With campaigns such as “Hate Will Never Win” and multiple studies conducted on campus diversity, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s recent emphasis on diversity has culminated with the development of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
Marco Barker, who has acted as a leader in similar offices at universities across the country, was recently named the inaugural vice chancellor of diversity and inclusion. This new leadership shows an attempt by UNL’s administration to fulfill the lack of strategic direction the university has shown in relation to diversity programming.
While a new chancellor may help establish a clearer trajectory for university diversity, it is unlikely this office will bring any tangible changes to UNL policy or the campus climate. Rather, the creation of this office is an attempt to use money and new titles to distract members of the UNL community from issues of safety on campus.
For one thing, diversity offices don’t bring about effective campus policies. In a study of 462 U.S. colleges, researchers found no statistically significant increase in faculty diversity after the creation of a chief diversity officer position.
Furthermore, these offices largely stray away from tangible changes or policy implementation and often focus on feel-good campaigns. In a column from The Atlantic, David Frum points out that diversity officers lean toward programs that increase the demand for their own employment, like compulsory cultural competence courses, rather than creating new policies to help diversity flourish. While these courses are beneficial on an individual scale, they provide no lasting changes to institutions that new policies would. This is altogether similar to “Hate Will Never Win,” which simply calls for increased awareness of diversity and doesn’t actually implement policies that could directly change cultures of discrimination and minority exclusion on campus.
Not only do these offices do very little in terms of lasting change, but the new emphasis on diversity fails to address the main concern of students and staff that spurred the office’s creation in the first place: safety.
Following last year’s revelation that the university would not take administrative action against Daniel Kleve, a white nationalist student at UNL, many students spoke out about concerns for their safety, with some students saying they felt unsafe to be on campus late or even walk to class alone.
The Kleve incident and subsequent unease generated university-wide was actually a key reason for the creation of this new position. Executive Vice Chancellor Donde Plowman announced the position’s creation in a statement relating to the incident, saying the university was committed to creating change by responding directly to concerns of students and staff. However, the creation of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion does little to help campus safety or prevent situations similar to the Kleve debacle from happening in the future.
Furthermore, because the issue of safety is extremely important to students, it should be prioritized above an overhaul of UNL’s diversity programming. During an administrative listening session conducted last year in response to the Kleve controversy, students and staff expressed that they felt fearful and unsafe at UNL. In response, Chancellor Ronnie Green assured those concerned that safety was the university’s top priority. However, the creation of the new office, in response to these concerns about diversity and safety, ignores safety concerns altogether.
To make students feel more safe, the administration should work on establishing new protocols to deal with campus discrimination and open support of violence demonstrated by students like Kleve. By having procedures and clear policies in place, the administration can be more prepared to intervene and remove students who pose a threat to a safe and respectful learning environment.
UNL leadership should follow the example other schools like Alabama, Oklahoma and Wake Forest have set by instituting real changes to address safety and inclusion. These schools responded to racist videos by expelling students or otherwise disciplining them. While expulsion is not always necessary and certainly should not be the norm, these responses prove these institutions are serious about taking effective action to make change, not just creating new administrative roles.
This is not to say bettering diversity and inclusion through administration changes is inherently flawed. UNL would definitely benefit from administrative action to diversify campus. While it is still unclear what kind of policies UNL should implement in order to enact these changes, it is unlikely that the creation of such an office will take the university far in its journey. Rather, it will continue the university’s trend of failing to keep its students feeling safe and welcome while appearing as though progress is being made.
Improving diversity and inclusion is an important step for UNL. However, the creation of an office expressly for that purpose will likely fail to do anything substantive in achieving this goal. If the administration cares about our concerns, they will take real steps to preserve a safe and respectful learning environment, rather than just throwing money at the problem.