Diversity at CU: Recent progress encouraging

Regents hear about efforts seeking inclusiveness among all populations

The University of Colorado has made strides in increasing ethnic diversity on its campuses: In the past decade, student headcounts have risen by nearly 50 percent; and in 2014-15, CU awarded 19 percent of degrees among public institutions to underrepresented minorities in the state. Those measurable statistics are encouraging, said Kathy Nesbitt, vice president of employee and information services. Yet the definition of diversity goes far beyond ethnicity, and those areas need to be addressed.

 “When we talk about diversity in this particular context, I’m talking about all forms of diversity, not only ethnic diversity, I am talking about political thought, I’m talking about rural versus urban, the broader picture,” Nesbitt told the CU Board of Regents last week during its meeting at UCCS. “We talk about ethnic diversity because we collect census data on that information, and we do not collect data on other topics when we think of diversity.”

Nesbitt was asked last fall by the board to construct a comprehensive strategy that would foster inclusion and recruitment in all areas of diversity as defined by the regents in September 2013, including race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, veteran status, political affiliation or philosophy. A framework for the strategy has been distributed throughout the CU system in CU Connections and the larger community via CU President Bruce Benson’s newsletter. Nesbitt said response has been meaningful in guiding the effort.

Several diversity and inclusions programs already are in place on each campus, Nesbitt said. It’s now up to leadership to determine whether each project is working to build inclusiveness, and that the money being invested is worthwhile.

“We’re not looking to develop goals or metrics or targets in any of those particular spaces; what we want to do is find what the current landscape is and, in those particular programs, are they effective, are they making a difference?” she said. “There isn’t a magic number of students, there isn’t a magic number when it comes to our spending; it’s more about awareness. What are we doing to increase those areas of awareness?”

Nesbitt said part of the strategy includes external collaboration – bringing in others from outside the institution to provide new prospective. She said she has received support from the chancellors and president to bring on expertise at the system level.

“I want us to stop thinking about diversity solely around the recruitment of students and faculty. There is a much broader perspective when we think about the work we need to do,” she said. “It’s about how we spend our money, it’s about our research. It’s around health, it’s around our advancement as far as where we go to seek monies and how we spend our monies in the communities and our engagement overall.”

Regent John Carson, R-Highlands Ranch, said he was pleased by the emphasis on the broader definition of diversity. “This is about more than racial diversity. It’s about diversity on a racial and political front,” Carson said. “How are we going to accomplish all this? And how do those of us who are interested in more intellectual diversity and political diversity, how can we be a more effective part of that?”

Nesbitt asked the board for recommendations on gathering data on the broader forms of diversity. “Help me understand how we quantify and how I can measure political thought or what other non-ethnic diversity metrics there are,” she said. “It’s harder to identify what that looks like.”

Nesbitt presented the board with five long-term goals to better foster diversity:

  1. Create diversity and inclusion committees on the campuses; increase diversity of faculty and staff; develop tools to assess the level of multicultural competency and the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion activities across campuses.
  2. Increase the number of degrees awarded. Every campus has initiatives that are focused on students of color, students who have a disability and individuals who may not fall into an ethnic category, such as low-income students and first-generation students, she said.
  3. Form a cultural diversity research group: Create some seed monies for CU’s many cohort groups to work on diverse initiatives around research.
  4. Build relationships with the outside community, including business, nonprofits and advancement, as well as finance and procurement to expand opportunities to engage in more diverse businesses and vendors through the procurement service center.
  5. Enhance communication by building awareness and collaboration with organizations and leaders with diverse backgrounds in the community.

In addition, she said, change starts from within.

“I’m making changes and reorganizing my team to be more effective and make more opportunities to continue this particular work, but that takes time,” Nesbitt said. “A year from now, I want to be able to come back to talk about the progress we have made.”

Regent Glen Gallegos, R-Grand Junction, said he’s pleased at the strides being made in the expansive area of diversity.

“What we’re doing is, we’re trying to educate all kids, and to ensure everybody has an opportunity for an education,” Gallegos said. “I don’t want anyone to think that we’re lowering the quality of education at the University of Colorado. We’re trying to raise the bar for everybody, and I think everybody needs to understand that around this table.”