Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion, Marco Barker spoke at the State of Diversity conference in the Red Cloud room at Willa Cather Dining Complex on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The 2021 State of Diversity event was held by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion on Oct. 28, offering an opportunity for University of Nebraska- Lincoln leaders to reflect on equity efforts over the course of the year. 

Marco Barker, vice chancellor of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, took the stage to discuss the aims of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and analyze statistics illustrating trends in diversity across the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Chancellor Ronnie Green was introduced by Barker early in the event. He asked audience members to join him on Oct. 29 for CEO Act!on, a virtual event also hosted by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Barker presented data comparing the UNL’s diversity statistics with those of other Big Ten universities. On a number of metrics, UNL lags far behind, ranking last in percentage of having faculty and students of color, and in the bottom half of other Big Ten schools for staff members of color.

Internal metrics also point to gaps in success. White students have the highest four-year graduation rate, 45.2%, whereas the graduation rate for Black or African American students was 22.1%, Barker said.

People of color makeup 22.8% of faculty and staff according to Barker, the highest percentage of which are Asian and Pacific Islanders.

Barker said students of color makeup 27.2% of the graduating class now— up from 1 in 5 in 2012 to 1 in 4 in 2021.

“We have to do this differently,” Barker added.

There are, however, bright spots in the data when it comes to first generation students. UNL was named a First Forward Institution by the Center for First-generation Student Success in 2019, Barker said, and while the graduation rate among those students is lower than the overall rate, UNL has support mechanisms and structures to support them. 

Barker said the percentage of international students in the undergraduate student body is lower than it was in 2012, and noted that federal policy influences international enrollment.

Barker said the institution needs new voices, to go to new venues, to apply different mindsets, to have different strategies and assess them and to ask the right questions.

A member of event staff said the data from the 2021 State of Diversity will likely be online by next week.

Barker also laid out efforts with the hope to improve the situation, including an effort to expand the recruiting pool of faculty, staff and administrators to include underrepresented groups. One plan is to establish a Native American and Indigenous Advisory Board, which will focus on Native American and Indigenous people’s issues and build relationships both with outside organizations and among UNL students, faculty and staff.

To open the second half of the event, Nkenge Friday, assistant vice chancellor for strategic initiatives at the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, introduced four diversity, equity and inclusion officials at other universities via Zoom.

The four all gave land acknowledgements to the respective tribes who occupied the land on which their universities now stand.

“I think all of us at land grant universities have a debt to pay,” Antonio Farias, vice chancellor for diversity, equity, and inclusion at the University of Colorado Denver, said.

Thanks to his time at the University of Michigan—which defended affirmative action to the Supreme Court—Amer F. Ahmed, vice provost for diversity, equity, and inclusion at the University of Vermont, said he learned that the rationale behind the “assumption of inclusion” when promoting diversity in education is flawed.

Dr. Allison Davis-White Eyes, vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion at the Fielding Graduate University, said no single framework for promoting diversity and inclusion can work for every university.

Farias said he appreciated the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s approach to shared governance.

Dodge said the world has changed — especially since the past year — and universities need their students and younger members of faculty and staff to be included in conversations about diversity and inclusion.

“It takes the entire campus to change the culture and sentiment around diversity and equity,” Dodge said.