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Yung-Hwa Anna Chow, Washington State University

Anna Chow.jpgQuestions about diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice remain unanswered at many of America’s universities. While universities often pride themselves on having diverse student populations, using glossy photos and brochures as part of their efforts to sell their twenty-first century exceptionality, a lack of effort to combat the toxicity of racism—much less create an empowering environment for every student—demonstrates how much may be missing from the faux diversity celebrations. As advising administrators, there are a number of actions that can be taken to support diversity on our campuses. U.S. national student demographics and recent campus incidents point to the need for advising administrators to promote diversity through hiring practices and training of advisors and by creating and maintaining inclusive, supportive work environments.

National Statistics: Student Demographics and Campus Incidents

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2018), between 2000 and 2016, the U.S. undergraduate Latinx student enrollment has increased every year from 1.4 million to 3.2 million, representing a 134% increase. Between 2000 and 2016, Black enrollment increased by 56%, Asian/Pacific Islander enrollment increased by 29%, and American Indian/Alaska Native enrollment increased by 1% (National Center for Education Statistics, 2018, Figure 2).

The changing demographics of higher education makes the discussion of diversity on college campuses essential in so many ways. However, most campuses also struggle to address diversity, especially in the face of numerous examples of racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia. In November 2016, a Washington State University student woke up to find homophobic slurs “Die fag!” and “Go 2 hell” painted on his car (Sokol, 2016); that following year, members of the College Republicans built an immigration wall on campus, only to be followed up by an anonymous video that demonized and ridiculed black students. In October 2017, bananas hung on rope fashioned into nooses were found all across the American University campus in Washington, D.C. (Anderson, 2017). In May 2018, police were called to Yale because a white student found a black graduate student taking a nap in her residence hall (Griggs, 2018). These are just a few examples of racist, sexist, xenophobia, and homophobic incidents on college campuses that have followed the 2016 presidential election. With increased diversity (and the resulting resistance), the failures of university administrators and faculty to foster change has become that much more damaging.  

Diversity Hiring of Advisors

With the increase of diversity in undergraduate students, increased visibility of racism, and growing demands from marginalized students, most universities have not been able to mirror this diversity in personnel that serve students directly, such as advisors or student services providers. Most often, diversity hires are focused on the hiring of faculty and administrators, not on staff. A dissertation written by Jenny Kwon, a special-projects administrator in the University of California at Berkeley’s office of the chancellor, compared UC Berkeley and 10 public universities’ and found that staff diversity at the management level was not increasing at the same rate as student diversity. “While minority students made up about 58 percent of the student body at the 10 public universities, minority staff members accounted for only about 35 percent at the management level. By comparison, 65 percent of managerial staff members are white, while just 42 percent of students are white” (Chan, 2017). 

Diversity hires are important for universities in their efforts of recruiting and retaining students, creating inclusive environments, and helping students graduate and attain their educational and career goals all while being prepared for a multiracial, multicultural, and global work environment. As advisors are on the front lines of meeting each of these goals, universities must commit to ensure diversity within this part of its structure, service, and support. “Students of Color may find value in having an advisor who not only provides academic support, but one who also understands the ethnic and racial implications of being a student of Color” (Carnaje, 2016). Having advisors who match students’ racial background, sexual orientation, or disabilities allows students to establish trust and empathy through mutuality.

Many colleges and universities have begun the process of rewriting recruitment ads and training search committees on how to promote the hire and retention of diverse faculty members. As advising administrators, we can take a similar approach when advisor positions are approved for hiring. This effort might start with requiring search committee members to take an implicit bias test. “Project Implicit” through Harvard University offers several implicit association tests about race, gender, sexual orientation, and other topics (Project Implicit, n.d.). This might serve as a starting point for search committee members to check their own biases and discuss how to actively leave them out of the search and hire process.

Another recommendation to consider is adding specific questions that target diversity during the interview process. Questions below are some examples from different universities that allow the search committee to learn about a job candidate’s past experiences and their views and perceptions of diversity.

  • Provide an example of what you have done in a higher educational setting to improve success for students of color and economically disadvantaged students. Please provide an example of how you do this in your daily work (“Interview questions database,” n.d.).
  • What is your approach to enhancing your understanding of different cultures? In other words, how do you expand your own learning with regard to diversity? (“Diversity-related interview questions,” n.d.).
  • Describe an experience in which you collaborated with individuals while in a diverse, multicultural, and inclusive setting? Did you encounter any challenges? (“Examples of behavioral interview questions,” n.d.).

Professional Development and Continuous Training

Research has shown that advisors who harbor bias and stereotypes towards certain student populations can negatively impact their success and achievements (Arnsperger Selzer & Rouse, 2013). Misperceptions fueled by racist, sexist, or homophobic stereotypes can lead to biased behaviors from advisors when working with students. Thus, another way that an advising administrator can promote and support diversity is through professional development and continuous training.

