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  • Case Study: Career Services for Diverse Identity and Affinity Groups

    Organizational Structure
    Students of color sit in their college classroom.

    TAGS: technology, diversity and inclusion, case study, ethics, principles


    The following case study discusses ethical considerations when a career center seeks to attract students from diverse identity and affinity groups to engage with their career services office and to access website content. The Principles for Ethical Professional Practice are used to address this scenario, incorporating Principles 3 and 4.

    This case study provides insight on the following:

    • The role of career centers in attracting students from diverse identity and affinity groups to their services and website resources;
    • Developing clarity around driving forces to examine career center practices related to the implementation of diversity and inclusion initiatives;
    • The development of website content for students from diverse identity and affinity groups;
    • Staffing considerations when seeking to more effectively connect with students from diverse identity and affinity groups; and
    • Implications for the career center in relationship to conducting outreach and serving all students while also providing services and content to students from diverse identity and affinity groups

    The Case

    Scenario: A career center wants to do more to attract students from diverse identity and affinity groups to both the office and center’s website. The staff holds a brainstorming session with a focus group of students. One idea that comes out of the session is developing a specific set of pages within the center’s main website to feature resources, employment, and internship opportunities for students of color. A staff member discovers that many other career centers do reference specific resources for students of color. Another suggestion is to hire a staff member who is either African-American or Latinx to advise students of color only. In this way, when students walk into the office, they will feel that there is someone "like them” who understands their needs.

    Questions: A good start to attracting students with diverse identities to your office and website is to understand the driving forces for doing so and the specifics needs of your student population.

    • Is there institutional pressure to improve outcomes for students from specific identity groups or backgrounds?
    • Are employers requesting access to specific populations?
    • Is the focus out of a desire to improve inclusivity?
    • Has a needs assessment been conducted suggesting that specific student populations are either unaware of career services, or that the services are not accessible to (or are perceived as being not inclusive of) them?
    • What ethical issues are raised by these ideas?
    • Does it make a difference if the proposed web page is accessible to all students even though the resources are directed to students of color?
    • What about job postings?
    • Is it equitable to have staff aligned with specific identity and affinity groups, e.g., veterans, athletes, students with disabilities, and more, as specialists?
    • What other options are there to attract students to the career center’s programs and services?
    • Would tailored services be duplicative of existing services and are you resourced to provide both?
    • Are there ways to collaborate with other offices on campus that may be developing similar and programming, and/or advancing equitable and inclusive practices?

    Analysis: If students from specific identity and affinity groups access the career center’s services and resources in lesser percentages than their representation in the overall student body, the career center should definitely take steps to address the imbalance. The suggestions generated by the focus group are good starting points for consideration, although they should be thought through carefully.

    Students from diverse identity and affinity groups—who may include students of color, first-generation students, students with disabilities, student veterans, LGBT students, women students, undocumented students, or students from rural areas, depending on the institution—may face unique challenges when exploring careers or launching a job search. For example, the professional ranks of many industries are still predominantly white and/or male, particularly at the leadership levels. Students may wonder how welcome they would feel in these industries and what support they could expect in overcoming barriers. They may have questions about the openness of work settings to expressions of identity. Some students may have had less exposure to professions that require a college degree, or be unsure of the value employers will place on their experience. Students may not be aware of the career center’s ability to address such questions and concerns.

    Regarding the career center’s staff composition, it is appropriate to acknowledge that students seeking assistance from the center pay attention to representation. If they encounter a diverse staff, students from a range of backgrounds and identities are more likely to believe the career center is an inclusive environment and their needs can be met. The career center must be aware, however, of state and federal EEO laws which pertain to the hiring of employees. Specifically, it is generally prohibited to hire an employee solely on their race or national origin.

    Principles That Apply:

    • Principle 3: Ensure equitable access by proactively addressing inclusivity and diversity.
    • Principle 4: Comply with laws associated with local, state and federal entities, including but not limited to EEO compliance, immigration and affirmative action.

    Options for Resolution: Addressing concerns and needs of diverse student populations is consistent with the Principles for Ethical Professional Practice. Alerting students (and other constituents) via the career center website about services that are inclusive of their needs makes sense. It is important, however, to consider as broad a definition of diversity as possible and take into account the norms of language used elsewhere on campus. In other words, if the term “identity groups” is used, do all students understand what that encompasses? What about other categories of diversity?

