How chief diversity officers are gaining stature on campus

CDOs and diversity inform all decisions made at some schools
By: | Issue: March/April 2020
March 2, 2020
Social justice, gender equality and other equity issues have been prioritized by chief diversity officers as the newest members of the college president's cabinet. (Photo: James Tensuan/San Jose State University)Social justice, gender equality and other equity issues have been prioritized by chief diversity officers as the newest members of the college president's cabinet. (Photo: James Tensuan/San Jose State University)

Chief diversity officers, or CDOs, prioritize social justice, gender equality and other equity issues as they increasingly gain influence as the newest members of the president’s cabinet at colleges and universities.

The goal is for the CDO and diversity to inform every decision made, related to everything from academics to facilities and procurement to athletics.

“Moving to the president’s cabinet gives voice and presence to the projects on which we work and concerns of people who don’t feel as though anyone is listening,” says Teresa A. Nance, the chief diversity officer at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. “We want to make sure we’re always asking ‘Whose concerns are not at the table?’ and ‘Who else do we need to be thinking about?’”

At Villanova, for example, employee resource groups and shared-interest groups for women, caregivers and other populations provide a forum for discussing shared concerns. Also, an objective search advocate is now involved in the filling of vacant positions to ensure a fair, inclusive process

Raising the profile of the CDO reflects a willingness by campus leaders to expose and close long-standing equity gaps, adds Clyde Pickett, chief diversity officer for the Minnesota State system of colleges and universities. “Institutions not willing to call attention to equity are those that will be left behind as we compete more aggressively for students,” Pickett says.

Here’s how four chief diversity officers are leveraging their position to make issues of diversity, equity and inclusion priorities on campus.

CDO drill down

Below is a sampling of diversity initiatives underway on four campuses. Click the school’s name for a more detailed story.

Portland Community College (Ore.)

  • Cultural resource centers create a sense of community among various groups, such as Dreamers and LGBTQ+ students
  • Diversity councils, on all four campuses, that meet regularly to set equity and inclusion goals
  • Affinity-based and “ally” groups to support faculty and staff of color

San Jose State University (Calif.)

  • Center for Faculty Development provides mandatory diversity training to members of search committees
  • Faculty trained in an inclusive teaching technique called “wise feedback” that’s meant to reduce the potential for interracial conflict.

University of Michigan

  • Academic diversity officers lead the creation of diversity plans for each school, department and division
  • Collegiate Fellows Program supports 50 early-career, postdoctoral scholars who are committed to establishing diverse academic communities

University at Albany, State University of New York

  • Plan developed by chief diversity officer and marketing and communications office to promote diversity achievements and services
  • Chief diversity officer enhancing the methods of assessing diversity initiatives to can make the case for continued investment

Matt Zalaznick is senior writer of UB.