Contested survey highlights need for best practices around diversity and inclusion
- Southern Methodist University officials are defending a now-removed campus survey which allowed students to crowdsource questions relative to racial and ethnic diversity on campus as part of the institution's Cultural Intelligence Initiative, reports The Dallas Morning News. The survey, which gave students a chance to ask questions like, "Why are black people so loud?," was launched in November 2017 and was taken down after it was published on social media sites by non-students and drew responses from unintended sources.
- Prior to its being shared on social media the survey had only garnered around 30 responses from campus members and zero complaints, according to Maria Dixon Hall, senior advisor to the provost for cultural intelligence, who told Morning News, "we’re not taking it down because we’re wrong, we’re taking it down because it wasn’t for everybody."
- The survey, which was preceded by a disclaimer about strong and potentially offensive language, profiled questions stemming from etiquette and sensitivity around ethnic holiday observances to inquiries about physical characteristics. Hall told the Chronicle of Higher Education the intent of the survey is to help the institution figure out what it needs to teach students about cultural differences, saying "we’re not allowed to ask these questions. What we’re allowed to do is be talked to and lectured rather than recognizing how can I work better with you."
Higher education has drawn a lot of attention about the ways college and universities tackle race and identity. It is clear that students are more interested in genuine forms of diversity and inclusion, as outlined in a recent Gallup/ Knight Foundation survey where a majority of respondents indicated that some free speech should be sacrificed in order to promote more inclusive campus environments.
But how to arrive at the point where all campus stakeholders can understand and appreciate expansion efforts, at many campuses, remains a work in progress. The survey's methods shine a light on the pivotal role members of the diversity and inclusion office, as well as the chief diversity officer in particular, play in understanding how certain initiatives will be received by different groups on campus, even if they are being launched with the best intent.
When it comes to promoting cultural intelligence and humility, chief diversity officer of Stony Brook University, Lee Bitsóí, told Education Dive in an interview that in order to "increase the level of cultural dexterity for our campus community members," initiatives must include "cultural competency, humility and respect." In his effort to promote cultural understanding and answer the types of questions students are asking, rather than a survey, Bitsóí is conducting a diversity audit to identify what types of diversity programming are in place for students, faculty members and staff, and campus educators to "ascertain our strengths in diversity, equity and inclusion."