What is All This DEI Talk Anyway?

Discussions about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are not new. Colleges and universities have often led the way for engaging in impactful discussions about diversity both inside and outside of the classroom. Many universities have general education courses that address issues of race, gender, oppression, and discrimination utilizing both historical and current lenses; however, coursework alone certainly does not mean that a campus community embraces DEI nor integrates DEI initiatives in all aspects of campus community life for students, staff, faculty, and administrators.

What is DEI Really?

Diversity, equity and inclusion should be more than current buzz words.  These words should imply that a campus community supports a value system that speaks to why and how these values are important.  In this context, diversity typically refers to race, ethnicity, gender, ability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, neurodiversity, age, and many other categories and/or identity variables.  Equity means being impartial and fair while Inclusion speaks to making all feel welcome, embraced, and included by a community or organization.  Each are important in ensuring that all people in a community feel welcomed, embraced, heard, valued and represented in multiple aspects of a community. 

A campus community can be quite diverse simply by having different demographic groups represented in its population.  Having diversity alone does not lead to increased learning by community members or a change in culture.  Embracing and celebrating diversity necessitates making sure campus policies, hiring and retention practices, and having diverse representation at the table when important decisions are made, is a priority.  Institutions should also examine the impact these things have on all members of the campus community

Incorporating DEI

Incorporating DEI in meaningful ways requires that educational institutions and the individuals within them do an honest assessment of themselves regarding their DEI successes and failures and strengths and weaknesses.  True self-examination is not easy, but it is necessary for meaningful growth. True DEI practices also involve grappling with issues of unconscious and conscious bias in hiring and promotion practices, exploring issues of social justice, and  identifying outdated practices, especially those that may have disparate impact on different groups within a campus community. 

Why is DEI Important?

Not only is being inclusive the right thing to do from an ethical and moral standpoint, but research clearly demonstrates that communities and organizations are healthier, more productive/creative, and growth-oriented when its members feel welcome and that their experiences and opinions are valued.  Communities function better when each of their members are represented in decision-making processes and there is often significant growth from being exposed to different viewpoints.

How do we Get There?

“Getting there” means all aspects of a campus community feel embraced, supported, and represented.  This aim is aspirational in that an institution will never perfectly achieve this, but healthy campus communities consistently strive to get there.  

It involves:

  1. Making DEI a campus community priority and value.  DEI initiatives should be integrated into an institution’s strategic plan and there should be clear benchmarks to measure the success of well-defined DEI initiatives.
  2. Accepting that there are no shortcuts to implementing impactful DEI initiatives.  This is a thorough process that takes planning, prioritization, time, finances, and support from the majority of the campus community.
  3. A willingness for community members to embrace diversity and consistently strive for equity and inclusion. 
  4. Identifying potential sources of bias in decision-making, hiring, recruiting, and promoting practices.
  5. Accepting that DEI work is never over.
  6. A willingness to embrace change and to allow DEI values to change the campus culture for the better.

About Dr. Katherine Helm

Katherine is a Chicagoland native, professor, and psychologist who enthusiastically wants to help people have strong mental health and healthy, fulfilling relationships. Katherine is a licensed psychologist with over 24 years of experience working with adolescents, adults, couples and groups in multiple clinical settings including college counseling, psychiatric hospitals, community mental health, and private practice. She has authored multiple books on working with couples, sex education for high school and college students, and mental health issues in the African American community. Currently, she is the Director of a Clinical Mental Health Graduate Programs for Lewis University. You can learn more about her areas of expertise at: drkhelmconsulting.com

One thought on “What is All This DEI Talk Anyway?

  1. March 13, 2023 at 11:29 pm

    Looking forward to the next posts!

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