During the past 50 years, INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, formerly the Affirmative Action Register (AAR), has reported on the abundance of programs, policies, best practices, and other efforts implemented to advance DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) in higher education and beyond. From creating greater access for underrepresented student populations to building more inclusive campuses to the hiring and retention of diverse faculty and staff, we have witnessed remarkable changes, growth, and innovation, despite often challenging times.

AAR was launched in 1974 as a response to equal opportunity employment legislation that prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, and national origin — and later with added emphasis on gender — for organizations receiving federal contracts and subcontracts.

As a result, colleges, universities, health care organizations, and others became much more intentional about recruiting diverse candidates to comply with the new laws. AAR emerged as a leading recruitment tool that fulfilled federal job announcement requirements and served as a connection hub for higher education and other employers seeking qualified job candidates from underrepresented groups.

As state and federal laws evolved to allow online sources to fulfill the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requirements, our Career Center was established. Over the years, it has grown into one of the largest national DEI-focused higher education recruitment platforms with over 20,000 active postings.

When publishers Lenore Pearlstein and Holly Mendelson purchased AAR in 2007, they immediately redesigned the magazine to include editorial content to supplement the predominant pages of classified advertising that marked its early years.

“We thought if people were reading us to identify job leads, they would also want to know about the DEI work being done on campuses around the country,” says Pearlstein. “We knew it was important to share not only hiring and recruiting news but also the accomplishments and challenges facing those who were doing the work of DEI.”

An editorial board was quickly established, composed of DEI leaders in higher education, public and corporate sectors, and in the nonprofit space. They helped the magazine staff stay apace of trends, issues, and breaking news — and authored prescient columns grounded in their own areas of expertise. The board is still going strong, with many new voices who continue to inform the publication’s mission.

In 2009, the team decided to change the magazine’s name to INSIGHT Into Diversity, in recognition of the changing times and rapidly elevating importance of the work.

“We realized that affirmative action and equal employment hiring were metamorphosing into diversity and inclusion, with a greater focus on students as well as employees,” says Mendelson. “We saw colleges and universities grow from just ‘meeting legal requirements’ to developing an understanding that campuses needed to be welcoming, warm, and safe places for all.”

As diversity offices began to open on more campuses and the role of the chief diversity officer gained prominence, INSIGHT featured articles focused on institutional efforts that supported progress and growth. Eventually, the broad spectrum of DEI efforts allowed for wide-ranging stories, and patterns of best practices began to emerge.

In 2012, the INSIGHT Into Diversity Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award was created to recognize those best practices by honoring institutions that demonstrated an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion throughout their campus and community. The first group of colleges and universities to receive the award numbered 48; in 2022, 104 schools were honored for their DEI achievements, along with Diversity Champions, those schools that consistently surpass their own standards.

Over the years, INSIGHT has expanded its engagement in the DEI space, adding additional recognitions — such as the Inspiring Programs in STEM and Inspiring Programs in Business Awards — to shine a light on important work happening at schools. INSIGHT has also offered study abroad scholarships for underrepresented students, leadership awards, and convened a HEED Summit, which brought together experts from award-winning schools to identify solutions to higher education’s DEI challenges. The annual HEED Award Data Report, which allows readers to see the kinds of programs HEED Award-winning schools develop in their efforts to create diverse, equitable, and inclusive campuses.

In 2018, INSIGHT launched Viewfinder, a customizable campus climate survey instrument that allows colleges and universities to measure and assess both their strengths and weaknesses around diversity and inclusion efforts for students, faculty, staff, and administrators.

“Viewfinder’s comprehensive survey instruments dig deep to assess matters of access, equity, and inclusion,” says Pearlstein. “The data gleaned from these surveys is especially useful for institutions planning to strengthen their diversity programs and design strategic plans for the future.”

Recognizing the need, and to help expand leadership opportunities in advanced DEI roles, in 2019, INSIGHT partnered with University of Kentucky to establish the first-ever PhD program for Higher Education Leadership with a Specialty in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. INSIGHT has an ongoing commitment to fund scholarships for students in the program, and in 2023, the inaugural Diversity Champion award was presented to an outstanding student in the doctoral program.

As part of our 50th anniversary celebration, INSIGHT Into Diversity unveils a new logo in this issue, representative of our ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In these challenging times, we know that giving a voice to all of those who do this critical work is more important than ever.

This article was published in our October 2023 issue.