Make no mistake: diversity and inclusion were the most-discussed topics at NACAC 2017 in Boston. The opening keynote, helmed by Dr. Shaun Harper of the University of Southern California, burned four words into my mind: “This, too, is racism.” His speech, before thousands of professionals, gave me chills as he spilled truth after truth. Inside Higher Ed wrote an excellent recap. I am unable to match his words and the passion with which he spoke them, but I’d like to highlight two concepts he touched upon:
- He explained how students of color are routinely underserved by the people who should be looking out for them in their high schools. Dr. Harper spoke of undermatching and how minority students are routinely discouraged by authority figures from applying to top colleges or universities.
- Harper challenged admission offices to become more inclusive in their hiring and to be reflective of prospective students.
If you’d like to follow Dr. Harper on Twitter, I recommend it.
Other sessions at the conference focused very much on how institutions can permanently enshrine a commitment to diversity within their campus climate. An emphasis was made on needing to build strategic plans. Senior leaders challenged their peers to take on diversity and inclusion as one of their personal burdens to bear – to use the privilege they may have in society to assist people who enjoy less privilege.
One senior leader noted that this approach has resulted in tangible results for her university’s Muslim students: hosting relevant programs during Ramadan, installing reflection rooms for prayer, and training student tour guides to be culturally fluent.
In terms that may seem stark, it was also pointed out that diversity and inclusion make good business sense. Enrollment growth and retention can follow a smart strategic plan.
David Burge, who took over as president of NACAC at the conference, immediately used his position to stand up for what’s right. Here is a short blurb from a NACAC press release:
In his first speech as NACAC’s top elected leader, Burge challenged his colleagues to promote opportunity for all individuals. He also applauded the association’s recent advocacy work, including efforts made on behalf of undocumented students.”
“We oppose ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in the strongest possible terms,” Burge said, earning roaring applause from attendees at NACAC’s Annual Membership Meeting. “We will be champions for these students, supporting legislation and appropriate legal action at every turn.”
Next year’s conference will take place in Salt Lake City.
Ryan Collins is an admission counselor at Baldwin Wallace University.