Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education: One Question with Kris DeWelde
Kris De Welde is director of Women’s and Gender Studies and professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Sociology, College of Charleston. She will be delivering a plenary address titled “Beyond Diversity and Inclusion: Cultivating Justice-oriented Leadership for Meaningful Institutional Change” on Saturday, October 20, 2018 at the Leadership in Higher Education Conference.
We’ve been focusing on diversity and inclusion in some form for at least the past 25 years. Why is it still a primary focus in 2018, and what has changed about our higher ed climate that keeps it important to our success?
Concerns related to diversity, inclusion, and equity should never be considered “mission accomplished.” That these topics remain a primary focus in higher education is not necessarily a sign of stagnation or no progress at all, but rather point to sustained and evolving efforts that unavoidably morph over time in response to shifting demographics, varied socio-political landscapes, and cultural changes. And yet, there are also the intransigent challenges that persist. Higher education, despite being seen from within and from without, as a bastion of liberal thinking, inclusion, and polyvocality, is not immune to the oppressions relevant in society. If you live these oppressions, or are open to accepting that they are real, this is hardly noteworthy.
Those in positions of relative power in higher education—those who enjoy full-time employment, the able-bodied, those who benefit from academic capitalism, men, whites, higher-level administrators, accrediting bodies, and so on—may finally be ready to listen to those who are marginalized in the academy by virtue of their identities, the scholarship they work on, the topics they teach, or the precarity of their statuses. An increased interest in these topics is evident from a weekly scanning of our major publications, disciplinary journals, Twitter feeds, or changing curricula.
It is possible that higher education’s reckoning on issues related to diversity and inclusion has arrived (again?). Perhaps “we” are embracing the reality that success and excellence are simply not possible without a focus on diversity, in all of its permutations. And here I don’t mean numerical representation, although that is certainly important. If a particular institution, departmental climate, or disciplinary organization is committed to inclusion, representation is but one important, though remedial, step. Inclusive climates hold space for diverse viewpoints and experiences and adapt accordingly in response. That means change is both the means and the end if what is desired is not just “diversity” but equity and justice.
My remarks at the upcoming Leadership in Higher Education Conference will address the historical (and current) shortcomings of “diversity and inclusion” as a guiding ideology and provide insight into justice-minded leadership that promotes equity. I will discuss strategies for institutional and organizational change that anyone at any institution and in any role can undertake to engage with the project of academic justice.