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Everyday Administration: A Descriptive Account of the People, the Work, and the Strategies for Pursuing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on Campus

In today’s global society, college students are expected to learn how to successfully navigate the social and cultural differences associated with working with individuals from diverse backgrounds (Dey, Ott, Antonaros, Barnhardt, & Holsapple, 2010). The campus administrative leaders who are responsible for diversity initiatives largely shape how colleges and universities pursue equity and inclusion, similar to how other administrators have influenced campus responses to access issues in the undocumented student context (Barnhardt, Phillips, Young, & Sheets, 2017; Burkhardt et al., 2012). Campuses have become increasingly diverse over the last twenty years (Zweifler, 2013), paralleling the demographic shifts in the racial and ethnic composition of the United States as it moves to a majority-minority population over the next few decades (Passel & Cohn, 2008). In light of contemporary policies and legal issues surrounding affirmative action (Kahlenberg, 2013), the roles that these administrative leaders play have become increasingly critical as they have evolved in response to political and environmental shifts, signaled by their rapid growth numerically, and concomitant rise in profile on college campuses (Flaherty, 2014; Gose, 2013).

Scholars have asserted that the appointment of a chief diversity officer (CDO) is a structural innovation used by colleges and universities to institutionalize their organizational commitments to diversity, inclusion, and equity (Kezar, 2007; Leon, 2014; Williams & Wade-Golden, 2007). By professional definition, CDOs are executive level administrators (typically reporting to the president or provost) who are charged with providing guidance, leadership, and oversight with respect to expanding and sustaining the capacity of the university to affirm diversity and inclusion in the pursuit of educational excellence (Williams & Wade-Golden, 2007). Typically, CDOs steward inclusion and equity within the context of the campus’s larger mission and focus by pursuing: 1) affirmative action and equity programs in admissions or faculty recruitment; 2) multiculturalism as a way of organizing academic programs, student services, or research centers with a focus on identity groups; 3) the leveraging of structural and intellectual diversity as a pedagogical resource to enhance learning for all 49 students; or 4) a synergistic focus combining the aforementioned approaches (Williams & Clowney, 2007). While the number of administrators working under the title of CDO is expanding, the extant body of research surrounding the CDO position remains limited. This lack of research is in part a result of the variety of institutional contexts, structures, and responses of campus communities and leaders to diversity issues (Flaherty, 2014). Prior to 1997, CDO positions were extremely rare on college campuses (Williams & Wade-Golden, 2007). Although these positions are still far from ubiquitous, the number of CDOs has increased dramatically in recent years; yet, the important work of these equity-focused professionals remains largely understudied (Worthington, 2012). Responding to this knowledge gap, the editor of the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, in a summary of research on diversity matters, made a plea for “manuscripts written by and about CDOs, and the impact of their work in institutions in higher education” (Worthington, 2012, p. 4). Our study represents a response to this call. The current study involves a representative random sample of U.S. two- and four-year, degree-granting, public and private, not-for-profit higher education institutions to explore a range of administrative practices, routines, and approaches that describe the implementation of equity and inclusion work on college campuses. It seeks to unveil not only the roles played by CDOs, but equally importantly, to understand how equity work is structured and enacted on campuses that do not maintain a central diversity authority. As such, the research question guiding our study is: how is the administrative work around diversity, equity, and inclusion enacted on college campuses?

Barnhardt, C., Ezell Sheets, J., Young, R., Liu, J., Valdes, P., Mollet, A., & Phillips, C. Everyday Administration: A Descriptive Account of the People, the Work, and the Strategies for Pursuing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on Campus. .