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Inclusive Excellence: The Power Belongs to Us

“It is not our diversity which divides us; it is not our ethnicity, or religion or culture that divides us. Since we have achieved our freedom, there can only be one division amongst us: between those who cherish democracy and those who do not.”

- Nelson Mandela

I recently had the opportunity to present on the topic of Inclusive Excellence at the National Business Education Association Conference in Baltimore, Maryland and at the University of Pretoria in South Africa.

My presentation on Inclusive Excellence had been derived from three sources:

  • First, my own experience as a female undergraduate from an underserved minority group who, upon entering college nearly 30 years ago, experienced several affirming, yet many more exclusionary practices within the context of so-called diversity1 initiatives;
  • Second, from the tenor and substance of comments and discussions I have had with underserved minority undergraduates who, in the current era, still report feelings of exclusion in higher education and diversity initiatives and;
  • Third, from observations reported in the summary findings of an American Association of Colleges & Universities (AACU) project which reports that diversity initiatives are typified by insufficient linkage to the core academic mission of higher education and inadequate coordination across different parts of the academy.

What has become clear, from both empirical data and personal experiences, is that diversity and inclusion practices both belong and are the responsibility of all of us. Like the words etched onto Nelson Mandela’s statue in South Africa, “The Power Belongs to Us”, the power to elicit change and foster inclusive excellence in practice starts with each instructor and student.

Here are three tips to get you started in practicing inclusive excellent on your own campus:

  1. Put some wheels on it!

At the heart of inclusive excellence is what happens inside the classroom. In the new book, Lead from the Heart: Transformational Leadership for the 21st Century, where I serve as a contributing author, I share five lessons that I learned from Great Grand’s leadership style, whether in her kitchen, living room or on the front porch.   It is a practice that led to my desire to replicate that experience. I did so by developing a conceptual framework called C.A.R.E2.

Believing the terms “teacher” and “learner” to be synonymous, the personal interactions in the classroom where collaboration rather than competition serves as the major underlying identity value and group energizer. Kouzes and Posner (1995) point out in their "Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership" that the practice of encouraging the heart highlights the fact that the best leaders “make people feel like heroes.”

While it is difficult, if not impossible to isolate specific reasons for success in higher education, Inclusive Excellence encourages the meeting of higher education practitioners on the communal ground to put ‘wheels’ on righteous rhetoric, versus simply giving lip service. It is an understanding that traditional pedagogical methods — often habitually applied — do not necessarily meet the needs of today’s multimodal, multi-tasked, multi-ethnic students.

  1. Be a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage!

Numerous studies have shown that student-faculty interaction is connected to impact, socialization, and achievement (Lamport, 1993). For students from underrepresented groups (i.e. diverse communities), that type of exchange has even greater significance. Having regular contact with faculty has been linked with increased student success amongst diverse populations. Students who can interact more frequently with faculty tend to earn higher grades, increase their likelihood of degree completion, and increase their degree aspirations (Cole, 2010; Kim & Sax, 2009). The University of Michigan understands this premise as well. They have devised a campus diversity plan based on three imperatives:

  • That we treat all our students equitably (which is related to, yet distinct from, "equally").
  • That all our students have full access to learning and the tools they need to do so successfully and meaningfully.
  • That all our students feel welcomed, supported, and valued as they learn.
  1. Just Do it!

Too often in academia students can graduate without adequate exposure to or opportunity for discernment in diversity. An essential tenet in Inclusive Excellence is that teaching quality and inclusive education is not mutually exclusive. This calls for Inclusive Excellence to be intentionally woven, in both principle and practice, throughout the entirety of a student’s college experience. It starts with curricular and co-curricular offerings that can be both modeled and magnified. This process is dependent on buy-in from faculty, staff, and students at every level--from Chairs to campus security. Whether working in a capacity of research, teaching or service, Inclusive Excellence ambassadors are committed to preparing future graduates for an increasingly diverse workforce and society. They recognize the power belongs to them, one classroom at a time.

1 Diversity is defined in this proposal as the systematic blending of academic programs such as recruitment, retention, policies, and curriculum that provide college students with an enriched multicultural environment for learning (Eternizing, Patrick T. 2001; Ervin, Kelly S. 2001).

The term “care” or “caring” as used in this document has two meanings: 1) The literal meaning of the word, which is defined by Encarta’s North American English dictionary as, “the providing of whatever is needed for somebody’s well-being,” and 2) The C.AR.E. principle that I developed as an articulation of my educational philosophy and the “north star” of my pedagogical practices in the classroom:
C-Commitment to “Inclusive” Pedagogy and Teaching Excellence
A-Advocating and Assessing Student Success
R-Reaching and Retaining Underserved Students
E-Embodying Principled Leadership (Role Modeling Ethics in Professional Practice)


  1. Akintonde, S. B. “On the Front Porch: A Personal Perspective on the Faculty Advisor’s Role in Student Success.” Education, Chicago Sun-Times, 2005.
  2. Cole D. Do interracial interactions matter? An examination of student-faculty contact and intellectual self-concept. Journal of Higher Education. 2007; 78(3):249–281. doi: 10.1353/jhe.2007.0015.
  3. Gannon, Kevin.  The Case for Inclusive Teaching.  The Chronicle of Higher Ed. February 27, 2018. Retrieved from
  4. Kim YK, Sax LJ. Student-faculty interaction in research universities: Differences by student gender, race, social class, and first-generation status. Research in Higher Education. 2009;50:437–459. doi: 10.1007/s11162-009-9127-x
  5. An instructor's guide to the leadership challenge, JM Kouzes, BZ Posner - 1995 - San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
  6. Lamport, M. A. (1993). Student-faculty informal interaction and the effect on college student outcomes: A review of the literature. Adolescence, 28(112). Retrieved from
  7. Noddings, N. (1984) Caring. University of California Press: Berkeley and Los Angeles, California



About the Author

Marketing Maven Shanita Akintonde personifies passion and purpose. With over two decades of strategically-honed leadership experience as a professor and marketing executive, Shanita has transitioned over 10,000 students from her classroom to the boardroom. She is an author, newspaper columnist, and certified professional speaker who serves as President of ShanitaSpeaks, LLC, a company that energizes clients to predict marketing trends, identify niche audiences, and effectively communicate measurable outcomes, all of which she spotlights as host of the #1-ranked Marketing Insights podcast series. Learn more about Shanita at:

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