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The Chief Diversity Officer


Problem Statement and Significance

As the student, faculty, and staff consciousness of racial injustice increases on college

campuses across the nation, constituents are demanding the executive administrators of

institutions to make change. In response to the racial climate and tensions on four-year college

campuses, many universities have been considering the creation and implementation of Chief

Diversity Officer (CDO) positions at their institutions. Although vice presidents, provosts, and

administrators of diversity and inclusion, under a variety of different names and titles, have been

established at some institutions for quite some time (Gose, 2006), the new and emerging Chief

Diversity Officer positions are interacting with a constantly changing, more diverse student

population (Harvey, 2014; Wilson, 2013). The Chief Diversity Officer can be a valuable and

influential position to create in order to address issues of diversity and racial climate on college

campuses; however, the position must be intentionally designed within the organizational

structure and institutional context to have the power, resources, and collaboration to inspire and

make change.

At first look, the creation of a Chief Diversity Officer position at institutions as a

response to the racial climate is most ideal. With a critical lens concerning the leadership and

governance of higher education, however, the implications and intentions of the role can be

called into question. The problem with the Chief Diversity Officer appointment concerns

whether or not the implementation of a CDO responds well to issues of racial climate and

tensions, and if the role is thoughtfully and deliberately designed to allow a CDO to address such

issues on their respective campus. Without the deliberate design of the CDO role and

responsibilities, or analysis of the governance structure, needs, and mission of the institution, the

Chief Diversity Officer might ultimately become a figurehead, incapable of influencing change

and simply a way for the institution to appear like it is responding to the needs of the campus.
Exploring the Chief Diversity Officer role is very significant, as it becomes a new

position in the governance of higher education and at institutions. As these roles are created,

there is a question of legitimacy to the role regarding both the legitimate use of funds and

resources to support the Chief Diversity Officer and whether the role is intended to actually

produce change and inundate diversity into the institution's operations and climate. Furthermore,

as the recent emergence of the CDO is in response to the racial unrest on college campuses, it is

important to understand the position so that we can further examine whether the CDO responds

well to the issues of racial climate and racial tensions.

Although there are some critical questions to raise as institutions are considering creating

or readjusting the CDO position, the potential significance to the position for the campus should

be recognized. The Chief Diversity Officer can have the ability and focus to ensure that the

institution is responding appropriately to the racial climate, engaging with the campus

community, and educating the community on diversity. Through communication and presence,

ideally the Chief Diversity Officer could influence campus climate through actions, messages,

and rituals that embrace diversity, such as the recruitment of underrepresented students faculty,

and staff, and finance diversity programs and strategies. The significance and potential of this

role on college campuses and in higher education warrants discussion and analysis.
To narrow the exploration of the emerging Chief Diversity Officer role in higher

education, this paper considers the following questions: 1) What roles and responsibilities should

CDOs serve? 2) What factors increase the effectiveness of CDOs? 3) How should the CDO be

positioned within the organization's governance structure? The purpose of this exploration is to

analyze existing literature on Chief Diversity Officers in higher education and provide

recommendations for senior administrators and presidents to implement a similar role with

intentionality and vision.

In this paper, we explain the significance of exploring the Chief Diversity Officer

position and define diversity for this context. A history and background of the emergence of

Chief Diversity Officers is given. Next, we argue through an analysis of the current literature that

administrators must be aware of the institutional context, both the campus climate and the

governance and organizational structure, in order to implement a new position. Common

challenges and barriers of Chief Diversity Officers that inhibit the effectiveness of their work

will be discussed, and then we argue the specific roles and standards that Chief Diversity

Officers should adhere to so that they can effectively respond to the needs of the institution. This

literature analysis provides support for our recommendations regarding the intentional

implementation of a Chief Diversity Officer position at an institution. Finally, we connect this

analysis to the implications of the Chief Diversity Officer position for student affairs practice.
Before continuing to the review of literature, it is worth noting how diversity is being

used in this context. In the simplest terms, diversity can refer to ethnic and racial identities. One

might argue that diversity embodies much more than that, which is completely true. Diversity

embodies gender variance, sexual orientation, religious and spiritual identity, differently abled

bodies, mental health, nationality, and much more (Cuyjet, Howard-Hamilton, & Cooper, 2011).

