Shifting the Narrative: From Diversity to Inclusivity
Presented by James Golden, Buffalo State College
Words matter, and perhaps never more so than now, as the U.S. tries to move past a dark period of unapologetic racial antagonism that stood in stark contrast to the post-racial America that President Barack Obama’s election was supposed to signal in 2008. The emergence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, made necessary by the unabated killing of unarmed Black women, men, and children by law enforcement, has called to question the sincerity of America’s commitment to racial equality, noting that matter is the minimum for true progress.
Higher education institutions have wrestled with their response to the BLM movement, often offering gestures of good faith, such as removing monuments, renaming buildings, etc., and earnestly redoubling their commitment to diversity. The goal of diversity is an organizational relic from a period of time in which tolerance was the figurative benchmark for race relations. While the latter, essentially connoting a begrudging willingness to endure the presence of something unwanted, has fallen out of favor, the former has not. In fact, perhaps now more than ever, when presented with race-related social upheaval or institutional crises, colleges and universities often rush to publicly affirm their commitment to diversity. However, diversity can no longer be the goal; rather, it is the minimum.
Given the depth of racism in the U.S., and its continued reverberations within even the most well-intended institutions, the embrace of diversity is an inadequate gesture that has conflated a simple frequency count of racial and religious minorities with a substantive shift in institutional culture and practices towards inclusivity. As such, with a focus on diversity that is undermined by organizational implicit bias, colleges and universities engage in hiring practices that have resulted in a concentration of persons of color in mid-level administrative and non-tenure track appointments, satisfying the headcount but not the spirit of diversity.
To this end, the narrative must shift from diversity to inclusivity. Academic programs in which persons of color are relegated to non-voting instructor lines, where hiring committees are all but devoid of persons of color, and in which campus programming on issues such as anti-racism that emphasizes white voices and perspectives (ex., Robin DiAngelo, Jane Elliott, Tim Wise), while ignoring the Black voices among in their midst.
The purpose of this session is to (a) prompt critical thinking about the depth and effectiveness of diversity-related activities at attendees’ respective institutions, (b) encourage attendees to consider ways in which their institutions can move towards greater racial inclusivity, and (c) empower attendees to carry this conversation forward at their institutions.