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  • 07.28.20

Educating Our IR Offices on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

  • by Suzanne Simpson, Director of Institutional Research and Assessment, University of Alabama in Huntsville

Dear Suzanne: How can we better educate our IR offices on diversity, equity, and inclusion?

This is a very important and timely topic. When thinking about this question for our institutional research colleagues, I decided to reach out to Laterrica Shelton, Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) here at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, for insight from someone who oversees diversity, equity, and inclusion holistically on a daily basis. Ms. Shelton has worked alongside me on several projects for diversity over the past few years and offers an invaluable perspective on this topic. 

IR professionals can use data to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion at their institutions.

Institutions' strategic plans should include diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as a primary goal, and there should be measurable and meaningful metrics in place to track DEI. If institutions are committed to DEI then they have to be willing to hold themselves accountable for assessing the progress set out in the strategic plan. Institutional research is critical in proving the necessary and accurate data that allows institutions to see specific trends and positive/negative outcomes related to creating a diverse and inclusive environment.

Data analysis impacts student success.

Data indicators such as recruitment/retention, campus climate, degrees awarded, student learning, and the like, can help us spot systematic problems and figure out solutions to overcome those problems. We can use data to understand our campus culture and environment and how it affects our students. For example, if the data show that a large majority of first-generation college students are failing a specific first-year course at a disproportionately higher rate than their peers, then we can engage those students and find solutions to remedy the problems through mentorships, programs, and any other necessary, equitable resources.

Campus communities can impact diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The first step is realizing that diversity, equity, and inclusion at an institution is everyone’s responsibility. In terms of creating a welcoming and inclusive environment, it takes everyone (faculty, staff, and students) on campus. We all need to persistently examine our daily tasks and routines to make sure we are providing an inclusive and equitable learning environment for our students. The same can be said for our staff and faculty. For example, does everyone have an equal voice at staff meetings? Are we considering the needs of minority students on campus in our day-to-day decision making? Does every co-worker and team member feel supported and included? To answer these questions, we will need to mitigate our own biases and be intentional about removing them from our decision making processes.

To reiterate, promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion takes all of us. While we are steadily preparing for students and faculty to return to campus after long breaks for many of us, we should be mindful of how we treat others within and outside of the campus community. What are we doing to impact others and to be intentionally inclusive? Using data to impact change can be meaningful if used in a way that moves us to be better people in meeting strategic goals (personally and professionally). If we want to be intentional and live with a purpose for change, we have to be mindfully present, kind and engaged, and forward thinking. We must also exhibit self-awareness in order to contribute to the change that we wish to see in the world. If we start with intentional change in our institutional research offices, then we are one step closer to positive, effective changes regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion in our communities.

As we think about this important topic, we can celebrate those who have championed diversity, equity, and inclusion:

  • An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. —Martin Luther King Jr.
  • It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences. —Audre Lorde
  • Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization. —Mahatma Gandhi 
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eAIR is the newsletter of the Association for Institutional Research (AIR). From its start in October 1987 to today, eAIR remains one of the most important tools for providing news to the higher education community.

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