Diversity can be seen as identities that are different from the prescribed norm. For instance, in an

institution that is predominantly white, ethnic and racial differences constitute diversity. If a

space is predominantly heteronormative and cisnormative, meaning heterosexuality and being

cisgender (indicating that someone identifies with the gender that they were assigned at birth) is

the perceived norm, people who have different sexual orientations and/or are transgender

constitute diversity. If traditional-aged college students are the norm (18-22 years old) on a

college campus, non-traditional aged students constitute diversity. Some might include that

diversity also embodies peoples experiences, not just identities that people cannot

choose (Howard-Hamilton, Richardson, & Shuford, 1998). These arguments are completely

valid and ring true on many college campuses.

Attempting to define diversity is almost a fools errand, as diversity can have a plethora

of various meanings and interpretations depending on the institutional culture, location,

demographic makeup, climate, and so forth. To complicate interpretations even further, every

staff member, faculty, and student affairs administrators and practitioners have their own

definitions and preconceived notions of diversity, which are shaped by their cultural narrative.
One more diversity point to note: in alignment with Harpers (2008) work, this paper will

use the term minoritized identities rather than minority identities. This is to acknowledge

that the U.S. society will perceive some identities to be minorities, such as people of color or

women. However, those identities form half or more of the population. Therefore,

society minoritizes those identities; they are not innately minorities (Harper, 2008). An action is

being done. Similarly, this paper will also interchangeably use the term marginalized identities

for a similar reason: a societal action is being done to keep certain identities on the periphery.

The Chief Diversity Officer is a relatively new and rapidly growing executive leadership

position in higher education administration; literature documenting the positions growth are

few and far between (Williams, 2013; Williams & Wade-Golden, 2013). A common grappling of

their rise seems to be this: Are universities making a serious new commitment to diversifying

the faculty, curriculum, and student body, or are these high profile appointments a way for

university presidents to appease [minoritized] students and professors who have been clamoring

for a stronger voice on campuses? (Gose, 2006). Gose (2006) argues that it appears to be both.

When interrogating the history of the CDO, the first question might be, where did the

idea for the position stem from? Many college and university diversity experts believe that

universities are following the lead of the corporate world, where the Chief Diversity Officer

position has been a comprehensive part of the organizational structure since the 1990s (Gose,

2006). In the context of higher education, they came about in response to a variety of reasons:

changes in student populations with the help of college access and equity initiatives, racial

injustice on campuses, and student consciousness of diversity issues. Specifically, according to

Worthington, Stanley, & Lewis (2014), their rise might be associated with the following trends:

1) diversified students, staff, and faculty in higher education (Turner, Gonzales, & Wood, 2008),

2) assessment and dedication to the improvement of campus climate (Hart & Fellabaum), 3)

improvements to the representation and inclusion of diversity in the curriculum (Bensimon,

2004), 4) development of intergroup dialogues (Gurin, Nadga, & Zuniga, 2013), and 5) campus-

wide diversity plans integrated into institutional strategic planning (Harvey, 2014).
Now, Chief Diversity Officers are becoming better known in the world of leadership and

governance in higher education, and yet despite their newness and discrepancies, it becomes

clear that their positions are still in the early formative years. Eyes are cast on them to see what is

to become of their roles and what may come as a result of their implementation.
Analysis of the Literature

The Influence of Institutional Context and Structure

As institutions begin to consider a Chief Diversity Officer position as a response to

increasing racial tensions and diversity issues, it is essential to understand institutional context as

a factor that would influence the effectiveness of the role. The institutional context, both climate

and organizational structure, must be analyzed in order to create and implement a vision for the

Chief Diversity Officer position. Institutional rank, organizational structure, and campus climate

are factors that have been discussed throughout the literature and can influence the institutional

impact of the work of the CDO.

