Monday, May 18, 2015

A Useful Report Detailing the Structural Obstacles to Diversity/Inclusion at Colgate

Last semester, the Office of Equity and Diversity put together a report about the obstacles facing Colgate if we want this institution to become a genuinely inclusive place.  As a member of the Faculty Diversity Council, I had a chance to see this report and found it immensely useful in clarifying issues often invisible or opaque to faculty due to our position in the university structure.  It helped me understand why many good-intentioned efforts to promote diversity and inclusion seem to have little effect on the institution as a whole.  I have asked and obtained permission from the report’s authors, Lyn Rugg and Tamala Flack, to share this report here on the AAUP website.

NOTE - The report is accessible under FURTHER INFORMATION at the right side of the page using the link Barriers to Institution-Wide Diversity and Inclusion

Although I hope you read the piece in full, let me mention several issues that struck me.

·         Diversity initiatives are too narrowly focused.
o   A number of diversity initiatives have begun, some in response to last fall’s events and some predating them.  However, the vast majority of these initiatives have focused on supporting non-majority students, or helping faculty support those students.
o   Very few are designed to improve conditions for non-majority faculty (or staff). To quote the report, “Unfortunately, campus climate for faculty and staff remained largely absent from these discussions.”
o   In order to achieve truly campus-wide diversity and inclusion, initiatives must do much more.  For example, where are the initiatives to transform administrative leadership, examine how institutional support is distributed, or analyze our curriculum and pedagogy at a holistic level?

·         Colgate organizational structure is an obstacle to diversity and inclusion efforts.
o   Colgate’s organizational structure is divided into a number of semi-autonomous areas. 
o   Each distinct area manages and controls its diversity and inclusion efforts, and can opt in or out of initiatives without any external accountability.   
o   Each area may define diversity and inclusion and come up with its own measures of success and competence.
o   There is limited or no linkage between different areas’ diversity and inclusion efforts, leading to a lack of cohesion across the institution as well as much wasted effort.

·         Outdated Concepts of Prejudice and Discrimination
o   Too many people at Colgate, including those in leadership positions, are operating with an outdated idea of the way racism, sexism, homophobia, etc, operate today. They still believe that the problem is bad people doing bad things, overtly and intentionally.
o   Too many of our laws and policies are designed to deal only with overt and intentional acts of bias-motivated discrimination, harassment, or hostility.
o   Yet all the research (including the seminal research of former Colgate professor Jack Dovidio) shows that that those types of overt and intentional actions are not the most prevalent form of prejudice and discrimination today, though unfortunately they still occur.
o   Instead, bias and discrimination are manifested today in more subtle ways, when well-intentioned people (like myself) act on internalized prejudices and stereotypes we do not even know we have.  It happens when well-intentioned people (like myself) support certain ways of doing things which benefit some groups over others because they are the status quo or the “Colgate Way.”
o   Bias and discrimination happen not only when I treat certain types of people poorly, but also when I insist that other types of people could not possibly have engaged in discriminatory acts because “he/she is a good person.”
o   These forms of bias and discrimination are enormously damaging, but their effects emerge over time.  They often happen without hostile intention by the perpetrator, or with the intention hidden even from the perpetrator’s own self-awareness. This makes these incidents very difficult to prosecute under the current system.

Carolyn Hsu

The above post does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the AAUP membership or that of its officers, nor does inclusion of the post on this website constitute an endorsement by the Colgate chapter of the AAUP.