Our shared challenges and critical tasks for the 2023-24 academic year

Dear Colleagues, 

As we celebrate the fresh start of a new academic year, it’s worth pausing to reflect on our shared challenges and critical tasks in the months ahead. 

This spring’s legislative attacks in Florida and Texas not only threaten diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in higher education, but also underscore our urgent obligation to reinforce safe, supportive campus environments for all students, faculty and staff. 

It’s never been easy work — and it’s especially difficult now. As the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education found in its first State of the CDO survey this year, chief diversity officers are stressed, under-resourced and too often left out of important conversations. To give you clear sightlines into your peers’ experiences, we published the complete survey report, which will help us provide greater support to all association members.

Another publication we issued this year, NADOHE Communication Guide, is available to inform standard messaging, talking points and other outreach to illustrate the vital role of diversity work in higher education and in a robust democracy. Resources in the guide can debunk myths and mischaracterizations of the work, and promote constructive communication among institutions of higher education and federal, state and local agencies.

When we’re empowered to strengthen diversity, equity and inclusion, we pull the promise of a better life within reach. Education after high school leads people to better health, more civic engagement and jobs suited to their talents and interests, as a recent Lumina Foundation-Gallup poll shows.

But when policymakers block diversity, equity and inclusion, prospects crumble. Consider Florida, where lawmakers stripped funding from diversity, equity and inclusion programs at public colleges. Barely a third of Black Floridians — and just about 39% of Hispanic Floridians — between ages 25 and 64 have completed formal education after high school. That’s compared to roughly half of white Floridians. 

Racial gaps are strikingly similar in Texas, which faces an outright ban on diversity offices at state colleges. Both states lag the nation in overall attainment of post-high-school education.

Such patterns should sound alarm bells as more states take up legislation that would further undercut diversity, equity and inclusion across higher education. Already, Black student enrollment and completion have been falling for the last decade, Lumina’s Courtney Brown told Inside Higher Ed. Major stresses confronting Black students at every level of college continue to block them from graduation. The big hurdles: racial discrimination and extra responsibilities such as work and caregiving, as the Chronicle of Higher Education reported from Lumina-Gallup findings.

We know what breaks these barriers: It’s the work that you carry out every day. More robust diversity, equity and inclusion programs undermine discrimination, while their broad-based academic and social supports are enormously effective in unlocking long-term success for historically marginalized students. Research makes it clear: diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives drive student retention, particularly among students of color.

Your dedication is an essential difference-maker for thousands of people. We at NADOHE are here to help — and to advocate together with, and for, you. Make use of our resources, stay up to date with our news dispatches, and stay connected with our events as you navigate the year. 

Thank you for your support and for your commitment.

With gratitude,

Paulette Granberry Russell, J.D.

President and CEO