Institutional rank refers to positional authority in a hierarchical organizational structure. A

high institutional rank increases the interactions of other executive-level positions, which allow

for a higher probability of collaborations across campus (Williams & Wade-Golden, 2007). The

positional capital that comes with a high institutional rank and title includes social capital with

other administrators and financial capital, such as institution and community resources and

funding (Williams & Wade-Golden, 2007). Leon (2014) argues that a high institutional rank

allows the Chief Diversity Officer to align the diversity goals of the institution, especially in a

more decentralized institution. Furthermore, intentionally placing the Chief Diversity Officer

with high positional authority symbolizes the seriousness and legitimacy of addressing and

fostering diversity at the institution.

Not only does a high institutional rank influence the work that the Chief Diversity Officer

can accomplish, the organizational and reporting structure of the Chief Diversity Officer is a

factor affecting the position. Williams & Wade-Golden (2007) explored the different types of

models that currently exist at institutions through interviews and site visits. Limited resources

and staff characterize a Collaborative Officer model, and the individual may rely on charismatic

leadership and negotiating financial resources (Williams & Wade-Golden, 2007). On the other

hand, a Chief Diversity Officer in a Unit-Based model has a central administrative staff

(Williams & Wade-Golden, 2007). The Portfolio Divisional model includes the characteristics of

the other models, and is distinguished by several direct reporting structures (Williams & Wade-

Golden, 2007). In a comparative study of CDO models, Leon (2014) found that Unit-Based and

Portfolio Divisional models were accomplishing more strategies than the Collaborative Officer

model. Employing a particular model may depend on financial resources, the needs of the

institution, and existing organizational structures.

The needs of the institution and the campus climate influence the work and goals of the

Chief Diversity Officer. In studies analyzing the emergence of Chief Diversity Officers in higher

education, the need to address issues surrounding diversity at their respective institutions was

recognized from the results of a campus climate survey (Arnold & Kowalski-Braun, 2012;

Wilson, 2013). Understanding the context of the institution and of the campus climate

concerning diversity is essential to begin the implementation of a CDO. Although understanding

the current needs of the students, staff, and faculty climate at the beginning stages of CDO

implementation, in creating standards for Chief Diversity Officers, Worthington and Stanley

(2014) argue that the needs of an institution and, consequently the role of the Chief Diversity

Officer, are always changing. Furthermore, what works for a CDO at one institution may not

work at another institution (Stanley, 2014). Therefore, an understanding and awareness of the

institutions changing climate influences the design and creation of a Chief Diversity Officer.

Institutional rank, organizational structure, and a changing campus climate are all factors that

affect the influence, impact, and role of a Chief Diversity Officer.

Common Challenges
Once in place, Chief Diversity Officers still face many challenges that may prevent them

from being effective leaders of diversity-related efforts. Identifying and understanding these

challenges is critical to the development and implementation of a CDO position, as doing so can

help to inform what institutions should do to try to remove or limit barriers that may hinder a

CDO's success. Across existing literature, commonly identified challenges include establishing

legitimacy, working with limited resources, and effectively balancing and prioritizing needs as

identified by various members of the community.


As previously mentioned, institutional rank can influence a CDO's functional and

symbolic legitimacy. Without the institutional capital that typically comes with rank, CDOs then

face a "second-class-citizen issue" (Anonymous, 2010, p. 5) in which they are perceived as

invited to sit, but not necessarily actively participate, at the table with other institutional leaders.

In other words, they are offered a place amongst campus leaders, but are not given the power or

opportunity to effectively engage in decision-making. Often, there are those in the institution that

deem the CDO role as unnecessary. In some cases, this may be due to the observation that, in

context, they have little power and resources to instigate change anyway; in other cases, it may

be due to a "belief that we are in a post-racial America" (Anonymous, 2010, p. 5). A lack of

legitimacy can also leave CDOs open to the risk of becoming an institution's scapegoat with the

title of responsibility, but no ability or support to take action with (Harvey, 2014).
Resources such as appropriate funding, staff, and opportunity to collaborate and

coordinate across campus would be helpful for CDOs in establishing legitimacy, but

unfortunately, a lack of such resources also falls under common challenges that CDOs face. Even

amongst CDOs that have an executive-level rank, there are few that "possess the staff and

support necessary to meet the demands of diversity work" (Leon, 2014, p. 83). These resources,

especially staff and opportunities to connect campus wide, are significant, as collaboration with

individuals and groups is vital to the CDO role (Leon, 2014). An institution that is seeking to do

more than just appease those who have been advocating for a Chief Diversity Officer will need

to find ways of offering a title and resources, as Gose (2006) suggests in his analysis of CDO

