Inclusive Excellence: Integrated and Intentional Diversity

by Kimberly B. W. Denu, Ph.D.

Faculty, staff, and students often ask what I mean when I say the word DIVERSITY While the question seems straightforward, what they really want to know is: Who is included in diversity, and who is not? Does APU take a liberal or conservative approach to diversity? Is there space for people like me at the table? To begin to paint the picture of diversity within the APU mosaic, I often refer to aspects of our diversity statement in our What We Believe. It explains that diversity encompasses more than race, and includes gender, class, disability, and more. Given this context, the key questions encompass a bigger picture: Do we all really matter? And if so, how do we make diversity a more integral and transformative part of our lives—in our country, in our neighborhoods, and at Azusa Pacific University?


I believe one of our most basic human needs is to belong. From birth to adolescence, from young adulthood until our final years, we all seek to belong. Community matters. During my time in South Africa as a Fulbright scholar, I became familiar with the Zulu greeting, sawubona. Although similar to “hello,” the actual translation is, “I see you!” I love this greeting because the meaning goes beyond seeing the physical person. It actually means I see your value and worth. When I think of an important aspect of diversity at APU, I think of a community in which we see people—their value and worth.


For diversity to be effective, it must be intentional and comprehensive. To capture this idea, last fall we started using a broader term to highlight diversity—inclusive excellence. The term comes from the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) and proposes four important things. First, “diversity is a fact, not just an end goal,” as Frances Wu, Ph.D., assistant professor in APU’s M.A. in Leadership program, often says. In an increasingly diverse society, especially in places like California, we must address diverse populations as a reality and provide resources to support the changing needs of our population. Second, academic excellence occurs when institutions remain mindful of all their students and work hard to close gaps that indicate certain segments of students thrive while others do not. This means paying attention to graduation rates across gender, race, and class. Disaggregated data often reveal disparate experiences and outcomes for different groups of students. Inclusive excellence says we cannot achieve true excellence until we support the excellence of all our students. Third, diversity efforts on college campuses require a systematic integration of diversity into practices, policies, and programming. Every area of Azusa Pacific should reflect God-honoring diversity, including the mission, institutional values, strategic plans, hiring practices, curricula, and the classroom. Simply put, diversity does not happen accidentally. It must be an intentional, comprehensive, and central component of our efforts, not just an addendum. Finally, cultural competence coupled with cultural humility should be an expected outcome for every graduate when he or she crosses the stage at commencement and engages a pluralistic society that often looks, acts, and thinks very differently. Understanding such societal complexities can provide our alumni with an advantage when it comes to finding jobs. The AAC&U recently reported that “96 percent of employers agree that all college students should have experiences that teach them how to solve problems with people whose views are different from their own,” affirming that cultural competence equips students with a clear professional advantage.


For Christians, diversity must represent more than a cultural reality or a personal or professional benefit. In fact, I consider it a spiritual mandate. What is the spiritual importance of diversity? Scripture tells us we cannot say we love God if we hate our brothers and sisters. So ultimately, anything that separates us from loving each other, including “isms” (e.g., racism, sexism, classism), ultimately separates us from God. Philosopher and writer Nicholas Wolterstorff uses the concept of shalom to describe the ultimate goal: right/reconciled relationship with God, with each other, and with self. I believe it is important for Christians to embrace this part of inclusive excellence and to strive to live this out daily.


Inclusive excellence is not the work of any one person, but rather a team. We deliver educational trainings, impactful programming, and strategic planning in the area of diversity. We accomplish this work through two primary diversity centers that provide diversity programming and training to the entire campus. The Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Excellence offers diversity service and training opportunities for faculty and staff, and the Student Center for Reconciliation and Diversity provides programming and support primarily for undergraduate students. Together, we launched our first comprehensive diversity campus climate study; initiated a holistic diversity plan that looks at APU’s programming, policies, and practices; and developed a number of educational training initiatives for faculty, staff, students, and administration. Are we where we want to be? No. But together, we are hopeful about where we are going. Sawubona.

Kimberly B. W. Denu, Ph.D. is vice president, chief diversity officer at Azusa Pacific University. [email protected]

Originally published in the Summer '16 issue of APU Life. Download the PDF or view all issues.