Day-to-Day Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: From Ideas to Practice for Student Conduct Professionals
By Emalie R. Chandras
Enacting a shift in mindset towards an equitable, diverse, and inclusive motivated student conduct practice depends on the willingness to execute small
changes that can create a structural lasting impact in a department's actions. This article will introduce tactics and reflective prompts for practitioners to use to develop equity, diversity, and inclusion understanding in staff training, reviewing, editing, and implementing policies and procedures on their campus, and in identifying biases present in sanctioning.
Conversations about social and racial justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion are becoming more commonplace in settings of higher education, whether in the classroom or administrative offices. These conversations are occurring rightfully so, as student affairs need to remain diligent in reckoning with its history of being built within a system designed to only include white males. Student conduct, a functional area in this field that upholds policies, procedures, and education on student rights and responsibilities, provides an apt background for these conversations to occur between practitioners, and the content this functional area covers makes the case that student conduct practitioners should engage in these conversations not only to discuss their own biases in their work, but also allow social justice, racial justice, and diversity, equity, and inclusion to guide their day-to-day work.
Applying theoretical and hypothetical conversations into practice guided by these topics requires intentional effort, repetition, and participation from every individual in the office. This work cannot be completed by one or two dedicated practitioners, but instead, to truly allow these topics to start to shape an office's work towards social and racial justice, everyone must be on board to authentically engage in their personal development in these topics. However, putting these topics at the forefront of one's work can be challenging for a variety of reasons. Social and racial justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion cover a vast amount of topics and tasks, individual starting points in familiarity and comfort with these topics can differ greatly, and when day-to-day schedules already feel so full, taking the time to intentionally build competency in these subjects may feel overwhelming. Still, even though something may feel overwhelming does not mean it should be ignored or discounted, and no matter the starting point for a team, the following details some practical options Student Conduct offices could adopt to further develop their team's understanding of social and racial justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion and application of behaviors, policies, and procedures guided by these topics.
Assign Required Readings or Engagement Materials and Provide Time to Read
Information on social justice and racial justice topics has become increasingly accessible due to social media, increased media coverage, and various platforms to deliver information, such as podcasts or audiobooks. Many lists have been already been curated to identify books, websites, and speakers that address social and racial justice topics and a quick google search will deliver endless ideas of where one can start reading and learning more. A great way to engage colleagues in a collaborative conversation on social and racial justice is by identifying a book or a podcast to listen to individually and come back together to discuss as a team. While this may sound like a simple task, be mindful of the workloads of your team members and asking them to engage in additional readings.
Asking colleagues to take on additional work when they are already stressed by their current to-do lists may lead to feelings of resentment towards the reading and maybe even associated feelings of resentment to social and racial justice as it could become to feel like just another to-do item. Instead, if asking colleagues to read or engage in these mediums as a collective group, especially if one is a supervisor or team leader, allow time during the workday for colleagues to engage by providing an hour or two of reading time a week and emphasizing that this time should be used solely to engage with these materials. By creating the time and space for the individual to engage in these materials, the team collectively can understand that this engagement should be an individual priority, but leadership also sees time to engage with these materials as a valuable means for personal and professional development. These engagement materials do not always have to be an entire book, either. They could include a chapter from a book, part of a documentary, a tv episode, or materials accessible for free through a campus' library, a section of a podcast, or any other source that allows for a team to engage with the topics of social and racial justice while realistically accommodating for time on a team's schedule.
Allow All Team Members a Chance to Lead
A supervisor or team leader may often be the ones to start a social or racial justice initiative on a team, and if doing so, should make sure they are doing their work to build their competency on the subject matter before instructing others to do the same. However, only having one person pick the engagement materials discussed by a team or choose which initiatives to put into practice limits the team from accessing the wealth of knowledge and experiences all individuals bring to that space. Especially in conversations regarding systems of oppression and social or racial justice, having a team leader redistribute the power structure from themselves holding the majority of the power in a team to sharing this power and platform with others can be an important tool in assessing one's own biases and allowing other experiences and identities to be centered. Offering opportunities to staff members to choose engagement materials for the entire staff or department can invite learning materials into a space that may never have been considered before, especially in environments where the same materials, theories, and pieces of training are used year after year. Additionally, asking other staff members to lead conversations regarding social and racial justice within their internal teams can be a chance for them to build their competency in facilitating these topics concerning their functional areas. Team leaders should step in if these facilitations go awry, but offering the opportunity to facilitate in these smaller, more comfortable spaces can help build the skills necessary to discuss student conduct from social justice and racial justice lens in more outward-facing spaces, such as with students in conduct meetings, with faculty when they are submitting an incident report that shows some implicit bias, or in presentations on policies and procedures where staff have to balance conversations about system-wide policies with individual needs and concerns related to identities in the conduct process. If individuals can't comfortably facilitate on these topics with their colleagues, or the team environment isn't currently a safe space for colleagues to discuss these topics at all, it's a difficult thing to ask conduct professionals to then engage in these conversations in other spaces where more harm could arise from the conversation, both for the audience and potentially the staff member themselves, rather than positive change.
Ingrain Conversations on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion into the Routine
While current events may make the topics of racial and social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion rise to the forefront of meeting agendas and conversations at certain points of the year, to enact change within a department, these conversations need to be routinized and continual, regardless of current climates. Just because a campus climate seems to be in a positive place and nationally, the media may not be discussing social or racial justice as often does not mean the conversations should also be stopping within student conduct teams. The policies and procedures student conduct offices enact significantly impact a student's experience at a university, both negatively and positively, and understanding how social and racial justice and equity, diversity, and inclusion come into play in all aspects of a student conduct practitioner's role needs to be thought of with every decision a staff member makes. From hiring practices to training to who is being included in conversations, student conduct offices need to be discussing how their choices are either hurting or helping social and racial justice causes on their campus.
If an office rarely has these conversations, however, this can feel contrived, ingenuine, or uncomfortable for both partners and internal conduct staff members to start discussing these topics only to realize the last time these topics were discussed was during the last campus climate crisis or national crisis. Still, this realization can be a powerful tool in acknowledging competency gaps regarding social and racial justice and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Once these gaps are acknowledged or this lack of continual conversation is noticed, the student conduct practitioners can vow to do better and hold themselves and their team members accountable for making these conversations more routine for their staff and department. Building these conversations into staff meeting times, such as allow twenty minutes a week to respond to a social justice-related news article or podcast, or having an actual prompt at the end of decision making to ask, “Who are these decisions impacting, whose input did we not seek, and what identities did we not consider?, ” can all be ways to begin to make these conversations more routine and continual throughout the school year. Ideally, as these prompts and scheduled conversations continue, individuals could begin to think about these conversations in other aspects of their work, but these foundations are a good start for a team that does not frequently discuss or see social or racial justice or diversity, equity, and inclusion as topics that impact their student conduct work.
Once student conduct practitioners are aware they can do more to enact social and racial justice and equity, diversity, and inclusion on their campuses through their roles, they need to do more. Rather than taking giant leaps to start if those aren't in the practitioner's or department's means, relying on smaller initiatives to build a team's competency can create a solid and sustainable foundation to further build action upon. Without this foundation, positive changes can be derailed as new staff members get hired and team leaders change. With this foundation, however, social and racial justice and diversity, inclusion, and equity can be embedded into a department's mission, vision, and actions, and can create a compounding positive impact within both a department and a campus overall.