Teresa Valerio Parrot is the principal, and Erin Hennessy is the vice president of, a national public relations and crisis communications agency focused on higher education.
As communication consultants, we’re often brought in to help the leadership ofnavigate some of their biggest challenges. More and more, that means issues involving diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI.
It’s essential to work. But often, it’s. To help you the needle on campus climate, you need to have done something and have some indicators that show it’s working.
and chief diversity officers struggle to move forward in meaningful, specific ways to make their institutions’ cultures more inclusive. But without digging in and doing the work to chart a , there’s nothing to communicate.
The urge to putbefore progress is understandable based on the expectations for immediate change. The can realistically progress on big, complex, and nuanced challenges can be infuriatingly slow. AsntAnd for on campus, it can be tempting to cave to time pressure and the sometimes unrealistic expectations our communities have for how fast improvements can be made. But we urge leaders to avoid resorting to empty words and stick with the . Sending a message can be done today to quell pushback instead of channeling effort and energy for a more extended, sustained effort with a more significant impact.
DEI topics garner campus, media, andattention because they tell first-person stories and outline changes our communities need. Based on the emotion associated with these calls for action, leaders push themselves for what feels immediacy and end up with half-baked processes that are not ready to be . We ask leaders to stop thinking of campus climate and diversity feedback and demands to be dodged or survived.
We advise against oversharing plans to achieve a more inclusive culture beforethe infrastructure, feedback loops, wraparound services, and other support necessary for success. Otherwise, those plans don’t experience and become performative. Communicators can only the change that has occurred or is planned. We need the institution’s efforts to have the gravitas expectations.
This is particularly important as colleges and universities prepare to welcome, faculty, and staff back. waiting for the resumption of DEI initiatives post-pandemic. Their expectations of campus leaders have only grown while we’ve all focused on responses. Our internal audiences do not want to — and should not have to — to feel comfortable and welcome in academia. A inclusive communities will rightly cause criticism that performative communications can never fix. Rhetorical statements are no substitute for being able to say with details and resources, “Here’s what we’ve done. Here’s what we still need to do. Here’s what you can expect from us. Here’s what
Presidents should provide a substantive update on DEIand outline the resources they are willing to commit to moving efforts forward meaningfully. In preparing this , they should include those tasked with and accountable for diversity and equity work in the communications rollout. Many campuses have diversity officers or other campus leaders who can provide depth to the institution’s work but who often aren’t . Often these campus leaders have into what the campus wants to hear and from whom. This level of tailoring shifts a message from seemingly empty words to instead reflect .
Indeed, diversity progressdiversity officer or the president; work must be done across the institution. All . But bringing a communications consultant in to on campus only works if the problem is communications. If the matter is that leadership isn’t doing what was promised or isn’t to lead the community, then bringing in any communicator as a fixer will leave leadership that much more vulnerable. And even the most skilled communicator can’t communicate an institution out of that leadership void.