What’s in a name? A look at ‘inclusive excellence’ administrators.

While many colleges now use the term “inclusive excellence” in describing their priorities, far fewer have incorporated that language into administrators’ titles, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Exploring the implications of emerging cabinet-level positions explicitly dedicated to “inclusive excellence,” The Chronicle notes that such leaders appear “to have more expansive duties than a chief diversity officer.”

Aashir Nasim, chief diversity officer and vice president for inclusive excellence at Virginia Commonwealth University, however, says the difference between being a “chief diversity officer” and a “vice president for inclusive excellence” is subtle, calling it more of a “Granny Smith to Fuji difference” than an “apples to oranges” distinction.

Diversity vs. inclusion

Explaining the shift toward a broader purview, Archie W. Ervin, president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, said, “Diversity is about being invited to the dance. Inclusion is being allowed to dance.”

Whereas an administrator could theoretically achieve diversity through enrollment and hiring, an administrator focused on inclusive excellence would be responsible for facilitating the success of diverse groups of students, faculty, and staff after they join the university community. For instance, they may track whether classrooms and research efforts uphold inclusive excellence principles, the retention rates of students and faculty from underrepresented groups, or the graduation rates of diverse students.

According to The Chronicle, the concept of inclusive excellence has been gaining momentum since the Association of American Colleges and Universities in 2005 published a paper outlining the organizational changes needed to support students’ intellectual and social development, embrace students’ cultural diversity, and create a welcoming environment that enriches learning. While colleges vary in how they implement positions with “inclusive excellence” in their titles, “having the position at the cabinet level does signal its value to the university,” The Chronicle notes.

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