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Minding the Gap Between Diversity and Institutional Transformation: Eight Proposals for Enacting Institutional Change

by D-L Stewart - 2018

The current generation of college student activism led by racially minoritized students has called for direct actions, tangible outcomes, and greater institutional accountability for creating and sustaining campus environments that are both more diverse and more inclusive. Institutional rhetoric that focuses on diversity and inclusion has not resulted in tangible campus transformations as incidents of racial macroaggressions against minoritized faculty, staff, and students continue. This chapter proposes eight policy proposals and ten recommendations for campus leaders to enact transformational leadership to facilitate equity and justice in institutional structures, processes, and practices.

Previously, I have discussed the ways in which postsecondary historically white institutions (HWIs) have used a language of appeasement to quiet campus protesters but fail to remedy institutional enactments of oppression and marginalization (Stewart, 2017a). For example, focusing on compositional diversity and attempts to mollify complaints about hostile campus climates with a diversity speaker series and awareness workshops is unlikely to produce real institutional transformation. Increasing the numbers of minoritized groups on campus and attempting to reeducate students, faculty, and staff to dismantle oppression are examples of evolutionary change, meant to slowly remodel an institution without fundamentally altering its norms and values (Kezar, 2014). Using equity and justice as the rule by which to measure progress (Stewart, 2017a) requires second-order change, also known as revolutionary or transformational change, after which the institution is never the same again (Kezar, 2014). Revolutionary and transformational change have been described similarly in the literature as second-order change that is focused on radical structural revisions in how organizations function and in their guiding ethos (Armenakis & Bedeian, 1999; Greenwood & Hinings, 1996; Rafferty & Griffin, 2006). Therefore, the terms are used interchangeably in this chapter.

Indeed, our institutions must undergo revolutionary changes that fundamentally alter how they function and their material effects in order to break the repetitive cycle of protest and appeasement (Stewart, 2017a). To mobilize such change, not only must we begin asking different questions (Stewart, 2017a), we must also radically redesign structures and implement processes and practices that will answer new questions and result in transformational change. Previously, I have offered a set of eight alternative questions to prompt deep institutional change (Stewart, 2017a).

Table 1. Transforming the Language of Diversity and Inclusion to Equity and Justice

Diversity and inclusion asks&

Equity and justice responds&

Whos in the room?

Who is trying to get in the room but cant? Whose presence in the room is under constant threat of erasure?

Have everyones ideas been heard?

Whose ideas wont be taken as seriously because they arent in the majority?

How many more of a [minoritized identity] group do we have this year than last?

What conditions have we created that maintain certain groups as the perpetual majority here?

Is this environment safe for everyone to feel like they belong?

Whose safety is being sacrificed and minimized to allow others to be comfortable maintaining dehumanizing views?

Isnt it separatist to provide funding for safe spaces and separate student centers?

What are people experiencing on campus that they dont feel safe when isolated and separated from others like themselves?

Wouldnt it be a great program to have a panel debate Black Lives Matter?

Why would we allow the humanity and dignity of people or our students to be the subject of debate or the target of harassment and hate speech?

How can we celebrate the increase in our numbers of Black and Latinx faculty from 2% to 3%?

Have we reduced harm, revised abusive tenure and promotion systems, and increased supports in the local community to support these facultys life chances?

How have we individually supported diverse candidate pools in searches?

How can we eliminate practices and policies that have disparate effects on minoritized groups?

Note: Adapted from Stewart (2017a).

Below, I align these alternative questions with eight proposals that are designed to provide institutional leaders the means to be transformational change agents (Kezar, 2014) through identifying institutional structures, processes, and practices that are critical in working towards racial equity and justice.


A diversity and inclusion paradigm counts the numbers of social groups represented in the institution, on a committee, or at a given rank. The assumption is that having a diverse group inherently reflects a tangible commitment to equity. What is missing in this approach is that people from minoritized social groups who do manage to be most successful do so by assimilating to majoritarian narratives (Anglin & Wade, 2007). Consequently, viewpoints and perspectives that are most likely to significantly challenge accepted norms and traditions remain excluded. Institutional leaders using an equity and justice paradigm instead of a diversity and inclusion approach are aware of whose access is blocked and whose presence is vulnerable to expulsion. Following are examples of strategies for opening up access to rooms in which decisions are made.

