We know from experience that colleges have made racial-justice promises before, and they’ve often fallen by the wayside. Diversity task forces have released reports that went up on a shelf, and initial investments in faculty diversity have become the victims of budget cuts.

When I spoke with college leaders and faculty members of color last year about the new wave of commitments to antiracism that followed Floyd’s murder, I heard both skepticism and hope — hope that this time would be different.

Tabbye Chavous, director of the National Center for Institutional Diversity at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, attributed some of the stunted racial-justice progress to the “parallel pandemics.” Covid-19 has forced some staff who would have been working on DEI efforts to switch gears, and long-term planning has taken a backseat, Chavous said. So she’s trying to have some grace.

But some of our reporting experiences demonstrate a common pitfall, Chavous said: college leaders’ making promises without a full understanding of how to advance them. “Awareness and good intentions and affective commitments are not enough,” she said. And too often, she said, college leaders are reactive — waiting for external pressures to hit before moving forward on diversity initiatives — instead of proactive.

Chavous separated institutional actions into three categories: relief, recovery, and reconfiguration. For a college to succeed on its DEI goals, steps must be taken to immediately relieve the burdens that people are experiencing, she said, like emergency financial aid for students disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Another example would be compensation for faculty and staff members who’ve shouldered extra responsibilities in recent months, such as designing new antiracism workshops.

Relief and recovery actions lay the groundwork for reconfiguration, she said — in other words, long-term strategic priorities like making the curriculum more inclusive and diversifying the faculty.

Read the full article at the Chronicle of Higher Education.