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Vantage Point banner.jpbFelicia Toliver, NACADA Diversity Committee Member

Felicia Toliver.jpgAs an Emerging Leader in the 2010-2012 Class of the NACADA Emerging Leaders Program (ELP), one of my goals was to to learn more about getting involved in the Association.  During the 2012 Annual Conference in Nashville, TN, I attended the Diversity Committee meeting as an incoming committee member eager to learn more about this group’s work.  The committee members engaged in a discussion about the group’s purpose, asking if it were “time to look at revising/expanding” their mission (2012 Meeting Minutes).  The group concluded unanimously that, while the committee’s purpose – to aid the Association leadership in their goal of reaching out to our “broad membership and be cognizant of, and welcoming to, the various forms of diversity that make up such a large organization” – has not changed since its inception in 2001, changes in how this work is approached, including changes in the verbiage we use to discuss this topic, may be needed over time to “reflect the changing times and needs of the membership” (2013 Meeting Agenda).  As we move forward as a committee and as an association, it is important that as many members as possible provide input to help us determine what diversity means for NACADA.

How do organizations make “diversity” work?  What should leaders do to ensure that the variety of personal and institutional characteristics held by those within their ranks is representative of the diversity of the members they represent?  Furthermore, how do we ensure the diversity of the membership is reflective of the diversity within higher education? And, by the way, what exactly is meant by the term diversity?  

As a new professional in the diversity, equity, and inclusion field, I have learned that it is important to begin with an understanding of the terminology, as it is ever evolving. Were we to search for a definition of diversity, we would find that there are many ideas about what diversity means, but there is no “industry standard.”  While some colleges and universities have crafted a full-page explanation, others define it with one word: variety.

The best approach to creating a strategic diversity plan is to begin with a clear definition.  On the NACADA website, we find that “Diversity, as defined by the NACADA Board of Directors, includes ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disabilities, and sexual orientation as well as diversity in regard to institutional type, size, and employment position” (NACADA Emerging Leaders Program). Also, “NACADA aims to “create an inclusive environment within the Association that promotes diversity” (NACADA Strategic Goals).  The way that diversity is defined is important because the elements included indicate the type of data that is collected and potential targets for programs and initiatives.

After crafting a definition that recognizes individual and institutional variety, NACADA is then positioned to designate individuals to begin addressing the “how” – in other words, outlining the methods and processes the Association plans to utilize in order to achieve the vision of diversity stated in the mission.  On the website, we find that the purpose of the Diversity Committee is “to assist in the development of plans, strategies, and initiatives to encourage increased diversity in the membership of the association and involvement in the association by diverse individuals at all levels of the association” (Diversity Committee webpage).  The committee also “assists with developing plans” such as “training and development issues, …deliberate incentives for the involvement of diverse membership, the development of an Emerging Leader Program, identifying members from diverse backgrounds for involvement, and various other initiatives and strategies.” 

Each time the word diversity is used, one should be able to safely assume that the dimensions of diversity listed in the NACADA definition will be the targets or focus of the programs, services, and incentives.

In 2013, I also served on the Emerging Leaders Program Advisory Board and Emerging Leaders selection committee.  The program is designed to “encourage members from diverse groups to get involved in leadership opportunities within the organization” (Emerging Leaders Program Advisory Board).  As part of this year’s Emerging Leader selection process, the committee members discussed how NACADA defines diversity, who is underrepresented, and how might one know for sure if the ELP initiative is achieving its mission.  As a new committee member, I had many questions about how closely connected the definition of diversity for the Emerging Leaders Program is to the broader NACADA definition.  Is the program targeting anyone who feels they are underrepresented or is it targeting groups with characteristics stated in the NACADA definition?  Is the NACADA definition sufficient to address the groups that are actually underrepresented?  Is there demographic data about our members and leaders to support these claims?

I began to consider what strategy the organization might use to refine the goals to continue achieving our mission.  As an association, I thought, NACADA is much like a student that might show up in the advising office.  Having completed the first year and laid the groundwork for success, how could the organization be coached into making continued progress?  Could the Appreciative Advising technique be as effective a tool for an organization as it often is for students?  Let’s give it a shot (What is Appreciative Advising?).


Disarm: Make a positive first impression with the student, build rapport, and create a safe, welcoming space. 

Disarm: Inform members that diversity work is an ever-evolving process.  Explain why demographic data is collected, especially if it is newly requested.  Before information is gathered, state how it will be requested and how it will be used.  Create a safe environment for a variety of opinions to be shared about what we do to achieve our shared vision for diversity.  Be transparent.


Discover: Ask positive open-ended questions that help advisers learn about students' strengths, skills, and abilities.

Discover: Provide opportunities for all members to contribute to the discussion.  Ask questions that put the members in the driver’s seat.  How effective are programs like ELP in increasing the diversity within leadership based upon the stated definition?  What have we been able to achieve with our current definition of diversity?  How close are we to achieving our vision for diversity?  How do we know?  What data do we have about our members, leadership, and the institutions they represent?

Dream: Inquire about students' hopes and dreams for their futures. 

Dream:  How might the definition for diversity be more inclusive?  Which elements of diversity should be added (nationality and military status, for example)?  How can more members be involved in crafting and approving the definition?  What is our ideal outcome? 


Design: Co-create a plan for making their dreams a reality.

Design:  Bring together key stakeholders and experts.  Draft a strategic diversity plan.  Gather data.  Compare NACADA to similar organizations.  Establish benchmarks.  Choose action steps that will result in continuous progress toward the goals.


Deliver: The student delivers on the plan created during the Design phase and the adviser is available to encourage and support students.

Deliver:  Implement the action steps.  Continue gathering data.  Continue providing opportunities for members to give feedback. 


Don't Settle: Advisers and students alike need to set their own internal bars of expectations high.

Don’t Settle:  Establish a timeline to revisit the definitions and initiatives.  Review the latest trends, legal cases, and organizational practices that impact diversity.


Organizations make diversity work by establishing a clear definition of the term after gathering input from the stakeholders; designating groups to focus on achieving the mission through actions, initiatives, and strategies; and ensuring that the plans and definitions are revisited periodically to be updated based upon changes within the organization and political climate.  In the past, NACADA has laid the groundwork to begin addressing increasing diversity within the membership and leadership of the association.  As the Diversity Committee explores new avenues for fulfilling their mission, advisors can use a framework they are familiar with to outline a process for improving the association’s diversity efforts.

Felicia Toliver
Director of Cultural Diversity
Elizabethtown Community and Technical College


2012 NACADA Diversity Committee Meeting Minutes.  Available at http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Portals/0/AdministrativeDivision/Diversity-Comm/2012-10DiversityCommitteeMinutes.pdf

2013 Diversity Committee Meeting Agenda / Diversity Committee Name Change Proposal.  Available at http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Portals/0/AdministrativeDivision/Diversity-Comm/2013-Diversity%20Cmte%20Mtg%20Agenda-SLC.pdf

Emerging Leaders Program Advisory Board webpage.  Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/About-Us/NACADA-Leadership/Administrative-Division/ELP-Advisory-Board.aspx

NACADA Diversity Committee webpage. Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/About-Us/NACADA-Leadership/Administrative-Division/Diversity-Committee.aspx

NACADA Emerging Leaders Program homepage.  Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Events-Programs/Emerging-Leaders-Program.aspx

NACADA Strategic Goals.  Our Vision. Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/About-Us/Vision-and-Mission.aspx

What is Appreciative Advising? Retrieved from http://www.appreciativeadvising.net/

Cite this article using APA style as: Toliver, F. (2013, December). A plan for diversity. Academic Advising Today, 36(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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