Communicating About Diversity on Your Website

March 30, 2016

One of the most dominant concerns in higher ed is diversity. From organizations like the American Council on Education and the Association of American Colleges & Universities, to scholarly journals like the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education and industry publications like Inside Higher Ed, there is significant attention around how to create diverse communities within colleges and universities.

It’s a complex issue with no easy answers, and that goes for our digital properties as well. There is typically a lot of focus on creating an easy-to-find “Diversity” section on the website that contains a lot of strong, affirming language about creating inclusive communities, information about relevant executive leadership and offices, and links to non-discrimination policies.

But while this information is important and should be clear and findable, your communication about diversity should not be limited to one section of your website. We need to be comprehensive and accurate in how we convey information about diversity. And keep in mind, diversity goes beyond race and ethnicity. Geography, socioeconomic factors, LGBTQ, faith, gender, age, and ability are just a few additional factors to consider.

The point about accuracy is key - your website (or any other communicate, for that matter) can’t in good conscience reflect something that you are not, even if it is something you aspire to be. If your publish photos inauthentically representing the diversity of your campus, the truth will surface easily enough. Third-party sites like Niche and College Factual, which prospective students use heavily in their research process, are aggregating real feedback from actual students around characteristics like institutional diversity, while rankings such as those from U.S. News and World Report are considered authoritative. How will our website corroborate the information they gather from those sources?

Here are a few opportunities to consider:

  • Be attentive in how you compose photos and videos and select subjects. Students pick up on environmental details in photos and will notice someone in a wheelchair or wearing a hijab in the background, a gender-inclusive sign on a restroom door, or adult students in a classroom scene. The St. Edward’s photo and video style guide integrates these considerations well.

  • How does your campus map reflect diversity? Do you incorporate information about finding gender-neutral bathrooms? Accessibility features like ramps and elevators?

  • Language matters. Generally speaking, gender-neutral language is a helpful way to reflect inclusion. (Obviously, if you work at a women- or men-only school, that does not apply.) MIT and Western Michigan do a good job of building this consideration into their style guides. Also, when you look at the header for the Oberlin Blogs, bloggers indicate which pronouns they use, which reflects campus awareness and inclusion of the trans community.

  • A diverse student body will yield diverse clubs and organizations. Highlight the student groups that reflect the community you have and seek to build upon. Similarly, how do your housing and dining options welcome and accommodate a diverse population? Different populations may eagerly seek non-gender-specific housing or single-gender floors, so highlight both. Spell out how you accommodate people with dining restrictions, be they determined by religion, allergies, health conditions, or other factors.

  • If you are doing institutional soul-seeking around inclusion, find a way to be transparent about it online. Communicating about ongoing dialogue and seeking input from the community, coupled with honesty, are important ways of demonstrating openness and a commitment to progress, even if you as an institution are not where you desire to be.

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