A New Resource for Higher Ed Diversity Leaders

The following is a guest blog post by Ariana González Stokas, a senior associate with PRG. Stokas previously served as the vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion at Barnard and Bard colleges and is the author of “Reparative Universities: Why Diversity Alone Won’t Solve Racism in Higher Ed,” published by Johns Hopkins University Press.

ArianaGonzalezStokas headshotIt is impossible to be a higher education leader in 2023 without being painfully aware of the multiple attacks on diversity and inclusion work—ranging from legislation in 20 states to the pending Supreme Court decision on the consideration of race in admissions. A recent Washington Post headline perfectly summed up the national mood: “DEI Is Dead,” the State of Virginia’s chief diversity officer said in remarks at Virginia Military Institute.

All of this has led to a complex and rapidly changing landscape for chief diversity officers, whose work, I would argue, is even more important in 2023. Students, staff and faculty across the country are holding their institutions accountable for creating a safer and more inclusive environment. Many colleges and universities introduced new campus climate and anti-racism initiatives after the horrific murder of George Floyd in June 2020. And, if we look at DEI needs defined broadly, we can see that institutional inequities and completion gaps persist. In short, whatever the political climate and words we choose to describe efforts, we still have an enormous amount of work to do to redress the facts on the ground that reveal persistent exclusions from access and full participation in higher education.  

While the work has grown more complex, the tenure of chief diversity officers is growing shorter, due to newly created positions, turnover and burnout. Among the institutions that are members of the newly formed Liberal Arts Colleges Racial Equity Leadership Alliance (LACRELA), 4 percent of positions are currently open and another 15 percent are filled by leaders who have been in their role less than three years. At the recent NADOHE annual conference, it was clear that DEI leaders everywhere are seeking support and solidarity.

To help fill this gap, I have worked with my Peterson Rudgers Group colleagues over the past few months to develop a cohort-based program, Leadership for Change, that will help higher ed diversity leaders share best practices and learn from research and resources assembled specifically for them. We are currently inviting a group of senior diversity leaders from small liberal arts colleges to participate in our inaugural cohort from July to December 2023. 

The program will begin with an in-person retreat in Summer 2023 and feature four monthly, 90-minute group meetings in Zoom with a closing virtual retreat in December. The program fee of $7,500 also includes individual coaching; research briefs on topics of interest to the group; and a periodic newsletter scanning DEI developments and trends. 

 Over the program participants will interactively engage with topics such as:

  •  How and why to position institutional DEI as organizational change and transformational leadership work
  • Effective organizational structures for outcomes-based DEI
  • The most recent findings from diversity science and their relevance for measurable outcomes on their campuses
  • Developing structured communications and frameworks for incident response
  • The significance of resilient leadership and organizations to weather the present backlash to DEI efforts

An overview of our curriculum, bios of the program leaders, and a registration form are available online. If you are interested in learning more, please contact us at L4C@petersonrudgersgroup.com. We also welcome your questions and feedback on ways we can make this program as useful as possible for higher ed diversity leaders. It will take collective effort to ensure this vital work is effective in the months and years ahead.

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