Michael J. Tate's role at Washington State University. Providing less than adequate resources

hurts both the CDO's legitimacy and implies that the institution is not ready to commit to

diversity and inclusion efforts.


Another on-going challenge that CDOs endure is that of balancing and prioritizing tasks

and responsibilities as identified by the institution and members of the institutional community.

Aforementioned factors such as institutional rank, structure, and resources can limit what CDOs

are able to do to respond to diversity and equity related issues. In an interview (Anonymous,

2010, p. 5), Vice President of Inclusion and Equity at Grand Valley State University, Dr. Jeanne

J. Arnold, reports that one of the most frustrating parts of her role as a CDO is "not being able to

directly address individual situations of racism," as the structure is such that taking certain

actions requires permission and acting outside of given parameters can often put individuals at

greater risk. In addition, it can be difficult to prioritize tasks when the expectations or priorities

of individuals and the institution do not align. However, as difficult as finding a best fit balance

may be, remaining open to widely varying criticism and voices across campus can also help

demonstrate that efforts towards diversity and inclusion are for everyone (Gose, 2006).

The Roles that CDOs Serve

Existing literature continues to grapple with and explore what, exactly, CDOs are doing

at their institutions. William and Wade-Golden (2013) share that generally, the CDO provides

senior administrative leadership for strategic planning and implementation of mission-driven

institutional diversity efforts. The scope of their administrative leadership varies by institution

depending on the administrative authority that the institution gives the CDO, the level of fiscal

resources, and their qualifications. The work that they do and the support they provide

encompasses a wide range of identities (e.g. race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation,

disability, income level, documentation status, religious and spiritual identity), focal groups (e.g.

students, staff, and faculty), and core areas applicable across focal groups and social identities

(e.g. recruitment and retention, campus climate, curriculum and instruction) (Worthington,

Stanley, & Lewis, 2014).

The needs, standards, and roles of an institution and their CDO are dynamic and always

changing (Worthington, et al. 2014). Worthington (2014) provides standards by the National

Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) to promote organizational

change, which CDOs must take into consideration while in their roles. The standards include

keeping the institutions diversity mission in mind, having a broad and inclusive definition of

diversity, understanding how curriculum development and institutional programming can

enhance the diversity mission, having knowledge of current events related to issues of social

justice and equity, and having an understanding of how to apply campus climate research results

in the development and advancement of a positive and inclusive campus climate (Worthington, et

al. 2014).
A main aspect of their role is that CDOs are instruments of change (Wilson, 2013).

Persons in their role tend to be agents of change by being skilled at framing issues, building

coalitions, and establishing a climate where group members can seek a common solution

(Bolman & Deal, 2003). However, creating change in support of students, staff, and faculty who

hold marginalized and minoritized identities isas Williams (2008) articulated itquite hard.

Institutional stakeholders might be resistant to change as the power structure they were

accustomed to is now getting threatened: there might be a sense of fear that someone with power,

such as the CDO, is recognizing systems that benefit those with power and privilege, and wants

to make it equitable for those who the systems are not built for (Wilson, 2013). Regardless of

these harsh realities, being an agent of change is still an aspect of the CDOs role, and they must

be skilled in navigating through the bureaucracy (Wilson, 2013).


