Advancing Inclusive Excellence and Embracing Cultural Dexterity

The value of a women's network.

October 24, 2016

I have not been shy about professing my deep appreciation for the American Council on Education’s (ACE) Women’s Network. It has enabled me to develop sisterhood and mentorship with an incredible group of women who have guided and sustained me over the last few years. It has also given me the opportunity to help other women in ways that I wish I had been helped at the beginning of my career. I share my experiences with my ACE sisters with a level of candor that deviates from my typically intellectual rather than personal engagement when I speak publicly.

I recently spoke to a group of ACE women at a Women of Color conference about impact and legacy which influenced me profoundly. Several years ago, ACE began working on evolving the concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the academy. With support from General Electric, the organization proposed a model for advancing strategic diversity leadership and instituting accountability and performance management structures to advance inclusive excellence on college campuses.  Their rationale was that not only is this good for creating rich learning environments, but it enables students to achieve greater levels of success and prepares them for the 21st century economy.

I lead a college that is a designated Hispanic-Serving Institution. Currently, my executive team has no one who shares my students’ Latino heritage. In fact, one has to get pretty far down into the hierarchy to start finding staff who have shared cultural experiences with our students. Similarly, besides me as president, our upper echelon lacks professionals with shared heritage and experiences with our Black students. As I wrote my keynote speech, I began to give some thought to how well we are likely to achieve our goals around student access and success at a college that is minority-majority when most of our key decision-makers and faculty do not reflect the diversity that we see in the student body. Our students need to see role models as they begin to envision themselves as professionals, especially in a context where most of them have few, if anyone, in their family who has attained a college degree.

As a person of color, I know speaking of diversity can be professionally risky. There are those who automatically assume that it means lowering standards, overlooking well-qualified candidates in favor less-qualified minorities. And there are yet others who think that a person who is not a minority cannot be committed to advancing the ideals of inclusive excellence.

As Bernard Banks recently published in the Harvard Business Review, to develop cultural dexterity, one has to seek it. As I think about my administration’s legacy, inclusive excellence should be among our lasting impacts. Our country is becoming a plurality nation and we live in an increasingly globalized world where geography is no longer an impediment to accessing labor, co-creating knowledge, and advancing innovation. Our students need to be empowered with the knowledge and skills to work with others who are different from them, to have the communication skills and cross-cultural knowledge that will allow them to lead and excel in the current knowledge economy.

Over the course of my tenure, part of my goal will be to help our college develop a high level of cultural dexterity that allows minority and non-minority groups to serve minority and non-minority students with high levels of effectiveness and in the context of inclusive excellence. Inclusion does not mean abandoning excellence nor is it limited to simply race. Our definition of minority will be broad, allowing for all to find space under a big tent.  We will endeavor to help our executives, faculty, and staff achieve expert-level knowledge around the cultural heritage of our students and its implications for norms, mores, traditions, values, practices, behaviors, and symbols. Across campus, we will foster the development of interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence to view events from our students’ perspectives and challenge our implicit biases. We are committed to the success of all of our students.



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