Student Admission

As Guinier (2015) demonstrated, college admission offices use merit to maintain an exclusionary system anchored by standardized test scores. Moreover, empirical evidence linking institutional size, wealth, or ranking with educational quality is lacking. In fact, some of the most underresourced colleges outperform wealthier institutions in the retention and graduation of students from underresourced schools and neighborhoods (Price, Spriggs, & Swinton, 2011; Richards & Awokoya, 2012). Moving toward admissions decisions at four-year colleges that are motivated by granting access first to those most in need of it to improve their life chances would be a critical move toward enhancing equity and justice.

Faculty Recruitment

It has been reported that in some fields, the majority of faculty come from the same set of prestigious programs (Clauset, Arbesman, & Larremore, 2015). Again, there is no empirical link between program ranking and the quality of teaching and research evidenced by its graduates when they enter faculty roles. Search committees must be challenged to more strongly consider candidates coming from lesser-known programs and deemphasize publication counts and scholarly presentations. These criteria are heavily moderated by financial access and social capital. Instead, position descriptions and review processes should center on the work that faculty actually will be required to do.

Administrative Recruitment and Advancement

The top of the academic hierarchy is still overwhelmingly occupied by cisgender white men (American Council on Education [ACE], 2017; Cook, 2012). How are opportunities to advance into academic leadership distributed at the institution? Who are used as workhorses and mules, but not considered for advancement when positions in college leadership become available? Competence with administrative leadership may be best demonstrated through service roles, which are performed overwhelmingly by minoritized women faculty. Acknowledgment of this unseen labor (Griffin, Bennett, & Harris, 2013) as more than being a team player or paying ones dues could be the first step toward changing who is at the table for significant decisions.


A diversity and inclusion paradigm prioritizes having multiple perspectives present while putting all those points of view on equal footing. Such faux democracy is vulnerable to false equivalencies that do not recognize or take into account the validity or quality of the perspectives represented (Stewart, 2017b). An equity and justice focused paradigm alternatively considers the presence of ideas that will not be taken as seriously under majority-rules decision-making processes.

Countering this silencing of voices requires a move away from consensus decision-making. One of the drawbacks of consensus-seeking techniques is the molding of the opinions of group members and creation of false consensus (Hsu & Sandford, 2007). Instead, decision-making groups must prioritize feedback and considerations offered by the people most likely to be affected by the decision, especially when those groups may be at greater risk of harm (Nepon, Redfield, & Spade, 2013). An example of this would be late-night programming policies that require police or other security measures to be put in place for events expected to draw large crowds and that require student organizations to bear the cost burden of payment for officer overtime. In practice, these policies have disparate negative effects on racially minoritized students. First, they put Black and other racially minoritized students at greater risk of unnecessary use of force by police. Researchers have shown that police and the general public regard Black youth as inherently more dangerous and prone to violence (Goff, Jackson, Di Leone, Culotta, & DiTomasso, 2014). If the concerns and needs of Black collegians were centered and prioritized in discussions about crowd control during late-night events, this exposure could be possibly mitigated if not totally eliminated. Additionally, a disproportionate amount of these student organizations budgets may be required to fund security personnel who may then racially harass and victimize them.

In addition, the differences in experiences of racially and other minoritized students on campus is often evidenced in climate survey data where a numerical minority of respondents say they feel unsafe walking across campus. Too often the focus is placed on the numerical majority who do feel safe, instead of the fact that there are evidently some who report feeling unsafe. Valuing minoritized voices means taking the time to perform intersectional analyses by demographics and understand whether the numerical minority in the survey data reflect minoritized populations on campus and what conditions are leading to their experiences.


A focus on compositional diversity as a measure of progress toward inclusion only considers how many more people of numerically minoritized groups are on campus in various positions. This approach is flawed for reasons already discussed under the first proposal, but is also flawed because it then no longer sees a need for intervention for groups who have reached parity with the dominant group (whether by race, nationality, or biological sex). An illustration of this outcome is the erasure of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) from many institutions affirmative action policies and strategic plans for diversity recruitment (Allred, 2007). The conditions that support perpetual majorities among dominant/majoritized groups are ignored.