Through being instruments of change, the literature indicates another main role that

CDOs embody: creating a campus climate that is receptive to diversity. As Williams and Wade-

Golden (2007) explain, CDOs are not hired to maintain the status quo but to improve the campus

climate, diversify the campus community, and enhance the diversity capabilities of the institution

through their leadership, projects, initiatives, relationships, and presence. CDOs, however,

cannot be expected to do this on their own. They are looking for collaboration opportunities

within the institutional community and the outside community as well (Wilson, 2013). For

instance, they can seek collaboration through admissions, or academic outlets to ensure

curriculum includes more than just a Eurocentric narrative (Harvey, 2014). They can seek

collaboration with student development divisions for a plethora of issues, such as ensuring

diversity assessment practices are current and accurate, or that sexual health and assault/violence

prevention moves beyond the heteronormative lens.


Institutional Needs

There is no one-size-fits-all in terms of a Chief Diversity Officer position description,

values, and roles. Literature suggests that for a CDO to be successful at an institution, the

institution must uphold a deeply introspective assessment of campus climate and need (Wilson,

2013). A vast number of institutions hired a Chief Diversity Officer by recommendation of the

president after the need was seen through the results of a campus climate assessment (Wilson,


Through campus climate assessments, a common find that would lead to the hiring of a

Chief Diversity Officer is that the campus community recognizes the importance of diversity

(Arnold & Kowalski-Braun, 2012). There is the implication that increased diversity numbers

enhances the academic learning environment for students; however, the tension remains on

which students this actually benefits: students of color or white students with the desire to be

global citizensor perhaps both (Duderstadt, 2000; Arnold & Kowalski-Braun, 2012). This

tension is something the CDO should be equipped to navigate.

After the likely first step to the hiring of a CDO, which is assessing the institutions

campus climate and recognizing the need for diversity efforts in the plethora of ways that it may

look like, a recommended next step would be to determine what the CDOs position would look

like. As stated before, no two CDO positions are identical because they are unique to their

institutions climate, culture, and needs (Wilson, 2013). And if not, it is highly recommended that

they should be. If a CDO position is created rashly and reactionary to, for example, a single

instance of cultural incompetency on a college campus as a quick fix to a much larger and

systematic issue, the position will likely have harsh growing pains as it adjusts to a campus that

did not adequately prepare for it (Arnold & Kowalski-Braun, 2012).

A final point administrators should keep in mind when going through these steps is that

Pope, Reynolds, and Muellers (2004) multicultural competence model should be used as an

approach. Pope and others (2004) model of multicultural awareness, knowledge, and skills can

and should be used in all aspects of higher education, but it is particularly relevant to the creation

and search of the CDO position. Administrators who are trying to formulate a CDO position

should consider 1) their multicultural awareness, a basic understanding of their students, staff,

and facultys identities; 2) their multicultural knowledge, knowing enough about diverse cultures

to effectively use or critique the appropriateness of the CDO position, and 3) their multicultural

skills, their ability to critique the CDO position and effectively utilize it to benefit their diverse

campus community (Pope et al., 2004). Once a CDO is hired, they should also be critically aware

of the same points.

Effective Governance Structure

An executive-level or high-ranking title, such as vice president or provost, is a symbol for

the institution's commitment to integrating multicultural competency into the institution and

addressing issues across campus. It also shows legitimacy and that the vision and purpose of the

Chief Diversity Officer are supported by the president and from the top down. This symbolic

impact is incredibly important for the campus community, especially if the creation of the Chief

Diversity Officer was in response to student, staff, or faculty demands or concerns, or in

response to the results of a campus climate survey, both of which have been contributing to the

emergence of the Chief Diversity Officer (Arnold & Kowalski-Braun, 2012; Wilson, 2013).

Furthermore, it is recommended that the title and position encompass inclusion and equity so that

the work and vision of the Chief Diversity Officer focuses on inclusion of all identities and

issues of systematic inequity.

However, the symbolic title without the power and resources to be able to bring about

change is worthless. Placement in a formal administrative team or cabinet with the provost or the

president can provide access for the Chief Diversity Officer to focus discussions on the campus'

issues or what decisions mean for the diverse community (Williams & Wade-Golden, 2007).

