Advice for a new McCombs diversity officer

Usmaan Hasan

In response to a racially offensive door-decorating contest, McCombs recently announced the hiring of an associate dean for Diversity and Inclusion, who will function as the chief diversity officer, CDO. The laudable goal of the CDO is to unite McComb’s myriad of diversity initiatives into one office. 

This is not a novel approach. College hirings of CDO’s have been on the rise since 2016, but to ensure the CDO is successful, structural challenges in McCombs must be addressed. McCombs administration must increase transparency around, guarantee authority for and continuously support the incoming CDO.

Between the door-decorating incident two months ago and the announcement of an imminent CDO hire, McCombs administration remained completely silent about the steps it was taking. This closed-door attitude has to change for a CDO to be successful. The new CDO must be transparent to the student body. Equal access to information and open communication between students and administration is imperative for a diverse and inclusive environment.  

Moreover, Dr. David Harrison, the McCombs representative on the University-wide Diversity and Inclusion Committee, mentioned the Committee made 22 recommendations to guide the creation of inclusive policies. This information is still held by McCombs administration and has not been made publicly available to students. 

The new diversity officer must report directly to the dean. Anything else will come across as appeasement and runs the risk of restricting the capacity of a CDO to enact meaningful change. It is currently unclear how the CDO will function. Formally, the CDO will be known as the associate dean for Diversity and Inclusion. Placed beneath the deans of McCombs, this naturally creates a hierarchy that can provide direction for the new associate dean but has historically posed a restriction on their ability to operate. 

To ensure the numerous voices of McCombs students are heard and acted upon, the administration must ensure this office has a clearly defined structure and deliberate purpose from the beginning. Then it must ensure safeguards are in place to protect continued support of the office.

CDOs are increasingly facing resource scarcity issues that limit their effectiveness. Fifty-three percent of CDOs say they have not been given adequate resources to perform their responsibilities. New CDOs are hired with an initial groundswell of support, but the role can deteriorate from a lack of access to leadership, funding and quality staff. Before the CDO’s tenure begins, administration must deliberately outline the goals of the new initiative. That way, the goals can be used to maintain the CDO’s status within the McCombs administration. Without a clear plan, the role of the CDO will be forever in flux and incapable of serving the needs of their students.

The incoming CDO must carve out an independent path for themselves distinct from administrative agendas, or else they risk jeopardizing their authenticity in the eyes of students. The business school has made great strides by introducing the McCombs Community Values to reinforce unity, but the CDO provides an ultimate test for McCombs’s ability to create a diverse environment.

Hasan is a finance and internation relations and global studies sophomore from Plano.