Traditional norms of policy, practice, and customs must be interrogated. In what ways are the way things have always been done reflective of white, Protestant/Christian, middle class, able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual norms and assumptions? It is the unchecked propagation of these practices that signal to prospective community members (students, faculty, and staff) their nonbelongingness. Sense of belonging (Strayhorn, 2012) is not the responsibility of minoritized groups to cultivate, but rather the obligation of institutions to convey. This can be done through every aspect of the environment: physical, human aggregate, organizational, and constructed climate (Strange & Banning, 2015). A thorough environmental assessment should not focus only on participants perceptions of the institution and intergroup relations (Hurtado, Clayton-Pedersen, Allen, & Milem, 1998) as climate components, but on these other facets as well.

Again, in concert with the previous proposal, minoritized voices and perspectives must be centered. For example, inviting members of minoritized groups to design the campus environmental assessment and including data that are respondent-generated (e.g., photo elicitation; Harper, 2002) instead of only those data that are administrator-driven (e.g., Likert scale responses) centers voices differently.


Continuing the above train of thought, focusing on everyones belongingness is a diversity and inclusion paradigm that has no transformative or revolutionary effect on the organizations culture. In this framework, all ideas must be welcomed, all viewpoints considered potentially valid, all ideologies represented and included. The reality is that the academy does not practice this and never has. For example, debunked scientific theories and methodological approaches are no longer taught, and space is not given to hangers-on for debate. However, when the issue is one framed as a personal belief, then there is a desire for no ones beliefs to feel discarded. In this way, the prioritization of individual belief systems is merely a way to rationalize dominant cultural beliefs. For example, in the face of covert and overt expressions of racism, such an institutional commitment sacrifices and minimizes the safety, humanity, and legitimacy of minoritized groups by making arguments against their safety, humanity, and legitimacy equally valid (Stewart, 2017b). Expecting minoritized group members to always be patient, polite, and civil in the face of invidious attacks on their personhood is irresponsible and does not support diversity and inclusion, let alone equity and justice.

Purported free speech proponents push for relativistic inclusion over accountability for speech and its effects. Campus speech codes have been derided as political litmus tests and tools of politically correct thought-police (Majeed, 2009). When comprising only offensive words, these critiques may be valid inasmuch as such lists fail to address why certain language is problematic. Rather, policies that prioritize care for the human dignity, self-understandings, and experiences of minoritized groups could be developed. In addition, a love ethic (hooks, 2000) could be incorporated into such policies that would advance compassion as an approach for mutual understanding as well as education of self and other. Institutions that claim to value their members must declare themselves enemies of any viewpoints and ideologies that devalue certain members and threaten their safety, humanity, and legitimacy (Stewart, 2017b). Despite recent opportunities (e.g., the recision of DACA, white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia) to show up on behalf of minoritized communities in this regard, colleges and universities have not issued public statements that would illustrate this kind of stance.


The fifth proposal builds on issues covered earlier in this chapternamely, the importance of advancing equity over equality. I have seen countless arguments against student diversity centers, ethnic and LGBT resource centers, and womens centers that frame the existence and funding of those centers as separatist and the cause of exclusion on campus. Other arguments have said that in order to best serve equality, there should also be a mens center established alongside the womens center (Groth, 2014), a traditional marriage office if there is a LGBT Pride office (Fraga, 2014), and a white students association if there is a Black students association (Witteman, 2013). At the root of this argument is a failure to recognize that everyone getting the same thing may be equal but it is not equitable. Moreover, this argument represents a refusal to acknowledge the structural and environmental conditions on campus that necessitate the identification and establishment of safe spaces for minoritized students to gather and advocate for their needs and rights on campus.

