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Voices of the Global Community

Karen Gould, NACADA Diversity Committee Member

I am a new member of NACADA as my initial experience with this association began in February 2004 at the Advising Administrators Institute. While the quality of the  information was certainly first rate, what became immediately apparent to me was the lack of color that I saw around me, not a void—just low numbers. What seemed most glaring to me was the lack of diversity among the people who were teaching and organizing the Institute. As a newcomer to NACADA I did not know what to make of this—I remained relatively silent about my concerns and focused on soaking up the information I had come to learn.

Midway through the course of the Institute, Charlie Nutt, Associate Director from the NACADA Executive Office, approached a group of five of us (all people of color) seated in the hotel lobby at the end of the day. “Just what can we do to get more people of color involved in NADADA?” was Charlie’s friendly greeting of inquiry. While his unsolicited question felt a bit awkward and jarring, it was also an acknowledgement of his awareness that NACADA still had some work to do. He was willing to ask the hard questions. Moreover, Charlie seemed truly interested and engaged in the feedback we had to offer.

Shortly thereafter, Charlie summoned Ruth Darling (then president of NACADA) to join our conversation. Both she and Charlie articulated their clear understanding regarding the importance of diversity to higher education institutions. They were well aware that increased participation from people of diverse backgrounds would be beneficial to the association, but admitted that doing so had been an ongoing struggle.

I left the Institute slightly intrigued yet cautiously pessimistic— other organizations had dashed my hopes with their promises of commitments to diversity. I had no expectations that NACADA would be any different. Following my experience last year, I have had the opportunity to come to know NACADA much better. It will come as no surprise to some folks that one consequence of my outspoken character was an invitation to serve NACADA in several capacities, including an invitation to serve on the NACADA Diversity Committee. In fact, I share my story as a member of this committee in hopes of addressing the doubts of those who might question NACADA’s willingness to be open, honest, and proactive in confronting diversity issues.

This committee meets fairly regularly via phone or contacts each other via listserve primarily to discuss what we can do to improve the diversity of NACADA membership. (NACADA defines diversity as being all inclusive as it references ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, institutional type and size, and employment position.) Clearly, NACADA is by no means perfect in this regard, but we are making concerted efforts to bring about change.

One part of this change process is the writing of this article. Our hope is that it will encourage you to discuss issues that the diversity committee visits about all the time—why the leadership of NACADA isn’t more diverse. Within NACADA, 19.5% of the nearly 8,000 members are Hispanic, African American, Native American or Asian American. Yet, within the elected leadership of the Organization, only five of the 57 individuals (8.8%) hail from these groups. Over the past five years, whites have held about 88% of the leadership. These figures are a problem and we believe that they need to improve. (At this time, NACADA does not collect demographic data with regard to identification of its GLBT members. It is our hope that subsequent diversity issue papers will address more nuanced topics such as how to balance right to privacy issues with issues of inclusion and representation.)

One purpose of this paper is to bring these figures out to the forefront and to get people talking about them. We plan to lead constructive, non-judgmental conversations at each of the regional conferences about what these figures mean and what each of us can do about them.

As a committee, we believe that it is important to have leadership reflect at minimum the membership of our organization. The face of higher education should be representative of the face of the people that we advise. We also believe that a more diverse representation within our leadership will contribute to enhanced decision making within all facets of NACADA, and enhance our creativity and problem-solving approaches. Increased diversity within organizations facilitates different outcomes for different individuals and groups who participate (Smith & Schonfeld, 2000). For those who are underrepresented, diversity promotes an increased willingness to become more involved. For those in the majority, diversity offers an exposure to a wider variety of perspectives. We are excited about achieving such outcomes for our members and for our association at large.

Discussions around the significance of member diversity have a long, but sporadic, history in NACADA. In The National Academic Advising Association: A Brief Narrative History, J. D. Beatty (1991) reports that the 1979 national conference in Omaha was alive with debate over whether to mandate that a certain percentage of NACADA leadership include members from under represented groups. While such a mandate was never enacted, by 1983 the association had established its first minority affairs committee, reflective, perhaps of the growing presence of diversity within the association. In 1993 the national conference in Detroit had as its theme: Using Resources Creatively to Serve Diverse Populations.

We think that by (1) putting forth this article, (2) continuing its discussion at regional conferences and (3) encouraging themes of diversity in academic advising for the 2006 national conference, we will not only improve on the legacy of diversity at NACADA, but also work to lessen the sporadic cycle of attention that diversity issues receive at NACADA. We hope that by putting forth this article and convening sessions at the regional conferences, we will help to put issues of diversity at the forefront of our membership concerns. We want to create the opportunity to engage in fruitful dialogue about how to insure that change occurs; one that is guided by a commitment to strengthening our association overall. While engaged in this process we will come to see the variation of opinion and ideas that exists within diverse groups and move away from any tendency to generalize and stereotype. The process itself will be part of our change.

We know that the most worthwhile discussions about diversity can be filled with disagreement and contradiction. Yet, we believe that as representatives of higher education institutions, we must model behavior where issues of diversity are discussed frequently and with increased ease. In turn, practicing such behavior is certain to inform our work as advisors and administrators, giving us something truly powerful to take away from NACADA and bring back to our campuses.

Karen Gould
Brandeis University
781-736-3475
KGGOULD@BRANDEIS.EDU

Cite this article using APA style as: Gould, K. (2005, February). Some thoughts on diversity . Academic Advising Today, 28(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]

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