    Most campuses have an array of support services focused on students of color, LGBT students, and first-generation college students. In the 1970s and ’80s, many institutions established women’s resource centers, and during the last two decades, there has been a growth in programs to encourage women in academic fields traditionally dominated by men, e.g., science, engineering, business, and so forth. Recent increases in international student enrollment, particularly at the undergraduate level, have expanded the services directed at acclimating and supporting students from other countries. The rise in enrollment of nontraditional students, most prominently student veterans, has also spurred an expansion of support units and programs.

    Arguably, any student population recognized by the institution as needing focused support—evidenced by the existence of special units or programs—warrants attention in the career center’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

    The new sections of the website should highlight the center’s diversity programs and services, but the career center should take care not to imply an exclusivity reserved only for students fitting a particular identity or affinity category. While programming geared to specific populations may be developed, it is understood that all students are welcome to participate. The guiding principle should be inclusivity—striving to ensure that all students may benefit from the broader resources and opportunities provided.

    The question of whether the new web pages should showcase opportunities such as internships, fellowships, or full-time positions that appear to exclusively target students from specific identity or affinity groups is one that must be answered by the individual institution after consultation with legal counsel. It may be preferable to encourage students to look for unique opportunities posted in a database rather than sequestering them in the website. A rule of thumb is to avoid segregating opportunities into distinct categories according race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or other attributes. Similarly, “parallel programming” should be avoided. For example, creating a workshop titled “Interviewing Skills for Students of Color” may suggest that the standard interviewing skills workshop is geared toward white students. For some institutions, this would be a violation of state mandates. This is different, however, from responding to a request from an identity-focused student organization for an interviewing skills workshop, which is a means of fostering inclusivity, assuming the center would also honor the request from other student organizations.

    How much assistance may or should the career center give to outside entities seeking to recruit students from diverse identity or affinity groups? On many campuses, it may not be not a violation of policies to publicly share opportunities that may not be open to all students. For example, the center may post on its website, visible to everyone, information about a conference for women interested in business leadership roles. However, sending an email exclusively to women students—as opposed to all students—announcing the conference may be a violation of not only internal procedures or policies but state and federal EEO laws, statutes, and regulations. It very much depends on the institution’s policies and the applicable EEO laws, statutes, and regulations..

    What about hiring staff of a particular race or ethnicity to work exclusively with students of that same race or ethnicity? First, there is the issue of EEO compliance. No employer, including the career center, may use a person’s racial or ethnic status as a criterion for hiring. This is quite different from requiring multi-cultural competencies to effectively work with a diverse group of students, which is a criterion that should apply to all advisers in the career center. Second, it is equally problematic to designate a specific staff member to work with students of a particular classification. This implies that other career advisers are not responsible for meeting the needs of students of color or other protected classifications, and it begins to segregate the staff into race and ethnicity categories. This is different from designating specific staff members to serve as liaisons to different student organizations or units on campus. Determining which advisers should be matched with which liaison assignment should be based on interest, knowledge, and expertise, not on the adviser’s race, ethnicity, or other demographic characteristic.

    Career centers should also examine their own practices and staff composition to determine if there are steps they can take to more effectively attract and develop a diverse staff team with the skills and experience necessary to support the students attending the institution. For example, do all staff receive regular training to help them work effectively with colleagues and students from many different backgrounds, and to achieve inclusive excellence in their work? Are all or nearly all career center staff members of the same gender, race, or from similar backgrounds? If so, the career center should actively examine its own practices to identify and remove obstacles to becoming a more welcoming and inclusive workplace.

    In short, all staff should possess fundamental intercultural competencies, and the unique attributes and perspectives each individual staff member possesses should be leveraged for the benefit of the whole team. It is imperative that the career center reflect diversity and inclusion in its staff composition, which means being proactive when conducting searches to fill open positions.

    If the career center does not currently have a visibly diverse staff team, a range of strategies may help to ensure students are able to connect with career center representatives and industry professionals who share their identities and affinities. Such strategies might include facilitating student connections with alumni, employers, and industry professionals, and/or hiring peer ambassadors.

    Other Considerations: Perhaps the most effective way to increase use of the career center by students from diverse identity and affinity groups is through partnership with the diversity and student support units on campus.

    As suggested above, liaison roles may be established for designated career advisers with units and programs that directly administer support to specific student populations. Staff in these units offer guidance and mentorship, and they typically develop relationships of trust with many individual students. If career center staff become known to these units—and become familiar with the types of support they provide—a referral network will form that will likely have a greater impact than content on the website.

    Career centers may also encounter a variety of questions from employers about reaching students from diverse identity and affinity groups. These questions are addressed in “Case Study: When Employers Seek Connections With Students From Diverse Identity and Affinity Groups.”

    Reviewed and revised by the Principles for Ethical Professional Practice Committee. Posted September 2019.

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