Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
The University of Connecticut continuously examines its structure and how diversity and inclusion is incorporated within the university. This process led to substantial changes over the past few years to make diversity and inclusion an increased focus.
Among these changes, the university created a chief diversity officer position and an office of diversity and inclusion to spearhead initiatives. The Center for Career Development (CCD) also reexamined its efforts around this key issue. For example, the center’s new mission features diversity as one of its core values.
“We continue to strive toward creating a career center that’s inclusive, welcoming, and serves all students in an equitable manner,” says Monique Cooper, a career consultant in the CCD. “Collectively, we assess and determine the specific needs of student populations based on their social identities. In addition, we work hard to examine our own implicit bias, both individually and as a staff, so that we can develop practices that are equity-minded, accessible, and facilitate the students’ holistic development.”
An early initiative of the CCD was to enhance and update its webpages called “Diversity Resources for You.” These pages were developed to address specific career needs for UConn’s diverse student populations. Furthermore, the CCD is implementing practices to ensure that gender pronouns are thoughtfully incorporated in its work and students’ pronouns are not assumed based on phenotypical features.
“These efforts recognize that the status quo often benefits certain groups through recognition, representation, and responsiveness, while concurrently disadvantaging certain groups through exclusion, underrepresentation, and lack of responsiveness,” Cooper explains. “Acknowledging this reality is the first step in diversity, inclusion, and equity-minded efforts. The next steps involve research, reflectivity, and concerted actions both in the short term and long term.”
For example, the CCD has a repository of sample resumes that used to feature fictitious names.
“Sometimes,” Cooper explains, “it could be assumed that a name came from a certain nationality or ethnicity that perhaps corresponded with a certain major. There could be inferences there that could be very exclusionary or stereotypical by nature.”
To eliminate the potential for stereotyping, the CCD changed all its sample resumes to simply say “first name” and “last name” on the contact information area.
“Now, there’s nothing that can be assumed or inferred, and it’s inclusive,” Cooper notes. “Little things like that show that the center is mindful of what it’s putting out there and striving to create an inclusive, welcoming environment.”
The CCD also has dedicated 25 percent of staff training time specifically to diversity and inclusion topics. Staff training sessions are designed to raise self-awareness, challenge bias, and influence practices that operate from an equity-minded lens.
“We have participated in training on the use of pronouns, undocumented and LGBTQ students, having difficult conversations, and on a general overview of diversity and inclusion,” Cooper says. “In the future, we hope to participate in training that cover topics such as white privilege, emotional intelligence, working with international students, and more.”
Events and programming play a major role in the CCD’s operations. While the CCD has liaisons to all of UConn’s schools and colleges, it also has dedicated liaisons to the university’s cultural centers. These liaisons have worked alongside their respective cultural center directors to develop and conduct events and programming such as the “Cultural Identity in the Workshop” Panels with the Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center and the African American Cultural Center, and a panel titled “Disclosing your Disability” with the Center for Students with Disabilities.
The CCD has also worked closely with its corporate partners. Employees from these organizations have attended campus events to discuss the benefits of employer resource groups and the CCD has received $4,000 worth of Diversity & Inclusion Grants from Target Corporation that has supported many recent efforts.
“That was very helpful for the financial piece,” Cooper notes. “The grant was established to address diversity topics, but we were also given a good deal of autonomy to create different events and programs. These types of events do not require large sums of money. Oftentimes, alum and employers are excited to come back to campus to share their personal experiences with students.”
Cooper shares several suggestions for career centers looking to boost their diversity and inclusion efforts, including:
- Reviewing relevant research across various fields to inform best practices.
- Obtaining buy-in from and building relationships with constituents across campus to collaborate on various initiatives and programming.
- Conducting ongoing climate surveys based on feedback from students, staff, faculty, and other constituents to assess what the career center is doing well in terms of diversity and what areas need improvement. This is going to drive the center’s initiatives moving forward.
- Establishing a formalized diversity and inclusion committee with members not only from the career center, but also from offices and areas across campus to launch these initiatives.
- Securing funding for events and programming, if possible.
- Committing to ongoing staff training on diversity, inclusion, and equity topics. Career centers should be open and willing to have difficult conversations that push everyone out of their comfort zone for personal and professional growth.
“We must remember that career services serves as the great equalizer of the college experience, bridging the gap between college life and the professional world,” Cooper notes. “It is our responsibility as career educators to discuss these topics and challenge previously held norms both within and outside the university system. It is incumbent on us to train, educate, listen to, and collaborate with the next generation of workers so that we can build an inclusive, diverse, and sustainable work force for current and future generations. All of this helps to create a culture that’s inclusive and welcoming, and in which we are providing services and resources to all students equitably.”