How to Determine if a School or University is Truly Committed to Diversity

 Marketing Director   August 4, 2020  Career Advice

The job seems perfect. You’re being courted by a top-notch university. You’re dining with deans and grabbing coffee with an eclectic mix of students. You’ve been on Zoom interview after Zoom interview with eager recruiters and hiring managers. Your campus contacts discuss the university’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, and the scenario seems idyllic. You accept the position — only to realize that the inclusive utopia presented to you doesn’t actually exist.

Diversity and inclusion have become buzzwords that most colleges and universities espouse. But how can a job seeker determine if a campus holistically supports diversity before she signs on the dotted line? How does she ascertain whether her campus experience will truly be welcoming?

In this article, three diversity and inclusion experts offer tips to help job seekers look past campuses’ diversity statements to see how they live out these statements in their day-to-day operations.

Look at the Leadership

Job seekers can assess a university’s commitment to diversity by looking at its leadership, according to Dr. Yolanda Lewis, Founder and CEO of I Belong Education Institute, a consulting company that specializes in collegiate retention. Lewis says it’s critical for job seekers to observe: “Are there at least two people of color on the board of trustees? Are there any academic deans of color? Who’s sitting on the president’s cabinet?”

Similarly, Dr. Christine Taylor, vice president and associate provost for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the University of Alabama, urges candidates to investigate whether diversity is concentrated in just a few pockets of the campus or if it’s evident throughout the entire institution.

“It’s one thing to say that we have diverse employees — it is another to look closely at where they are positioned within the organizational structure,” she says. “If people of color are at the bottom rung, and they’ve been there for 10 or 15 years, then that doesn’t necessarily say there’s an opportunity for upward mobility.” Taylor notes that looking at a college’s commitment to developing all of their staff — particularly their staff of color — is a strong indicator of its commitment.

Ask Insightful Questions

Taylor encourages savvy job seekers to ask questions that won’t allow for pat answers. She advises job seekers to move from asking a generic question like “Is your campus committed to diversity?” to instead asking detailed questions like “What are some of the major accomplishments that you’ve had around issues related to diversity, equity, inclusion?” and “What has presented itself as an obstacle to your organization meeting its goals?”

Asking questions that require concrete answers enables job seekers to gauge the depth of an institution’s commitment to inclusion. “Everybody has a [diversity and inclusion] plan because it makes them look good,” says Lewis, but job seekers can assess the commitment to that plan by saying: “I read your plan. Can you give me three concrete initiatives that you hope to implement in the near future?”

Lewis warns job candidates that generic answers or responses like “Oh, we haven’t thought about that” clearly indicate that diversity is the plan only on paper. “That’s the first red flag,” she says. Conversely, Lewis adds that “if that conversation is insightful and it’s not just three or four word answers, then it’s likely that they’re having difficult conversations and that there’s a real commitment.”

Become an Anthropologist

Eddie Freeman, executive director of Human Resources at the University of Texas, Arlington, maintains that it’s prudent for job candidates to closely observe an institution to see if there are areas where “their walk doesn’t match their talk.”

To do this effectively, Taylor suggests that candidates approach their recruitment process like anthropologists. “If you came to campus and you could never speak to anybody, and you just looked around… What do the institutional artifacts tell you about the campus environment?” she asks. “The campus newspaper, the photographs hanging on the wall, who wins campus awards — all of these things tell you a lot about an organization and what it values.”

Freeman agrees, adding: “Look at their website, see what they’re putting out there. You can tell the depth of their commitment by what they have on the website.”

Lastly, Taylor notes that the inclusiveness of a college’s recruitment practices often mirrors the inclusiveness of the broader campus. She says it’s important to track what’s included on your campus tour. She asks, “Does the campus visit take into consideration that you may have wide ranging needs and interest that might differ from other candidates?” Do they include “places that you might want to get your hair done, places of worship, places to dine?” In other words, have they demonstrated that they understand that if hired, “you will be moving not only the 9-5 aspects of your life but your entire life to this community?”

Don’t Forget…

Lewis, Taylor, and Freeman concur it’s important not to overlook best practices like talking with current students, faculty and staff, and asking colleagues and friends about their experiences with a particular institution. Lewis encourages candidates to ask themselves a simple yet crucial question: “How does it feel when you’re walking on campus?” she asks, advising that sometimes a feeling — good or bad — says it all.

About the author: Chanté Griffin is a writer and natural hair advocate whose socially conscious work centers around racial justice. She is a contributing writer for The Root, and her articles, essays, and interviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Ebony, NewsOne, The Los Angeles Times, PBS SoCal, and others.

In her free time, Chanté enjoys creating comedic content about her natural hair journey for The Gram @kinky_coily_comedy and raking up late fees at her local library.

   -