LAWRENCE — As the United States has dealt with a racial reckoning in recent years, college campuses have been among the leaders in addressing diversity issues and how they resonate in their communities. A new book edited by a University of Kansas professor collects experiences, narratives and lessons from higher education diversity leaders across the country to help illuminate what can be learned from their work and how they deal with power dynamics in their work.
“Becoming a Diversity Leader on Campus: Navigating Identity and Situational Pressures,” edited by Eugene Parker III, associate professor of educational leadership & policy studies at KU, is a collection of contributed chapters designed to build knowledge of understanding who diversity leaders are, how they become leaders and how they do their work among the challenges and structures of their respective campus cultures.
“Technically, I’m not a diversity leader from an administrative standpoint,” Parker said. “But I wanted to contribute to the understanding of the work and explore leadership, the environments, outside pressures and how diversity leaders promote institutional change.”
The book unfolds in three parts: Understanding, being and becoming. Parker is author of the first chapter, examining theoretical and conceptual considerations of diversity leadership in higher education. Another reflects on the role of chief diversity officers and how they are and can be empowered.
Parts two and three feature narratives of diversity leaders from institutions from across the country. Chief diversity officers, administrators, organizers and others from large Research 1 institutions to small liberal arts colleges share reflections on their work, strategies, challenges and how their roles fit into the leadership hierarchy on their respective campuses. Chapters in the becoming section highlight how some diversity leaders did not originally intend to be in such roles, how they found themselves there and what they were able to accomplish once they took on their positions.
Part three continues with chapters featuring the stories and narratives of those actively taking part in diversity leadership. The authors share how they navigate identity, work toward seemingly impossible goals, personally experience their work and strive for campus transformation.
Regardless of one’s education or training, there is no standard for diversity leadership. The challenges of one campus will almost certainly not be the same at another, Parker said. And many who find themselves in diversity leadership roles are new to the field. Therefore, understanding the experiences of others who have been through it can be more valuable than trying to find literature on standard approaches to improving diversity or implementing certain initiatives.
“It’s really hard to have a standard approach because different institutions face different challenges and have different power dynamics,” Parker said. “However, I do think learning from others’ narratives and experiences can help anyone in forming their own approaches and deciding how to put them to work.”
Chapters throughout “Becoming a Diversity Leader on Campus” feature recommendations from authors on how they successfully navigated their roles and how to avoid common pitfalls. Parker said perhaps the most significant contribution the authors share is an understanding of power dynamics and how that influences the work diversity leaders do on their campuses, as well as how their personal and professional identities influence their work.
The book fits into a larger body of work Parker is conducting on service leadership in higher education, especially during times of crisis. Administration, especially diversity leadership, is increasingly influenced by crises such as budget shortfalls, a national racial reckoning, social issues, the pandemic, activism and others. Parker said he hopes the work can help guide those in diversity leadership, both those new to the field and veterans.