INSIGHT Into Diversity recently hosted a series of online roundtable discussions for chief diversity officers (CDOs) to share their experiences and ideas regarding the state of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in higher education.
The first round of discussions was divided into three sessions throughout the month of May, with each focused on a specific topic: the current role of the CDO during the COVID-19 pandemic; caring for yourself, your students, and employees during the pandemic; and challenges specific to health professions schools during the pandemic.
Each forum gave participants the opportunity to brainstorm ideas, learn about challenges and solutions taking place on other campuses, and provide mutual support for others engaged in DEI work. Given the unprecedented events of the spring semester as well as the uncertainties of the upcoming academic year, such opportunities are vital for fostering connections and ensuring that DEI values are upheld on college campuses.
The first session examined the importance of recruiting and retaining underrepresented students and faculty virtually, preparing for possible budget cuts, planning for virtual diversity workshops and trainings, ensuring equity for essential campus workers, and more.
The second roundtable focused on ensuring that underserved students continue to receive support services, tracking student mental health, addressing online racism and anti-Semitism, and maintaining self-care and personal wellness.
In the third session, participants specifically concentrated on issues relevant to health and medical education.
INSIGHT recognized that providing this type of virtual safe space could help diversity leaders process recent instances of racial violence and the social unrest following the May 25 murder of George Floyd. CDOs were invited to an emergency roundtable session.
Erika Henderson, EdD, associate provost for faculty recruitment, retention, equity, and diversity at the University of Houston, says these conversations have been “a lifeline personally and professionally.” Houston was Floyd’s hometown, and Henderson’s brother played football with him in high school, so she and her community have been especially affected by his murder and its aftermath. Furthermore, being a CDO sometimes feels very isolating, so having the chance to connect with other professionals during this crisis is vital, Henderson says.
“(The sessions) have been a lifeline because nobody else really understands your role and the pressure that you’re under. I’m extremely grateful for those forums because not only did they provide renewal for my spirit, but also allowed me to reach out and talk to people who do similar work.”
The forums enabled her to “develop relationships that are going to continue to carry me on during this crisis,” she says. “When we aren’t able to meet together and convene in person, having something like this is so important.”
INSIGHT would like to thank everyone who joined in these important conversations. Many participants reported that they found these discussions rewarding and, as such, INSIGHT will be holding more sessions throughout the year.