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DEIA at the Columbia School of Professional Studies

By Jaideep Salil

Dr. Erwin de Leon, chief diversity officer and lecturer in the M.S. in Nonprofit Management program, recently delivered the keynote address at the EnERGize Inaugural Staff Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Summit, held at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC). Dr. de Leon’s speech was an account of de Leon’s engagement with DEIA principles on both a personal and an institutional level. The summit coincided with global diversity awareness month, and the theme of the daylong event was “valuable, visible voices.” 

Here are some highlights from his speech. 

The Personal

That all people are created equal, an idea instilled in him by his parents, faith, and Jesuit education, serves as the foundation of Dr. de Leon’s belief in DEIA principles. De Leon said that his experiences of discrimination as a brown, gay Filipino immigrant in the United States compelled him to fight for the rights of all individuals to fully realize their abilities, regardless of their backgrounds. 

De Leon was quick to note that equality is a process more than a destination. Practicing self-awareness, humility, and curiosity at an individual level is vital to ensure continual progress.

The Big Three

De Leon laid out questions for anyone interested in the practice of DEIA: Why? For whom? And how? Those questions, he said, provide DEIA practitioners with the opportunity to reflect on, and remind themselves of, the purpose of such initiatives. 

Why DEIA at SPS? 

The SPS community, said de Leon, needed a platform to openly discuss dignity and respect for all in the workspace. Thus the creation of the DEIA committee in June 2021. 

SPS’s DEIA efforts were designed to address the concerns of students, staff, and faculty. One focus: building a stronger community by bringing people together via collaborative events such as awareness training programs developed by the committee. 

Measuring Success

De Leon proposed a multi-pillar approach to measure positive diversity outcomes, including establishing baseline data to hold practitioners accountable and to measure progress. Also, it is crucial to move beyond traditional demographic factors, like race and age—indicators like the inclusion of nonbinary people would help achieve a more nuanced understanding of diversity. 

Setting goals, monitoring performance, and being transparent about achievements and failures are also important elements of genuine DEIA engagement, he said. 

If they don’t give you a seat at the table, he added at the end of the conference, quoting Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress, bring a folding chair! 

Learn more about the Columbia SPS DEIA Initiative