On DEI in Leadership Contexts

Diversity, equity, and inclusion have become steadfast beacons in the contemporary U.S. higher education landscape over the past decade, and understandably so in that they name enduring principles to be amplified as we lead professional practices toward reconciliation and humanistic justice. As a faculty administrator, my philosophy of diversity, equity, and inclusion foremost translates these abstract nouns into verbs, thereby expanding each term as a materially demonstrable set of actions. My philosophy, then, is to verb each term and to enact those verbs as inroads to a transformative, principled praxis. Enacting DEI verbs, however, must at the same time open compassionate, invitational space for the kaleidoscopic positionalities and identities that constitute us as people. With this in mind, I embrace a cooperative, dialogic leadership style, one that affirms ethical allyship in every possible way, doing the work of self-actualization, and rededicating myself daily to be in earnest, empathetic service of those especially whose positionalities are rooted in legacies of exploitation, hardship, disenfranchisement, and multigenerational trauma.

In the context of writing programs, I believe a commitment to diversity is most transformative when galvanized through personnel (and associatedly, budgetary) decisions, curriculum, and professional development events and guests. Regarding personnel, I strive to hire and support colleagues who themselves lead diverse lives, who thereby embody varied identities, experiences, and worldviews. This has manifested most concretely by chairing search committees and serving as a diversity advocate on a recent search such that faculty teaching first-year writing in the program I direct are more diverse (linguistically, identiarily, culturally, experientially, intellectually, cosmologically) than ever before. With curriculum, in the context of classes, I have worked with colleagues to elevate through readings, projects, and direct inquiry, the voices and perspectives that in some cases extend beyond and in other cases identify readily with the lifeworlds of students and faculty. This means working together as we renew the program’s curriculum maps, as we have most recently with the goal of instantiating antiracist pedagogies, and routinely and earnestly calling the question: How can we do better to amplify still more voices? Diversity, too, is made manifest as a sustaining praxis when we organize events and workshops, and commit resources not only to short-stay guests but aspire to open dialogue within and beyond these events. That is, by sponsoring events whose purposes are co-shaped by program constituencies, the subsequent effects may lead to enduring program transformation.

Equity verbed creates real opportunities and provides fiscal support in such a way as to improve someone’s waymaking when it has been beset by legacies of disenfranchisement, systemic obstacles, and unequal compensation. Equity allocates, celebrates, and lifts, but it does so with the forms of capital that make a material difference. One example of this equity-in-action is the creation in 2021 of a University Writing Program (UWP) Doctoral Fellowship, which involved drafting, inviting input, and securing approvals for an award that provides 20k in supplemental financial support and that can be disbursed flexibly in the form of reassigned time or summer compensation. The fellowship is available to students from historically underrepresented groups who wish to pursue research and/or scholarly inquiry related to writing program administrative leadership.

Inclusion, too, hinges on communication and is akin to hospitality. Changed from a nominalization to a verb, inclusion includes. It fosters genuine belonging where such belonging is desired; it makes space oftentimes by decentering oneself and by initiating clearings for solidarities to form and sustain—as if to map an org chart in terms of trust, trustworthiness, and good faith, and to work toward helping people realize relationality accordingly. In the context of contemporary writing programs, inclusion also extends from the priorities of diversity and equity, as it is made possible by ensuring that critical language awareness, linguistic diversity, translingualism, and ethical assessment practices—and colleagues who have expertise in each of these areas—are centered in new teacher training and in program colloquia.

Verbing diversity, equity, and inclusion chances bringing about cooperative, organizational change that is material, evident, and lasting; it may help us all, too, as it has helped me, to scale from personal commitments to programmatic and institutional change, to serve as principled community members whose surest evidence of effectiveness is thoughtful, heartfelt action, followed by reflection, and action again.