UB op-ed: 4 ways to take the lead on diversity
During my interview in the spring of 2016 to become president of Miami University, I found a community that has a genuine commitment to elevating its focus on diversity and inclusion. Of the many lessons we have learned in the past two years, one stands above all: diversity and inclusion is everybody’s job.
Our strategy, like other universities that share this commitment, is “inclusive excellence”—integrating diversity into every aspect of our scholarship, research, and campus life while declaring inclusion as an organizational core value. “Everybody’s job” means that no one can leave diversity and inclusion to a stand-alone office. It is the goal and practice of our entire institution. We believe inclusive excellence as a mindset and culture is vital for academic excellence to flourish.
We expect students to leave our university with new perspectives on how they will lead positive change in our world. Higher education must become even more broad-spectrum and more broadly available – more “inclusive” in every sense. The word “excellence” is equally important. We start with the basics, educating and graduating our students so they are prepared for successful careers and civic lives. Our graduation rate for students of color is at its highest in 20 years, and we have narrowed the graduation gap at a pace among the top 10 of public universities nationally. The success of students of color who graduate from Miami is evidence that diversity in higher education can have a powerful impact on individuals and society.
In today’s world built on innovation, creativity and adaptability, diversity must be a core competency of every organization.
We believe all universities have a special duty to emphasize diversity and inclusion because we are educating the workforce and civic leaders of the next generation. As a former researcher and entrepreneur in the for-profit world, I know that organizations of all stripes share those responsibilities. Our deliberate strategies have helped us integrate diversity and inclusion into every decision we make.
Those strategies are transparent, measurable, and consistent with the mission and core values that define our campus community every day. Our entire community is united around our “Love and Honor” greeting wherever Miamians meet in the world; it is the heart of our identity. In it, we pledge to each other: “I welcome … a diversity of people, ideas, and experiences.” Our alma mater declares that we have “embraced the generations, men and women, young and old; of all races, from all nations.” Our words and actions aim to empower an inclusive culture that enriches the daily lives of our students in four intentional ways:
Reflect Diversity: Our incoming class of 2022 is the largest and most diverse in Miami’s history, with domestic and international diversity exceeding 25 percent. We also have expanded our treasured relationship with the Miami Tribe, including cross-cultural opportunities for study and research.
Engage Diversity: Nearly half of Miami students study abroad, and we provide nearly daily opportunities on campus to engage with diversity, from performances by our students and faculty in our College of Creative Arts to lectures and seminars on diversity and related topics, inviting speakers from diverse backgrounds and opinions.
Learn from Diversity: We have integrated diversity into our teaching and funded research internally. More than 150 active research projects focus on topics from equity and inclusion to civil rights. We take our research and discovery further, engaging with diverse entrepreneurs to advance inclusive excellence into inclusive innovation. We also are working with corporate and community partners to understand diversity in their organizations through membership in CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, sharing best practices across industries and disciplines.
Build Inclusivity: We are equipping our community for conversations about diversity through training and data-informed assessments of our campus culture. We are launching new training modules for new students, faculty, and staff focused on diversity and inclusion, an initiative that we expect to expand across our campuses.
We know that our graduates will join a workforce where they will engage new systems for invention, design, manufacture and marketing anywhere on the globe. Any organization can promote inclusive excellence by breaking down barriers, opening meaningful conversations, and learning to celebrate differences.
So what can organizations do to embed diversity? One strategy is authentically integrating diversity into your daily decisions and activities. In today’s world built on innovation, creativity and adaptability, diversity must be a core competency of every organization.
At Miami, we know that high-performing academic communities welcome diverse people, respect diverse ideas, and empower both the individuals and the whole to achieve their full potential. Bottom line: academic excellence and diversity grow and thrive together.
Another strategy that can translate to any organization is building inclusive excellence through signature events that declare that commitment to the world. Here are some examples from Miami this past year:
- We awarded our inaugural Freedom Summer of ’64 Award to Congressman John Lewis, who trained on our Western campus for civil rights work in Mississippi in 1964. The civil rights icon told more than 100 of us gathered in Washington: “Students have always played a major role. Without students being involved, the civil rights movement wouldn’t have succeeded.” We are inspired to carry forward the unfinished work of that movement for peace and equality.
- The Miami University Art Museum hosted “Telling a People’s Story: African-American Children’s Illustrated Literature,” the first exhibition at a major museum devoted to the art in African-American children’s picture books. The exhibition and a conference celebrate the African-American experience through a lens intended for young readers. The beautiful and powerful art was an opportunity for all of us to gain a greater appreciation for the history of African-Americans and their talents that often have been overlooked.
- At our convocation in August, we welcomed Wil Haygood, Miami Class of 1976, to debut his new book Tigerland as our first-year read, before it was released nationally. This story of an all-black high school in Columbus in the late 1960s that won state championships in basketball and baseball had a big impact on me personally as a citizen, a university president, and a father. We hope this encounter with a vivid moment in history will also motivate many of our students to elevate their engagement with diversity in the world where they will live and work.
These signature events establish relationships and start conversations that transcend any organization’s daily operations, and provide a higher purpose.
Building accountability for diversity into the system is vital. All members of our Miami leadership team have diversity goals in their job descriptions. Search committees benefit from unconscious bias training and other resources. We are not perfect. We are a human community, and we make mistakes, sometimes with the best of intentions. We must accept accountability. I personally engage with students and faculty to ensure their concerns are heard and solutions are set in motion. A recent comprehensive campus climate survey, the first in a decade, is providing actionable feedback as we seek to make progress in this area.
Inclusive excellence doesn’t happen without intention and determination, in a university or any other organization. It is an evolution—and, regardless of the industry, one with tremendous consequences for our shared future as individuals and as a society.
Gregory P. Crawford is president of Miami University in Ohio.