Diversity officers working to standardize, elevate role in higher ed

Chief diversity officers from a range of colleges and universities gathered recently to discuss strategies for professionalizing the role and for leveraging its potential as an institutional change agent, Diverse Issues in Higher Education reports.

Hosted by the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE), the inaugural Standards of Professional Practice Institute (SPPI) focused on increasing adoption of a 12-part, research-based framework for institutions’ diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. The standards address topics such as curriculum development’s role in advancing diversity goals, institution-specific cultural factors that may affect change efforts, and procedures for responding to bias incidents.

Defining and supporting the diversity officer role

NADOHE developed the standards in 2014 as part of its work to “realign diversity practitioners’ work within the necessary power structures at institutions,” according Diverse Issues. The SPPI highlighted several challenges to such professional cohesion, including the vast scope of and variation in institutions’ efforts to foster inclusion, the constantly evolving national dialogue about diversity, and confusion about the differences between HR and diversity officer responsibilities.

Diversity officers participating in the session also highlighted several factors critical to increasing their agency and influence, including administrative and campus-wide support. Getting university stakeholders to realize that diversity officers impact “all aspects of the institution” is crucial “to help further build upon that work,” said NADOHE board member Clyde Wilson, who also serves as chief diversity officer for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System. NADOHE officials also stressed the importance of establishing a “direct reporting line” between diversity officers and their institutions’ president, executives, or board of trustees; empowering them to set strategy; and ensuring they are well-resourced.

Reflecting on the SPPI, NADOHE officials said they hope it provided a forum for collaboration and helped clarify diversity officers’ role as a strategic leader. In future years, NADOHE also may develop a rubric or survey to assess institute participants’ mastery of the practice standards, said Rosemarie Kilkenny, who co-chairs NADOHE’s professional development committee and is Georgetown University’s vice president for institutional diversity and equity.

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