Diversity Institute on the Right Track

Chair, Equity and Diversity Action Committee

The Academic Senate’s Diversity Institute was a tremendous success. With more than 100 participants and breakouts on cultural competence, hiring, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) student issues, and many other topics, the message is clear that this Institute filled an important need. Attendees engaged in wonderful conversations and were determined to leave with practical ideas to implement at their colleges. One of the goals of the Institute was to specifically develop strategies for increasing the diversity of faculty leaders at our colleges and at the state level. Many thanks are due to the presenters and participants who came with questions and answers for addressing equity and diversity in our colleges.

In the final general session of the Institute, many people contributed ideas about how to accomplish the goals of the Senate to empower diverse leaders. Participants were invited to orally share constructive solutions as well as provide written suggestions. The suggestions are published here as promised during the Institute.

One of the most frequent responses to the question of how to improve the diversity of faculty leaders was a single, simple point: hire a more diverse faculty and then the pool will be greater from which to develop faculty leaders. Of course this is true, and once colleges begin hiring again, we can be cognizant of hiring the most qualified faculty to work with our diverse students. Other suggestions to diversify the leadership of the faculty are creating mentorship programs that encourage faculty to experience leadership roles and creating board policies that encourage faculty to take leadership roles that incorporate a rotating system that may provide short term opportunities to gain leadership experience with professional support. Some people suggested that being involved at the state level is a good experience, and the Academic Senate should expand ways to involve diverse faculty. An academic senate may want to consider a resolution that addresses leadership issues and points to growing the college’s own faculty leaders. Overall, there were wonderful suggestions for improving the quality of life at the colleges through improving our understanding of ourselves and our students. Highlighted suggestions include

  • Focus on the needs of students. Implement safe places for students that are beyond the classroom. Acknowledge that each of us can learn more about equity in order to do a better job for students. Choose a dynamic definition of diversity, one that continually looks at student demographics. Monitor success and any barriers to it.
  • Use data to keep conversations real. Faculty want to see data about their students. There is so much more to learn about students that can be gleaned from data analysis and discussions about the data.
  • Collaborate with other change agents on campus. Human resource personnel often have great ideas about professional development activities to increase cultural competence. Next time there is a diversity institute, bring your HR colleagues along.
  • Empower faculty to be change agents. Often, faculty do not realize the powerful impact they can make. They can affect students in many ways, but they also affect colleagues. Diverse faculty voices in the senate can influence policy and practice simply by contributing to the conversations and debate at senate meetings.
  • Skip the gimmicks. Diversity activities must go beyond “cultural foods day.” If diversity means hearing a Mariachi band or trying lumpia, then we have set our standards too low. When these cultural activities occur at your college, engage faculty in raising the bar -- develop educational lessons from these experiences. Use the teachable moments in these events and connect them to understanding, recognizing bias, and building a better campus climate.
  • Student club advisors can be mentored into leadership roles. Some clubs draw a wonderfully diverse group of students, and working with these students provides experiences that can be especially useful when working as a faculty leader.
  • Work with the Student Senate for California Community Colleges to encourage student leaders to become community college faculty.

Many other ideas were generated at the Institute, and the evaluations of the event suggest that the Academic Senate is on the right track with its diversity institute. As an example, here are two responses from the evaluations: “cultural diversity training really is about people and not about taking an art appreciation class,” and “faculty are hungry for concrete strategies to create change at their institutions and are often isolated in their efforts.” Many respondents indicated a renewed interest in student equity plans after participating in the Institute. Equity planning eventually drives the budget, and several people commented on wanting more information about linking equity to budget. It was suggested that we should investigate the impact that the economic crisis in the state has on many student populations.

Participants at the Institute also had an opportunity to learn more about the Academic Senate caucuses under development. The delegates voted in Spring 2009 as well as the Fall 2009 to offer caucuses to faculty with common interests that align with the mission of the Senate. Faculty discussed ways to make the caucuses more successful, such as an official launch in the fall, creating a list of ways that the Senate will support the caucus, and a similar list of ways that the caucuses can help the Senate. There was strong sentiment to encourage unity among the caucuses as much as there will be separation. Five caucuses were identified: Latino, Asian, Black, Disabled Individuals, and LGBT.

Our students are diverse, and helping them achieve success requires that we reflect on our work to help them attain their goals. Am I the barrier to student success? Is my program supporting all students in as many ways as possible? Is there a colleague that I can mentor? The state and local senates have work to do to help faculty be successful so that students may be successful. The Diversity Institute was just the beginning.