I am a Black male hoping to, one day, become an officer or manager of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) on a college campus. After reading the article, The University as a Total Institution, by Dr. John Paul Wright, University of Cincinnati, (http://quillette.com/2017/01/02/the-university-as-a-total-institution/) which is a commentary on the detrimental affects of the role D&I offices have come to play on college campuses, I find I agree with a lot of his points. For example, Dr. Wright points out that there’s no official, universally accepted requirements or credentials for diversity officers. Many times, though, they are the highest paid officers on campus. He also states that concepts of diversity, in some colleges, have turned into a sort of sacred dogma. D&I offices on some campuses a powerful group of thought police set to exclude anyone who makes even the slightest utterance that might be interpreted as offensive (he may be dismissing, here, though the reality of living in an extremely litigious society). The author more valid points on which we’d stand in agreement, however, where we disagree is his proposal that diversity offices should be rescinded altogether. Instead, I believe that the purpose of the types of D&I offices described should be refocused to meet university business goals, diverting the present political goals he discusses elsewhere. Examples of university business goals directed by D&I could include ensuring ongoing innovation in all areas of the campus community, gaining the highest benefit from the increasingly diverse talent pool, and equipping students for optimal performance in the global market. After all, there is no shortage of evidence indicating D&I, if guided effectively, is simply good for business.
Teams of diverse individuals have shown to be able to think on a wider scale, improve communication with new markets, increase retention, and contribute to talent acquisition by expanding searches and providing opportunities for present staff members to display their skills. In their book The Inclusion Dividend: Why Investing in Diversity & Inclusion Pays Off (2013), Mark Kaplan and Mason Donovan point out that corporations, collectively, pay over $8 billion annually to increase diversity and inclusion within their respective companies. While, to some extent, this is to provide protection from litigation, it’s mostly driven by those factors listed above. Part of this investment in seeking D&I leaders is due to the expertise (which is constantly growing and changing) and passion it takes to get the most out of diverse teams. As consumers and stakeholders become more and more diversified, expanding and new markets become more complex. Like any other business, universities and colleges also have to develop strategies for adjusting to these market changes. If not, falling enrollments will almost certainly be the consequence. As Kaplan and Donavan put it, D&I is a high risk/high reward endeavor. Most important and unique to universities, though, are providing students with the highest standards of education possible. Students deserve the opportunity to attain and develop the habits and knowledge necessary to excel in the rapidly diversifying, global economy.
Almost forty years of research using large samples of students across the US support the view point that students benefit significantly from culturally heterogeneous learning environments (for example, see Effects of Critical Thinking Skills Over 4 Years of College , Pascarella et al). Students learning in these diverse environments develop more refined critical thinking skills, social empathy, and become, generally, more innovative than their counterparts learning in more culturally homogenous communities. Other research has shown increased retention related (though, in my opinion, indirectly) to cross-cultural experiences and healthy cross-cultural relationships. So, for students, it’s a matter of personal and professional development, leading to increased potential for career success. As Dr. Wright points out, however, many diversity and inclusion offices are driven by political agendas. This, in my view, fails the students. A forced dogma only serves to limit their thought, reduce empathy for others, discourage critical thinking, and develop a one-sided view. All bad for business in the world of life-after-college. D&I managers and officers must find ways to balance this duty to students without disregarding the political and professional goals of university faculty and staff.
So, while I agree with Dr. Wright on many points, I disagree that diversity and inclusion offices are unnecessary on college campuses. Instead, I think the responsibility of the CDIO or D&I manager should be focused on overseeing team building, expanding talent acquisition, and building and sustaining an environment of innovation using D&I as an important resource. Additionally, D&I officers should focus on developing educational initiatives that provide students with opportunities to interact across cultures in formal and informal settings. In short, while there will most likely always be some political focus, the corporate health of the institution should be the business of the D&I officer. While many in academia may disagree, the university is a business and, as a very wise friend once pointed out to me, “The business of business is to do business.”