Access to these conversations and other executive-level academic administrators is essential to

the work and power of the Chief Diversity Officer, because the power of the Chief Diversity

Officer lies with the collaboration connections and symbolic status (Williams & Wade-Golden,

2007; Wilson, 2013). Furthermore, placement in a high-ranking administrative team provides

support for the work of the Chief Diversity Officer. A single person cannot be solely responsible

for focusing on issues related to diversity, but rather it takes multiple people from the top down

to integrate the centralization of diversity to all aspects of the institution (Arnold & Kowalski-

Braun, 2012). Not only does a high rank provide symbolic status and legitimacy for the campus

community, but a high rank and title with social capital and access to other executive-level

administrators provides a sense of personal legitimacy to the Chief Diversity Officer.

In addition to a high rank title, and access and position with other executive-level

administrators, it is recommended that the Chief Diversity Officer have an administrative team of

their own. Leon (2014) found that CDO governance models with support staff, such as the Unit-

Based model and Portfolio Divisional model, allows the Chief Diversity Officer to have a

broader range of responsibilities and to take the time to make and build the connections and

relationships required to be an effective CDO. Reporting structures and support staff depends on

the resources that are allocated for the CDO and towards the success of the CDO. Support staff

and reporting aligned with the institution's existing organizational structure is recommended,

therefore, institutions that are creating a CDO must consider the resource allocation necessary to

support an effective CDO. The Chief Diversity Officer must have a high institutional rank and a

robust supportive structure to use symbolic status and collaboration for a broad spectrum of

diversity initiatives.

Furthering Empirical Research

Finally, based on the limited amount of existing literature on the position of CDOs in

higher education, it is clear that further empirical research is needed to gain a better

understanding of the Chief Diversity Officer role as it functions on college campuses. As

demographics on college campuses continue to change, colleges need to be prepared to serve

increasingly diverse student populations (Wilson, 2013). Since there is no precedence for the

CDO role in higher education (Wilson, 2013), empirical research can provide evidence to help

inform decisions related to the aforementioned institutional needs, as well as the organizational

placement, leadership responsibilities, and assessment of CDOs all of which we have identified

as relevant and significant to a CDO's success. Further research can also contribute to

legitimizing the Chief Diversity Officer role in the realm of higher education, as there are likely

still "people who might think [this] job is irrelevant" (Anonymous, 2010, p. 5). More research

and contributions to literature will demonstrate an identified need for attention to how CDOs can

effectively function in institutions of higher education, and may also encourage hesitant higher

education leaders to give the Chief Diversity Officer role more consideration on their respective


In addition, it is important that research take place at both the national and institutional

levels. Nationwide research can be used to identify overarching patterns and trends, and could

potentially offer a wide range of promising practices that institutions can consider for

implementation on their own campuses. As diversity issues and racial tensions exist nationwide

and are related to identities which society not just the community of higher education has

minoritized, nationwide research can help to offer a more well-rounded perspective of needs and

considerations to assess. Likewise, institutional research is necessary in order for individual

institutions to determine how to adapt existing models and practices, or develop new models and

practices that will best respond to their context and needs. As previously mentioned, there is no

model or practice that will suit CDOs at all institutions; however, further research can help to

inform institutional leaders on what is working and what factors impact or support a given model

or practice. In turn, this can help institutions better understand what they need to consider and

assess as they begin to set a precedent for Chief Diversity Officers on their own campuses.

Implications for Student Affairs Practice

According to a survey of college presidents by the American Council on Education

(Espinosa, Chessman, & Wayt, 2016), a majority of college presidents at both private and public

institutions reported that when seeking assistance in addressing racial diversity issues on campus,

they would be most likely to rely on a vice president of student affairs or dean of students,

and/or a chief diversity officer or other full-time designated person. This indicates that in matters

of diversity and inclusion of marginalized and minoritized identities on campus, student affairs

professionals can and should expect to assist institutional leadership in assessing diversity-

related needs and developing appropriate responses to those needs.

