Recently, I began a Strategic Gathering Process at my institution. I distinguished our efforts from a 'Strategic Planning Process' because many colleges, departments, and units already had plans. Thus, in each of the units, diversity initiatives are already a part of their plans or processes. My goal is to gather their diversity and inclusion projects, plans, and events to determine whether each of these units were having an impact on diversity and inclusion. Ultimately, I challenged each of our units to determine whether they are promulgating an 'illusion of inclusion'.
When I reviewed the historical D&I data of every institution I've been a part of over the past decade, our retention and graduation rates for underrepresented groups remain relatively stagnate. For me, this indicates that many of our colleges that have 'diversity' or 'inclusion' in our mission, values, and promoted in prominent areas on our websites were merely representing an 'illusion of inclusion'. If the events, programs, and processes resulted in inclusion, our data would look drastically different. If we want to see systemic change, we have to ensure our initiatives around diversity and inclusion result in empirical change. How can we have diversity focused centers that do not measure their impact on persistence, retention, and graduation?
Recent studies indicate that our lack of urgency and attention towards the illusion of inclusion, specifically in higher education, costs our economy trillions of dollars annually (Ward, 2020). Our diversity and inclusion efforts are not 'feel good' or 'conscious soothing' activities, each effort must show - empirically - results which positively shifts the climate such as higher retention of faculty of color from year to year or an increase in the usage of cultural centers by underrepresented students from year to year. Our efforts in diversity and inclusion are just as important as academic affairs, our work creates inclusive work environments and supports a global economy which mirrors the populations we serve.