When considering our definition of inclusive excellence, the Academic Advising Center (AAC) at CU Boulder supports the Statement on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Excellence made by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). That statement claims that students seeking to educate themselves should seek to engage not just with a diversity of ideas and experiences but also with “a diversity of people [since] the opportunity to learn with and from diverse peers is also a critical element of educational excellence.” We appreciate that this statement places emphasis on equity: “Equity-mindedness means that educational leaders, faculty, and staff demonstrate awareness of and proactive willingness to address their institution’s equity and inequity issues […] Seeking inclusive excellence requires reversing the current stratification of higher education and ensuring that all students develop capacities to prosper economically, contribute civically, and flourish personally.” These principles guide our vision of inclusive excellence.
We believe that when students structure their goals toward the growth of inclusion, diversity, and equity, those goals become more socially and personally meaningful, more educated and more educational.
The AAC strives to be the primary source of support to students in the College of Arts and Sciences, helping them to identify, develop, pursue, and attain meaningful educational and personal goals. We believe that when students structure their goals toward the growth of inclusion, diversity, and equity, those goals become more socially and personally meaningful, more educated and more educational. Thus, if asked how we might define inclusive excellence and equity-mindedness in terms specific to our daily practices and goals, we want to include the following items, which summarize many of the responses to this question given by AAC advisors, staff, student peer advisors, and supervisors:
- Our goal is always to treat students as individuals with intersecting identities while recognizing their shared and dissimilar experiences as members of social and identity groups. Not only do we want to recognize and celebrate diverse backgrounds, identities, and experiences, but we want to actively and intentionally engage with diversity.
- We both support and challenge students, where the emphasis on support includes occasional challenges, the aim of which is to help students and ourselves grow both socially and personally.
- To help students on a daily basis, we work to develop a strong foundation of knowledge concerning university policies, departments, resources, and student organizations. We also keep updated on advising theory and best practices.
- We aim to demonstrate compassion, empathy, and encouragement for students through active listening and powerful questions, such that they feel comfortable and confident in working with advisors. We try to create non-evaluative “safe zones” where students, their views, and stories are not judged even while we recognize our obligation to report assault, harassment, and discrimination. The goal is to provide resources for students who have had positive and/or negative experiences on campus or in the community.
- We seek to offer advocacy and “allyship” for each and every student. Our aim is to be welcoming and available with our words and through our actions and spaces. The AAC’s peer advisors provide an approachable resource for students who may be intimidated by meeting with a professional advisor. They also provide valuable perspectives on challenges other students may be facing.
We aim to demonstrate compassion, empathy, and encouragement for students through active listening and powerful questions, such that they feel comfortable and confident in working with advisors.
From our position of hearing student stories, and with this advocacy in mind, our unit has some thoughts and questions on how we think both our unit in particular and members of the greater University community might help build a culture of inclusive excellence and equity-mindedness. We pose these as contributions to this larger conversation:
- We think growing our Academic Coaching program could greatly help academically at-risk students, especially those who may otherwise be missed, or who are unable to find support or are uncomfortable asking for support from other resources on campus, such as students of color, first-generation students, international students, those with learning and physical disabilities, mental health challenges, and various other underrepresented identities.
- We would like our unit and the University to increase various forms of academic, cultural, and community support for international students. The increase in this population at CU points toward this need, but we have found that international students are a diverse group faced with issues that extend beyond our current ability to address them fully. Support and collaboration with other appropriate departments in this endeavor would be invaluable. In addition, advisors need more specialized training to meet the unique needs of this student population.
- The AAC is unique in that it is a large staff unit directly supporting the academic mission of the University. As professional staff who are valuable contributors to the University, we agree with the AAC&U that it is just and good to patiently seek to resist various stratifications in higher education. We believe that this resistance to stratification should include a more equitable sharing of material resources. For example, we would love to provide more intentional professional development opportunities for all staff in the AAC. A more equitable sharing of material resources across university positions would presumably create more engaged work and reduce staff turnover. This turnover has been a consistent complaint from students.
- It is important to develop ways to increase general and particular resources for underrepresented populations and underprivileged students. Indeed, the AAC is happy to help develop in-house or university-wide programs fostering, or helping students to foster, their academic and social goals. Recently, one of our advisors collaborated with non-traditional students to form the Non-Traditional Student Organization to help these students build and support themselves as a community. This is some of the work of which we are most proud. We hope to do similar work with other groups within the greater CU community.
In sum, because of the AAC’s unique role of creating one-on-one relationships with students, and in view of supporting and growing a socially just and equitable campus community, we are well-positioned to advocate for students and for resources we think would benefit them and the university as a whole. Our hope is that these thoughts contribute to building a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable learning environment for all.
Footnote #1: https://www.aacu.org/about/statements/2013/diversity