A climate assessment such as the one proposed earlier that would center the needs and experiences of minoritized group members on campus is one action that can help promote revolutionary change, dramatically altering the institution, shifting from an equality and inclusion paradigm to an equity and justice one. Another action I propose would be to direct education, both in and out of the classroom, about privilege and dominance as an intentional and ongoing part of the college experience. Students, faculty, and staff need skills-based education about the ways in which privilege and dominance work and are maintained within individuals and communities. Members of minoritized groups are often already attuned to the effects of privilege and dominance on them (Ancis, Sedlacek, & Mohr, 2000). However, they should not be assumed to have mature or complete understandings of how their salient minoritized/targeted social group identities may work to occlude their attention to their own exercise of privilege and dominance via faith, ability, and/or gender positions against others. In this way, all members of the campus community need support and challenge to develop multicultural competence (Pope, Reynolds, & Mueller, 2004).


False equivalencies between ideological differences and value systems have already been discussed. Another way in which they show up as diversity initiatives is through programming that aims to build awareness of an issue by juxtaposing opposing viewpoints through debate or speakers from different perspectives. The perspectives themselves are interrogated for their legitimacy, grounding in empirical data, or adherence to campus values. Rather, debate for the sake of education precedes consideration of the effect of speech on those who hear it.

Over the past year, speakers whose views denounce the humanity of transgender and gender nonconforming (T/GNC) people, deny the right of the Palestinian people to their homeland occupied by the Israeli state, and those whose policies undermine the sincerity of their values have been fiercely protested by students (Nelson & Greenberg, 2016; Steinmetz, 2017; Svrluga & Rozsa, 2017). Despite the perceived liberal bias of the academy (Bahls, 2017), faculty with critical theoretical perspectives that challenge the status quo have been the subjects of student protest, threatened and harassed online, and are typically those without the protections of tenure (Daniels & Stein, 2017). Yet, in response to demands that public university campuses be open to all ideologies regardless of their toxicity, many university leaders have merely reinforced the perceived need to defend free speech in the name of exposing students to alternative perspectives (e.g., Melia, 2015; Svrluga, 2017). These students are told they should listen to all sides under the guise of developing skills in critical thinking.

Supporting equity and justice leading to a transformation of the organizational climate requires pushing back on such arguments. Those approving invitations of speakers to campus, whether for commencement ceremonies or regular semester programming, should include criteria in the approval process that evaluates the likely impact of such speech on individuals from a range of racial, ethnic, and other social identity groups, as well as the assumptions which underlie the programs format. The humanity and dignity of people should not be the subject to debate nor become the targets of a speakers documented proclivity to spew harassment and hateful speech. Support of critical thinking within an equity and justice paradigm would prompt faculty and student activities coordinators to evaluate the depth of critical thinking and cognitive complexity of proposed speakers and programs and their ability to facilitate critical thinking and cognitive complexity among attendees. Without intentional and skilled processing and facilitation after the speaker has left the stage, development, learning, and critical thinking are not guaranteed. Incorporation of talk-back sessions, small group discussion, and other processing activities should become routine features of campus-wide programming events, especially events about social diversity issues. For instance, at Bowling Green State University, following a 2016 Black History Month screening of Brother Outsider (2003), a biography of gay civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin, a talk-back session with panelists from the university community allowed both panelists and attendees to consider the implications of the film for models of activism, intersectional justice movements, and horizontal oppression. Also, following the LGBT History Month closing keynote with sick and disabled queer transmasculine Pilipinx poet Kay Ulanday Barrett at Colorado State University, the question-and-answer after his performance facilitated deep introspection and such questions as how best to support transgender women of color, one of the subjects of Barretts poetry. Both faculty and student affairs administrators, who sponsor campus programs and work with student organizations to do so, can include such features in the design of these programs, thus demonstrating an intentional approach to learning outcomes in the co-curriculum.


The mere creation of a program, sponsorship, or any other activity that does not shift minoritized peoples status on campus is not award-worthy. Too often effort is rewarded over results in the absence of any plan for assessment or continuation. For example, recently a program aimed at changing attitudes toward queer and transgender people among student-athletes was awarded national recognition by the NCAA. Yet this program had only been in operation for a semester, was initiated and led by a graduating student, and had not been assessed to show that it had in fact changed any attitudes among cisgender and heterosexual student-athletes at the institution. Campus administrators working within an equity and justice paradigm should celebrate outcomes attained in harm reduction, elimination or radical revision of abusive systems, and/or support for minoritized group members life chances. Despite scholarship that argues for celebrating short-term wins in order to maintain support for change initiatives (Kotter, 2014), such a perspective when applied to equity and justice work prioritizes the feelings and needs of dominant groups (Eddo-Lodge, 2017) and merely reinforces first-order change over the deep change needed for institutional transformation (Kezar, 2014).

