DEI: Why it matters, and what’s standing in the way

‘Students benefit from seeing themselves mirrored in the front of the classroom’

Enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is a major priority for many colleges and universities. But why? What makes this issue so important?

According to Nancy Aebersold, founder and executive director of the Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC), enhancing DEI can help get us closer to education’s overarching goal: improving student learning and outcomes.

“Students benefit from seeing themselves mirrored in the front of the classroom, in the lab and in the highest levels of academic leadership,” Nancy said. “Diverse representation and inclusive learning environments provide inspiration and aspiration and help students believe, ‘I can be there, or I can achieve thought leadership in the profession I choose.’”

Not only does increasing DEI give students the opportunity to visualize a successful future, it also exposes them to more ideas and information.

“A diversity of perspectives produces a more energized and dynamic academic environment,” Nancy said. “People with different life experiences ask different questions. They enrich dialogs and may ignite contestation or disruption of the status quo, which fuels the creation of new knowledge, innovation and deeper understandings.”

But there are challenges. Nancy refers to DEI as one of the most “serious, complex, and nuanced” topics in higher education today.

“The greatest challenge is the demand for diverse Ph.D.s seeking faculty appointments far outweighs the supply,” she said. “To solve that, it will take time, strategic policy changes and resources.”

She also noted that many organizations are working on developing a “pipeline of highly qualified, diverse professionals who see rich opportunities to grow their careers in higher education.”

Nancy said the other main challenge is changing “institutional climates to consistently act upon those values.”

“There is a knowledge gap that needs to be filled by ‘educating the educators’ about barriers to inclusion,” she said.  “The goal in addressing these issues through education, dialog and sharing of experiences is to create work and learning places that are safe, respectful, equitable and welcoming to all.”

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