Diversity is not limited to race and ethnicity. NACADA’s Mission statement defines diversity “across the vast array of intersections of identity, which includes but is not limited to age cohort, institutional type, employment role, location, nationality, socioeconomic status, faith, religion, ethnicity, ability/disability, gender identify, gender expression, and/or sexual orientation” (About NACADA, n.d.).

Advising administrators can promote professional development that addresses different types of diversity. By providing funding for advisors to attend NACADA Annual Conferences, advisors can attend conference sessions that specifically address diversity, inclusion, and social justice issues in advising or participate in the various Advising Communities that advocate for LGBTQA students/advisors, multicultural concerns, first-generation students, or students with disabilities, etc.

NACADA Region 8 (which includes Alaska, Alberta, British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Yukon Territory) has a Diversity and Social Justice Coordinator/Inclusivity and Engagement Coordinator. This individual works to represent the region’s inclusion and engagement interests, recruit members from under-presented populations, solicit nominations of advisors or advising administrators for awards, and also encourages submissions of proposals regarding diversity and social justice issues at Region 8 Conferences. There are also Diversity Committee sponsored sessions that advisors can attend at regional conferences.

At the institutional level, advising administrators should work with campus leaders to facilitate and require mandatory training. For most of our campuses, diversity changes over time, so advising administrators must also design training that shifts to keep up with the current trends. Topics such as how to support undocumented students, trans and ally trainings, microagressions on campus and in the classrooms, power and privilege, and recognizing ableism are just some of the issues that should be regularly covered. Attendance and participation in such trainings should be built into advisors’ annual review and promotion process. 

Creating and Maintaining Inclusive Environments

Investing in diversity does not stop after hiring and training. Advising administrators and campus leaders alike should work to create and maintain inclusive environments that fosters diversity and inclusion for their advisors. This might start with a review of existing services and activities offered to current advisors to find out how they are being supported. Are there mentoring programs in place to assist advisors with networking and promotion? Is pay equity being addressed on campus? Has there been a survey to collect feedback from advisors in regards to issues surrounding diversity and support? Does your campus have affinity groups to help build community and improve retention of diverse advisors, staff, and faculty? Are there specific units on campus that would address potential issues advisors may be experiencing themselves as they can be targets of their own students?

Diversity allows us to learn from others’ histories and perspectives, sharpen our critical thinking and apply multiple perspectives, and it exposes us to inequalities so that we may move forward to create a more just and equitable society. As advising administrators, we must take steps to create intentional efforts to promote and support diversity.  From hiring to training to retention, each of these steps require support and investment. 

Yung-Hwa Anna Chow
Director of Advising, College of Arts and Sciences
Washington State University
[email protected]


About NACADA. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/About-Us.aspx

Anderson, M. D. (2017, October 19). How campus racism could affect black students’ college enrollment. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/10/how-racism-could-affect-black-students-college-enrollment/543360/

Arnsperger Selzer, R. & Rouse, J. E. (2013, September). Integrating social justice and academic advising. Academic Advising Today, 36(3). Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Integrating-Social-Justice-and-Academic-Advising.aspx

Carnaje, E. (2016, March 1). Advising across race: Providing culturally-sensitive academic advising at predominately white institutions. The Vermont Connection, 37, 38–47. Retrieved from https://www.colorado.edu/odece/sites/default/files/attached-files/advising_across_race.pdf

Chan, J. C. (2017, June 29). Talk about diverse hiring often means faculty. What about staff? The Chronicles of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/Talk-About-Diverse-Hiring/240484

Diversity-related interview questions. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.umt.edu/diversity/Recruitment/intquest.php

Examples of behavioral interview questions. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.washington.edu/diversity/files/2017/04/Examples-of-Behavioral-Interview-Questions.pdf

Griggs, B. (2018, May 12). A black Yale graduate student took a nap in her dorm’s common room. So a white student called police. CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/09/us/yale-student-napping-black-trnd/index.html

Interview questions database. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://uwosh.edu/equity/interview-questions/

National Center for Education Statistics. (2018). The condition of education 2018: Undergraduate enrollment. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cha.asp

Project Implicit. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

Sokol, C. (2016, November 11). WSU student finds gay slurs painted on his car. The Spokesman-Review. Retrieved from http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2016/nov/11/wsu-student-finds-homophic-slurs-painted-on-his-ca/

Cite this article using APA style as: Chow, Y. A. (2019, March). What advising administrators can do to promote and support diversity in the colleges and units. Academic Advising Today, 42(1). Retrieved from [insert url here] 

Posted in: 2019 March 42:1


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Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.