Invisible Dimensions of Diversity

All of us have visible and invisible dimensions of diversity. I am mindful of this in my duties and responsibilities as a chief diversity officer. As an indigenous scholar, I also defer to my cultural knowledge base about diversity, as I was taught that everyone exists for a reason. This is the basis of my understanding that diversity is more than the commonly accepted two-dimensional construct wedded to race, ethnicity, and biological sex. 

Invisible dimensions of diversity emanate from our intersectionalities, which can include race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, religion, ability, socioeconomic status, veteran status, and national origin. For the invisible dimensions of sex, gender, and sexual orientation, we need to be keenly aware that biological sex and gender are not synonymous. Furthermore, we need to continue to inform our college campuses — and society — that sexual orientation is not the same as gender identity or expression. 

These were some of the topics covered at the annual meeting of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE). Inspired by this experience, I reached out to several of my colleagues in diversity leadership roles at various institutions and organizations about moving diversity dialogues beyond a binary perspective to include the LGBTQ community. In my conversations and correspondence with them, I was pleased to learn that they agree that our field requires understanding that diversity is multidimensional and that institutional transformation involving diversity and inclusion requires scholarship and praxis. 

I asked my colleagues several questions, but I chose to only highlight their responses to the ones below, as they are the most salient. 


How do you educate your campus beyond the commonly accepted two-dimensional construct of diversity?

● Introduce and explain intersectionality in diversity conversations and discussions.

● Emphasize the importance of acknowledging and respecting the other (i.e., those of different races, ethnicities, sexes, genders, abilities, religions, socioeconomic statuses, sexual orientations, and so on).

● Engage in cross collaboration between student and academic affairs around intersectionality programming.

● Expand these conversations to include faculty, staff, and other campus educators so that they are informed about invisible dimensions of diversity.

Which offices do you collaborate with to educate your campus about sexual orientation and gender identity and expression issues?

● All offices need to be educated on these issues, since all offices interface with students — specifically, enrollment management, the health center, the counseling center, and housing. (Campus Pride is an excellent resource for providing effective ways to inform all campus offices.)

● Collaborating with your LGBTQ office or center is crucial to increasing the level of awareness of the LGBTQ community. Such collaborative efforts underscore the level of commitment from campus leadership.

● If no office or center exists for students, then tap Student Affairs to ascertain what types of services are available for students, and promote them.

● Be mindful not to put the onus on students to become the educators of administrators, faculty, and staff.

● For employees, it is worthwhile to explore what types of employee resource groups (ERGs) exist and whether there is one for LGBTQ faculty and staff. If one does not exist, take the lead in establishing such an ERG.

● Strengthening town-and-gown relationships is always important for students, faculty, and staff, so exploring possible partnerships with external LGBTQ resources will bode well for your institution and your community members.

● Seek the expertise of national organizations such as the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals and Campus Pride. The consortium allows for institutional memberships, giving administrators access to a repository of resources for educational efforts to increase LGBTQ visibility and awareness of the complexities of sexual orientation as well as gender identity and expression. The Campus Pride Index is a necessary tool for improving the quality of LGBTQ campus life; it provides an effective, ongoing measurement to enhance LGBTQ policies, programs, and practices on campus.

If you are a member of the LGBTQ community, how does that influence your work as a diversity officer?

● One does not have to be a member of the LGBTQ community to be an advocate and ally. 

● A diversity officer can provide a voice to the voiceless and visibility to those who are invisible. 

● Diversity officers who are out must consistently illustrate that they are cognizant of all underserved and underrepresented groups.

● If you are a person of color and gay, you are able to identify with the challenges of almost all groups, which can lead to the development of effective and trusting working relationships.

With such valuable insights and guidance from diversity officers, higher education communities can begin to further understand that for the LGBTQ community, correct terminology is expected and appreciated (i.e., lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and others), especially in assessment and curriculum programming. Furthermore, in order to achieve diversity goals, we have to be able to track demographic information that goes beyond race, ethnicity, and biological sex — using surveys and questionnaires that require the inclusion of LGBTQ identities for students, faculty, and staff.

While this is a relatively small sample, it adds to the importance of expanding this conversation nationally to emphasize that our field requires an understanding that diversity is multidimensional and that institutional transformation requires scholarship and praxis.  

Many quotes and anecdotes were provided in my discussions with my colleagues, but the one that stands out the most came from Arcadia University professor Graciela Slesaransky-Poe, who is the parent of a gender-nonconforming child: “This is a call for gender and sexual justice to include, understand, uplift, affirm, and support the diversity within the LGBTQIA community and to recognize, name, and eliminate the interpersonal and institutional oppression, discrimination, harassment, and victimization that hetero- and cisgender-normative policies, procedures, and practices colleges and universities willingly or unwillingly promote.”

We cannot, and should not, exclude or diminish the LGBTQ community — students, faculty, staff, and other campus educators — from our diversity plans and programming, for in doing so, we send a message that they are less important than other underrepresented groups.●

Lee Bitsóí, EdD, is the chief diversity officer at Stony Brook University. He is also a member of the INSIGHT Into Diversity Editorial Board. He thanks his colleagues for their contributions; in particular, he expresses his gratitude to Graciela Slesaransky-Poe, Sue Rankin, and Maren Greathouse for their insights. For more information on Campus Pride, visit campuspride.org. For more information on the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals, visit lgbtcampus.org. This article was published in our June 2018 issue.