Exploring the Complexities of Diversity Advisory Councils in Higher Education: An Action Research Study
Johnson, Beverly Evon
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Higher education institutions are struggling to decide how to promote, engage, and support diversity and inclusion efforts. Can stakeholders with the same goals affect this process? Does the culture of higher education impact stakeholders’ abilities to create institutional change? The purpose of this action research (AR) study was to understand how a higher education institution redesigns an effective diversity advisory council (DAC) and to identify factors and conditions that affect this process. Southern Region University (SRU) engaged an AR team consisting of administrators, faculty, and staff in a two-year process to address the following questions: (1) What elements are critical in developing an effective diversity advisory council within a higher education institution? and (2) What challenges impeded the process of developing a diversity advisory council within this higher education institution? The SRU DAC, an advisory council for SRU's senior administration, was the focus of this study. The study found that strong supportive leadership, formal decommissioning of existing DACs, the AR process, and a theoretically sound model are key elements in developing effective DACs in higher education institutions. The study further found that resistance to change and empowerment, lack of an institutional definition of diversity, and stakeholder accountability are challenges that impede the process of developing effective DACs in higher education institutions. Conclusions concerning system readiness and implications for future research and practice are discussed.
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