What Does DEI Mean for Higher Ed?

Just like most industries, higher education is learning how to incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into school strategies. Here are a few ways to do it right.

Key Takeaways:
  1. Stay open to feedback
  2. Be transparent
  3. Invest in leadership training
  4. Promote diversity at all levels
  5. Involve students in planning
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are sweeping all industries and organizations. The trend emphasizes these critical concepts and how they improve everything from company profits to relationships to communities as a whole. 

However, DEI can be a contentious topic for higher education at times. There have been many strategies over the years that aim to address diversity in student populations, many of which create heated disagreements, like affirmative action. But making anti-discrimination and diversity tactics a top priority will help you create spaces where everyone feels welcomed and comfortable being themselves.

There are a few steps you can take to promote DEI at your school. Let’s talk about what DEI means for higher education and why it’s so important. Then we’ll walk through five ways to approach DEI the right way.
Why is DEI important for higher education?
Diversity initiatives should be top-of-mind for leaders of educational institutions. Creating a more equitable society starts with the resources available to all people, and historically, everyone does not have the same access to education.

As a report from the Department of Education states, the last 50 years have seen significant “racial and ethnic disparities in higher education enrollment and attainment, as well as gaps in earnings, employment, and other related outcomes for communities of color.” In addition, the research found that students of color have lower participation in several areas of higher education, including application, enrollment, and completion.

DEI programs meet these challenges by addressing and eliminating prejudice and promoting the fact that more diverse groups bring more creativity and innovation, improving society as a whole. DEI also promotes both personal and collective growth, so people can improve themselves and their relationships with others. For higher education, DEI enriches the educational experience for everyone and strengthens communities. 

5 ways to promote DEI in higher education
It’s important as an organization leader to invest time and money in DEI initiatives for your school. Because these issues can be challenging to address in these spaces, it takes more meaningful planning to accomplish your goals. Here are a few ways to approach DEI successfully for higher education:

1. Stay open to feedback

Nothing is worse than an organization that is defensive and in denial about its actions. DEI strategies won’t work without staying open-minded and accepting feedback. In fact, it’s wise to ask your community for feedback regularly. Find out what would be most important and meaningful for students, educators, and staff in a DEI program. Listen to what they’re trying to tell you. Assess how people are feeling about inclusion. Asking them opens the door for better discussions and gives you valuable information about how to approach your efforts to meet everyone’s needs.

2. Be transparent

Staying open to feedback goes hand-in-hand with being open and honest. Organization leaders have to set the stage for the rest of the community by always admitting mistakes and addressing challenges head-on. With DEI, be clear about why you’re making certain changes and the precise steps you want the institution to take to keep improving. 

Remember that DEI is an ongoing process and isn’t just implemented once and forgotten. Students’ needs and priorities will always be changing, everyone is always learning, and your strategy needs to be able to meet the moment and support people in the ways they really need. Always be transparent with the community about what you’re doing and why.

3. Invest in leadership training

Even with the best intentions and plenty of research, it’s impossible to know everything right away. That’s why there are leadership programs in DEI training that will help you understand your own biases and how best to implement a strategy at your school. Programs will also teach you the right tools to implement and how to teach other people about DEI.

4. Promote diversity at all levels

According to the Department of Education report mentioned above, students say it’s important to them to see themselves reflected in both the faculty and the curriculum at their school. This means it’s not enough to only think about diversity in terms of student populations, you also need to focus on hiring a diverse faculty. 

What’s being taught is also crucial to helping students feel included and like they belong there. For example, only teaching literature by white male authors may make many students feel left out and underrepresented. The right balance includes many different types of voices and backgrounds.

5. Involve students in planning

Asking for student and faculty feedback is a great initial step, but you can also involve them in the planning process. Create a diverse DEI committee, for example, made up of people of many different ages and circumstances who can contribute their ideas. This helps the organization move forward utilizing and listening to the many voices it’s trying to support. More people will feel involved and empowered by the DEI initiative when you can approach your efforts collaboratively. 

How KWALL helps your organization succeed
Part of your initiatives to support your students should be to consider your online presence. Are you offering experiences that engage and inspire? Are your commitment to DEI and your core values represented in your online messaging? 
KWALL is here to help. We provide the tools to create more powerful web experiences and improve your school’s online reputation. We are a full-service digital agency and have helped hundreds of higher education institutions with web design and development.
To learn more about what we can do for your organization, get in touch with us for a site audit today.



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