Counseling Center

University of Maryland

College Park, Maryland



Faculty Involvement in Diversity: Lessons Learned

Kristy Johnson Schuermann and William E. Sedlacek

Research Report #9-97


Counseling Center

University of Maryland

College Park, Maryland


Faculty Involvement in Diversity: Lessons Learned

Kristy Johnson Schuermann and William E. Sedlacek

Research Report #9-97



The Evaluation Committee of the Campus Diversity Initiative at the University of Maryland conducted a study of faculty who have shown a commitment to diversity education in their research, teaching, and service. The Committee desired to learn more about what these faculty do, and they hoped to encourage these faculty to become involved in the Campus Diversity Initiative. The faculty members interviewed offered useful feedback and insight for how the University can meet its goals and "walk its talk" in regard to diversity efforts. As a result of this assessment the Evaluation and Faculty Relations Committee of the Campus Diversity Initiative determined new ways to acknowledge and reward faculty for their important diversity work.

Some of the new ideas generated included keeping the message "fresh" using collaboration with campus departments, organizing teams of "aware" faculty who could provide consultation to others and having sustained small group discussions among faculty and students.

Other results and ideas are discussed in the report.


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In recent years many institutions, both public and private, have rapidly incorporated the advancement of cultural diversity as a major component of strategic plans. Many of these plans not only include issues of recruitment and retention, but they also focus on educating and developing people to think more complexly while reaching new levels of understanding of what it means to live and work in a diverse environment. Many, like Buchan (1991) believe that "racial and ethnic diversity raises a set of issues that are central to educational content and quality" (p. 28).

The role of faculty in campus diversity efforts is critical in providing opportunities for students to learn about diversity within their curricular and co-curricular lives. Sedlacek (1995) concluded that faculty issues were some of the most important but most difficult problems to address in diversity programming. Sedlacek (1995) also found that most faculty did not see a role for themselves on diversity issues, even in their classrooms. Diversity was someone's else's concern. Faculty, in general, do no want to be seen as social change agents. They want to teach and do research as scholars (Helm, Sedlacek, and Prieto, 1998).

Those faculty who do work above and beyond teaching assignments and research agendas are often times women and faculty of color. These faculty members are also the ones called upon to do the necessary educating in areas of diversity. For some faculty, diversity and multiculturalism are an effort to revise the curriculum. For others, it not only includes curriculum enhancement, but also research and service activities involving issues of diversity. Acknowledging the faculty who do make the contributions in the area of diversity education is one way to reward their extra efforts. These faculty members are not often rewarded for their diversity work through the traditional university reward

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structures (i.e. promotion/tenure).. Is it important for a university to place the value of diversity education at the forefront? How can a university support and reward faculty in their extra efforts around diversity education? Are there any existing models of campus-wide diversity initiatives that can help address these questions?

One large, public, research university on the East Coast has made a commitment to promote the success of students by emphasizing the educational significance and honoring of diversity. The creation of the Campus Diversity Initiative, with the direction and support from the President, was an effort to promote the campus's dedication to diversity. Over the course of the last ten years, the university has invested significant resources in creating and supporting a model of diversity and inclusiveness in its campus community. Six primary objectives are now at the core the Diversity Initiative: communication, community building, inclusiveness, assessment, shared responsibilities, and institutionalization. What kind of impact have faculty had on this campus' diversity effort?

As part of the evaluation effort of the campus's Diversity Initiative, it was determined that it would be important to recognize faculty who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to positively impact the success of students, particularly those traditionally underrepresented on campus. In the past, broadly surveying faculty in regards to diversity issues was the common approach to assess their impact, attitudes, and behaviors. The evaluation committee did not want to do another broad survey, but instead decided to do a targeted study that would provide more in depth and detailed information on what noted faculty are doing around campus in regards to diversity education. This targeted approach would make future faculty surveys more useful and


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specific. Therefore, the evaluation committee embarked on a study that involved interviewing faculty across disciplines. This evaluation project would also serve to address the lack of data on the effectiveness of diversity efforts (Brooks & Gersh, 1998).

The specific goals of the study were: 1) to find out what a select group of known committed faculty are doing in their classrooms, in their research, and in other areas that related to diversity education; 2) to acknowledge the efforts of these faculty members in the hopes of drawing more faculty into the campus Diversity Initiative, and; 3) to gather the perspectives of these faculty members on their view of the campus Diversity Initiative as well as their ideas on the next steps the campus can take to build on current diversity efforts.


Members of the campus Diversity Initiative evaluation committee served as a research team that engaged in the activity of identifying and interviewing faculty who fit the profile of promoting diversity in their work. The faculty identified also represented a variety of departments and programs, and they are themselves diverse by race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, and nationality. A list of approximately 30 faculty members were generated by the committee itself and suggestions were taken from knowledgeable people outside of the committee to expand the pool of possibilities.

