Colorado College creates a tri-part chief diversity officer model

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Colorado College creates a tri-part chief diversity officer model

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Chief diversity officers (CDOs) carry the monumental responsibility of creating meaningful and sustained structural and cultural change at an institution. For CDOs to be effective, they must have direct access to executive leadership (e.g., president), a scaffold of institutional supports, and appropriate staff and financial resources. But there is not one single “best” chief diversity officer model (e.g., scope of responsibilities, reporting structure) for two reasons:

  • The optimal CDO model depends on institutional factors. Examples of factors include institution type, mission, historical legacy, current status quo, and resources. These factors, for example, may impact the extent of centralization versus decentralization of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts.
  • We do not have long-term outcomes data to assess the effectiveness of different CDO models. At many institutions, the CDO role is an inaugural position. For example, a landmark study in 2013 found that nearly three-quarters (i.e., 72 percent) of CDOs in higher ed were newly created positions.

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Innovation profile: Colorado College

Last summer, Colorado College launched a tri-part CDO model that represents a notable alternative to the common single-CDO approach. At Colorado College, three individuals will lead antiracism efforts across academic affairs, student affairs, and staff. The CDOs report to the dean of faculty, vice president for student life, and senior vice president for finance and administration, respectively. The three leaders are referred to as the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team or by their individual titles.

This model caught our eye because deviation from the single-CDO approach is uncommon in higher ed. In our recent review of 58 CDO organizational charts, we found that all 41 institutions that currently employ a CDO appear to use a single-CDO approach. (Our sample represents a relatively even spread of size, institution control, and geographic location.)

Five benefits of the college’s tri-part CDO model

Harnesses collective DEI expertise in specific areas

In a single-CDO model, CDOs are often expected to be experts in research, policies, and practices related to DEI in different campus units (e.g., academic affairs, student affairs, human resources). Building relationships, influencing change, and examining policies and procedures in each of these areas is an immense task for one individual. Colorado College’s tri-part model divides responsibility so that each role has a more realistic scope.

Promotes change from the ground up

In this model, three individuals who have deep expertise in academic programs, student life, and staff and college business relations—respectively—drive institutional change on the ground level. In a February 2020 statement on the tri-part model, the dean of the faculty emphasized that “antiracism doesn’t happen top down. It happens on the front lines of the classrooms, departments, offices, and programs.”

Elevates DEI work across campus

With three CDOs advancing DEI in the student, faculty, and staff experience, this model may raise the visibility of DEI work across multiple campus populations and increase accountability.

Increases CDO capacity

By tasking three individuals, instead of one, to execute on DEI goals, Colorado College increases the amount of time, energy, and resources dedicated to DEI. The three CDOs work closely together and with institutional leadership (e.g., president, vice presidents, provost, deans) to ensure consistent policies and equitable accountability structures across campus.

Aligns with institutional culture

The tri-part model aligns with Colorado College’s decentralized, non-hierarchical culture.

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Colorado College now has all three of these leaders in place and has experienced early success as the three individuals begin their work.

“I can attest that our new model has certainly increased the ability of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team to be more visible, effective, and efficient. We have been able to get much more done (and much more quickly) than I have in the past at other institutions.”

Rochelle Dickey

Acting Dean of Students and Vice President for Student Life, Colorado College

Read on for a brief overview of each role.

Key responsibilities:

  • Partners with faculty to implement antiracist curricular and co-curricular activities, develop inclusive pedagogies, and improve classroom climate;
  • Creates and implements recruiting and hiring policies to diversify faculty;
  • Oversees professional development opportunities for faculty through all stages of their career.

Reports to: Dean of faculty

Key responsibilities:

  • Works with student leaders and other campus constituents to develop, deliver, and assess student-directed programming;
  • Oversees the budget and staff of the college center for DEI.

Reports to: Vice president for student life/dean of students.

Key responsibilities:

  • Implements diverse and inclusive practices in staff recruiting, hiring, and retention;
  • Facilitates DEI trainings and programming for staff;
  • Manages responses to workplace bias incidents.

Reports to: Senior vice president for finance and administration

Want more resources on equity conversations on campus and institutional change?

See our Equity in Education resource center

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