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Voices of the Global Community


Wei-Chien Lee, San Jose State University


What should “diversity” mean to advisors? The core values of diversity are effective practice, ethical responsibility, validity, equality, and greater good. Moreover, diversity needs to be practiced and promoted. This article is an invitation to advisors to further explore the meaning and approaches to diversity.

Ethical and Professional Responsibility

Using effective and valid practices to facilitate students’ learning and development is the ethical and professional responsibility of advisors. Therefore, promoting and practicing diversity is part of advisor practice for several reasons. First, diversity experiences have been found to improve various learning outcomes, thinking skills, student retention, and self-concept (Antonio, et al., 2004; Gurin, et al, 2002) as well as boost flexibility and creativity (Mannix & Neale, 2006). Second, practicing diversity equips advisors with the knowledge, skills, and awareness that are necessary to examine the validity and applicability of existing theories, interventions, and research based on specific groups within current diverse student populations and multicultural contexts. Third, promoting and practicing diversity better equips advisors to recognize and address inequity and prejudice. Finally, promoting and practicing diversity supports advisors’ commitments to providing quality advising as well as asserts advisors’ leadership in improving student learning and wellbeing.

Two Pragmatic Approaches

Making lasting and meaningful changes requires commitment and effort. Advisors have been long committed to promoting and practicing diversity; the following approaches offer advisors down-to-earth ways to make the most of their efforts.

Recognizing and Reducing Micro-inequalities. To promote and practice diversity, advisors must recognize and reduce the micro-inequalities that affect diverse individuals. Micro-inequalities (Rowe, 1990), also known as micro-aggressions (Sue, et al., 2007), are seemingly trivial, unrelated, ambiguous, or frequent behaviors and events that are oppressive, insulting, or hostile to victims. Micro-inequalities increase inequality and segregation (Rowe, 1990). Micro-inequalities are more taxing to cope with cognitively (Salvatore & Shelton, 2007) than blunt discrimination, because they are frequent, unpredictable (from whom, where, and about what), confusing, and thus make reacting difficult. For example, at professional conferences visible minorities have been mistakenly asked to perform hotel-employee tasks by other conference participants. This has occurred no matter how they were dressed or if they wore their conference name tags and “presenter” ribbons. Many diverse individuals have received comments similar to, “You are doing very well for a Black/Latino/first-generation person.” In response to these kinds of remarks, colleagues and students have asked, “Do you think that person would say, ‘You are doing very well for a White male’ to a White male?” Many minority colleagues find themselves asking “How much more do I need to do to prove myself?”

Micro-inequalities erode individuals’ self-efficacy, effectiveness, and sense of safety. Micro-inequalities make it hard to feel supported, validated, respected, or trusted. Micro-inequalities, according to one student, can “feel like ‘death by a thousand cuts;’ you don’t know when, who, or what” to expect. Advisors have the opportunities and power to reduce or prevent the effects of micro-inequalities on diverse individuals through education, training, and advising. When advisors recognize, understand, and reduce micro-inequalities, they demonstrate their intentions accurately and clearly, avoid discriminating against others, work with students and colleagues effectively, and foster supportive and trusting relationships that enable learning and growth.

Appreciating the Deep Meaning of Diversity. Promoting and practicing diversity is often challenging, but “meaning” inspires and motivates people. For example, people volunteer or sacrifice for the causes they support. Similarly, advisors may be motivated by exploring and realizing the deep (personal, social, and ethical) meanings of diversity.

Advisors may start such exploration by “walking in others’ shoes.” For example, pondering what “being a minority” (race, age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, body type, language, etc.) means. Too often being a minority means being oppressed, distrusted, rejected, teased, put down, ignored, disadvantaged, humiliated, and expected to fail – all of which require extra emotional and cognitive strengths and efforts to cope. It also means that theories and approaches for education, health practice, and learning based on the “norm” or the “majority” may not be applicable. Moreover, it means having fewer opportunities and more obstacles. From this perspective, the meaning of diversity is actively reducing human suffering, increasing equality, and preventing future oppression. Adoption of this perspective moves advisors away from the “diversity is for and about minorities only” attitude that has caused tensions and misunderstandings in issues related to diversity.

My Experiences

By 1998, I had become an extremely quiet and reserved international student who had been laughed at, used, and excluded by classmates for two years. I had even been told by fellow students that I was “very lucky” to be accepted by my program, because “they [the program] wanted an Asian.” I hid to reduce the chances of being hurt. Then I met my mentors. These two mentors used their power to shield me from micro-aggressions, encouraged and taught me skills to deal with inequalities, empowered me, and earned my trust by appreciating me, being fair, and acknowledging their privileges and limits. With their assistance I grew; I started on the path to becoming who I am today. In 1998, my deep connection with NACADA started because one of my mentors made NACADA a recharging center and safe place for me.


Human beings are fallible, yet they also have the power to heal, support, and protect. Promoting and practicing diversity is an effective way advisors can help heal, support, and protect students, colleagues, and society. Most of all, promoting and practicing diversity can start with practical, “small” steps. That was what my mentors did, and ten years later, I still draw strength and wisdom from their mentoring and teaching.

Wei-Chien Lee
Psychologist, Counseling Services
San Jose State University
[email protected]


Antonio, A. L., Chang, M. J., Hakuta, K., Kenny, D. A., Levin, S., & Milen, J. F. (2004). Effects of racial diversity on complex thinking in college students. Psychological Science, 15, 507-510.

Gruin, P., Dey, E. L., Hurtado, S., & Gruin, G. (2002). Diversity in higher education: Theory and impact on educational outcomes. Harvard Educational Review, 72, 330-366.

Mannix, E., & Neale, M. A. (August/September, 2006). Diversity at work. Scientific American Mind, 17 (4), 32-39.

Rowe, M. P. (1990). Barriers to equality: The power of subtle discrimination to maintain unequal opportunity. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 3 (2), 153-163.

Salvatore, J., & Shelton, N. (2007). Cognitive costs of exposure to racial prejudice. Psychological Science, 18, 810-815.

Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A. M. B., Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial microaggression in everyday life: Implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist, 62, 271-286.

Cite this article using APA style as: Lee, W. (2009, March). Promoting and practicing diversity in advising: Rationales and approaches. Academic Advising Today, 32(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2009 March 32:1


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