The fate of DEI in colleges and universities

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IUPUI students roam the International Festival at the Campus Center in 2016. (Photo/Tyler Fenwick)

The Supreme Court ruled on affirmative action in college admission decisions; here is what that means for some of Indiana’s institutions of higher learning.

Colleges and universities across the country might begin to see a shift in admissions and programs provided on campuses following the Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action on June 29, 2023. The decision, which makes admitting students to a college or university on the basis of race unconstitutional, has led to many questions about the future of DEI in higher education.

“DEI is one of the important aspects of not just higher ed but life that better prepares everyone to engage, and be successful, and be productive,” Karen Dace, vice chancellor of DEI at IUPUI, said. “It helps the bottom line of corporations … There’s nothing to be afraid of where DEI is concerned.”

READ MORE: Anti-DEI legislation may be coming to a state near you

What is DEI?

DEI stands for diversity, equity and inclusion. Over the last decade, schools, businesses and major corporations have implemented DEI officers to maintain diverse, equitable and inclusive environments where students and employees can prosper. On most college campuses, DEI offices aim to sustain the same kind of environments for students and faculty.

“I do think that institutions of higher education can do a better job of explaining exactly what this means and how important it is if we are going to have graduates who are able to leave and go into the workforce and contribute to society,” Dace said. 

Although Dace said IUPUI has not used affirmative action or race-based consideration in admissions in a very long time, the school maintains a record of championing diversity, equity and inclusion. As an urban serving institution in Downtown Indianapolis, she said IUPUI strives to create new and prosperous opportunities for students, staff and faculty through activities, speakers’ series, student organizations and more.

Makeda Lands, associate director of admissions — Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Butler University, said Butler has always taken a more holistic approach to admissions. Like many institutions, Butler is race-conscious in admissions, but ultimately, race is eliminated from the demographics tab of the application, Lands said. Instead, she said they focus on outreach and recruitment in areas both inside and outside of Indianapolis.

“Taking everything into consideration when it comes to their backgrounds in their essays that they talked about, or their cultural backgrounds, or their ethnic backgrounds, that’s part of their stories,” Lands said. “We’re taking that into consideration as well as their service and activities — both in high school and outside of high school — what clubs and organizations are they a part of, what internships opportunities have they been a part of…”

How does DEI support students?

Once on campus at Butler, students have access to 14 identity-based organizations housed under the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion — formed in the summer of 2023 — and housed in the Diversity Center, which Lands said was created in 2006. 

These organizations include the Black Student Union, Latinx Student Union, Butler LGBTQ+ Student Alliance, Asian Pacific Islander Association, Hillel, Muslim Students Association as well as the Center for Faith and Vocation Office for interfaith students and the Institution of Equity Office for student disability services.

“The Diversity Center is a physical space on campus as well, so there’s different events that are hosted, speakers that come in, different social events, opportunities for students to relax and calm when it comes time for like midterms,” Lands said. “Those programs are what’s housed under the new Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, but those have always been on campus and very active.”

The Multicultural Center at IUPUI falls under the umbrella of the DEI Office and works with primarily students of color who are “looking for a place that is like home, where they can be who they are,” Dace said. The center provides extra- and co-curricular opportunities and houses organizations such as the Black Student Union, the Latino Student Association and the LGBTQ Student Alliance as well as the Office of Conflict Resolution and Dialogue Programs and Accessible Education Services.

With the increased attacks on DEI across the country, it is no surprise that many do not fully understand what DEI is and what it does. Dace said one of most common misconceptions about diversity, and subsequently DEI, on college campuses is that it only benefits people in marginalized groups, when in fact, everyone — students, faculty and staff of all races — can benefit from being exposed to diversity.

“We know from research that folks make better decisions when they’re in a diverse decision-making group; productivity increases; people work harder,” Dace said. “One of the things we hope folks leave with, whether it’s from one of our speaker series or a workshop, a training, or a cultural event, is everybody benefits from it. Everybody does well when we’re more diverse.”

How can students prepare for admissions?

Dace and Lands both said they anticipate an increased emphasis on college essays, resumes and letters of reference for admissions in the coming years. Lands also said common application questions are being revised, and students should be mindful of test scores.

“I think one of the things it’s important for students to realize, wherever they’re applying, is that no campus is doing them a favor by admitting them,” Dace said. “Their presence on the campus helps to make that campus better, and so I think is important for our students, students of color in particular, to understand that they help institutions as much as perhaps more than the institution helps them.”

Lands said it is essential to build relationships with high school admission counselors and college career coordinators, schedule campus visits, ask questions and keep an eye on GPA and course requirements. But most importantly, Lands said to look and apply for as many university-based and outside scholarships as possible and meet the deadlines.

For more information about the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Butler University and IUPUI ,visit butler.edu/about-butler/diversity-equity-inclusion, contact Makeda Lands at mlands@butler.edu and diversity.iupui.edu/index.html, or contact Karen Dace at kdace@iupui.edu.

Contact staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848 or chloegm@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.