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Diversity Summit

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Rebecca Chopp

Speech  •

Good morning, and thank you all for being here today. Thank you, Art, for providing such thoughtful and helpful historical context. Indeed, thanks for your many contributions to the University; you show us the impact one person can have on a community.

And I want to thank Johanna Leyba, Richard Maez, Sujie Kim, Frank Tuitt and the staff of the Center for Multicultural Excellence for their work in organizing this year’s Diversity Summit. We are here because we share a common vision of a more diverse and inclusive DU—and we cannot realize that vision without the support of the many students, faculty and staff members who work with love and passion to make our university and our world better.

I have been thinking lately about a point F. Scott Fitzgerald once made: “[T]he test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” The Crack-Up, 1936.

Now this particular inauguration day—one that demonstrates the deep divides in our country—should convince us of the need for critical analysis about the frameworks we use to understand our context and to move forward.

Today I want to talk about two very different frameworks—different ways of seeing and organizing the world—and how they affect the way we realize our goals of building a more diverse and inclusive university.

One framework has been with us for 150 years, starting around the time this university was first formed; it grew out of the industrial era and has largely persisted through the post-industrial era. We’ll call this the “industrial/post-industrial era.”

The other framework has been emerging for about 30 years—and for the past 10 years it has been seen as a tectonic change in global history. We can call this new paradigm the “networking era.”

And while I suppose they aren’t utterly opposed, these frameworks provide quite different contexts for thinking about how we provide an inclusive education dedicated to the public good. It is important to understand the limits of the older framework and the challenges of the newer one in terms of achieving our vision of Inclusive Excellence.

What do I mean when I talk about these different paradigms? One of my favorite descriptions comes from General Stanley McChrystal, in a book entitled Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. McChrystal discusses the difference between complex systems and complicated ones. Complicated systems are like an enormous jigsaw puzzle, where all the pieces fit together. This industrial/postindustrial system was and still is tightly ordered through hierarchical distinctions and differences.

The more recent era is dominated by complex systems that function through connections that are ever changing, unpredictable and decentralized. Whereas the “complicated” 20th-century organizations were largely concerned with neat hierarchies that produced predictable results, McChrystal argues that the “complex” organizations of the 21st century require a resilient and agile approach that can adapt to continuous, unpredictable change. The new era requires institutions to be more porous, more flexible and continually connecting in new ways.

The new era, which we can only just begin to understand, is driven by a number of factors:

  • Demographic changes. Currently, in the United States, there are more children of color being born than white children. The effects on U.S. workplaces, education and politics will be profound.
  • Global immigration patterns. Today there are 300 million expatriates around the globe, and the numbers are growing rapidly. Some people leave their “homes” for opportunity, and others flee their homes for their own safety.
  • Transformation across almost all sectors. Business, health care, publishing, transportation and politics are all experiencing radical transformationsLast year, I interviewed Andy Taylor, retired CEO of Enterprise Holdings, who said Enterprise was not in the car rental business but now the mobility business. Entire industries, including higher education, are changing how they think of and express their missions.
  • Hyperglobalization and the rise of global cities. Hyperglobalization is the expanding capacity for global interaction in trade, economics, technology and manufacturing. In this 21st century of constant connectivity and transaction, at least 40 megacities (populations exceeding 10 million ) will exist by 2025. (Khanna, 49)
  • Growing economic inequities. By all measures, income inequality in the United States has increased substantially over the past 40 years or more. There are many factors—and even more repercussions.

What, you may well be asking, does any of this have to do with building a more inclusive university environment?

To address diversity and inclusion in this older system, one essentially adds new components—boxes of multiculturalism—and tweaks the system to support broader rights, for example, while still keeping the overall system in place. The “baked in” structuring of differences—and of organizing and ordering those differences—in the industrial/post-industrial era may never be able to allow the fuller vision of inclusivity sought by most of us.

As we enter and help define a new era of networking, how we understand diversity, equity and inclusion can and will be transformed. In this system, we’re no longer tweaking the old, or trying to blend something new into the existing structure. Instead, diversity and inclusion may be an essential resource for surviving and flourishing in this new era. We will see the world, as Patricia Collins once observed, imagined as a crazy quilt rather than as a series of neatly ordered boxes.

