By; Susan Harper, PhD Student Services Associate – Activities University of North Texas at Dallas | Susan.Harper@untdallas.edu
In so many different ways, our campuses are more diverse than they’ve ever been, and diversity and inclusion programming is a key part of what student affairs professionals contribute to our campus communities. Our thinking about diversity and inclusion has become more nuanced and complex as well, with focus shifting from providing educational experiences for members of the dominant or majority cultural groups — what I call “People are Different Than You and It’s OK 101” programs — to providing programs and services for members of minority or marginalized cultural groups. This type of programming offers unique challenges, in that the student affairs professionals creating and executing programming may or may not be members of the targeted population and may or may not be in consultation with members of those populations in developing programs and initiatives. The goal of diversity and inclusion programming is to create campuses that affirm diversity, to encourage retention of students from marginalized or minority populations, and to foster a sense of support and belonging among these students. But how do we create programs that will meet these goals? And how do we know if our programs make a difference to the students they’re intended to serve?
There’s no simple answer, of course. Student programming takes place in the famously fluid, shifting, and challenging environment of higher education and is subject to the whims of the schedule, the weather, and the sometimes-unpredictable lives of students themselves. There are many factors for which it is difficult or impossible to account. However, solid assessment practices can help us give ourselves the best chance at programming success. Taking the time to assess your program not only afterwards to see how successful it was, but also to assess the targeted populations beforehand, as part of the program creation and planning process, can set your programs up for success. Pre- and post-assessment can be beneficial in planning any kind of program, but can be especially impactful in planning diversity programs.
Targeted pre-assessment is key if we are to develop programs that are meaningful and impactful. While campus wide assessment is useful, taking the time to assess what a given population wants and needs is vital — especially if there is no one on your programming staff who is themselves a member of the community in question. Campus climate surveys are a valuable tool for finding both pain points and opportunities; these data give student affairs staff insight into what communities are in need of, where they are experiencing marginalization or disconnect, and what larger diversity and inclusion. programming initiatives might benefit the whole campus. Along with campus climate survey data, creating targeted assessments for various populations on your campus–LGBTQ+ students, women, African-American, Hispanic/Latinx, international students, disabled students, and so forth — allows you to really drill down into what these students will find most valuable and will, in turn, attend. You may find yourself surprised at what a given community expresses need for or interest in, and assessing for barriers students in a given population face in attending programming may also provide you with crucial insights that can better your programming.
If pre-assessment helps us to plan more effective targeted diversity and inclusion programming, then post-assessment helps us learn whether we applied the pre-assessment data effectively. You will want to give everyone who attended a program an opportunity to provide post-assessment, but asking a few questions (or using student demographics from swipe-in or sign-in software) can allow you to tease out data on targeted populations. Go beyond asking the basic post-assessment questions – How would you rate this program? What is one thing you learned? What was your favorite thing? – and include questions asking students whether and how they felt represented and (perhaps most importantly) why or why not.
Compare data from students in targeted populations with those not in those populations, and notice any differences in outcomes – this is your launching point as you plan further programming.
Diversity and inclusion programming is only one piece of the job that student affairs professionals do in promoting more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and affirming campuses. But it is perhaps the most visible aspect of our work, and it is the place in which we can make the biggest impact (or fail to make an impact, unfortunately). Taking the time to work with colleagues and share best practices, successes, and lessons learned from programming misfires can help us all better serve our students.