Community, Engagement, Belonging and Access; Student Affairs

Unique council maximizes impact of inclusive excellence efforts


A group of about 20 people stand on a lawn smiling at the camera
Members of the Clemson University Council for Diversity and Inclusion pose for a group photo after a meeting, April 3, 2019.

Amid the unrest sweeping over the nation this year, the University is leveraging a unique and effective coalition council to include voices from every corner of campus and the greater Clemson community to guide Clemson toward a more welcoming, safe and inclusive environment.

The Council for Diversity and Inclusion (CUCDI) was created in April 2017 as part of the University’s holistic approach to embrace and promote an inclusive environment for higher learning. The council is co-chaired by Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Robert Jones and Chief Inclusion Officer and Special Assistant to the President for Inclusive Excellence Lee Gill.

The program is steered by six affinity-focused commissions at Clemson: the Accessibility Commission, the Commission on the Black Experience, the Commission on Latino Affairs, the LGBTQ Commission, the Veterans Commission and the Commission on Women.

The council, which meets once a month, has a shared governance infrastructure allowing for input from a cross-section of people from the campus and the surrounding community. According to the council’s bylaws, “The membership of the Council shall be limited enough to produce an efficient, dynamic working group, but broad enough to be a represented cross-section of the University’s faculty, staff, students, alumni and area community leaders.”

Two men sit behind a desk on the left side of the frame, facing right into the frame
Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Robert Jones and Chief Inclusion Officer and Special Assistant to the President for Inclusive Excellence Lee Gill (right) listen to a discussion during a meeting of the CUCDI.

In addition to representatives from each commission, deans from all seven colleges, the libraries and leaders in the Division of Student Affairs appoint representatives who serve on the council alongside community leaders from the Pickens County NAACP, the president of the Urban League of the Upstate and the president of Hispanic Alliance. President James P. Clements and Chief of Staff Max Allen are ex-officio members.

“The CUCDI fosters collaboration by creating a forum where faculty, staff, students and community partners can openly discuss issues and share initiatives that promote an inclusive environment,” said program manager Karon Donald. “Members are a part of a community of people all working toward a common goal. It truly is a university-wide effort.”

Gill said the collaborative nature of the council serves Clemson well.

“The structure of a broad-based council that is representative of all campus entities where robust discussion and information is shared, provides a feedback loop that builds an awareness across the University and helps drive us toward achieving our ClemsonForward strategic plan,” he said. “What I am particularly excited about with our council is the outreach that we made to our community organizations, because nothing we do functions in a vacuum. Their insights help gauge our progress and show us areas that we need to continue to grow.”

While everyone agrees Clemson still has plenty of work to do as it strives for inclusive excellence, notable progress has been made in the years leading up to and immediately after the formation of the council. Some highlights include:

  • Since 2013 the total number of African-American students on campus increased by 23 percent and the total number of Hispanic students increased by 158 percent. Additionally, Clemson has seen a 41 percent increase in the number of African-American and Hispanic faculty members, and a 21 percent increase in staff.
  • Last year, for the third year in a row, Clemson was recognized with the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award and for the second straight year it was recognized as a Diversity Champion by the magazine Insight into Diversity, making it one of only 15 schools across the country to receive that recognition.
  • Clemson was named a 2019 National Military Friendly Employer, making it one of only two universities to make that list, and S. News and World Report ranked it in the Top 25 among Best Colleges for Veterans.
  • Clemson’s score on the Campus Pride Index – the premier LGBTQ+ national benchmarking tool for colleges and universities to create safer, more inclusive campuses – rose from 1 point to a 3.5 out of 5.
  • Work began on a new child development center, an effort spearheaded by the Women’s Commission. Additionally, the Tigers Advance program, funded by the National Science Foundation with a multimillion-dollar grant, was created to help promote the advancement of women in higher education through professional development opportunities and advocate training.
  • Diversity and inclusive excellence have been made priorities in Clemson’s ClemsonForward strategic plan. All colleges and divisions are creating their own strategic plans around diversity and inclusion that tie to it, which is a first at Clemson. Since 2016, 454 staff members and 415 faculty representing all colleges have received implicit bias training.
A group of women sit in a classroom working on laptops
Members of the Clemson University Council for Diversity and Inclusion work together during a meeting, April 3, 2019.

Moving forward, council members hope to keep building momentum under their official pledge to create a welcoming environment that fosters diversity and inclusion; establish and maintain collaborative partnerships; make recommendations regarding the policies, procedures and practices that affect faculty, staff and students with the goal of improving access and opportunities; and identify any institutional barriers or problem areas which may limit opportunities for equal access and advancement.

Jones said the council is one of the best and most impactful ideas he has seen in his many years of engagement with diversity and inclusion efforts.

“Before the council’s inception, we had many individuals and groups working hard to make Clemson more inclusive and welcoming, but our efforts were siloed and progress was slow,” he said. “After the council was formed, ideas were widely shared, and synergies developed that accelerated progress. More importantly, each commission, college and community representative began to empathize with the needs and goals of other groups. When one group succeeds, we all celebrate and draw inspiration from it.”

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