Diversity statements have become an important element in the governance of the university. In the absence of a societal or legal consensus on norms and values, these statements represent a means of developing a coherent normative or values structure within which the expectations of conduct can be managed in the university. Not all universities have such statements, several prefer Action Plans, Strategic Plans, or incorporation within general university policy (Illinois, Washington). Others have adopted Diversity Statements through their regents (Michigan), or faculty organizations (Indiana) or within their units (Maryland, Northwestern, Minnesota), or from campus units (Minnesota-Duluth) or in administrative units (Rutgers) or in reaction to incidents (Rutgers) or more informally as statements from high officials (Chicago, Nebraska, Michigan State). Still some universities have begun to frame structure their efforts through or in connection with such statements (e.g., Purdue, Maryland, Iowa, (within their Strategic Plan), Virginia, here, and here)
But the values inherent in Diversity statements have been maturing as well. Their current expression tells us much about the values structures of universities in the context of its approach to inter-group relations within the university community. It is worth considering, then, just what values are embedded in the concept of "diversity" and the manner in which it is to be embedded in university culture--and its governance structures.
Penn State, a large multi-campus research university has just announced its adoption of a university diversity statement--Penn State Statement on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Excellence. This post considers the Diversity Statement in its context and for what it may tell us about the future of such statements within university culture in the United States. What emerges is that, and consistent with approaches at other comparable universities, diversity at Penn State has moved from a focus on historically based racial and ethnic marginalization to a much broader application of the concept.
The Penn State Diversity Statement is short and provides as follows:
Penn State Statement on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Excellence:
The Pennsylvania State University is committed to and accountable for advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in all of its forms. We embrace individual uniqueness, foster a culture of inclusive excellence that supports both broad and specific diversity initiatives, leverage the educational and institutional benefits of diversity, and engage all individuals to help them thrive. We value inclusive excellence as a core strength and an essential element of our public service mission.
At Penn State:
We will foster and maintain a safe environment of respect and inclusion for faculty, staff, students, and members of the communities we serve.
We will educate our faculty, staff, and students to be social justice advocates, creatively providing curricula, programs, and environments that reflect the diversity of our communities, and elevate cultural awareness.
We will ensure fair and inclusive access to our facilities, programs, resources, and services, and ensure that all of our policies and practices are inclusive and equitable.
We will advance and build our workforce by assessing hiring practices and performance review procedures to attract, retain, and develop talented faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds.
We will address intergroup disparities in areas such as representation, retention, learning outcomes, and graduation rates
Let us consider this statement closely.
1. The diversity Statement references an institutional "commitment to" and "accountability for" the normative project described in the Statement. At first glance this suggests that all institutional actors--that is the entire engine of shared governance--will be deployed for the expression of commitment and accountability in more precise terms. It also suggests that individuals, as such, are not burdened with this commitment to nor would they be accountable for the project described in the Statement. The individual, here, appears reduced to object--the "actor" whose management is embedded in the operationalization of the objectives of the Statement. But the individual, as such, is not viewed, unlike the university, as a subject of the statement, as an actor with direct obligation. One might wonder, at first blush, whether reading the individual out of the statement--that is whether reading the individual out of a direct connection with the normative values represented by the diversity statement might both make individuals passive actors in diversity with no responsibility other than to follow the lead of the university. But that question implicates a boarder one of the transformation of the university from a set of more horizontal relationships among experts and the officials hired to ensure the institution through which expertise is disseminated to one in which relationships are vertical and hierarchical. That transformation might itself be a subject for the diversity propounded in the Statement. Someday.
2. The extent of the commitment and accountability is quite limited--it is limited to the action of "advancing." It is not clear what is meant by advancing. Perhaps this is meant to make it easier, in the new culture of "data driven decision making," for the production and harvesting of data appropriate to the construction of a fact based understanding of "advancing." Yet that would require a consensus (or within vertical hierarchies a decision communicated by a higher official to subordinates) of thew qualitative presumptions of the character of advancement. That, in turn, requires the identification of the "thing" that is "advanced" and a means of measuring "advancing." This may be harder to do than it might appear. The Statement, however, makes that easier by defining, at least at some level of generality the objectives to be advanced.