Those who are members of targeted groups are the ones best able to determine who is deserving of award and recognition. Moreover, funding to continue and expand efforts should flow to such offices, programs, and staff (e.g., Nepon et al., 2013); this would be a form of what Dean Spade (2015) coined trickle-up activism. Pats on the back for minimal effortsfirst-order changedo not advance equity and justicesecond-order change. Rather, minoritized group members should determine when and how advancements have been achieved and whether and how to recognize them.


Operating from an equity and justice paradigm means seeking to reverse or eliminate the effects of policies shown to have disparate impacts on minoritized group members. For example, having a diverse candidate pool for a search or making gains in the numbers of applications from minoritized group members to an academic program serves diversity and inclusion, but not necessarily equity and justice. Facilitating second-order, transformational change reflected in an equity and justice orientation is better served by systemically reviewing selection criteria from the position description through the interview process for evidence of implicit bias as modeled by this program at the University of Oregon (2017).

Admission and hiring policies and practices must be closely examined, as argued in the first proposal here, to determine what disparate effects common and typical policies and procedures have on certain minoritized groups. In making these assessments, it is crucial to consider those at the intersections of multiple systems of oppression. Racially minoritized women, international students with disabilities, and queer and T/GNC youth emancipated from foster care likely experience effects of policies that may not manifest among racially minoritized students, international students, or queer and T/GNC youth (or among women, students with disabilities, and youth emancipated from foster care) as a whole. By prioritizing equity and justice for those at the margins of the margins, we better serve the whole and enact trickle-up activism (Spade, 2015).


As noted at the outset of this chapter, second-order, transformational, and revolutionary change is needed to realize equity and justice in U.S. higher education institutions. However, someone must implement these changes and sustain them over time. Informed by Kezars (2014) discussion of leadership, agency, and change implementation, following are 10 recommendations for how leaders might recognize the need to adopt an equity and justice framework and facilitate this kind of change in their institutions.


Commit to the personal work needed to see the difference between equality and equity. An honest assessment of ones own awareness, knowledge, and skills can expose what ones growth edges are in this work.


Find and regularly consult those who have begun this work at their institutions who can serve as mentors. It can be difficult to envision this level of change without models. Mentors can function as models of necessary action and sounding boards and advisors when challenges arise.


Surround yourself with others, both among your direct reports and peers within the institution, who will hold you accountable to resisting first-order change. A leader must be willing to be challenged and to receive that challenge from both direct reports and positional peers. In this way, leaders can demonstrate receptivity to bottom-up change.


Cultivate accomplices among supervisors and external stakeholders. It is imperative that leaders hoping to ignite and facilitate transformational change have others working to advance their initiatives and block resistance. For midlevel leaders, this means senior-level supervisors; for college and university presidents, this means finding accomplices among governing board members, alumni, and possibly also state legislators.


Be clear about the why and provide a clear and compelling vision for your unit and the campus. Effectively cultivating accomplices requires being able to clearly articulate a vision that is more compelling than the status quo. This will likely entail reviewing both personal and institutional espoused values and tangible ways those values are not being realized as well as ways in which they could be.


Prepare for inevitable obstacles. Although few will articulate open support for racial inequity and injustice, both history and contemporary events illustrate that it is much harder to get people to commit to changes in practices and policies that will tangibly restructure the racial landscape (revisit Eddo-Lodge, 2017). For this reason, it is imperative for leaders to anticipate obstacles by proactively addressing common challenges and preparing would-be accomplices for attacks that may come and strategizing how best to respond to them. These strategies can serve to inoculate new initiatives from being derailed or compromised to the point of ultimately being ineffective.


