6 Ways to Promote Inclusivity in Higher Education
The transition to college can be challenging, but students of less privileged and more marginal backgrounds face more adversity. They encounter what they can perceive to be an unwelcoming or even hostile environment. Institutions are taking the necessary steps to promote a more inclusive environment that benefits all members of their communities. These efforts create a greater sense of belonging and empower every student and staff member to feel safe being themselves.
Promoting inclusivity in higher education requires a review of culture, policies, and curriculum. Here are six strategies to consider in your efforts to create a more inclusive learning environment on your campus.
1. Rethink policies
It’s time to challenge institutional norms. Policies must be re-examined to determine whether or not they benefit all students. Those that are antiquated should be removed or rewritten.
In addition to revisiting existing policies, campuses across the country currently have or are creating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statements to outline their institution’s commitment to this important initiative. The American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) has some helpful guidance and a framework for colleges that are creating or enhancing their DEI statements.
2. Ensure inclusivity is embedded in your institutional structures
Diversity isn’t enough. If you’re bringing students from different backgrounds to your institution — including first generation students, BIPOC students, and queer students — you must ensure they have the support they need to succeed.
“A lot of us really focus on bringing students from marginalized backgrounds to campus … but you’re not doing anybody a favor by bringing them to an institution that does not have support for them,” said Rosalie Rodriguez, Senior Associate Dean of Students for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Director of the Butler Center, Colorado College and member of the Kognito DEI Advisory Group.
Rodriguez said that it’s important to ensure efforts like a multicultural office and a Chief Diversity Officer aren’t just checkboxes, but that “you have proper support folks who understand those experiences … folks who can help students to navigate the barriers that exist and then people who have the power to dismantle those barriers, whether those are financial barriers, whether those are those unconscious biases, training for your faculty and staff, and other employees who are there on the campus interacting with students.”
3. Use inclusive language
Promoting inclusive language practices is important to generating a welcoming atmosphere. This means educating students and staff about inclusive language, why it’s important, and how to communicate respectfully.
SUNY Geneseo, a public liberal arts college in New York, has published an Inclusive Language Guide. Originally this guide was just about using gender-neutral language (read our post about the importance of pronouns here), but they expanded it to include:
- Abilities and disabilities
- Ethnic and racial designations
- Gender, sex, and sexuality
The more we know, the better we can do. Guides like this need to evolve and change to reflect new learnings.
4. Create goals and track progress
How will you know if you’ve made progress if you don’t track it?
Metrics should be closely tied to your institution’s DEI goals. You may have diversity goals, and tracking enrollment numbers can tie to those. But inclusion requires some deeper digging. For example, you may choose to track and monitor not just the number, but the retention of staff and students from marginalized communities. And if you’re using Kognito’s DEI program to train faculty and staff, you can measure how well they are retaining and using their new knowledge through our pre- and post-simulation surveys.
5. Help campus leaders understand their role
Dr. Jenn Wells, Director of Equity and Inclusion at Marlborough School said in our webinar, Cultivating Inclusive Communities (read the recap here), “I think a lot of times we see these DEI statements from our colleges and universities and you can tend to think that you have no role in it because it’s the institution’s responsibility.” She says that when campus leaders recognize moments they can make a difference, it’s no longer passive. They are able to step up and put those DEI statements into action.
6. Educate campus leaders about inclusion
Part of helping campus leaders understand their role is equipping them with DEI knowledge and skills.
We know that passive learning such as clicking through a static PowerPoint presentation can only do so much to teach and reinforce knowledge around DEI. That’s why we developed a DEI professional development solution for higher education. Cultivating Inclusive Communities uses dynamic, experiential learning to engage faculty and staff and ensure better knowledge retention. This 30-minute simulation-driven DEI program moves beyond definitions to offer users a safe environment to practice effective communication skills that create brave spaces, allowing for courageous conversations that help develop an inclusive campus community.