The Program Evaluator for the Diversity Initiative, a doctoral student, served as the primary researcher for the project. The committee, as a group, determined interview questions and protocol for contacting and conducting the interviews with the faculty. Each committee member carried out at least one interview, but most completed two. These interviews lasted approximately 30 minutes to one hour each. The interviews were

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tape recorded to ensure accuracy and appropriate consent was obtained prior to beginning the conversations with each faculty member.

Given the fact that so many faculty were over-extended, not all faculty who were identified by the committee were able to be interviewed. A total of fourteen interviews were completed by the committee.

The departments represented were: History, Counseling and Personnel Services (2), Government and Politics, Entomology, College of Education, American Studies, Fire Protection Engineering (2), Center for International Development and Conflict Management, Women's Studies (2), Mathematics and Anthropology. While some departments were represented more than others it was the intention of the committee to have a broad range of departments included.


The results of the interviews were organized into four main sections: 1) Diversity Related Faculty Activities; 2) The Impact of Faculty Involvement in Diversity Education; 3) Faculty Perception of the Campus Diversity Initiative (both positive comments and concerns); and finally, 4) Suggestions for Next Steps in the Campus Diversity Effort (separated by themes) including a section on Positive Outcomes from the Project. The third and fourth sections will be reported and discussed in this article.

I. Faculty Perception of the Campus Diversity Initiative

During the interviews, these faculty members were asked to comment on what they know about the campus Diversity Initiative and what they believe to be the impact of this Initiative. One strong theme emerged from this question.

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The Diversity Initiative is There and Visible

All of the faculty interviewed knew about the campus Diversity Initiative. They have seen the posters and flyers around campus. Some were involved with the planning of events and many had attended events sponsored by the Initiative. One faculty member invited people who plan events and programs for the Diversity Initiative to her class. Some faculty knew of the staff within the Office of Human Relations Programs (Diversity Initiative central office) and accessed resources through this office. Two faculty members mentioned knowledge of the Ford Foundation grant (diversity grant awarded to campus) and the Diversity Web site (a web site housed at the university). One faculty noted that the Diversity Initiative is about more than race. They all believed that the Diversity Initiative is visible and well advertised.

In regards to how these faculty members assessed the impact of the Diversity Initiative both positive comments and concerns were shared.

Positive Comments                                                                                                      

Support is Strong/Components /Components Impressive: Many of the faculty were pleased about the amount of resources and commitment to the program. Because of its visibility,

there is a belief that the Diversity Initiative is making an impact. Others noted that it was

positive the president was involved on down through the ranks of the university as well

as through grassroots support. One person expressed that the DiversityWeb site is

extraordinary and the Diversity Initiative is a wonderful project. It was noted that the

Diversity Initiative generates good feelings, and that the comprehensiveness of the

Diversity Initiative is impressive, but it is unclear as to whether or not it is making an

impact because diversity is a complicated issue.

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Again, some expressed and acknowledged that the president and department chairs are making effort. Even though the Diversity Initiative has experienced set backs, according to one faculty member, the reflection and processing of these set backs results in consistent and thorough adaptation to address the issues. Another faculty member indicated that Diversity Week and the logo carry a great impact. It is believed that the logo is a centralizing force. It was also stated that the Diversity Initiative should be a source of campus pride.

Strong Leadership and a Campus Value: One faculty member believed there are about 20-25 people who were a constant force with the Initiative. They are committed which has been a strong leadership effort. This faculty member believed that students would have a hard time avoiding the Diversity Initiative as there were many activities to choose from. Another faculty member commented that the Diversity Initiative was embedded into the culture of the college and was part of every day business. The programs were often included in class assignments which helped with their teaching. It was noted that the Diversity Initiative had become more inclusive over the years. Overall, it was easier for faculty to do what they do since diversity was a campus value. One faculty member indicated that the word diversity was heard every minute on the campus.


Is the Diversity Initiative Too Trendy?: One faculty member was concerned that the wider society sees the Diversity Initiative as a trendy thing. It was expressed by a few faculty that it was important for people to go to the programs and see that it was not about just feeling good, but that there were real issues to be discussed. The challenge was how

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to get more students involved since they were so busy. One faculty member believed a lot of people were giving lip service rather than making real efforts in the Diversity Initiative.

