The TIE Podcast Fall Semester Preview: Crystal McCormick Ware on the Impact of Belonging on Campus

Diverse people represent belonging on campus

College and university campuses are host to the best and brightest minds, but retaining those talented individuals also means creating an inclusive environment in which everyone feels that they belong. In TIE’s latest fall semester podcast episode, Crystal McCormick Ware, who is the inaugural chief diversity officer and senior advisor to the university president on DEI at Duquesne University, discusses how higher education institutions can foster and strengthen belonging on campus for all populations—students, faculty, staff, and administrators. Highlighting the intersection of belonging and inclusion, she maps out important strategies and measurable outcomes to bolster institutional DEI initiatives.

Listen to the full conversation below:

TIE Podcast · Crystal McCormick Ware on the Impact of Belonging on Campus
Headshot of Crystal McCormick Ware
Crystal McCormick Ware

Crystal previously served as director of diversity and inclusion initiatives at the University of Pittsburgh Library System (2004–21), where she was responsible for DEI initiatives for over 250 faculty, staff, and students across five campuses, including four regional campus libraries. She not only developed diversity programming and training for the entire library system but also led diversity efforts through the library for the larger academic community. At Duquesne, she coordinates the President’s Advisory Council on DEI, provides essential updates on internal metrics and the progress of DEI initiatives, and advises university leadership on issues relating to Duquesne’s DEI strategy to advance innovative approaches to diversity-related efforts on campus. As a founding member of the Greater Pittsburgh Higher Education Diversity Consortium, Crystal’s work has also extended beyond the university community to facilitate diversity and inclusion training among public school groups and nonprofits in the Pittsburgh area. 

In her conversation with TIE Editor in Chief Alexia Hudson-Ward, Crystal touches upon a number of important strategies for fostering belonging on campus, including surveying students and parents; establishing affinity groups for faculty, staff, and administrators; and creating a network of student success coaches. Ultimately, as Crystal stresses, a sense of belonging on campus is crucial for ensuring that everyone within the university has a voice and feels comfortable being a fully engaged member of the campus community.

There is much to ponder here and listeners are sure to ruminate over these topics long after listening to this thoughtful discussion with Crystal McCormick Ware.

Here’s a quick peek inside the episode:

On the connection between belonging and retention:

“What I explain to the new staff is … if you don’t feel like you belong, as faculty, staff, and administration, it’s going to be conveyed upon the student[s], and they’re going to know that. These are very insightful young people. They will come back and say, you know, someone’s disengaged, they act like they didn’t really want to be here, they didn’t want to service me. So you know, offices that are very important are student life, residence life, financial aid—these are the front men for universities … all of these divisions that are student-facing are so important … Some of the main people [we talked to] said to us, you know what we need to feel like we belong as well, because we know that we have a very important role at the university. So now we have [accommodations for] … such a diverse group of faculty, staff, administration, and students … so that everyone feels like they belong … Belonging is extremely important. We will retain talented faculty, staff, administration, and students if they feel as though they belong and they have a comfort zone and that someone truly cares.”

On best practices for implementing DEI policy:

“On any given day I look up our diversity statement, and we do have an official diversity statement that every new faculty, staff, administrator, and student receives the minute they walk in the door so there’s no question where we are, we say diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, and social justice, is in our DNA … We [also] have a new DEI certificate program that is 30 hours. It’s for faculty, staff, and administration because we feel it starts at the top. We also have DEI within curriculum; however, we want faculty, staff, and administration to be trained—30 hours, seven required courses, and three electives … We’re one of the first universities that actually has a DEI certificate program, but it’s infused with our mission. And so, we’re covering religious diversity, socioeconomic diversity, the military, the LGBTQIA community, implicit bias, microaggressions, Title IX, gender issues, how to be an effective ally, we talk about workforce bullying …. we’re being very transparent and very open about why it’s important that everyone feels as though they belong.”

On how libraries can contribute to and model institutional belonging efforts:

“I work very closely with the library, still … because they provide the research, they give us the cited articles that can back up any type of information that we need to present to cabinet and to faculty. They can look [information] up immediately and find out what the trends are in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion … Academic libraries, to me—and I have a soft spot for them because I’ve worked with them for 20 years—if you use the library and take advantage of the[ir] resources and expertise, there’s no reason why any college or university would not have proper means to execute a diversity, equity, and inclusion program … They have that information, it’s just a matter of using it and using it the right way … Academic libraries can [also] do their own assessment of where they are and where they need to move forward. [Work] with your DEI office and [ask] them what can the library do to be more inclusive … [Highlight] all of the holidays, all of the religions … Black History Month, Women’s History, [highlight] those [relevant] collections, [talk] amongst each other as to how you can promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. It starts with the library dean, the library dean needs to set the tone and talk about [DEI].”

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Header image is a detail of This is Harlem by Jacob Lawrence. Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. © 2021 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. For more information, click here.