For institutions that do not yet have a Chief Diversity Officer, assessing the need for a

CDO and creating space for the implementation of one may be an appropriate, even sought after,

response. In order to do so in a way that actually addresses the diversity-related needs of the

institution, student affairs practitioners must be prepared to support institutional leadership in

navigating through the necessary considerations. Student affairs practitioners should not

underestimate the significance of any existing data on the campus climate and should

additionally be prepared to collect further data as needed. Such evidence is needed to determine

where the CDO needs to focus and how progress can later be measured (Stevensen, 2014). As

frequently emphasized throughout this paper, consideration for the CDO's place in the

organizational structure, as well as the power and resources designated for the role, is also key.

This may, for example, include considering Williams and Wade Golden's (2007) proposed

Collaborative Officer, Unit-Based, or Portfolio Divisional models and assessing which model or

which elements of models fit the institutional context best; it might also include developing a

new model in finding that no existing model quite suits the campus. Practitioners must be

prepared to help ensure that this consideration is prioritized and that the CDO role is designed

with intentionality, vision, and the ability to implement and enforce diversity efforts (Wilson,

2013). Without proper preparation for a CDO, the person hired to be the Chief Diversity Officer

will enter their role with several barriers before they can even begin to tend to diversity and

inclusion at the institution. Once in place, student affairs practitioners will still likely need to

serve as resources and supporters of the Chief Diversity Officer, as the CDO settles into and

begins to legitimize and function within their role.

Student affairs practitioners may also find themselves in a position to serve as a Chief

Diversity Officer. In fulfilling this role, practitioners will need to be consciously aware of the

institutional context and needs, as well as of existing literature, research, and practices and how

to interpret and adapt them to best serve the institution's students. Complementary to student

affairs practitioners that support CDOs as resources and allies, the CDO must also make efforts

to collaborate across campus with various functional areas. As Wilson (2013) suggests, a CDO

must be a knowledgeable, strong, and effective leader that can encourage the campus community

to take action institution-wide in implementing and maintaining diversity and inclusion efforts.

Given that student affairs practitioners are typically in roles which demonstrate knowledge and

multicultural competence (Pope et al., 2004) related to a CDO role, it is certainly probable that

some could be asked, invited, or otherwise best prepared to serve as a Chief Diversity Officer on

their respective campus. Understanding factors which have been identified as significant to a

CDO's success can only help to support practitioners in this innovative position, which

undoubtedly holds enough challenges aside from being unprecedented.

Whether practitioners are helping their campuses advocate or prepare for a Chief

Diversity Officer, or are preparing to serve in a CDO role themselves, implications suggest that

student affairs practitioners are perhaps the best suited to guide and support collaborative efforts

toward the successful implementation of a CDO on campus.


It will take more research, assessment, and time to determine whether or not a Chief

Diversity Officer role is an effective way for institutions of higher education to respond to

racially charged tensions and needs for improved diversity efforts on campus. In the meantime, it

does seem that existing literature agrees on some of the factors which can help or hinder the

efforts and efficiency of a CDO. Organizational placement is a factor which influences the

legitimacy, authority, and abilities with which the CDO has to work with. Ideal placement will

enable the CDO to collaborate campus-wide, easily communicate with and work alongside other

campus leaders, and implement and enforce diversity initiatives. CDOs also require adequate

resources, such as funding, staff, and the support of constituents across the community, that will

help bolster the legitimacy of and continue to acknowledge the need for a Chief Diversity Officer

to lead the institution in its diversity and inclusion efforts. Providing a CDO with resources and

staff shows that an institution is serious about improving their cultural climate and also helps to

alleviate some of the common challenges faced by CDOs. Implications are arguably most

pertinent to student affairs practitioners at this time. Whether practitioners are preparing to be

CDOs or are helping to prepare their institutions to implement a Chief Diversity Officer on

campus, practitioners should be aware of existing literature, research, and practices so that they

can help their institutions make informed decisions. Again, while it is difficult to determine if

Chief Diversity Officers will be effective in higher education, having an understanding of

considerations for the vision, implementation, and responsibilities of the role can guide

practitioners in assessing what their respective institutions may need from a CDO and what must

be done to support the CDO in effectively serving the institution. There seems to be promise for

Chief Diversity Officers in the realm of higher education, however, their success will depend on

how their roles are shaped and supported in the context of their respective institutions.


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