The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

HR and Student Affairs: Partnering Around Diversity and Inclusion

A surge in student activism in recent years has driven institutional dialogue and action on equity and inclusion issues. Many of the common concerns students raise, such as inclusive hiring and enhanced staff and faculty training, require input and leadership from human resources.

What should a collaborative relationship between HR and student affairs look like around diversity and inclusion efforts on campus?

We asked Monica Nixon, assistant vice president for equity, inclusion and social justice at NASPA (the association for student affairs administrators in higher education), to share her perspective from the student affairs side on ways HR can and should be partnering with student affairs leaders on campus.

Workforce Diversity 

As mentioned, much of the student activism on campuses today is centered around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), including calls for a more diverse and equitable higher ed workforce. “Since recruitment and hiring is in HR’s wheelhouse, we really look to our HR leaders to help us as student affairs leaders understand the workforce side of things,” says Nixon. “We look to our HR colleagues to build DEI-related strategies around how people are promoted, how people are recruited, how people are rewarded and how diversity and inclusion leadership on campus can be factored into performance evaluations and faculty tenure.”

Nixon says HR can be proactive by creating consistent position descriptions and implementing consistent hiring processes and by thinking innovatively about recruiting and creating candidate pools for both faculty and staff positions.

Says Nixon, “Many people perceive hiring as one and done, but HR can help divisions think of recruiting, hiring and retention as a continuous process — one that should always be happening.” An example: An administrative coordinator position comes open in the college of business. If HR is keeping records and mining data effectively, they can alert the college that the college of arts sciences just hired an administrative coordinator six months ago and provide them with a pool of candidates the institution already has in hand.

Training Around DEI

According to Nixon, students are very interested in how faculty are being prepared to teach and to contribute to an inclusive campus climate. How HR trains staff and faculty around bias and microaggressions and other DEI-relevant topics has a direct impact on the way faculty interact with students.

Leadership Conversations

HR should be involved in leadership conversations around campus climate and diversity and inclusion. How do students, faculty, staff, visitors and alumni perceive the university climate and culture? What can be done to improve this perception if it is less than desirable? What is HR’s role in this?

Work With the Willing

How can HR initiate collaboration and partnership with student affairs if they’re getting pushback or experiencing resistance? Nixon says to work with the willing. “By partnering with departments or units that are willing to try something new and different, you can create momentum,” she says.

“At one institution where I served as chief diversity officer, one department chair came to me and said, ‘I keep getting white women applicants, and I don’t know how to expand my applicant pool.’ I recommended she and I meet with HR to figure out how to approach this differently on the recruiting side. We looked at the position description; where the job was being advertised; and how the job ad was describing the institution, the position and the department. By consulting with HR, we were able to work out a process, and that department became a model to which we could point to entice other areas to use HR’s expertise. Eventually, if enough departments or areas on campus partner with HR, then it becomes the norm.”

Learn more about how HR and student affairs can partner on issues of diversity and inclusion in the October 17 webinar “Building Effective Collaborations to Confront Campus Climate Challenges: A Student Affairs Perspective.”

To read more about how HR can contribute to student success in general, check out the fall issue of CUPA-HR’s Higher Ed HR Magazine.


The CUPA-HR national office will be closed July 4 in observance of Independence Day.