Diversity Goes To School

What chief diversity officers can teach colleges, universities

As more corporations reap benefits from hiring chief diversity officers, institutions of higher learning have begun to follow their lead. Growing numbers of colleges and universities are using CDOs to help provide a more diverse campus culture for students, faculty, and staff.

For instance, Babson College, a leader in entrepreneurship education, recently appointed its first chief diversity officer, thereby joining the ranks of Harvard, Yale, University of Kentucky, and more than 70 other institutions.

Babson President Brian Barefoot says, “It is essential that as an institution of higher learning we continue to develop a culture of diversity. The students we are charged with educating must learn how to work and live with people who are different from themselves.”

Babson has been involved in a range of diversity initiatives over the years, including its membership in the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Entrepreneurship Consortium, so hiring a CDO to integrate diversity programs across various departments was a natural next step.

“Such a large percentage of our student population is global, so why not take it to the next level?” asks Babson CDO Elizabeth Thornton, citing that minorities represent 23% of the student body. “We saw there was an emerging trend focused on the importance of schools becoming a diverse culture and being able to train future workforces on how to be more inclusive, so that’s what we set out to do.”

To Damon Williams, incoming vice provost at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, it’s important for schools to focus on the enrollment and retention of a diverse group of students, but what’s more important is the development of academic experiences that prepare students for the real world.

A co-author of the study The Chief Diversity Officer: A Primer for College and University Presidents (a book based on the study will be available next year), Williams points out, “The chief diversity officer could play a critical role in helping institutions develop curricula, whether it be in the classroom or outside the classroom, that are going to prepare all students for the world of work.”

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