Institutional and Departmental Diversity Statements

Your institution probably has a diversity or DEI (diversity, equity, & inclusion) statement. Take a minute and go read it, even if you’ve seen it before. Now check the diversity statements of a few other institutions; they’re pretty similar, aren’t they?

This is not a bad thing. The purpose of an institutional diversity statement is mostly symbolic: to publicly state support for DEIA initiatives and make members of marginalized groups know that the institution is paying attention and working to be better. The statements you just read probably accomplish these goals.

But they’re vague, aren’t they? That’s okay. If your institution is really on top of things, you might also find a diversity strategic plan (or maybe DEIA efforts are incorporated into the general strategic plan). If you take a look at one of those, you’ll see more specific – but still institution-wide – information about how the goals of the statement are meant to be achieved.

(Also, I know I’m making some broad generalizations. I’ve been working on a project which has involved reading a lot of diversity statements, so I know they aren’t all the same… Take a look at my own institution’s statement here; the bullet points have the specificity usually reserved for a diversity strategic plan.)

I say all this to get around to this point: While you and your library are beholden to the institutional diversity statement, that doesn’t mean it should be the only one you use for guidance. I am here to encourage you to create a library diversity statement, assuming you don’t already have one. (If you do: well done! Keep up the good work. Continue reading to see why you’re awesome.)

After reading so many institutional diversity statements that say pleasant but admittedly bland things about what the institution wants to be with regards to DEIA matters, I have decided that they don’t say much at all. It’s like if Dasani started putting “gluten-free!” on its labels… all the other brands of bottled water would have to do it too, so it wouldn’t seem like they had gluten in their bottled water. An institution needs a diversity statement to make it clear that they don’t support oppression and prejudice. (What a world we live in.)

I think the role of the departmental diversity statement, though, is more practical. It’s more like the diversity strategic plan, because it can get more specific. A library’s diversity statement can refer to the accessibility of library spaces, diversifying the collection of resources, and other library-specific concerns. Other departments would address different specifics: the library wouldn’t address the cultural diversification and dietary needs compliance of the menu in a cafeteria, but dining services would.

Additionally, a departmental diversity statement gets the people in that department more involved. The vast majority of people at an institution had nothing to do with the writing, editing, and approval of the institutional diversity statement. They feel less connected to it because it was made elsewhere, by others, and they probably first saw it in an email announcing its implementation. While I like our statement, I don’t feel involved in it. The library’s diversity statement feels closer to me. It feels like the difference between seeing your state and your city being mentioned on national news. I hear, “In Pennsylvania,” and I pay slightly more than average attention; I hear “In Hershey,” and my ears really perk up. That closer connection creates more buy-in from the individuals in the department.

In that same vein, a departmental diversity statement can take a different tone or voice than the institutional statement. Go back up and read the Penn State statement again, then read our libraries’ statement. The libraries’ statement has a stronger upstanding, more active tone. It is a call to action, while the institutional statement is a description of what the university would like to be: both important, compatible, but different approaches to the same goal. I see in the libraries’ statement a fist held high in the air, and in the university’s statement, open and welcoming arms.

If your library does not yet have a departmental diversity statement, I encourage you to advocate for one. You can make concrete the abstract intentions of your institution’s diversity statement, lend the library’s unique voice to the conversation, and put a “gluten-free!” sticker on the bottled water that is your library.

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