This past January, Dr. Curtis Byrd joined Georgia State University as special advisor to the provost. He has 25 years of experience overseeing diversity and inclusion programming on college campuses, and will use that expertise to spearhead such efforts at Georgia State. Here, Dr. Byrd shares what we as faculty and staff at Robinson can do to make a difference.
Oftentimes, organizations appoint diversity committees, only to serve up empty platitudes without actual action. Why do you think these efforts in the workplace frequently go nowhere?
It is true that diversity committees, offices, and officers are sometimes appointed as a quick response to a climate-related racial incident or demands from an underrepresented group. But such committees will struggle without the resources or structure to thrive within an organization. However, if implemented correctly, they can be highly effective. In fact, there are many components in higher education for the successful and meaningful implementation of diversity programs, such as understanding institutional memory, overcoming resistance to change, creating organizational buy-in, building capacity for change, considering possible reorganization, and developing actionable plans (Williams, D. 2013). Sustained change to support diversity must be embedded within an organization’s DNA at the institutional, college/school, and departmental levels. There must also be a willingness to focus change at all layers of the campus community including administration, faculty, staff, and students. Diversity committees or offices can’t be the only aspect of this shift, though these groups often lead and enact reform.
Do you think outcomes will be different this time? Why?
This is a different time in our history. National and institutional structures are changing. Our faculty, staff, and students expect no less than for us to get this right. There are individuals, including myself and others, who are having constructive conversations on diversity, equity, and inclusion with senior administration to support positive change. In fact, my position is new to Georgia State, as special advisor to the provost on issues of race, diversity, equity, and inclusion. I have expertise and have conducted research on institutional, faculty, and student diversity within the academic environment. We are setting up new structures specific to the needs of Georgia State to make our campus a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive institution. As a result of support from senior leadership, several committees working together, greater accountability, and buy-in from all the colleges and schools, institutional change leaning toward institutional transformation will likely happen soon.
What can managers do to facilitate conversations regarding racial equity among their teams?
Administrators and managers must first understand that they may need assistance with having these difficult conversations with faculty, staff, and students. There are three ways they can get assistance with facilitating dialogue: training, consultation, and contact with diverse and underrepresented groups. Administrators and managers may need training in several areas (e.g., cultural competence, implicit bias, micro and macro aggressions, issues of sexual orientation). At Georgia State, we hope to offer more opportunities for institutional diversity training, listening sessions, town halls and cultural events to support these efforts. Existing campus resources for administrators and managers include the offices of Diversity Education Planning, Faculty Affairs, and the Ombudsperson as well as myself to aid in these types of conversations. Another option may be to consult with a faculty member or administrator already trained in diversity dialogues in the Robinson College of Business. These discussions may occur as part of focus groups, to ask difficult questions and find real solutions.
On an individual level, what can we as faculty and staff members at Robinson do to promote racial inclusion?
Individuals can take a variety of steps to promote racial inclusion. I would start with actively participating in various trainings (listed above), workshops, seminars, initiatives, and services provided by Georgia State, as well as reading publications authored by Georgia State faculty that are related to race and social justice. Currently, I am creating a comprehensive website that will inform the campus of where to find these resources. It will include a database of all Georgia State diversity initiatives, programs, events, references, media, and publications. In the meantime, we have created a condensed listing of resources here. Further, as previously discussed, individuals can engage in “diversity dialogues” led by Robinson leadership and other units on campus, as well as sincere efforts (with training and reading) to create an inclusive environment through better interactions among faculty, staff, and students.
What steps can we take to hold ourselves and each other accountable?
The Robinson College of Business could have regular check-in conversations on issues surrounding racial equity, diversity, and inclusion. These discussions must take place in safe spaces. In addition, because of COVID-19, outlets include Zoom coffee breaks or virtual water cooler gatherings. Individuals may be empowered to serve as diversity liaisons or points of contact. Further, some business schools hire full-time staff to fulfill the role of a diversity recruitment and retention officer, though that should never be in lieu of true accountability from everyone in the college. These positions should function in direct alignment with the core values and mission of the college, and be fully supported by the dean and senior administration. Finally, diversity, equity, and inclusion can be incorporated into the evaluations of faculty and staff to assure accountability.