Inclusive Excellence in Student Affairs
What is the goal of inclusive excellence in Student Affairs, and how can it be achieved? Can it be achieved by a series of initiatives and trainings with a specific focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) that may or may not be coordinated under a common set of expectations and goals? Or is DEI integrated into the very fabric of our daily work, where all identity groups have equal access, feel welcomed and have a sense of belonging within the campus environment? The goal is to reach the latter. However, achieving true DEI is not an easy task and it will require various strategies to get there. Our systems, policies and practices in higher education were not initially designed with a diverse mindset. The data from our UNC and System-wide climate studies continue to imply there is still much work to be done to improve the campus climate on campus. Building inclusive excellence requires the work of the collective whole with a focus on improving racial justice and other forms of oppression, equity and inclusion within our departments and division.
As we continue to see a demographic shift within the U.S. population, it is even more essential that higher education institutions examine their practices related to racial justice, equity and inclusion. The Racial Equity Audit is an initial step to working towards inclusive excellence within Student Affairs. In March 2021, employees in Student Affairs completed a Racial Equity Audit to determine the perceptions of climate within departments as it related to inclusive leadership, inclusive work environments, and a scan of the physical environment as it relates to DEI. The audit was based upon the ten DEI tenets identified by Dr. Tierney Bates, Interim Director of UCS, at the July 2020 Town Hall Panel. The Student Affairs Professional Development Committee had the awesome task of preparing and developing the process for disseminating the first in a series of equity audits on the different dimensions of identity within Student Affairs.
As a follow-up to the racial equity audit, departmental staff are to engage in dialogue about the results of the audit, to create a formal action plan to improve or enhance the department’s DEI culture, and to assess the effectiveness of the plan with a goal of continuous improvement. Although Student Affairs is doing relatively well with regard to an inclusive work climate, there were differences of perspective in how staff responded to questions on the Audit, which is an indicator that there is room for improvement. As directors begin to review the results of the audit at the department level, the dialogues may be organized differently depending on the size of the department. If we are to fully achieve inclusive excellence within Student Affairs, we need all staff regardless of your position in the organization or your length of time working in Student Affairs to share your voice and perspective on how we can continue to improve upon the good work that is already being done. As a caution, there is never an end point to reaching inclusive excellence. It is an ever changing target. However, if we remain vigilant to making DEI a core value for how we approach out work, we will keep moving closer to the target.
*Personal shout out to the Student Affairs Professional Development Committee for your leadership with the Racial Equity Audit.
Submitted by Bettina C Shuford, Ph.D., Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Engagement