More Involvement and Avoid Being Too Safe: Another faculty member indicated that there was a need for more grass-roots bottom-up programs that come from smaller units. Some believed that faculty can do more. Another believed that there is too much cynicism. The Diversity Initiative needs more leadership and more people need to come to the programs, according to this faculty member. A faculty member mentioned that we need to avoid being too "safe" and not be afraid to address substantial issues such as religion and spirituality. He also indicated that we can not isolate ourselves to the education of the mind. "We must," he goes on to say, "remember that students have a soul." Another faculty member indicated that there were many groups which only have a small voice on campus. The problem was that every group on campus wanted to be heard.

Institutionalize The Program and Reward Faculty: Another faculty member noted the outstanding impact of the Diversity Initiative, but he believed it to be only the first step. Diversity and multiculturalism need to become part of the infrastructure of the institution or it will continue to be relegated to being an outlier of the institution according to this faculty member. It was suggested that the true test of the Diversity Initiative was to take up a school catalogue and see, not only the number of courses being taught about it, but a number of required core courses in which issues of diversity and multiculturalism are a central part of the curriculum. It was also believed that the Diversity Initiative is in its first steps, but hopefully in five years it would be more and

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students can say yes, in their courses they talk about diversity, whether their courses were math or engineering or whatever. Diversity and multiculturalism should be talked about in both the hard and soft sciences, according to this person.

One faculty member stated that it would be important for the institution to reward           its faculty and students for setting forth diversity programs that were part of curriculum and enhancement.

Diversity Initiative Appears Fake: Another more cynical perspective shared was a          belief that the Diversity Initiative was basically a poster and the rest was fake. This person noted that the president and other administrators were very vocal about diversity issues and were making an enormous effort to try and improve things, but sometimes there was much more of a concern for statistics than of actually making real change. To make this place really diverse, according to this person, there was a lot more work to do beyond African Americans. He said there were many groups that were still truly underrepresented.

A faculty member, who happened to be fairly new to campus, indicated that when he asked people about what was the Diversity Initiative, the only thing he would get was publicity about the diverse environment. He could not see what the real substance was behind the Diversity Initiative other than individuals working hard for it.

These comments, both constructive and congratulatory, were helpful for members of the Diversity Initiative and the campus community at large to continue to address the complex nature of educating about diversity at this university.

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II. Suggestions For Next Steeps in The Campus Diversity Effort

The faculty were also asked to offer their opinions about what kind of steps the campus should take to continue to build on current diversity efforts. The following selected themes and suggestions came out of their answers to this question.

Discuss Issues: Continue discussion of issues with high profile presenters campus-wide, and incorporate these discussions within smaller campus units. There should be more emphasis placed on discussions around gay, lesbian, and bisexual issues and also issues surrounding persons with disabilities.

New Ideas: Keep the message fresh rather than simply repeated from year to year. The approach should be broad and sustained into the future. There should be collaboration with other related programs on campus. Highlight model departments and focus efforts where a difference can be made.

Faculty Involvement: Organize teams of "aware" and committed faculty who have infused diversity issues into their curriculum to serve as consultants. Provide incentives and rewards for these faculty who are willing to provide this service to the campus community. Build accountability into the infrastructure of the university by expecting all faculty to provide inclusive teaching approaches.

Faculty/Staff Discussions With Students: Have sustained small group discussions with students, perhaps through the campus advising effort. Faculty and staff need to be educated about the student experience. Create opportunities for faculty and staff to listen to student stories. All student voices need to be heard.

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Support For Students: Students not only need to be heard, but there needs to be a welcoming atmosphere on campus for all students to feel supported. There should be adequate academic support for students.

Recruitment: Hire more faculty of color or faculty with expertise in diversity issues. There needs to be a strong public relations effort of the university and what it has to offer to diverse people. These recruitment efforts need to be done by other than minority faculty who are already overworked as campus spokespersons.

Positive Outcomes from the Project

In a desire to bring faculty together and to acknowledge the important diversity work that is currently carried out on campus, the Diversity Initiative Evaluation Committee conferred with the Faculty Relations Committee in order to determine new and innovative ways to encourage and motivate more faculty to get involved with diversity efforts. Upon completion of the faculty interview study, these two committees collaborated with this goal in mind. The committees decided that a Faculty Research Support Award for one academic year would be a way to acknowledge important faculty diversity efforts, and it would also provide faculty release time from one course for a semester in order to devote more energy into their diversity work. Faculty were required to submit proposals to the committee to review for a selection of one awardee.

This one time faculty award is just a beginning step for this campus in initiating on-going efforts to support and reward faculty for their extraordinary teaching, research, and scholarship around diversity. As more funding becomes available, with the hope of institutionalizing the funds, more and more faculty can be acknowledged and encouraged.

