Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan

Since July 2017, the university has been working with an external consultant to develop a plan for diversity, equity and inclusion that will bring strategic focus and short-term action with demonstrable impact, designed to signal commitment and accountability.

The short-term strategies and tactics outlined in the plan align with long-term plans designed to make measurable change in our campus climate. The draft plan is now available for review and feedback by all university stakeholders before the final plan is adopted. Below are some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's) that may be helpful as you review the plan.

The plan

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Review the plan


The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion plan reaffirms AU’s commitment to actively encouraging a commitment to public service, responsibility and good citizenship, equity and equal access, and an appreciation of diverse cultures and viewpoints. As a leading global learning institution, AU strives to be defined by excellence through the compositional diversity of its administrative leadership, faculty, staff, students, alumni and trustees; the alignment of its policies, protocols and organizational structures; its curricula and co-curricular programs; and through the positive interactions and experiences shared by those who interact together on campus.

This plan, imbedded in the Inclusive Excellence framework (see below), is shaped by AU’s core values and articulates a plan for enacting the university’s larger mission and goals.

Throughout the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan, key terms are used (e.g. diversity, equity, inclusion, historically underrepresented). Although AAC&U provides definitions for these key terms and others that can be used to shape our common understanding of complex issues and terms, and we agree, in large measure, members of the PCDI are working with an external consultant to fine tune these definitions to fit within the context of our university community. These definitions and others will be provided when the plan becomes finalized.

AAC&U Key Definitions

Diversity - The term diversity is used to describe individual differences (e.g., personality, learning styles, and life experiences) and group/social differences (e.g., race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, and ability as well as cultural, political, religious, or other affiliations) that can be engaged in the service of learning and working together.

Inclusion - The term inclusion is used to describe the active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity – in people, in the curriculum, in the co-curriculum, and in communities (intellectual, social, cultural, geographical) with which individuals might connect – in ways that increase one’s awareness, content knowledge, cognitive sophistication, and emphatic understanding of the complex ways individuals interact within systems and institutions.

Inclusive Excellence is an organizational culture change framework designed by higher education scholar-practitioners in 2005 to plan campus-wide diversity and inclusion efforts. As a model, Inclusive Excellence provides a cohesive, coherent and collaborative approach to infusing diversity into every aspect of the organizational structure, systems and protocols (e.g. recruitment and admissions; hiring processes; training and development; curriculum and co-curriculum; and policies and infrastructure and practices).

The Inclusive Excellence framework advances the idea that diversity, equity and inclusion are catalysts for achieving institutional and educational excellence, are to be integrated into the core of the institution, and ought not to be viewed as isolated initiatives. Further, Inclusive Excellence represents a paradigm shift from a widely held view that diversity is a problem to be solved. Through the Inclusive Excellence lens, diversity, equity and inclusion are embraced as vital elements that are necessary in the pursuit of educational excellence.

To learn more about the Inclusive Excellence framework, please review the Association of American Colleges and University (AAC&U) publication.

Since the AAC&U began widely distributing the Inclusive Excellence framework in 2005, hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States have embraced the model, including the following: Georgetown University, Tufts University, Syracuse University, University of Vermont, University of California System, University of Wisconsin, and the University of Denver.

The development of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion draft plan was a broadly inclusive process and involved active participation and feedback from faculty, staff, administrators, students, alumni leaders and trustees. As the plan is implemented, the same spirit of collaboration and shared responsibility and accountability will be necessary to realize the goals set forth in the plan.

In July 2017, President Sylvia Burwell hired an external consultant to assist members of the President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion (PCDI) and members of the executive leadership team to generate a campus-wide diversity, equity and inclusion plan that aligns with the institutional mission, values and priorities of AU. Toward that end, the consultant engaged in a thorough review and analysis of qualitative and quantitative data that included, but was not limited to institutional climate reports, meeting minutes, surveys, and focus group summaries. Data were also captured from a series of individual and small group stakeholder engagement meetings held with faculty, staff, students, administrators, alumni, and trustees.

Through the data review, analysis and synthesis processes, five thematic dimensions emerged and were organized into the Inclusive Excellence framework by short-term and long-term priorities.

Short-Term Priorities

  1. Training, Learning and Development
  2. Campus Climate, Culture and Community
  3. Infrastructure, Policies and Procedures

Long-Term Priorities

  1. Access and Equity
  2. Curriculum and Instruction

The Inclusive Excellence framework should be conceptualized as a matrix of integrated initiatives designed to achieve institutional excellence infused with evidence of diversity and inclusion. Each dimension of the model represents an area in which initiatives are designed to achieve excellence.

For planning and implementation purposes, data will be collected and analyzed, and programs and policies will be modified or developed to determine where changes need to occur within each dimension of the plan.

The dimensions of the plan create an overarching framework that helps the institution monitor the progress of diversity and inclusion efforts to ensure that they remain integrated, intentional and central to the core mission of the university. The goals, objectives, strategies and indicators outlined in the plan are intended to guide the actions of administrative and academic units, schools, departments, and colleges, in the delivery of initiatives, policies, and practices that advance diversity and inclusion.

AU believes that all members of the university community should be engaged in and have shared responsibility for creating an enriching and inclusive experience for all its members. And in an effort to ensure the greatest level of accountability for the goals outlined in the plan, each strategic action has been assigned to members of the executive leadership team at the Vice President/Provost level (see “Responsibility” column on the chart). The responsibility and accountability for implementing these strategic actions belongs to the units represented on the chart and they will work collaboratively to develop an effective method for achieving the goals within each goal area.

Indicators of success included in this plan will come from a variety of sources, including but not limited to the following;

  • Existing data sets from the Office of Institutional Research;
  • Institutional and national surveys of faculty, staff, and students can be used to monitor progress, guide continuous improvement, and benchmark, whenever possible;
  • Focus groups of faculty, staff, administrator and students.

Examples of success indicators include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Improved campus climate that provides a sense of belonging and community for all its members as evidenced in surveys/focus groups;
  • An increase in the compositional diversity (based on benchmarks) found among faculty, students, staff, administrators;
  • Steady rates of retention and upward mobility for faculty and staff who are members of underrepresented populations at AU.

Indicators of success will be finalized just before the launch of the plan in January.

The PCDI has worked with an external consultant and the Office of Institutional Research to develop a multidimensional management and measurement tool that will simultaneously drive and assess the organizational change process. It is a data-driven metric that will track information in each of the core areas of the plan: (training, learning and development; campus climate, culture and community; infrastructure, policies and procedures; access and equity; curriculum and instruction) and will be benchmarked across the institution, within units, departments and schools. The indicators for success along with timelines and related measurements will be known to all members of the university and they will work collaboratively to achieve the goals. This information is being finalized and will become available in early late December.

As the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan is a “living document,” several strategic priorities are already underway. Following the review of all feedback from university stakeholders in December, the draft plan will become finalized and then launched at the beginning of the spring semester in January.

The official timeframe for the short-term plan is 2018-2020.

An assessment of resource needs will be made, and in some cases, administrative and academic units have already allocated resources to support key action items in the plan.

Your feedback regarding the draft plan is welcome and encouraged. Please email your feedback to: DiCouncil@american.edu.

There will be frequent updates on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan through the President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion website, the AU main page and also through President Burwell’s monthly newsletter. Additionally, an annual report on the progress of the plan, noting accomplishments, deficiencies, and plans for adjustments of efforts will be produced, distributed and discussed widely across the university community.