5 tips for college and university presidents to support diversity, equity and inclusion

A new report released by the University of Southern California Race and Equity Center that effectively counters politicized misinformation leveled against DEI and American higher education in general.
Laurel Bongiorno and Alicia Richardson
Laurel Bongiorno and Alicia Richardsonhttps://www.hartwick.edu/
Laurel Bongiorno is vice president for Academic Affairs and Provost at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y., where Alicia Richardson is Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) officer. Both serve on Hartwick's senior leadership team.

There’s new momentum building on college and university campuses to rescue and reinvigorate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs, vital initiatives that have been the target of a coordinated national assault for over a year. Conservative groups, politicians and organizations launched a coordinated attack on DEI in higher education in 2023, in some cases disrupting these programs established to promote fairness and student success, and to address decades of exclusionary policies and practices in higher education.

Building on pieces of legislation drafted in prior years, these groups and individuals last year introduced more than 60 bills to limit DEI at colleges and universities in 25 states and the United States Congress, and eight of these bills became law.

This year, higher education leaders, researchers and others are already making progress to safeguard DEI initiatives designed to foster racial equity and progress. This includes a new report released this month by the University of Southern California Race and Equity Center that effectively counters politicized misinformation leveled against DEI and American higher education in general.

Empowering presidents, chancellors and other leaders to protect their campuses, colleagues and ultimately higher education as a national resource is the key to success.

But how can those leading America’s colleges and universities approach this task amid all the daily chatter directed toward them? The best way is to keep it simple and keep it focused. That might sound easy, but the more basic and honest you keep it, the more likely you are to maintain your focus and momentum—and the more likely you are to succeed.

The following five tips will help college and university presidents remain committed to supporting DEI on their campuses:

  1. Don’t assume. First of all, the most helpful piece of advice a president can take at this moment is to not make assumptions about where DEI currently stands on your campus. Take a closer look and investigate first-hand to offer leadership and guidance based on reality, not second-hand information, aspirational planning or hopeful thinking.
  2. Remember the why. Consider and focus on who DEI helps. Think about how best to support all marginalized students. This will breathe life into the process and help establish and maintain momentum. These programs are all about creating change that supports students’ success.
  3. Consider the mission. Integrate DEI or DEIB into your college or university’s mission statement. If it’s already there but isn’t spelled out as clearly as it should be, make it clear and make it obvious. Use the institutional mission to link DEIB to planning, resource allocation, general education goals, and support for the student experience.
  4. Ask specific questions. To better inform yourself, senior staff and others, ask the following question: How does your institution communicate, through action, its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion? Once you have the answers, the next step is to ask: How do you think your institution SHOULD communicate a commitment to DEI/DEIB through action?
  5. Look for where the action is and fill in any gaps. While it’s good to investigate best practices at other higher-education institutions, look for existing pockets of initiative on your campus to better understand what is already working. These successful initiatives will help you to determine what to support and might benefit from your additional help and leadership right now.

More from UB: The academic schedule is a barrier to student progress and outcomes

Changes at Hartwick

In early 2022, Hartwick’s Board of Trustees voted to integrate critical elements of DEI into our college’s mission statement. In response to this change in the mission statement, Hartwick developed an inventory of activities already in motion.

In the classroom

In 2022, a group of faculty, supported by the Office of Academic Affairs, launched a research study to learn more about what was happening in Hartwick’s classrooms, specifically from a DEI lens. At the Division of Physical and Life Sciences, faculty received an Inclusive Excellence grant through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and began collaborating on more equitable and inclusive practices for Science and Math teaching and learning. Lastly, a group of Division of Arts and Humanities faculty organized an Inclusive Pedagogy Speaker Series and brought speakers focused on racial bias, LGBTQ+ inclusive practices, and creating more equitable syllabi.


Human Resources and the Office of Academic Affairs organized reflective professional development to minimize unconscious bias in recruitment, not relying solely on webinars for search committee training. As a result, we found many examples of thoughtful but uncoordinated efforts. Institutional coordination of these initiatives and investment in building systems were identified as the key gaps. We moved quickly to address these gaps, as follows.

To create a systematic plan for DEI efforts, the president appointed two campus leaders to form Hartwick’s college-wide Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) Committee. That committee is currently working across stakeholder groups to develop Hartwick’s first DEIB Strategic Plan.

To address financial resources, the provost added a budget line item for DEIB initiatives to further support teaching and learning through a DEIB lens. While this supports the work of faculty, the college has additional decisions to make regarding funding our new DEIB Center, which supports all facets of DEIB work on campus.

What distinguishes these approaches, and others that get it right, is that they represent solutions focused on their own institutions and helping marginalized students in the best possible ways. They are clear and mission-driven.


Most Popular