The 2020 HEED Awards: Creating Change Through Diversity and Inclusion

INSIGHT Into Diversity 2020 Heed Award logo

In a year marked by unprecedented challenges, the importance of diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) in higher education and society has never been more evident. 

The continued violence and injustice wrought upon the Black community have made it impossible for many Americans — and their allies around the world — to continue to tolerate the biases, prejudices, and systemic racism inherent in all facets of U.S. society, including colleges and universities. The number of students, faculty, and staff who are calling upon their institutions to take intentional and significant steps in creating inclusive campuses and providing equitable education has increased, and their demands have grown in urgency. Photo from the University of Kentucky graduation on May 4, 2018

Also in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has completely disrupted and reshaped higher education. COVID-19 has brought issues of inequality to the forefront as low-income students and those with disabilities have had to grapple with the difficulties of accessing remote education; LGBTQ students have had to face returning to home environments where their true selves are not always welcome; and students from Black, Latinx, and other marginalized backgrounds have had to face the pandemic’s inordinate economic and health effects on their communities. Faculty and staff have also been far from immune to the professional, financial, and mental health struggles of the pandemic. 

Despite all of these challenges, colleges and universities have demonstrated that they can endure as sources of hope, support, and resilience. By allowing DEI principles and institutional missions for equality to guide them, many campus communities have been able to unite internally to ensuring that no one is excluded from efforts to succeed during the ‘new normal.’ The Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award is designed to recognize institutions that understand that DEI missions require continuous work and dedication. Photos from RIT's ROAR the Vote campaign on campus

The 2020 HEED Award celebrates 90 colleges and universities that have gone above and beyond to answer this call by enacting programs and policies, hosting creative events and initiatives, and ultimately engaging in the work necessary to ensure every member of the campus and surrounding community feels welcomed, valued, and respected. 

Diversity Champion institutions rank in the top tier of HEED Award recipients. Known for visionary leadership, Diversity Champions develop successful strategies and programs, which then serve as models of excellence for other institutions. They exceed everyday expectations, often eclipsing their own goals. 

A limited number of colleges and universities are selected for this honor annually. In 2020, 14 schools scored high enough among HEED Award-winning institutions to be named Diversity Champions. They include Clemson University, Florida State University, Indiana University Bloomington, Oklahoma State University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of Cincinnati, University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, University of North Florida, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Virginia Tech. 


Now in its ninth year, the HEED Award analyzes a variety of factors to determine which institutions are truly committed to diversity and inclusion across their entire campus communities. The HEED Award application requires collecting extensive data and information, including but not limited to the following: 

  • Student, faculty, staff, and administrator demographics 
  • Recruitment and retention programs and initiatives for underrepresented students and employees
  • Campus leadership and accountability
  • Campus clubs, organizations, and events for students and employees
  • Institutional branding efforts
  • Role and responsibilities of the chief diversity officer 

Each applicant receives an initial automated score based on the quantitative data submitted in its application. Every member of the HEED Award committee then thoroughly evaluates each application by reading through the information provided by each institution regarding its diversity, equity, and inclusion programming before assigning qualitative scores. HEED Award recipients are determined based on a combination of their quantitative and qualitative scores and by meeting a minimum total score. Photo of Clemson University students posed in a group outside Sikes Hall

INSIGHT aims to honor those institutions that undertake intentional and significant measures to support populations that have traditionally been underserved in higher education. 

Perhaps most importantly, HEED Award institutions actively seek to amplify the diverse voices on their campuses. They do this by fostering open and honest dialogue, holding space for multicultural meetings and events, and offering professional development and enrichment opportunities to equip faculty and staff with the knowledge and training to be champions for DEI in their everyday work. 

The following pages contain a very brief sampling of the innovative efforts of HEED Award-winning colleges and universities and their exceptionally committed students and employees across their campuses. These efforts are categorized by the following: 

 Campus Climate
 Community Outreach
 Events and Celebrations
 Health and Wellness
 Innovative Diversity Education
 Recruitment and Retention
● Social Justice and Activism

It is INSIGHT’s sincere hope that colleges and universities across the U.S. will use the examples set by HEED Award schools as motivation and inspiration for expanding their own DEI efforts and programming. For more information on the award, accompanying data reports, and winning institutions, please visit

Mariah Bohanon is the senior editor of and Lisa O’Malley is the assistant editor of INSIGHT Into Diversity.