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In an effort to thank the faculty participants from the evaluation project, the two committees invited these faculty to a special breakfast. Another goal was to encourage these faculty diversity experts to become more actively involved with the Campus Diversity Initiative. The Faculty Research Support Award was also presented to the group. The event proved to be an enjoyable and productive way to connect these innovative faculty across disciplines. New ideas were generated and the group was excited to continue to collaborate. They considered starting a diversity consulting team to serve other faculty across campus, and they also considered coming together in a separate retreat in order to continue sharing ideas and learning from each other.


The feedback and suggestions these faculty members offered represented their commitment to advancing diversity education within and outside their respective arenas. Focusing on intentional discussions with students, creating new and fresh ideas annually, encouraging more faculty involvement across campus, providing further support for all underrepresented groups, and displaying a commitment to the recruitment of a diverse campus population were all useful and meaningful suggestions for the campus to consider when planning next steps in promoting diversity.

The feedback that these faculty members offered on the current state of the Campus Diversity Initiative was both affirming and challenging. Ultimately focusing on student learning both in and outside of the classroom seemed to be key. Moving beyond "lip-service" and surface efforts are important for the university to move to higher levels of diversity education and commitment. Noting how these faculty experts are carrying

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out their involvement in teaching, research, and service around issues of diversity are useful examples for the campus to acknowledge.

Through their own efforts, these faculty model for other faculty how to engage in diversity education with students. Specifically, the service these faculty members offer to students goes above and beyond what a typical faculty member may be willing to do in order to connect with students in a such a way that builds bridges across difference. Specifically, taking time to enhance teaching and scholarship in the area of diversity ultimately reaches students in the classroom and encourages and empowers all students to stretch into their potential.

Buchan (1991) quotes David Schoem, a professor at the University of Michigan, who also believes in engaging with students in the classroom around diversity issues.

Students are hungry, no starved for permission to talk about and study race relations and learn about other groups ...Out of such discussions can come a better-informed student body experienced in substantive dialogue with members of different groups who may raise the level of discourse and understanding as our campuses and society become increasingly diverse and continue to grapple with intergroup conflict. (p. 66-67)

            Not only does discourse around issues of race and other diversity topics feed the hungry student, but how students are taught impacts their learning. Some of the faculty interviewed talked about their teaching methods that involve collaboration in the classroom.

Tinto (1997) discusses how collaborative experiences provide useful lessons that a lecture does not. Collaborative learning teaches students "that their learning and that of

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their peers are inexorably intertwined, and that, regardless of race, class, gender, or background, their academic interests are at bottom the same" (p. 4). Whether or not student academic interests are similar or not, one thing is certain. The impact of learning from peers in the classroom builds bridges across lines of difference that break down stereotypes and myths while simultaneously allowing students to connect around a similar academic interest.

The efforts that faculty can offer in the classroom around issues of diversity serves to enhance any formal diversity initiative the campus may be espousing, for this integrates the curricular and co-curricular experience for students. Moving beyond level one programming is an important goal to aspire toward. Learning from members already succeeding within the campus community can serve to build on any campus-wide diversity effort.

The role that faculty play in promoting diversity education can only serve to enhance any current campus diversity effort no matter how large or small. Bringing faculty together across disciplines promotes a shared community effort that challenges how faculty currently work, which is often times isolated in stand-alone disciplines where energy is often directed inward rather than outward toward the building of broader intellectual communities on campus (Tinto, 1997).

The faculty interviews ultimately provided one campus a deeper perspective of how faculty view and perceive the campus diversity efforts. The personal commitment that these faculty members carry-through in their own diversity work adds credence and importance to their feedback and suggestions. Although this study is limited to only one campus, the importance of evaluating and assessing the impact of campus wide diversity

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efforts through the eyes of faculty has proven to be immensely beneficial. Broadening research and assessment efforts to other campus Diversity Initiatives is necessary in order to add weight and significance to these findings. 'The research process, for this study, brought invested faculty together as consultants and collaborators for their campus. Continuing to find ways to reward faculty who make a commitment to diversity, education is necessary for any campus to fully embrace diversity education.

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Brooks, L. and Gersh, T. (1998). Assessing the impact of diversity initiatives using the retrospective pretest design. Journal of College Student Development, 39 (4), 383-385.


Buchen, I.H. (1991). Cultural diversity manual. Cleveland, OH: Info-Tec Inc.


Helm, E.G., Sedlacek, W.E. & Prieto, D.O. (1998). The relationships between attitude toward diversity and overall satisfaction of university students by race. Journal of College Counseling, 1, 111-120.


Sedlacek, W.E. (1995). Improving racial and ethnic diversity and campus climate at four year independent Midwest colleges. Indianapolis, IN, Lilly Endowment.


Tinto, V. (1997). Universities as learning organizations. About Campus, January/February 1997, pp. 2-4.