Cornell University has been awarded the 2023 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award by INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine for its outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion. This award is the only national honor that recognizes institutions of higher education for their level of achievement and commitment to broadening diversity and inclusion on campus. It has been nearly a decade since Cornell last won a HEED Award in 2014 and 2015.
“Being named a recipient of the HEED Award is an acknowledgment of how much time and effort we have put into making our campus community one that values the diversity of our community members and making sure that each individual feels welcomed and appreciated,” Sonia Rucker, associate vice president of Inclusion and Belonging, said. “There is a disturbing trend where DEI policies and programs are coming under attack, and as a result, DEI-related initiatives are being repealed, and resources are being reallocated. However, Cornell has consistently committed time, effort and resources to being a more diverse and inclusive community.”
The award application was an extensive and collaborative effort, taking nearly three months to complete and relying on data from all areas of campus. Receiving the award was a vision of Cornell’s Presidential Advisors on Diversity and Equity (PADE), supported by Toral Patel, DEI programs consultant, who helped gather the data that was required.
“Every aspect of what we do as an organization is asked about in this application—staff, faculty and students,” Patel said. “Diversity and inclusion go beyond just gender and identity-based data. It is embedded in everything and in places we don’t always consider, like where the university is spending and investing its money, to alumni affairs and programming, to student graduation rates. It took a lot of coordinating with individuals across the university, and overall, Cornell is doing tremendously well in this space.”
Since the university’s inception, co-founders Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickinson White were committed to creating an institution that was open to all individuals, regardless of race or gender. The HEED Award recognizes Cornell’s devotion to these founding principles and acknowledges recent initiatives and programs that embrace all identities in a diverse community, such as the “Belonging at Cornell” framework, which aims to foster a more diverse and inclusive environment and improve the overall experience of Cornellians.
“This award is not a reflection of one department, program, training or individual,” Rucker said. “Those of us who do DEI-related work know our ongoing success is contingent on not only having institutional support from the leaders at the top but also support from those who work in nearly every department on campus and in the surrounding community. We cannot be successful and make progress without having ongoing education, awareness and support for our DE&I policies and procedures. This achievement signals to the community that we have accepted the challenge of remaining committed to doing the work and moving in the right direction; it does not mean the work is complete.”
The award application process not only reveals Cornell’s strengths in its commitment to creating an inclusive environment but also uncovers areas where the university can improve. Patel saw the process as a learning opportunity that “gives the university areas of focus for the future.”
“I hope we continue the work and continue to educate everyone about the benefits of being a community that values DE&I,” Rucker said. “There is a misperception that DE&I is only beneficial to a select group of people who hold certain identities. This is not true. Everyone on this campus is unique, and we all hold various identities that tell our stories, our history and who we are. Ezra Cornell’s vision of making Cornell a place where any person can find any study was aspirational—receiving the HEED Award is an acknowledgment of our collective efforts and commitment to achieving Ezra Cornell's vision.”
Cornell and all other HEED Award recipients will be featured in the November/December 2023 issue of the INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine.