Office of Diversity and Equity and its Chief Officer: Coalition at Oxy for Diversity and Equity (CODE)


According to the statement of its charge, the CDO Strategic Plan Working Group is “to provide an initial draft report to senior staff, Budget and Strategic Advisory Committee and Faculty Council on/or before November 15, with final recommendations due on/or before January 15, 2015.” The first meeting of this Working Group is October 30, 2014. Because the Working Group must accomplish a great deal in a short amount of time, this document presents a summary of research to provide a framework and starting point. The document draws from reports by experts (i.e., scholar practitioners whose research focuses on diversity and equity in institutions of higher education), interviews with Chief Diversity Officers who provide leadership in the Liberal Arts Diversity Officers (LADO) organization, and years of research, reports, and recommendations by members of the Occidental College community. It is not an accident that this document goes beyond a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) to include equity and imagine a more robust structure in the form of an Office.

In the introduction to On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life, Sara Ahmed writes,

It is certainly the case that responsibility for diversity and equality is unevenly distributed. It is also the case that the distribution of this work is political: if diversity and equality work is less valued by organizations, then to become responsible for this work can mean to inhabit institutional spaces that are also less valued (4).

Noting the challenges of doing institutional work around diversity and equality that can have lasting effects, she writes, “I began to appreciate the importance of focusing not so much on what documents say but what they do: how they circulate and move around” (6), identifying the problem of having such documents praised and then put aside. She raises the important issue of “where diversity goes (and where it does not), as well as in whom and in what diversity is deposited (as well as in whom or in what it is not)” (12). Further, she comments on the problem that “an equality regime [structural attempts to institutionalize equality] can be an inequality regime given a new form, a set of processes that maintain what is supposedly being addressed” (8); she looks specifically at the “question of commitment as that which is. . . missing when diversity and equality become ‘paper trails.’ . . . [S]tatements of commitment are non-performatives: they do not bring about the effects they name” (17).

In particular, diversity as “a form of public relations” (17) makes impossible the difficult work of undoing the often un-named racism that is at the core of the “diversity” problem. Commitment from the top of institutional leadership is needed to build an Office of Diversity and Equity that is able to enact changes that have been continually recommended over many years by numerous committees and to move the work forward in new ways. Otherwise, the current efforts to establish a chief diversity officer are in danger of reproducing a regime of continued inequality–in experiences, in opportunities, and in workloads–under the name of “diversity.”

Introduction: Oxy’s Institutional Challenge

Occidental has a long history of actively engaging in the pursuit of democratization of higher education to make it more inclusive. In 1912, young men on campus joined protests against the idea of Occidental becoming a men’s college. After World War II, a student organization questioned why no Black students had yet joined the college, asking whether Occidental has a race problem. In the 1980s, the College adopted a new institutional mission centered on excellence and equity; Occidental was a leader in taking up these issues at an institutional level from the late 1980s into the 1990s. However, while Oxy’s institutional attention waned, as other issues were given priority, other institutions forged ahead. Oxy was named number one in the U.S. News and World Report’s first diversity ranking in 1998, but it has now sunk to number 12. Despite the fact that Oxy provided leadership in moving to equity and excellence beyond demographics by working to transform the curriculum and connecting this to diversifying faculty, developing programs that centered on multiculturalism and using the new institutional mission to re-think most aspects of the institution, the college failed to institutionalize these efforts to ensure that they remained part of the fabric of the college.

Yet, Occidental’s Strategic Plan 2012-2017 highlights “Inclusive Excellence” as a key objective for the institution. While all members of our community must engage the strategic plan, it is imperative that the College establish an office with a high-level position to provide leadership and innovative ideas to energize our re-commitment to our institutional mission.

Colleges and universities that have more recently adopted diversity as a core value, have built on foundations forged by institutions like Occidental. Moreover, many of them have begun to put in place structures that shape policies and practices for building equity and diversity into all aspects of the institution. This reflects the recognition that the excellence of the institution draws from diversity as diversity serves as an educational resource. To this end, an increasing number of colleges and universities have established offices of diversity and equity, with leadership that sits at the highest level of administrative structures (such as the President’s cabinet) in order for diversity and equity to be built into all levels and aspects of the institution. The formation of two new national organizations illustrate the increasing relevance of this approach: the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE), which consists primarily of chief diversity officers in large universities, and Liberal Arts Diversity Officers (LADO). Given Occidental’s long history and experience with diversity, members of LADO have expressed interest in Occidental becoming the first west Coast member. Because of the depth of experience that exists at Occidental, it is not impossible for the institution to once again become a leader in this area.

The leaders of LADO are experts in institutionalizing equity and diversity in ways that not only deepen efforts but at the same time increase the excellence of the institution. Their work is research-based; Occidental would benefit greatly by learning from these experts and drawing from this knowledge base. In addition, Occidental would benefit by connecting to new funding opportunities as the organization is also dedicated to developing proposals to foundations and others for collaborative efforts, such as the $4.7 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for the Creating Connections Consortium (C3) to “develop, disseminate, and promote new strategies for building academic settings that enable the full participation of diverse students and faculty. Simply put, C3 is intended to serve as an incubator of innovation for institutional diversity, creating adaptable programs in which participants are key stakeholders in their success” (

Role and Authority of the Office of Diversity and Equity and its Chief Officer

The Office of Diversity and Equity should provide the space for reinvigorating the commitment and attention to the institutional mission. In the past, we counted on individuals to integrate the mission into their/our own work. This placed a high level of responsibility on the commitment and dedication of individuals, thereby undermining the capacity of the institution to sustain these efforts when these individuals left the college or others were burnt out. Continuing inequities indicate that at the institutional level a specified location is required to centralize attention to diversity and equity and to provide vision and leadership. The CDEO and her/his office would not be responsible for doing all work around the mission. Rather, the office and officer would:

  • provide expertise and innovation to assist departments, offices, and leadership in integrating diversity and equity into all aspects of the basic educational functions of the College
  • invigorate and make the work more intentional
  • serve as a thought leader and change agent who brings experience and vision to re-energize the mission
  • use the Office as a position of influence to help everyone at the institution to re-think how their work contributes and how their work benefits by integrating diversity and equity
  • bring together Occidental’s human and material resources for the work
  • draw from our history of successes to continually move the work forward
  • establish relationships and networks that will connect the College to other resources
  • communicate with the campus and external communities about work around the mission

Leadership for integrating this work would entail having the “responsibility to conceptualize, define, assess, nurture, and cultivate diversity as an institutional and educational resource” (What is a Chief Diversity Officer? 2). For example, while the Office of Diversity and Equity needs its own budget, it should work with all units to consider how to build diversity and equity into their budgets. This will enable the College to build diversity and equity as educational resources throughout the institution rather than as discrete tasks.

In order to integrate diversity and equity throughout the institution, the following list provides a starting point for areas of work for the Office of Diversity and Equity:

  • development of a Strategic Plan for Diversity and Equity at Occidental
  • professional development, training, and support for faculty, staff, and administrators
  • affirmative action and equal employment opportunity
  • search committees: faculty, staff, and administrative search committees must work with this office/person
  • target of opportunity processes and practices
  • assessment and institutional research/planning
  • budget and priorities processes
  • connecting to Title IX, EEO, and affirmative action functions and issues
  • student support structures in academic and student affairs
  • communications and planning around diversity and equity programming
  • admissions
  • academic departments and divisional structures
  • specialized and focused work to increase access to all majors and programs
  • research best practices at other institutions

As Damon Williams and Katrina Wade-Golden write in “What is a Chief Diversity Officer?,” their summarized version of their book, The Chief Diversity Officer: Strategy, Structure, and Change Management:

“[C]hange is a fundamental aspect of the chief diversity officer role leading campus-wide diversity planning and implementation efforts, seeding new diversity initiatives to create bubble-up energy and involve others in change projects, developing diversity training and educational strategies for executives, faculty, staff, and students to shift their mental models and skills regarding diversity, developing high profile and symbolic campus diversity events to suggest diversity’s relationship to institutional excellence, and creating new systems to insure that faculty and staff search committees cast a broad hiring net. Although diversity is the targeted domain area, each of these initiatives and projects is intended to affect some type of intentional change in the systems, structure, and culture of the institution” (4, emphasis added).