3. The objectives to be advanced are "diversity, equity, and inclusion in all of its forms." A lofty set of objectives to be sure. But one that raises some interesting questions. First are a set of questions going to definition. Are diversity, equity, and inclusion distinct concepts or are they relational concepts. That is do diversity, equity and inclusion point to quite distinct markers of behaviors or do they together suggest an overall aggregation of mutually reinforcing behaviors (unidentified at this point) which together are meant to convey a "term of art" definition or understanding of diversity. On the one hand, it is possible to understand diversity as set of characteristics, clusters of distinctiveness that must be identified and cultivated; to understand equity as a set of normative objectives that relate individual interactions with communities within an institution; and to understand inclusiveness as a particular set of actions or behaviors that relate distinctiveness to participation above a qualitative baseline. On the other hand, it might be possible to it is possible to understand diversity as an obligation to recognize difference the value of which is marked by equity that is evidenced only through markers of inclusion. It is not clear. Yet that lack of clarity makes more difficult the task of measuring advancement. And measuring advancement is crucial for the objectives of commitment and accountability.
4. The Statement itself provides a clue about the meaning of diversity-equity-inclusion. That clue connects that term to a set of more specific objectives, some of which are obscure: "We embrace individual uniqueness, foster a culture of inclusive excellence that supports both broad and specific diversity initiatives, leverage the educational and institutional benefits of diversity, and engage all individuals to help them thrive. We value inclusive excellence as a core strength and an essential element of our public service mission."
One assumes, that "we" references the institution of the university, the only "person" with commitment and accountability obligations. It is not clear why the institution is referenced in the plural--unless that reference is meant as a sophisticated bridge between the person of the university and its quite autonomous stakeholders--students, faculty, staff, board, alumni, etc. That is not clear. But the language itself produces a bit of a curious turn here that might benefit from clarity that no doubt will come as the Statement is implemented.
These amplifications of diversity-equity-inclusiveness are themselves modified by the objective--the "embrace." One has the sense that this is a reference to the internalization of these notions within the institution, and then from the institution to its stakeholders. The values are straightforward. Diversity appears to suggest an embrace of individual uniqueness. Inclusion refers to a number of objectives. These include culture (of inclusive excellence), but a very specific culture--one that supports broad and specific diversity initiatives. The initiatives are themselves not specified. But they must reference the uniqueness of the individual which appears to be at the foundation of diversity. So that this culture of inclusive excellence might be read as supporting both broad and specific initiatives that foster the uniqueness of the individual. Another touches on leveraging the educational and institutional benefits of diversity. Again that might reference the institutional and educational obligations to foster individual uniqueness. That is amplified by the objective, to make individuals thrive. Equity appears nowhere here, though it might be picked up again later. Perhaps it is implied as a subset or the normative foundation for the objective of "inclusive excellence", identified as a core strength and essential element of the institutional public mission. But that is hard to tell. Yet one might suspect that equity is the normative driver of assessment of the value of diversity and the techniques of inclusion. Or perhaps equity is itself the consequence of inclusion. That is another possible reading. Yet inclusion references a technique, equity a value, and it is hard to see how the application of a technique ensures the value. It may be, though, a great step in the specified direction.
5. Some clarity is provided and direction suggested by the small number of more specific bullet points that follow the broad statement. These do refine and constrain, perhaps, the understanding of diversity-equity-inclusion within the broader solicitude for diversity and individual uniqueness, and diversity initiatives embedded in the facets of inclusion described in the broader portions of the statement. There are five each briefly considered in turn:
" We will foster and maintain a safe environment of respect and inclusion for faculty, staff, students, and members of the communities we serve." The operative words here appear to be "foster and maintain" (extent of obligation), "safe environment" (objective), "respect and inclusion" (the character of the objective) "faculty, staff, etc." (the objects of the objectives). Foster and maintain suggests both a striving toward a standard not yet reached and an obligation to preserve it once reached. What that level is remains unspecified. Safe environment, the objective, can only be understood in relation to its character--respect and inclusion. But these are highly contextual terms. A safe environment for a free speech absolutist,and the marker of respect and inclusion, would be quite different than for other communities and other areas. The nature of "safety" itself is now highly contested--and for some people its very appearance is threatening. One expects this will generate a substantial amount of discussion or impositions that follow may not have the desired effect.
