Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Planning

Postsecondary institutions continue to reexamine their policies and commitment to diversity as students across college campuses voice discontent and act against the diversity status quo that has been largely ineffective at ensuring equity and inclusion. Together we are creating meaningful strategies and solutions around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) planning in higher education.

Why do it? Why integrated? Who does it?
When is it done? How is it done? Learn how.

What is DEI planning?

SCUP defines diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) planning in higher education as planning that outlines how a college or university will:

  • Gather a community of students, faculty, administrators, staff, and alumni who have a wide spectrum of characteristics, backgrounds, and identities.
  • Empower each member of that community to achieve their full potential by removing barriers, addressing the impacts of historical injustices, and adopting just policies, practices, and structures.
  • Foster an environment and culture that values, welcomes, and respects differences.

There are a number of traditional models for implementing DEI within an organization, including:

  1. The affirmative action/equity model that works to reduce overt forms of discrimination and spur changes in demographic representation,
  2. The multicultural model that seeks to culturally align services, programs, initiatives, and offices, and
  3. The academic diversity model in which diversity is defined as an essential environmental condition for providing high-quality learning experiences.1

Why do DEI planning?

Demographic shifts where the American population is becoming increasingly diverse necessitates inclusive practices in society, businesses, and educational entities such as colleges and universities. That increase in diversity presents opportunities and benefits for how we learn and the environment in which we learn.

DEI planning doesn’t just benefit the college and university—it benefits society as a whole. It fosters a sense of civic learning while preparing individuals to live in an increasingly global world, thus reducing racism and prejudice.2

Why is integrated planning important for DEI planning?

Institutions tend to boast about their academic rankings and the quality of education they deliver. Good educational quality is DEI. DEI planning is the hallmark and central piece to what we do in higher education: educating and preparing students for a global world.

At the same time, it is impossible to achieve progress if DEI planning is treated as a siloed or special activity. Every facet of the institution should and must have a DEI component to it. Having otherwise would be malpractice—to the student, the institution, and our world.

Who does DEI planning?

Commitment on DEI starts at the top; however, it is everyone’s responsibility. Institutions may hire senior-level administrators to coordinate institutional efforts. Ideally, they are equipped with the necessary staffing, resources, and support to carry out meaningful change and progress towards DEI.

The National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) is the premier organization for chief diversity officers in higher education whose vision is “to lead higher education toward inclusive excellence through institutional transformation” (NADOHE website). It has put together a Standards of Professional Practice for Chief Diversity Officers in Higher Education 2.0 to offer guidance for those dedicated professionals and institutions to go about the work of DEI.

Ongoing development is critical for any professional. To expand awareness and acquire additional knowledge and ideas about DEI work, consider attending the following professional development opportunities through these organizations:
Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) Diversity, Equity, and Student Success Annual Conference
National Association of Student Personnel Administrators’ (NASPA) Multicultural Institute
National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE) Annual Conference
National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) Annual Conference

When is DEI planning done?

DEI work is never final. There will always be a need to reassess and adapt. It is recommended that institutions consider adopting regular assessment methods for collecting ongoing data about diversity and institutional climate. This will aid in the understanding of where the organization is on DEI.

How is DEI planning done?

Smith (2009) offers a framework for addressing diversity derived from both historical and current trends in higher education that includes:

  • Access and success of underrepresented student populations
  • Campus climate and intergroup relations
  • Education and scholarship
  • Institutional viability and vitality

Such efforts “provide a way of understanding what institutional capacity for diversity might mean and what it might look like.”3

Strategic DEI planning should incorporate several elements, including but not limited to:

  1. Institutional-wide responsibility coordinated through a central command structure,
  2. Goals and objectives for institutional subunits that align with the institution’s central mission,
  3. The inclusion of a representative body of the institution within the composition of the planning committee with duties distributed accordingly,
  4. Ways of measuring effectiveness that are accessible for reporting and tracking, and
  5. Data-driven decision-making embedded within the institution culture.4

There are multiple ways to approach or structure your DEI plan, including:

  • Integrated Diversity Plan: diversity goals are embedded within the broader institutional strategic plan.
  • Centralized Diversity Plan: diversity is symbolically featured throughout the strategic plan and communicated as an institutional priority.
    • Pro: presents diversity as an intentional focus within the strategic plan
    • Con: potential to underfund diversity initiatives and relegate tasks to a few individuals
  • Decentralized Diversity Plan: mindful of institution’s central overarching strategic diversity goals, but also allows subunits to take ownership of the development and implementation of their own plans.5
1 Damon A. Williams and Charmaine Clowney, “Strategic Planning for Diversity and Organizational Change: A Primer for Higher Education Leadership,” Effective Practices for Academic Leaders 2, no. 3 (2007): 1–16.
2 Christine A. Stanley et al., “Organizational Change and the Chief Diversity Officer: A Case Study of Institutionalizing a Diversity Plan,” Journal of Diversity in Higher Education 12, no. 3 (2019): 255–265.
3 Daryl G. Smith, Diversity’s Promise for Higher Education: Making It Work (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), 64.
4 Peter Nwosu and Josh Koller, “Strategic Planning and Assessment in an Outcomes-Based Funding Environment,” Planning for Higher Education 42, no. 3 (2014): 58–72.
5 Damon A. Williams, Strategic Diversity Leadership: Activating Change and Transformation in Higher Education (Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 2013).
Author: Jeffery Lamont Wilson, PhD, Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University – School of Education

Learn how.

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