Easy Ways to Be More Inclusive in Student Affairs

In order to reach optimum engagement on-campus, institutions need to continue to build dynamic campuses where students feel comfortable speaking up and getting involved on some level.

This goes for employees and staff members as well.

Based on our team’s experiences with implicit bias, work on college campuses, and understanding a variety of campus cultures, we thought we’d share some of our best practices when it comes to creating an inclusive culture.

Many leaders say they work in creating inclusive cultures, yet they don’t necessarily take the time to build a culture where that can happen for staff and students.

They spend an exorbitant amount of resources on assessments and surveys, strategic planning, trainings for employees, and bringing in outside consultants, which are all helpful in bringing in new perspectives to the workplace. Often what people don’t see at an institutional level or sometimes a departmental level is the actual change taking place.

The thing is, it doesn’t take a huge budget to be inclusive in student affairs or large sweeping gestures to make people feel included. Often it’s the small conversations we hold with staff and students, and ways we can increase our own awareness and knowledge to improve every day. In fact, there are changes you can make this week, even today, to make your campus or office culture more inclusive.

Evaluating Staff Meetings

Identify what room you’ve booked your meeting for. Is the building and room accessible?

Be mindful of scheduling meetings too early or late after work due to self-care time, family time, eldercare, or other responsibilities have been planned long before your meeting popped onto your employee’s schedule. Consider including calendars at the beginning of the academic year that represent different faiths other than your own to avoid scheduling conflicts and potential dialogue around being inclusive of faiths among your team.

Do you distribute an agenda prior to staff meeting or at the meeting? Consider compiling an agenda and giving it out in advance for people who need reading materials in advance. This is particularly helpful for people with learning disabilities who may or may not want to disclose, or need more time to prepare and process agenda items. Not everyone speaks English as their first language and it may provide additional barriers to process agenda items while trying to be present in the meeting conversation.

Utilizing Gender Inclusive Communication

“Hey guys…”

“Ladies and gentlemen…”

“Miss or mister…”

“Ma’am or sir…”

You’ve probably heard this gendering language many times before. Have you ever thought how it might feel if someone labels you in a way that doesn’t match your gender identity? Maybe this has happened to you before…

Instead, you can work to include things like “hello everyone” or “hello all” or my personal favorite, “hello humans” into your language.

The majority of the population identifies as ‘cisgender’ which means their biological sex matches their gender identity and may be seen to others as one gender. Those who identify as neither male or female often identify along a continuum. Commence the gender unicorn which aims to depict continuums more effectively.

Since the concept of gender is evolving, it’s important to ask for a person’s pronouns to understand their sense of self and respect their gender identity and/or fluidity. If you feel like you’ve made a mistake with someone’s pronouns, ask to clarify in private and sincerely apologize. Most people appreciate an apology and a correction. The most comprehensive list of pronouns can be found here.

Institutions are aiming to be more inclusive by offering more options to incoming first-year students and expanding data sets to match the identities of their student populations.

Additionally, it’s helpful to communicate gender inclusive bathrooms to employees and students, so they are aware of safe spaces. Trans* and gender non-conforming individuals have an increased safety risk when utilizing gendered bathrooms and can be met with things like harassment, intimidation, and violence. If you’d like more information on arguments that are often brought forward regarding safety and questions around gender-inclusive or neutral bathrooms, consult this informational document by from Portland Community College. Be sure to have appropriate signage or communicate where gender inclusive bathrooms are located on-campus (i.e. via your institutional website).

Surrounding Yourself With New Imagery, Authors & People

This year, I aim to increase my self-awareness by reading more blog articles written by women, people of color, and the queer/LGBT community to provide a different lens. I noticed that most of my feed was not diverse and that was something I could actively work to change by adding diversified voices to content I read.

Here are some new sources and articles I read (almost every day) that you can sign up for too. It helps to add resources to a Feedly account so you can access them whenever you’d like: Huffington Post – Black VoicesDiverse Issues in Higher Education; The Hechinger Report; Diversity Matters Newsletter from Inside Higher Ed; Newsletters from Fortune raceAHEAD – just to name a few!

Surround yourself with imagery that you’re not used to and look to celebrate accomplishments of marginalized people on campus or in society. You may have a limited perspective with the people you interact with every day and by exposing yourself and surrounding yourself with diverse people and diverse imagery you’re reminded of the vast diversity in the world – one that may be outside of your institution.

Assessing Student Support and Funding

What does your institutional budget communicate? Does it accurately reflect and align with institutional values?

Is funding equally distributed among student organizations and student services? It’s often a hard question to answer unless assessment has been done around programming and support.

Consider building and tracking inclusive student events and understand if funding practices are truly equitable among your team. By utilizing a student engagement platform, student affairs professionals can easily identify which programs are attended by demographics of students (race, major, gender identity, etc). Professionals can assess which programs are most beneficial to the campus community and make decisions around resources and funding for the upcoming academic year with evidence to support those decisions.

Your Thoughts!

If you’re not sure if your leadership practices are running smoothly in the areas of diversity and inclusivity consider asking for feedback. It could look like asking for anonymous feedback on a slip of paper at the end of the meeting, or asking for a quick e-mail or one-on-one for feedback from your employees. If you’re uncomfortable with feedback, think about how you can start to create a culture of feedback. For example, you could use questions like,

“Do you feel like your ideas or concerns were heard at the meeting today and/or in our department/office/area?”

“What are your ideas for future meetings/programs/policies?”

“Additional comments: _________ “

What strategies do you utilize every day to bring an inclusive lens to your work?

Continue the conversation with us on Facebook or Twitter @hellopresence & @kayleyrobsham. Thanks for reading! 😊

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Kayley Robsham

About the author: Kayley Robsham is the Community Engagement Manager at Presence, the complete student engagement platform. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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