Navigating the New Landscape of Equity and Inclusion

If you’re a mid-level leader in higher education, you’re no stranger to the push and pull between senior leadership and your constituents. The passions and purposes of faculty, staff, and students frequently clash with the mandates set forth by board-governed provosts and presidents, most of whom are governed by state legislators and external politics. This leaves department chairs, deans, and mid-level leaders in the crosshairs when making decisions, creating policies, and crafting strategic action plans. This is precisely the tug of war felt among those of us doing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work. Adding fuel to the fire, many states have passed legislation to regulate what can and can’t be taught or done on college campuses. Over the past year or so, 21 Republican-led states have pulled funding for DEI offices and programs, prohibited the use of diversity statements in hiring and tenure and promotion, and banned identity-based admissions and scholarly practices at public colleges and universities. When we thought circumstances couldn’t be more dire, on June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court overturned 40 years of precedent and ruled that race cannot be a factor in college admission decisions. Many institutions are now in the throes of fight or flight. Is it prudent to push back on the system that financially and politically supports us? Do we give up, surrender, and move away from this work? Is there another, less volatile path that will allow us to progress without fear of retribution?

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