If I am right about the historical change we are experiencing now (and I would bet the mountains on it), we need to imagine a much more radical transformation—not only of diversity and inclusion, but of the whole. In the midst of this transformation, I believe education must become a creative driver of change, of world making, even as it continues to do its good work of disciplined reflection.

So what of this Fitzgerald quote about holding opposed ideas and still being able to function?

Well, much as we might want to choose one paradigm or the other, the reality is that this period of transition requires us to live and work in both worlds. This means that as we work to improve our systems, structures and standards, we must also dream new dreams, join together in transformative ways, find the emergent in our midst and support these new ways of being and doing together.

To do this dual work—work that means living in two realities—we need clear goals, powerful values, and guiding principles based on those values. These words are powerful only in so far as they support our actions: practices that foster Inclusive Excellence in our community and in us individually. Later, I will identify seven actions and practices than can define our work. But first I will outline goals and values.

Let me identify four goals that can guide our work. These goals improve our institution and can also support space for new transformations to emerge.

  1. The first goal is to expand student access and achievement. For students with the drive and talent, we must offer resources and opportunities for them to thrive in an increasingly diverse and globally connected world. This means more financial aid for students. It means helping all students, of different backgrounds and learning styles, to learn and thrive. It means helping our students and graduates tap into the global DU network of 140,000 alumni, in addition to DU parents and friends, a network dedicated to helping each and all succeed.
  2. Our second goal is about ethical leadership. Students will be ethical world makers if they are equipped with the skills and virtues to lead diverse and inclusive communities, organizations and teams in a world that is constantly adapting and changing. Please note that this is not about merely getting more folks from underrepresented groups into the old models of leadership; it is about transforming the practice, meaning and value of leadership for all our students, staff and faculty.
  3. Our third goal is to create what I will call a polyculture as we strive for a more inclusive campus. By polyculturalism I mean the recognition that each of us embodies an array of identities, perspectives, differences and assets. We can use these differences to build bridges and complex networks. We must develop a campus climate to support such polyculturalism because we know that each person can learn and thrive when they are in an environment that is encouraging even as it sets high standards.
  4. The fourth goal is to promote more research and scholarship on domestic and international diversity. If I and many others are right that the we are entering a new era, then research and creative expression—theoretical, scientific, practical and translational—is needed more than ever. This research, as we have suggested in DU IMPACT 2025, will be increasingly collaborative and problem-based. We must empower diverse teams working inside and outside of the academy to address problems and realize new opportunities. We must become artists in our fields, reimaging a world quite outside the old paradigms.

As we do our hard work to live in both worlds at once to fix and improve as well as to heal and transform, our values will serve as our compass. For some time, DU has embraced the values of excellence, innovation, engagement, integrity and inclusiveness. Occasionally, I hear some say we need new values. I think not. Truly realizing these values would be a wonderful thing! These values support both our continual improvements and our quest for transformation. These are strong values and ones embraced by this community—even, frankly, when we fail to achieve them.

But I’d like to make these values a bit more concrete and suggest three guiding principles to engage in world making in the new era even as we improve our structures:

  1. Demonstrating respect for one another that is predicated upon deep listening, that includes understanding history and shaping the future. We need to engage one another and really get to know one another; we need to understand through intergroup dialogue what it is really like for others; we need to practice empathy, which, as the ethicist Iris Marion Young explains, is walking a mile in the other person’s shoes, not as simply walking your mile in my own shoes.
  2. Being bold with our work as scholars and teachers, learners and doers. This is a time of phenomenal global change. Political elections around the world have upended established norms. Economic gaps are growing profoundly. In this country, incarceration, inadequate attention to mental illness and poverty threaten our cultural fabric. We need new solutions, ideas developed with partners in this community and around the world. Never has critical and creative scholarship been more needed; it is, at least in part, up to us to build a future where all can thrive.
  3. Embracing an approach of utopian realism. The type of education we are describing is hard work. We will stumble more times that we get it right. We need to be realists, for sure. And let’s be realistic that as we live in these two worlds, we may be more comfortable in one than the other. But let’s also be utopian, in the way that Martin Luther King, Jr., lived. Let’s imagine what we want; let’s be optimistic that we can achieve it. Let’s remember leaders who have gone before us who have refused to give up, who have been ready to see a new world being born, who know what it is—in their own way—to go to the mountaintop and see the world anew.

