Linda McCabe Smith joined NC State in August as the university’s vice provost for institutional equity and diversity. She strengthens institutional excellence by fostering an inclusive learning environment and engaging campus leadership on issues related to race, gender, the LGBTQ community and more.
We spoke with McCabe Smith on her new role and the importance of making NC State a welcoming place for the entire campus community.
What is the primary role of a chief diversity officer at a university? Why is diversity on campus important?
A chief diversity officer (CDO) serves as a functional resource engaging the campus community in collaboration to foster diversity. The CDO oversees proactive efforts to guide diversity development for the university, in order to make it a truly inclusive and welcoming environment for all. Additionally, the CDO works as part of a team to address concerns and provide educational opportunities related to diversity and equity that enrich the academic and personal lives of everyone on campus. Issues related to affirmative action, equal employment opportunity, ADA and Title IX compliance, all fall under the purview of a CDO, who advocates for underrepresented populations and bound social identity groups (groups related to gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.).
Saying that diversity at NC State is important is an understatement. It is critical to who we are as an institution and integral to the ability of all members of our community to thrive. To be a truly great place for higher education, we must attract and retain outstanding students, faculty and staff who represent the increasingly diverse world around us. Meeting diversity and equity issues head-on provides valuable learning experiences for everyone, challenges damaging stereotypes and fosters respect. It engages us all in the critical thinking that higher education is supposed to develop and aligns with NC State’s “Think and Do” philosophy to foster positive change.
What recent initiatives has OIED undertaken to create a more welcoming, inclusive environment at NC State?
OIED efforts play a key role in creating a more welcoming and inclusive campus environment. Recently, the office helped implement a university-wide Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT), which will allow NC State to support students, faculty and staff who have been impacted by bias in its many forms. We have also begun to work with the NC State Police Department to implement unconscious bias training. This will help us create a better learning, teaching and working environment for underserved individuals and communities, and for all of us at NC State.
OIED has made strides in fostering religious diversity by working with other campus entities to create interfaith prayer and meditation spaces across campus. Dedicated spaces currently exist on main campus in D.H. Hill Library and on Centennial Campus, and a new space recently opened in Witherspoon Student Center. The College of Veterinary Medicine has also expressed interest in an interfaith space.
We’re also working to increase cultural competency – awareness of and ability to work within cross-cultural settings – for everyone on campus. This means establishing outcomes and expectations for members of the campus community, and assessing our progress on competency measures. It also means creating educational opportunities throughout the university to show current and prospective students, faculty and staff that we don’t just talk about diversity and inclusivity, we take action to make it happen.
What does OIED do to invest in support for faculty and staff?
OIED supports faculty and staff through education, mentorship and collaborative opportunities. We hold an annual conference on leadership and diversity for employees, which covers topics including bias in decision-making, crucial conversations, civil rights laws for managers and creating an inclusive team environment. We co-facilitate (with the Office of Faculty Affairs) a Climate Workshop Series for Department Heads to help them cultivate an inclusive department culture for diverse faculty and staff. We also oversee the Building Future Faculty Program, a two-day workshop for doctoral students and postdoctoral scholars to equip them to engage in diversity efforts in higher education.
Workshops are only one part of our efforts, though. OIED supports groups across campus that serve as informal discussion forums for assistant, associate and full professors’ communities. These communities meet regularly to talk about teaching, research and faculty life to enhance the faculty experience and connect faculty across the university. We also work with female and underrepresented minority science and engineering faculty to provide mentor-rings. The mentor-rings help members with topics related to networking, administrative or logistical challenges in teaching and research, and various work and life issues. OIED also provides support for other affinity groups and committees, including the Association of Women Faculty, the African-American Faculty-Staff Organization, the Multicultural Faculty Group, the Staff Women’s Network, the Faculty and Staff GLBT Network, and the Staff Senate Diversity Committee. We are committed to providing education and opportunities for all faculty and staff to strengthen them both personally and professionally, and to improve the university as a whole.
Where are some areas where OIED can work to improve diversity and equity on campus? What opportunities for growth exist in these areas?
As of the last enrollment period, we admitted more diverse students than ever before, but our yield of diverse students is down. Chancellor Woodson has assembled a task force to review our process in regard to our efforts in recruitment and retention of underrepresented populations at NC State. That doesn’t mean that our work is over, however. In light of recent issues regarding race and inequity, and concerns expressed by many in our underrepresented communities, we have a long way to go to improve diversity and equity on campus. We all need to engage in dialogue to get us to a place of mutual respect and understanding for one another, but that cannot happen overnight, and we can’t do it alone.
OIED wants to continue to work with individuals and organizations at NC State to ensure that inclusivity is experienced, and that cultural competency is very much present in the words and actions of faculty, staff and students. One way we can do this is through more open, transparent communications with the campus. We want to educate everyone on the Bias Incident Response Team, and increase awareness of diversity campaigns and events like Diversity Education Week. In all of our communications efforts, we want to integrate cultural messaging that represents the depth and breadth of lived experiences and diversity within our campus community.
In addition to communication, we can increase our collaboration with others. OIED wants to engage in ongoing conversations with Student Government to be proactive in addressing the needs and concerns of our students. We also seek to work with NC State’s academic community to review and assess diversity education efforts — including the U.S. Diversity requirement in the General Education Program — and examine the creation of increased cultural competency education. Where we fall short, we want to improve, and where we’re active, we want to increase our efforts to ensure that diversity and equity are more than just words — they are actions necessary for our success.
What is something that people in the campus community may not know about OIED?
We want people to know that we are more than just a reactive organization. We are a proactive entity actively engaged in education and outreach. Everyone on campus should look to OIED as an advisory partner and resource. Diversity is a complex phenomenon, and we are a multifaceted organization serving a wide variety of individuals and groups.
One aspect of our services that many people don’t know about is training for search committees. Our training primarily focuses on faculty searches, but can be applied to any search on campus in an advisory capacity. We offer conflict management plans to help work through issues and differences to help parties come to a place of empathy and understanding. Our staff works to address issues of compliance, bias and other investigations, diversity outreach, and so much more. We truly are an educational resource for diversity and inclusivity on campus, and I encourage everyone to learn more about who we are and what we offer.
Learn more about how OIED fosters an inclusive, accessible, and diverse intellectual and cultural campus experience for all faculty, staff and students at NC State.