" We will educate our faculty, staff, and students to be social justice advocates, creatively providing curricula, programs, and environments that reflect the diversity of our communities, and elevate cultural awareness." It appears the university has taken up for itself the obligation to socialize its stakeholders in a particular form of advocacy. Beyond the issues of academic freedom and human dignity, the objective raises some curious issues. The most important of these is diversity of view respecting the meaning of "social justice advocacy". It is possible, if one is cultivating the uniqueness of the individual, to be required to foster as well the multiplicity of views touching on social justice and on advocacy. To constrain that would be, in effect, to betray the intent of the diversity statement itself. Unless it is now taken that university mas the authority, in the name of diversity, to suppress diversity of viewpoint and values, on the meaning and performance of social justice advocacy. But that the university perilously close to issues of politics and social engineering that might well take it beyond its mission. On the other hand, its own constraints--education on the broadness of diversity and cultural awareness--descriptive projects, fall comfortably within that mission. A worthy objective, no doubt, but one that will be interesting to watch as it matures.
" We will ensure fair and inclusive access to our facilities, programs, resources, and services, and ensure that all of our policies and practices are inclusive and equitable." One sees here the re-emergence of issues of equity in use and access. Certainly a bedrock objective, but one without context. If diversity is now focused on the individual, how does it relate to the problems of equity and inclusion for individuals, each uniquer, who may be united by a set of common characteristics that produce adverse effects on equity and inclusion? And how does one order these in an era of scarce resources. As diversity moves from the group to the individual, it may be necessary to re-evaluate the role of communities in the construction of initiatives and for the obligation to do equity.
" We will advance and build our workforce by assessing hiring practices and performance review procedures to attract, retain, and develop talented faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds." Here diversity acquires a more unique sub definition. We no longer understand diversity in its new form but rather in its more conventional form as distinct backgrounds. Diversity here becomes contingent on exogenous factors (background) rather than endogenous factors (individuation). That was the conventional approach when diversity was a vehicle for increasing opportunities for traditionally marginalized groups. The diversity statement still recognizes that traditionalism but has moved beyond it. The effect remains to be seen.
" We will address intergroup disparities in areas such as representation, retention, learning outcomes, and graduation rates." And indeed, with this last objective the Statement returns to the roots of diversity programs--the amelioration of disadvantage that follow from group characteristics (skin color, religion, ethnicity, etc.). But it also moves well beyond that. The foundations of diversity, grounded in the persistence of disadvantage over a century and a half after the emancipation of slaves, has now become a mechanism for mediating opportunity and the participation in discursive and other communities, for individuals, each of whom is understood as a carrier of a unique cluster of characteristics that both advantage and disadvantage her relative to ohers facing the same aggregation (though to different effect).
Penn State should be congratulated on this effort. In some ways it points to an extraordinary transformation of the notions, concepts and values behind terms that, not even a generation ago, had much more precise and quite limited meaning. But such vast transformation carries with it a responsibility of clarity, and an ethical obligation--one quite central to the mission of universities like Penn State which have embraced the ethical turn in governance--to provide greater clarity. That, of course, will likely come with implementation. But such implementation might be well served by the continuous engagement with the Diversity Statement itself. That, in the long run, might be the most effective way of opening the door to diversity, equity and inclusion. But one must be aware that these transformation come with a cost. Here the costs of change are fairly clear. First, de-centering the groups traditionally at the core of diversity and inclusion projects affects not only their position but also affects the way one approaches and understands equity. Equity here is still the weak link of the Statement, and one worthy of further elaboration. Second, focusing diversity on individual uniqueness provides a substantially different basis for implementing diversity programs that one grounded in either history (past exclusion) or value (equity of opportunity or result). Balancing the potential of this new standard against the loss of the markers of the old will require some delicate balancing and sensitivity. Third, at the end of the day it is not clear what the university has committed itself to be accountable for, to foster, to educate, to ensure or to address as set out in the Statement. But this is a young statement, perhaps more an indication of intent, than a program for action. Let us hope that it can serve as a guide in ways that advance diversity, equity and inclusion, as those terms come to be understood by the community that will embrace its values as its own.