Structure and “Positional Capital”

The Office of Diversity and Equity is not a novel idea; it has been instituted in a number of universities and more recently, has been a strategic addition in many liberal arts institutions on the East Coast. Judging from the experiences of Occidental College, it is clear that despite a historical dedication to a mission of diversity and equity, it has been difficult to sustain and develop these efforts. Individually based and heavily reliant on personal commitments, the trajectory of successes regarding diversity and equity have fluctuated wildly. It is therefore imperative to create an office with a high level leader not only to ensure that the mission permeates the very fabric of the College, but that it is also part of the objective and structural core of the College. Given our long history and contemporary reliance on the mission for the recruitment of students and faculty, and the outcomes that have not been highly successful, it is obvious that the College needs to institute a more concerted and structural effort to institutionalize and develop its commitment to diversity and equity.

The responsibilities and the depth of the portfolio of the Office of Diversity and Equity, as outlined above, require a leader who sits at a high level in order to participate in conversations and processes as well as decision-making in matters that lie at the heart of the College. Interviews with leaders within the Liberal Arts Diversity Officers (LADO) organization stress the importance of having the chief diversity officer report to the President, sit on the President’s cabinet, and be at the table equally with other Vice Presidents. They point out that this level of position is necessary in order to:

  • integrate equity and diversity into mainline functions of the institution● have an institutional purview rather than one located in any one division
  • have access to information
  • bring equity and diversity into conversations at the decision-making table
  • build relationships with and provide resources for those who make important decisions for entire divisions
  • influence resource allocation

One LADO CDO noted that the planning committee that designed the position on her campus regretted having agreed to a structure that placed their CDO at a lower level because of the scope of the work and realization that her effectiveness was hampered from the beginning.

The LADO leaders’ insights are reinforced in “What is A Chief Diversity Officer?” Williams and Wade-Golden write,

[A] primary source of power for these officers is their location at the presidential or provost level of formal administrative hierarchy. Participation in the executive cabinet of the institution insures that the position has visibility, access, and symbolic impact. For that reason, chief diversity officers can infuse diversity into highly politicized discussions about budget allocations, new initiatives, and future priorities of the institution. If these officers were not present, these issues may not be mentioned, nor [understood] in a manner consistent with diversity goals so often mentioned in institutional academic plans, websites, and marketing materials. (3)

A LADO CDO asserts that the high-level position is important not only around decision-making but also the “optics of being at the table.” The high level position serves as an important symbol that equity and diversity are of key importance to the workings of the institution. The high level position and title also give the officer the “positional capital” to make things happen. Williams and Wade-Golden write that with a high level position,

a powerful symbolic message is sent to the entire campus community regarding the important role of the CDO and diversity on campus…. [the title] in combination with a portfolio of units and responsibilities [that combine academic affairs and diversity functions often placed elsewhere] signals that the officer is “more than simply a resource on matters of diversity and suggests a fundamental connection between diversity and academic excellence” (What is a Chief Diversity Officer? 4).

Dimensions of the Work

In their longer work, The Chief Diversity Officer: Strategy, Structure, and Change Management, Williams and Wade-Golden outline five dimensions of the work of the CDO. These dimensions show both the breadth and depth of efforts that are needed for effective institutional work.

Chart: The Chief Diversity Officer: Strategy, Structure, and Change Management, by Damon A. Williams and Katrina C. Wade-Golden, Stylus Publishing, 2013.

Attributes for the Office of Diversity and Equity Leader

In addition, Williams and Wade-Golden identify seven key attributes for chief diversity officers (What is a Chief Diversity Officer? 5-6):

  • Technical mastery of diversity issues
  • Political savvy
  • Ability to cultivate a common vision
  • In-depth perspective on organizational change
  • Sophisticated relational abilities
  • Understanding the culture of higher education
  • Results orientation

It is the combination of the position of the Office of Diversity and Equity and the qualities of the Officer that will enable the work to be effective; neither the attributes or position alone are enough to ensure success.

