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Diversity Must Be An Integral Part of
“Who We Are” and “What We Do”

A Commentary on Institutional Diversity Leadership
in Higher Education

by Jose J. Soto
Lincoln, Nebraska

Jose J. Soto is VP for AA/Equity/Diversity, Southeast Community College Area (Lincoln, Nebraska)

For moral, ethical, legal, business, and financial reasons institutions of higher education must capture and leverage the strengths and talents of everyone. This requires that institutional leaders embark upon systems improvement initiatives designed to facilitate acceptance, adaptation, and responsiveness to diversity within our institutions. This is especially critical for institutions with a predominantly white workforce and student body.

To achieve these worthy and important goals, it is imperative that all members of the academy and the communities served by the institution are actively engaged in planning, developing, and implementing activities to better serve, better develop, and better utilize the talents of diverse groups within our institutions. Leaders in the diversity/inclusion arena must provide insights and a pathway to assist others in building and sustaining individual and institutional capacity to attract and better serve diverse groups… students, employees, and constituents in our communities. Diversity leaders must serve as working models of activism to change institutional culture and produce change within and outside of the academy.

Introducing and infusing concepts of and activities focusing on multicultural education, global education, cultural competence, and diversity require deliberate, concerted, and directed efforts at the policy (governance), administrative (management), and practice (instructional) levels within an institution. Toward this end, a core vision of and primary leadership agenda for an institutional diversity leader should focus on the details of implementing a process for organizing, presenting, and advancing a systems change agenda designed to make “diversity” a real and integral part of all institutional functions. This would include planning, staff development, funding, monitoring, and assessment.

In these regards, a primary contribution of the chief institutional diversity leader would be to identify, support, and promote the institutional priorities/strategies necessary to advance the knowledge base and capacity to create a welcoming environment for diverse populations. Additionally, efforts would focus on positively influencing the recruitment/retention of diverse students and employees, infusion of “diversity” into the curriculum, and institutionalizing processes to ensure that “diversity” is an ongoing consideration and integral part of the institution.

Leadership for institutional diversity serves as the catalyst for developing, organizing, and implementing a system wide initiative designed to move an institution from “good intentions” regarding “diversity” to concrete, substantive, and significant actions by those who govern, manage, teach, and provide support to students and employees within the institution. In essence, work in the arena of institutional diversity leadership involves:

  • Assisting others to work, individually and collectively, toward establishing interactions, opportunities, and services that are respectful of, responsive to, and inclusive of the diversity that is our emerging reality;
  • Ensuring that the institution (i.e., processes, policies, practices, people, principles) accommodates and adapts to the existing changes in the diversity equation; and
  • Providing support to institutional decision-makers as they assume personal and professional responsibility for facilitating change and exerting leadership in their spheres of influence and authority.

Published in In Motion Magazine April 4, 2007

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