The Role of the Academic Diversity Officer

In recent years, colleges and universities increasingly have been called upon to respond to the history of exclusion and marginalization of underrepresented faculty, staff, and students. Many institutions have answered by adopting practices and interventions to address historical educational inequity.

In order to lead these campus-wide efforts, some institutions have established the chief diversity officer (CDO) role. More recently, with the CDO role as a model, a new position is emerging on some campuses: the academic diversity officer, or ADO. ADOs work alongside CDOs to ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion practices are prioritized and executed in specific schools and colleges, disciplines, and department units.

The National Center for Institutional Diversity at the University of Michigan interviewed a number of ADOs to learn more about how they view their role. Results from this study were published last fall and explores some of the following questions:

  • What are the challenges and opportunities that ADOs face, particularly during times of leadership transition within their units?
  • What are the similarities and differences between ADO roles? How do ADOs fit within their organizational structure?
  • In what ways are supervisors, leaders, and other college-level peers important in the success of ADOs?
  • What are the strategies, social networks, and resources ADOs employ in their academic setting in order to implement DEI change?
  • How do previous experiences impact how ADOs make sense of their ambiguous role?

This blog series puts individual voices to the information we collected in the survey. The posts are written by six ADOs who discuss their roles, the challenges they face, and the opportunities these positions bring to college and university campuses.

Who Are These Diversity Officers?
As more universities institutionalize efforts around diversity, equity, and inclusion, Joana Dos Santos, chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, explores the backgrounds, experiences, and skills that are most beneficial for academic diversity officers and the need for standards across the board.

Towards an Inclusive Classroom Environment
Institutional commitment to diversity should expand beyond increasing the enrollment of underrepresented students and students of color to creating inclusive campuses. Stephanie Sanders, lecturer and diversity, equity, and inclusion officer at the University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, shares strategies on how to she has worked to create inclusive spaces, particularly for students of color, at a predominantly white institution.

What Works: Creating Diverse and Inclusive Graduate Campuses
Conversations around campus diversity often focus on undergraduate students. Karen DePauw, vice president and dean for graduate education at Virginia Tech, discusses the strategies Virginia Tech has implemented to create diversity and inclusion at the graduate student level, and how these efforts have led to a stronger campus community.

The Parallels of Parenting and Moving Towards Equity
Moving towards equity takes care, patience, transparency, and community. In this post, Cecilia Rios-Aguilar, professor and associate dean of equity, diversity, and inclusion at the University of California, Los Angeles’ Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, builds upon this notion to take a look at how doing diversity, equity, and inclusion work on campus parallels the time, care, and nurturing associated with parenting.

Inclusive Leadership
Conversations around diversity have led to important questioned around what it means to be an inclusive leader. Noelle Witherspoon Arnold, associate dean for equity, diversity, inclusion and global engagement at The Ohio State University College of Education and Human Ecology, proposes a new model for inclusive leadership and discusses what it takes to create a supportive educational experience for all students.

Setting a Higher Bar for Multicultural Inclusion in Higher Education
Building diverse and inclusive colleges and universities requires a campus-wide commitment and effort. Maria Madison, associate dean for equity, inclusion and diversity at Brandeis University’s Heller School suggests using evidence-based knowledge and best practices to evaluate how structures at predominantly white institutions may inhibit diversity and inclusion.