Institutional Resources

An organization’s priorities are reflected in its budget; a budget should be the financial expression of the organization’s mission. With this in mind, the level of resources allocated for the Office of Diversity and Equity must reflect the centrality of this work to the Mission of the college. Likewise, resources must be requisite with the broad list of duties and responsibilities required of the office and its staff. Effectiveness demands adequate resources. Since the Office of Diversity and Equity requires institution-wide work, it must have a budget and resources commensurate with that of the Office of the Vice President for Finance and Planning.

LADO CDO interviewees stressed the importance of an office that has staffing and resources available to ensure that the functions of the office can be performed to ensure institution-wide impact. As the Chief Diversity and Equity Officer at Occidental needs to work at the cabinet-level and be a resource for re-invigorating work in all areas of the College, a single person cannot do it all. It is crucial at this point in Occidental’s history of work on equity and diversity that the position and office be positioned to have the capacity for the range and depth of work that faces us.

Historically, external funding played a key role in fostering Oxy’s growth and development in the arena of diversity and equity. As an example, the three-year, $2 million grant from the Irvine Foundation in 2001 supported diversity and equity work in the Intercultural Community Center, the Core Program, the International Programs Office, and the Minority Scholars in Residence Program. Mellon Foundation funding similarly added depth and vibrancy to the work. The stagnation and in some cases decline in our efforts coincided with the disappearance of this “soft” money, offering two important lessons going forward: 1) resources are an important driver of structural change and 2) while external funding is an important component in jump starting structural change, maintenance and growth of said change requires on-going, “hard” resources.

Resources must be conceived of broadly to include funding and staffing in order to ensure the sustainability of the work. The innovative program for student success in the sciences, the Scientific Scholars Achievement Program (SSAP) provides an example of this. In Fall 2005, SSAP began operating as a student-initiated, student-led, workshop-oriented tutoring program to increase the success of underrepresented students in the sciences. Four Occidental students researched issues in STEM fields nationally after polling other students in the sciences on campus. They modeled their program on the Biology Scholars Program at UC Berkeley, a nationally-recognized program centered on community-building rather than individual tutoring. Although the SSAP still exists on campus, it has never lived up to its potential in supporting student success because of uncertain structural and institutional support. The SSAP serves as an important illustration of why good ideas and good intentions are not enough to sustain this work. Without funding and staffing, this innovative and potentially impactful STEM program has withered on the vine.

The Office of Diversity and Equity must have resources to incentivize change, spark innovation, create and sustain programming, provide training, and maintain connections to local and national networks doing this work. This Office and the staff leading it must be able to offer incentives for positive change and support professional development. The Dean’s funds for course innovation, the CORE office’s stipends for participation in CSP workshops at the beginning of the school year, and CCBL’s stipends for participation in the CBL summer workshop all serve as important precedents that indicate the effectiveness of such incentives. Such incentives are especially important for the development of the new Office of Diversity and Equity in order to bring more people to the table to do the work and to start pilot programs that can re-energize efforts around the College mission.


Oxy’s commitment to diversity and equity can be realized through the establishment of a well-resourced Office of Diversity and Equity led by the visionary leadership of a Vice President of Diversity and Equity empowered by the President to do this work. We need someone who will challenge us, inspire us, lead us, and push us beyond our comfort levels in order to make us a better institution.


Ahmed, Sara. “Introduction: On Arrival.” On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Duke University Press, 2012.

Occidental College Mission Initiatives Advisory Group. Briefing Report and Recommendations Submitted to Susan Prager. Summer 2006.

Teraguchi, Daniel Hiroyuki. “Frameworks for Inclusive Excellence: Diversity, Inclusion, and Institutional Renewal.” Association of American Colleges & Universities, 2004.

Williams, Damon A., Joseph. B. Berger, and Shederick A. McClendon. Toward a Model of Inclusive Excellence and Change in Postsecondary Institutions. Making Excellence Inclusive Initiative: Preparing Students and Campuses for an Era of Greater Expectations, Association of American Colleges & Universities, 2005.

Williams, Damon A. and Katrina C. Wade-Golden. The Chief Diversity Officer: Strategy, Structure, and Change Management. Stylus Publishing, 2013.

Williams, Damon A. and Katrina C. Wade-Golden. “What is a Chief Diversity Officer?”


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