Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 10, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 10,
Number 2

Download our print issue (PDF)
Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity and Learning: “A Defining Moment”
Institutional Diversity in a New Nation: Lessons Lived, Lessons Learned
The Pedagogy of Sentipensante: Recasting Institutional Core Agreements
Transforming Our Institutions for the Twenty-first Century: The Role of the Chief Diversity Officer
Creating Institutional Transformation Using the Equity Scorecard
Curricular Transformation
Service Learning, Multicultural Education, and the Core Curriculum:
A Model for Institutional Change
Drop It Like It’s Hot! Hip-Hop in the Twenty-First-Century Classroom
A Sustainable Campus-Wide Program for Diversity Curriculum Infusion
Campus-Community Involvement
El Camino Real: Where Culture and Academia Meet
Faculty Involvement
Advancing Diversity through a Framework of Intersectionality: Inclusion of LGBT Issues in Higher Education
Transitioning on Campus: Creating a Welcoming Climate for Transgender People
Complicating Diversity Categories: Jewish Identity in the Classroom
Student Experience
Dealing with Student Resistance: Sources and Strategies
Beyond Tourism: Race, Space, and National Identity in London
Graduate and Professional Degree Attainment for Students of Color
Affordability of Postsecondary Education for Students of Color
Diversity and Learning Resources

Transforming Our Institutions for the Twenty-first Century:
The Role of the Chief Diversity Officer

By Nancy “Rusty” Barceló, first vice president for access, equity, and multicultural affairs, University of Minnesota

It is difficult for me to explore diversity in higher education without the context of my own professional path. I have made my career moves with two questions in mind: How do we reformulate diversity work to meet changing needs? And how do we institutionalize our efforts so we don’t have to begin anew every decade?

When I joined the academy as a young educator, diversity work was seen as political and temporary, and as such it was not valued as an educational objective. The academy viewed diversity educators as tokens or less-than-legitimate professionals and diversity work as a transitional response to a “problem” that would one day be “fixed.” Many scholars, seeing that tenure reviews did not reward diversity efforts, demurred from pursuing this work in their research, teaching, and service. Unfortunately, these attitudes persist today.

I cannot recall any movement that began in higher education in the 1960s that still struggles for legitimacy as much as diversity does. Even as strategic plans voicing institutional commitment proliferate, new strategies rarely accompany them. All too often these plans are reframed versions of early compensatory programs that primarily focus on access. They frequently ignore the need for policies that promote systemic organizational change—policies that would push campus diversity efforts to new levels.

In the face of this persistent leadership void, institutions grapple with the new challenges of the twenty-first century:

  • Minority communities are challenging higher education to be more accountable for meeting their needs, even as institutions shift to more competitive admission criteria.
  • The cultural and language issues of immigrants of color are requiring higher education to rethink outreach and retention efforts.
  • Student profiles are shifting as we witness a rise in multiracial students and students with multiple identities.
  • Higher education is recognizing the need to partner with communities and schools to ensure students are college-ready.
  • Rising tuition is requiring new approaches to financial aid and scholarships for low-income students.
  • Higher education is struggling with the concept that diversity is not a euphemism for assimilation, but a challenge to transform an educational system that promotes and values individual group differences.
  • Definitions of diversity are becoming more inclusive of such dimensions as gender, disability, sexuality, and religion.

The Role of the Chief Diversity Officer

Despite the new challenges and ongoing struggles, I believe that important changes are on the horizon. Many institutions—the University of Minnesota, the University of Virginia, and the University of California–Berkeley among them—have appointed senior/chief diversity officers (CDOs) as vice presidents or vice provosts. In creating these positions, institutions not only illustrate their renewed commitment to diversity but, more importantly, assert that diversity will be “at the table,” informing policy in formal ways at key meetings with senior officials. These positions also enhance the coordination of diversity efforts within a campus and with external communities.

