Improve campus DEI responses through practice discussions


Improve campus DEI responses through practice discussions

March 01, 2022

Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship logo

Shelley Fairbairn

Professor of Education, Drake University

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.

Following the murder of George Floyd, the Drake University faculty senate president, student senate president, unity roundtable co-presidents, and several faculty senators collaborated to offer [email protected], a series of virtual meetings for faculty, staff, and students. One of the outcomes of this series was the development of the “Racially Sensitive Classroom Practices” document, developed by students and a faculty senator.

Through the discussions of that document and other presentations in the [email protected] meetings, it became clear that a number of faculty, staff, and students were interested in improving their skills for addressing racially charged incidents on campus, leading to the following question:

How can Drake faculty, staff, and students be prepared to effectively respond to common race-based issues in real time?

The problem lay in some ignorance about offensive actions (e.g., commenting on the hairstyles of Black individuals), as well as in general discomfort and lack of skills for addressing race-based issues, such as concerns about saying the wrong thing, not knowing how to address situations in the classroom, and lack of expertise in race relations. Work in this area fits with the emphasis at Drake and at many institutions across the country on improving campus climate in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

EAB’s Civil Discourse on Campus guidance (n.d., slide 8) includes three steps for strengthening campus civility:

  1. Engage with institutional values
  2. Deepen skills
  3. Provide structured skills practice opportunities

Two of Drake University’s core values, generosity of spirit and all in this together, directly address the need for civil communication.

Three of the skills suggested by EAB (n.d., slide 20) are relevant to the question at hand: effective communication, understanding diverse perspectives, and working across differences.

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Responding to the need for structured skills practice opportunities is the heart of this capstone project. I am developing a document to be used in this capacity that addresses three topics highlighted in the “Racially Sensitive Classroom Practices” document: use of racially charged language, attention to hairstyles, and putting students of color on the spot.

This document includes three scenarios for each topic, sample language that can be used to address each topic, and talking points to include in discussions. I am seeking funding to support student vetting of the document and will also ask for feedback from at least one campus DEI leader. My hope is that the document will be used to build faculty, staff, and student skills during a [email protected] session and/or other DEI learning opportunities in the spring of 2022 and beyond.

I found the EAB Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship to be informative and helpful. During my term as faculty senate president (2020-2021), I became familiar with some of EAB’s areas of expertise and resources and was pleased to learn more from the organization through the fellowship. The presentations that synthesized research and best practices in a number of critical areas were particularly helpful. I highly recommend the fellowship to others!

Drake University. (n.d.). Core values. Drake University. Retrieved December 3, 2021, from

EAB. (n.d.). Civil Discourse on Campus [PowerPoint Slides].

See the fellows' blogs from the capstone projects

Shelley Fairbairn and others participated in EAB’s Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship in fall 2021

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