In 2018, the University of Georgia received the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award — again.
For the fifth consecutive year, UGA President Jere Morehead highlighted this accolade along with other diversity initiatives, to the campus community. It’s a seemingly big jump: one year, UGA wins a diversity award. The next, it makes national headlines for racial tensions.
“In terms of this diversity award, we’re doing a great job to even have an Office of Institutional Diversity and to have these programs,” said Jaylen Black, a senior public relations major from Stone Mountain. “But I think UGA needs to focus more on the inclusion of diversity. Diversity is nothing without inclusion.”
With 69 percent of undergraduate students being white, UGA diversity numbers do not necessarily square up to being award-worthy.
The HEED Award takes into account more than just demographics by taking a holistic look at diversity programs and initiatives. But much of the methodology to pick a winner is unknown.
An unclear process
The HEED Award is given to U.S. and Canadian universities that “demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion,” according to INSIGHT into Diversity, an established higher education magazine about diversity that administers and presents this award.
The award is based on self-reported applications submitted by the colleges and takes into consideration demographics of students, along with faculty and staff and details about diversity initiatives. There is no indication on how the factors are weighted in the application.
US News & World Report ranked UGA the second to last college in Georgia on its 2019 Campus Ethnic Diversity at National Universities list. The only college ranked lower is historically black college Clark Atlanta University.
Georgia State University, Kennesaw State University and Georgia Institute of Technology all received higher rankings.
HEED applications are not fact checked or compared to other universities but rather focus on individual school improvement, said Holly Mendelson, co-publisher of the magazine.
The application also does not require proof that diversity policies or programs have succeeded in improving diversity but gives a space for universities to elaborate on each program and note their “impact.” Mendelson declined to comment on who and how many people exactly overlook the applications beyond saying it’s reviewed by the staff of INSIGHT.
Guaranteed diversity improvement
Colleges and universities must fill out a free application to be considered for the HEED Award.
INSIGHT does not double check the application content or compare to other universities because of the volume of applicants and different qualities of each school, Mendelson said.
She stressed the award extends beyond numbers, saying winners have diversity and inclusion “woven in the DNA of the school,” and the award appreciates diversity leaders on campus.
“The fact that we can deliver good news and some recognition on what they’ve been toiling away and doing everyday is gratifying for us as much as it is for them,” Mendelson said.
She declined to comment on the magazine’s process for choosing recipients.
The award is primarily based on each university’s diversity improvements if they’ve applied in previous years, Mendelson said. The amount of improvement needed to win is unclear.
“But I think UGA needs to focus more on the inclusion of diversity. Diversity is nothing without inclusion.”
-Jaylen Black, UGA student
UGA’s non-white enrollment has risen by around 6 percentage points from fall 2012 to 2018, according to the UGA fact books. Since 2012, UGA has also created several diversity initiatives, namely Morehead’s New Approaches to Promote Diversity and Inclusion grant program that is currently on its second phase. There is no data outlining if these programs have significantly affected campus diversity.
Minority enrollment in U.S. universities is almost guaranteed to increase annually because of increases in non-white residents across the country. Without a threshold for diversity improvement, all universities could boast slight increases in minority enrollment on the application given the changing demographics of the United States.
Despite stating the award considers university improvement as a factor, INSIGHT does not keep application records as far back as 2012, the year the award started, Mendelson said in an email.
It is unclear how first-time applying universities are judged because Mendelson and co-publisher Lenore Pearlstein did not comment on this question.
The application does not ask to see tangible improvements in diversity, only evidence the university is trying to be more diverse and inclusive.
As long as UGA applies again next year, the university will probably be able to tout its sixth-consecutive diversity award.
A range of winners
INSIGHT asks universities to report the number of students, faculty and staff of different races, ethnicities and genders, according to its 2018 application.
According to UGA’s 2018 HEED application, about 78 percent of full-time, non-tenure track faculty is white, and 85 percent of administrative leadership is white.
The Red & Black was unable to track diversity improvements through UGA’s previous applications for the HEED Award because UGA does not save records, according to the Office of Institutional Diversity. The magazine does not publicly release completed applications.
There were 96 HEED Award winners in 2018, ranging from other predominantly white institutions to more racially diverse campuses. Mendelson said the magazine receives hundreds of applications each year, and the award has grown since its beginning.
Despite garnering national recognition for campus diversity, such as the highest number of black graduates than any other U.S. college, Georgia State, a past HEED winner, did not win in 2018 because it did not apply.
“I think because we’ve gotten it pretty much whenever we apply for it, and so it is kind of like on the basis of the same information,” John Day, GSU’s director of diversity education planning, said. “We sort of just took a break because we’re still doing the work.”
Diversity versus inclusion
The 2018 application asked if universities had any student protests, student groups demanding change, hate speech in public areas, vandalism and controversial speakers on campus.
UGA answered “N/A” to every question and wrote, “We have not had incidences of discrimination that have risen to the campus level and would require campus level response from senior administration, as those mentioned above.”
But in 2018, UGA experienced campus-wide controversy and protests in response to the handling of presumed slave remains found under Baldwin Hall three years prior. There was an SGA resolution for a Baldwin Hall memorial last spring. A UGA baseball player was suspended for yelling a racist slur at a Georgia football player during a game in the fall. Controversial Turning Point speakers have also been on campus, and preachers shouting insulting remarks in Tate Plaza are well known.
A viral video of UGA Tau Kappa Epsilon white fraternity members hit national headlines because of the use of racial slurs and mocking of slavery, which has prompted responses from the Student Government Association, the university president and community members.
To some students, these responses are not enough.
“How do [minority] students feel on this campus?” Black, a UGA student, said. “What kind of environment are you giving off as a university and allowing as a university? When, again, we just get this public relations answer of ‘Well, we don’t condone that here.’ Do we really not condone it, or do we just not condone it when it gets into the public light?”
The 2019 HEED Award application will have a new question which asks about campus climate surveys. In 2016, the co-publishers of INSIGHT started a company called INSIGHT Viewfinder: Campus Climate Surveys to provide campus climate surveys which colleges can purchase for $4,250.
It is unclear if colleges who apply for the award will be encouraged to purchase these services. Both Pearlstein and Mendelson declined to give comment on this company and redirected The Red & Black to the website.
Results of campus climate surveys on predominantly white campuses may not accurately portray race relations because the majority of students answering would be white. UGA conducted a campus climate survey in 2015 which only reached 23 percent of the student population. The survey needs 30 percent to apply results generally to campus.
But the HEED Award application will not take into account the results of the survey, only what the university does in response. Even with this added factor, INSIGHT magazine still judges universities based on efforts for diversity and inclusion, not actual campus climate, diversity demographics or success of policy.