This leads me to my final point. Living in both eras at once, having powerful goals, embracing our values and developing guiding principles are all really important. But they come alive only in our actions; these are our recurring communal practices that create and express standards of Inclusive Excellence. Practices create in our culture and in us individually a capacity to reach our goals and to live our values.

  1. We must acknowledge and honor the fullness of our history—including points of pride as well as times we have failed to uphold our values. It is impossible, for instance, to provide a true account of our history without acknowledging that the land we are on today was once inhabited by the Cheyenne and Arapahoe peoples. Many have spoken with care and eloquence about the involvement of several DU founders in the tragic Sand Creek Massacre. But also remember that during another sad chapter of our history, the era of Japanese-American internment camps, the University of Denver proudly welcomed and supported Japanese-American students. We must ensure our history is acknowledged fully and frankly.
  2. We will continue to weave diversity and inclusion into our very fabric. When we created our strategic plan—with the input of 4,000 of you!—we quickly realized that diversity and inclusion needed to be a central part of every initiative of the plan, as well as the focus of several specific initiatives. This year, with the help of an outside expert, we are doing an audit of all diversity-related programming and resources at DU. We have increased training opportunities for faculty and staff—including workshops for faculty who asked for guidance on addressing complicated issues in the classroom. New faculty hiring guidelines established this year are among many ongoing efforts in this regard.
  3. We must support the fundamental claims of equity. In addition to providing more resources to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Title IX, we are in the midst of a multi-year staff compensation study. This year, with a significant investment, we were able to adjust salaries for employees we discovered to be paid below what we established as DU’s goal for fair and equitable compensation.
  4. We are expanding efforts to recruit a more diverse and inclusive student body for the benefit of all students and the institution. Roughly 20 percent of our students—undergraduate and graduate—are now domestic students of color. About another 10 percent are international students. In Fall 2016, we hired 62 new faculty members; over 27 percent of those were domestic persons of color. We have a long way to go, but we should acknowledge the efforts of so many here at the University for our progress to date.
  5. We must focus on how students learn and how academic subjects are taught. DU has great strengths in individualized learning, including through our Learning Effectiveness Program. The Office of Teaching and Learning recently hired a new position dedicated to inclusive pedagogy.
  6. We will address our climate and our life together to improve it and transform it. Before I arrived, the task forces looking at the status of women and the status of people of color provided recommendations that led us to improve University policy. Through the first phase of our strategic planning process, we created the Chancellor’s Diversity and Equity Advisory Council and the Provost Academic Diversity Council to advise us in our ongoing work. Various student groups and so many others help us to improve and also to transform our life together.
  7. We must create a culture of accountability and stronger communication. We have begun to make Inclusive Excellence a factor on which employees are evaluated on an annual basis. And all senior leaders at DU are accountable to University goals, including those around diversity and inclusion. Students have helped us to think deeply about better ways of communication—beyond the all-campus emails, which in and of themselves are insufficient as a tool. Earlier this month, I announced a new diversity web presence designed to improve communication on our efforts across the University and to consolidate the many resources available to our community. It’s a “one-stop” site and a great resource—and I hope you will consult it regularly.

Now I invite you to talk, but more importantly to listen, to really listen to each other. And as I have done a fair amount of talking, I will return to listening—which is how I learn best. I invite you to continue this conversation—discuss and debate the goals, values and practices I have outlined today. I offer a few prompts for you to use as you continue this conversation at your tables now, throughout the afternoon and, I hope, well into the future:

  1. Discuss the times in which we live and the framework(s) that apply. What are the implications of these for our campus and beyond?
  2. What are some specific strategies for putting our goals and values into practice? For DU overall? For each of us individually?
  3. Beyond vision and values, what actions will we need to take to make them real? What actions will you take yourself?