Assess capacity for long-term investment in institutional transformation. This must happen on both personal and institutional levels. For leaders, consider how long you will be able to personally oversee change implementation. Too often, institutional change relies on personally charismatic leaders and fades when such leaders depart the institution. It is important therefore to make agreements and new practices matters of systemic restructuring so they are not supported solely by personal relationships. Within the institution, part of cultivating accomplices is also educating them that deep change may not be accomplished within just a year or two. Moreover, campus constituents (faculty, staff, students, alumni, and governing boards) may need to be (re)educated about the key ideas and terms that undergird racial equity initiatives. Building capacity for long-term investment also means equipping the next generation of leaders to carry forward the work that was begun.


Communicate the vision for transformational change as well as the short- and long-term strategic actions necessary to achieve it. Both for those directly responsible for change implementation and those who will be affected by it, clearly outlining both the destination and the steps to get there is necessary. Regular, transparent, and authentic communication about goals, progress, and evaluation is itself a strategy that can help foment and support deep change efforts.


Realize the limits of interest convergence as an effective method for supporting deep institutional change. Critical race theorists have understood interest convergence as the support by white people of racial equity initiatives only when those initiatives benefit them in some way (Ladson-Billings, 1998). Interest convergence has been widely credited with much of the progress in legislative remedies to segregation in U.S. society (Guinier, 2004; Driver, 2011). However, critics of interest convergence have noted its reliance on false categorical and static interests among racial groups (Driver, 2011), as well as the subsuming of transformative racial justice to the tempered interests of the general society (Bell, 1980; Guinier, 2004). Therefore, interest convergence may not be sufficient to support the transformational change called for by an equity and justice paradigm. In light of this, those hoping to lead deep, transformational change toward greater racial equity and justice need to ground their arguments in values that do not prioritize the needs or comfort of the dominant group. This can be difficult and likely requires investment in campus-wide (re)education to bolster the need for justice for justices sake.


Appoint an advisory board of campus constituents who have been affected directly by existing racially disparate outcomes and who would be most directly affected by proposed racial equity initiatives. Finally, leaders should be guided and held accountable in their work by those who have been most affected by existing racial inequities and therefore have the most at stake. This advisory board should be composed of individuals with multiple, intersecting identities and have the opportunity to review new proposals and to critique any evaluation and assessment data along the way. The feedback of this group should be a key aspect of any decisions made either to authorize or continue initiatives meant to support racial equity. In exchange for this labor on behalf of the institution, the benefit of which they may never experience (due to graduation or other departures), advisory board members should receive appropriate compensation. Compensating diversity labor is an action that directly supports campus equity and justice. As student members of the Multicultural Leadership Council (2017) at the University of Michigan have written, The current policy of expecting free labor from marginalized people undermines the integrity of the entire [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] campus enterprise (para. 1). This compensation may be either in the form of academic credits and/or work-study stipends for students or as merit pay and/or service credit for faculty and administrators, especially those unprotected by tenure.

By adopting these ten recommendations, institutional leaders can better situate themselves to carry out and sustain deep, transformational change on campus toward racial equity and justice. Moreover, these actions help to better stabilize and support those change efforts over the long term.

These proposals and recommendations for university leaders are beginning steps toward instigating a revolution of values, priorities, and actions by administrators on campus. Our students deserve this effort. Moreover, the society our institutions serve and benefit from requires this to better realize a vision of radical democracy worthy of a liberatory education.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 14, 2018, p. 1-16
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22377, Date Accessed: 10/20/2021 10:03:19 PM

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About the Author
  • D-L Stewart
    Colorado State University
    E-mail Author
    D-L STEWART (proper gender pronouns: ze, zim, zir) is Professor and Co-Director of the Student Affairs in Higher Education program in the School of Education at Colorado State University. Dr. Stewart has been a faculty member for 17 years preparing student affairs educators and leaders and previously taught at The Ohio State University, Ohio University, and most recently at Bowling Green State University. An intersectional approach to issues of equity and justice in higher education mobilizes zir research agenda, which centers populations minoritized by ability, ethnicity, gender, race, sexuality, and spirituality. In addition to dozens of book chapters and refereed articles, Dr. Stewart has been the author or editor of three books, most recently Experiences of Black Collegians in U.S. Northern Private Colleges: A Narrative History, 1945–1965 (Palgrave, 2017).
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