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Diversity isn’t enough.
That’s the message that Vice Chancellor Bob Boswell and Assistant Vice Chancellor Alphonse Keasley had when they introduced CU’s “inclusive excellence” plan to 30-some students, faculty and staff on Thursday.
Instead, they said, CU has to be inclusive. It has to be a campus where everyone feels welcome, regardless of race, gender, sexual identity, anything. To accomplish that goal, CU is trying to facilitate dialogue about inclusivity in every department of the university. But that’s only the first step, and the school has a long way to go.
“This discussion has never occurred on campus,” Boswell said at the session, which was titled an “Inclusive Excellence Facilitation,” one of several events in CU’s second diversity summit of this academic year.
This push for greater inclusivity started in October 2015, when the university approached department chairs and directors and told them to define what inclusion and excellence meant to their own departments. Each department has until March 15 to submit their definition to the university. Then, CU will discuss those definitions on a university-wide scale. The Leeds School of Business, the School of Education, the College of Media, Communication and Information and the College of Arts and Sciences have already undergone this process.
Whether the university will be ready by March 15 remains to be seen, though. The deadline for departments to submit their definitions of inclusion and excellence was originally February 15, but it had to be pushed back because not enough departments were ready. CU is prepared to take as long as necessary for these dialogues to play out.
“Even if it takes some units longer than others,” Keasley said, “the process doesn’t stop.”
The university didn’t say if it’s incentivizing departments to finish the process quickly, or if it’s punishing departments that don’t comply. One audience member from the evolutionary biology department said that he’d never heard of this plan and that it hadn’t been introduced to his department. So Boswell and Keasley opened up the discussion to the attendees, and the resulting dialogue showed the potential for progress and the need for improvement.
Several attendees liked the idea but were unsure about the specifics or how CU would find consistency if every department has its own standards. Others shared their experiences about feeling included and excluded. One woman, who works in the athletic department, said that she was the first mother in her office, and that her boss intentionally made her job difficult because of it. Then, she got a new boss, her office hired more women and her work environment became more welcoming.
Others spoke of the need for conflict resolution groups on campus and to “train the trainer” — make sure that those in counseling positions and others who need to facilitate diversity know what they’re doing. One person brought up the recent results of the 2014 social climate survey, which revealed that only 38 percent of black undergraduate students feel welcome at CU.
This push for inclusivity isn’t a reaction to that number, which came out last month, but it’s impossible to ignore.
“I haven’t experienced what those students are experiencing,” Boswell said. “But why are they here if we’re not valuing them in our community?”
CU touted its latest freshman class as the most diverse in its history — 24.3 percent of enrollees were students of color — but the school is still overwhelmingly white, and the results of the climate survey show how much has to change.
“There are people who look at this and don’t want to come here,” Keasley said.
One faculty member said that through his “rose-colored glasses,” he only sees the good — students of diverse backgrounds learning and engaging together. Keasley responded by emphasizing again the difference between diversity and inclusion, and that outward diversity can belie subconscious biases.
“Diversity is an outcome, not the totality of the process,” he said.
That message goes back to the need for dialogue across campus. Dialogue and action are different things, though, and getting people to talk about diversity does little if they don’t implement changes. It will take a long commitment to turn inclusivity and excellence from buzzwords to standards.
“We do not want this to be the end of the conversation,” Keasley said. “It’s the beginning.”
For an hour and a half on Thursday, it was an engaging beginning. Only time will tell if it becomes the end that CU wants.