Monday’s webinar featured a panel discussion composed of ALI alumni and faculty. The event’s moderator, Dr. Robin R. Means Coleman, participated in ALI’s inaugural cohort of 2021; panelist Dr. Katrice A. Albert, the 2022 cohort; and panelist Dr. Peniel E. Joseph, the 2023 cohort.

Opening remarks from ALI co-founder Dr. Dwight A. McBride, President of The New School, introduced the webinar topic and looked forward to ALI’s 3rd residential program, to be held this summer. ALI’s annual residential program and webinar series aim to increase the representation of rising leaders committed to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), including faculty of color, on track to becoming future presidents and provosts of colleges and universities.

Moderator Dr. Robin R. Means Coleman framed the issue at hand, affirming that “there’s been an increasing number of attacks on DEI efforts across the country. Multiple states have introduced bills or taken steps that limit the administrative and pedagogical work of DEI, including a risk to affirmative action in the Supreme Court. This is a panel that considers how we might continue to advance our efforts. It considers what strategies and solutions might be brought to bear as we work through this challenging climate.”

Indeed, the majority of the webinar focused on concrete strategies through which leaders can continue to advance DEI initiatives in a context where these actions are banned, illegal, or otherwise discouraged. Dr. Katrice A. Albert, Vice President for Institutional Diversity at the University of Kentucky, mentioned the “we know that there’s always been resistance,” but in the current climate, “you’ve got to affirm and confirm with your leaders…that they will be with you, win or draw. Not win or lose, win or draw,” as diversity, equity, and inclusion work will continue, regardless of the names or broader support of these programs.

Dr. Robert M. Sellers, Charles D. Moody Collegiate Professor of Psychology and Education at the University of Michigan and former Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion, Chief Diversity Officer at U-M, similarly emphasized the importance of continuing DEI efforts despite the reactions of governments and other institutions, for “what is higher education without being diverse, and equitable, and without being inclusive?” Sellers continued, “When you ask [DEI’s opponents] to define what DEI is, they cannot define it.” So, while the name may change, we must “do exactly the same thing. When calling it something different and doing exactly the same thing leads to the change, then I’m less concerned about trying to win at the ‘DEI’ level.” Instead, it is the substance of the work that is important to sustaining increased diversity, equity, and inclusion on college campuses.

Dr. Peniel E. Joseph, Associate Dean for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, encouraged leaders to look to the founding principles of higher education to inform their actions. “Higher education,” he says, “is supposed to be about freedom, and not just emancipation. So the person who understands those humanistic, social scientific principles…that presidency is going to produce certain outcomes” that favor DEI initiatives, regardless of the formality of DEI’s establishment on campus. To move forward, Joseph reminds us, “You’ve got to be on the side of the people” and “produce higher education leaders with that kind of faith in our people, our community, and in building that beloved community.”

Attendees praised the webinar’s “focus on very clear ‘solution’ and directions…in ways that we often don't hear in the current DEI discussions,” as well as “the honest and open discussions, thoughtful insights, and hope-infused candor” of the panelists and moderator.

A recording of this event will soon be available on the CSS YouTube channel.