The CDO trend indicates an acceptance of diversity as a reality of this century, and an acceptance of the opportunity to bring diversity from the margins to the center of the campus. With the CDOs’ help, we can bridge the divides between student and academic affairs and between staff and faculty. CDOs provide the type of vigilance and leadership needed to ensure that institutions move toward transformation by developing and implementing accountability measures. When the role of the CDO is directly aligned with the institution’s core academic mission, the CDO is empowered to develop and implement strategies that position diversity as a true core value.

In 2001, I joined the University of Washington (UW) as CDO and in doing so entered an important conversation. In response to the passage of laws restricting UW’s use of race and gender as admissions factors, UW’s faculty and administrators began rethinking our diversity models, a move I believed was necessary to meet the changing needs of society (even before anti–affirmative action legislation). The conversation at UW included the entire campus, and the successes that arose from that conversation exceeded anyone’s expectations. UW saw progress in a range of areas, from increased diversity of the student body to a rise of women’s voices calling institutions to meet their needs (from teaching practices to domestic-partner insurance).

I believe that the progress made at UW was due to two key groups of people: a cadre of leaders, often in mid-management positions and frequently concentrated in student affairs within such units as equal opportunity protection and women’s centers; and a group of faculty and staff, often concentrated in ethnic, women’s, and LGBT studies, who subscribed to the values of social justice and pressed for change at all levels. These individuals often worked from the margins, not in key leadership positions. By engaging with committees and via governance structures, they helped institutions advance change. Their efforts to develop models that move beyond access to true transformation can provide guidance to other diversity educators.

The principles I learned from my experience at UW inform my ongoing work at the University of Minnesota (UMN), where I migrated recently to contribute to a strategic repositioning. UMN’s administration has committed to transforming the university, and it recognizes the need to reflect the diversity of individuals and groups in society by drawing upon their multiple knowledge traditions and perspectives. I am excited and buoyed by the knowledge that UMN wants to address diversity in systemic ways in order to reshape higher education and its outcomes. The president has made it clear to me that he wants diversity to be an integral part of transforming the institution. This is a critical point: diversity, in order not to be devalued as an “add-on,” must be included in the earliest stages of institutional transformation.

Moving toward Transformation

In using the bold term “transformation,” we are moving beyond access, beyond boundaries, beyond restrictive definitions and conceptual frameworks to create new ways of being, acting, teaching, learning, and knowing. By transforming our teaching, research, and service programs, we will achieve academic excellence, address social justice, and begin to solve some of the most challenging problems of our time.

Our twenty-first-century diversity efforts need to be grounded in the new scholarship emerging from these multiple forms of knowledge and theoretical perspectives. We need to ask again, and hear from different communities:

  • What do we aspire to be?
  • What do we value?
  • What do we want our students to know? How do we want them to act?
  • What kind of climate do we want at our university, and how do we get there?
  • How should diversity efforts be organized to be both inclusive and effective?

As I have said before, to create the change needed for our continued success, we must be willing to respond to the challenges and the tensions that diversity presents. To be effective leaders we must be willing to reevaluate the structures of knowledge, the patterns of relationships, and the organizing principles of institutional life.

The entry of new students and faculty into the academy, and the creation of ethnic studies, women’s studies, and disability and GLBTQ studies, have provided new ways of knowing and being in the world that have already begun to transform higher education. Our stories, read together, layered one over the other, bringing together disparate knowledge and traditions, can only build a stronger, more inclusive university.

Funding and Staffing a Successful CDO’s Office

The CDO is a position with great promise, but its success depends upon funding and staffing. The CDO’s office must have a strong infrastructure that includes

  • research and data management;
  • development and grant writing;
  • communications, public relations, and a Web site;
  • a senior staff member who focuses on administrative and personnel issues, community development outreach, faculty and staff development, student outreach, and retention;
  • a central budget that is base funded;
  • a staff of diverse multiculturalists;
  • diversity units that report to the CDO and provide direct services to their constituencies and resources to the campus and community.

—Nancy “Rusty” Barceló


This article is part of a chapter of a forthcoming collection on diversity and institutional transformation in universities edited by Sylvia Hurtado, copyright Jossey-Bass, published here by permission.

Questions, comments, and suggested resources should be directed to campbell@aacu.org.
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