New Conversation: Inclination Towards Trendy Terms vs. Genuine Willingness to Work Toward Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Inclination Towards Trendy Terms vs. Genuine Willingness to Work Toward Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion:
A Conversation with Wu Xie
In December 2023, JPHE Senior Editor Z.W. Taylor spoke with Wu Xie, a fifth year PhD candidate in the Higher Education Student Affairs program at The Ohio State University in Ohio, USA. In this Conversation, Wu discusses her research interests, including how organizations in the higher education landscape can work collaboratively to promote the resilience of minoritized students. In an era where United States government(s) are actively restricting the ability of institutions of higher education to facilitate diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus, Wu’s work is critically important to understand how minoritized students can still be cared for on campus.
Zach Taylor: Please briefly introduce yourself - what is your education background and what are you interested in regarding research and work?
Wu Xie: My name is Wu Xie, and I am originally from China. After working in electrical engineering for eight years, I finally found an area that I am truly passionate about and where I can make a difference and make changes to make the lives of those who are struggling better. I am currently a fifth year PhD candidate in the Higher Education Student Affairs program at The Ohio State University. My research program includes a couple of areas which might, at first glance, seem not very connected, but trust me, they are really connected. I am interested in figuring out how organizations in the higher education landscape can work collaboratively to promote the resilience of minoritized students. Based on this simple sentence, you can figure out that there are at least two streams of research - one is on the lived experiences of minoritized students, and the other focus is on organizations, and not just higher education institutions, but also other types of community-based organizations that influence students' experiences.
Zach Taylor: In some of those strands of research and in the research, you have done so far, what has really stuck out to you or surprised you - when have you encountered a surprise where you made a connection you didn't expect?
Wu Xie: What is surprising to me - to be honest, some findings that are surprising at first glance are not actually that surprising when examined closely. I don't know if this will make sense after I give you some examples. As I said, I have two areas of study, one focuses on students, and one focuses on organizations. So, if I am going to study organizations, I definitely need perspectives from leaders or decision makers working in higher education, for example those in student affairs and diversity/equity/inclusion roles. I reached out to about 160 such leaders across different types of institutions including public and private. My rationale for focusing on the selected institutions is that they have a higher enrollment of Asian-identified students, so supporting Asians is part of their job. Of those 160 leaders I reached out to, only 16 agreed to be interviewed by me. That number was a bit surprising to the researchers and professors I work with because a typical participation rate would be around 30-40% and I only got 10%. Additionally, given how new my research question is in the current literature, I would expect people to be more willing to talk about this very much needed research project amidst the rising national attention to anti-Asian hate. I understand people are busy and overwhelmed with their jobs, but I only needed one hour of their time.
So that is one thing that was both surprising and yet not surprising when it comes to my research involving organizations and leaders. But to accurately answer your initial question about surprising research findings, I discovered that institutions which had experienced local anti-Asian incidents reported in their news or past high-profile on-campus anti-Asian incidents, the leaders I talked with in student affairs/DEI roles - you would reasonably assume they have a good understanding of what happened and what Asian students need. But it appears they do not actually know anything beyond being willing to acknowledge those incidents happened. When asked about anti-Asian rhetoric, they instead start talking about incidents and racism towards other racialized minority groups - which is relevant but does not directly answer my question about anti-Asian issues specifically.
Zach Taylor: So there seems to be some conflation or confusion between rhetoric perceived as anti-Asian versus general racist rhetoric towards other minoritized groups - they don't connect anti-Asian attitudes to racism itself. Is that fair to say? Does the model minority myth relate to this at all?
Wu Xie: Yes, definitely there are a couple leaders who explicitly identified the model minority myth and stereotypes as something impacting Asian and Asian American experiences. But overall, even though the myth has become increasingly discussed over recent years, I have not observed deeper understanding about how it manifests itself in the day-to-day realities students face beyond just stating it exists. And this leads me to something I grapple with as an Asian myself and a DEI scholar - how to move beyond just throwing around these trendy terms to truly make meaningful change.
Zach Taylor: I completely agree - terms like "racist" are often just lip service without considering lived experiences or what the institution will actually do in response. If a school calls something racist, what actions follow to challenge that racism in reality? My research examines institutional responses moving from rhetoric to tangible support. Is that an aim of your work as well?
Wu Xie: I would say both yes and no. Words still matter - institutional leaders speaking up to protect students helps assure them they are valued, even if no direct action follows. But yes, institutions also need to reflect whether every action they take challenges or reinforces the racism they claim to oppose. They require clear definitions of diversity, inclusion, bias, racism to guide that reflection. It all relates to the authentic willingness for change. There is good literature with strategic recommendations, but I don't know whether institutions read and apply them. For example, one article suggests including demographic questions about race/ethnicity for international students to be seen as racial minorities - very easy to implement but rarely done.
Zach Taylor: A hundred percent - better data allows understanding disparate treatment. And it helps guide hiring representative leadership. If schools take those steps you suggest, what should they do next with that data to perpetuate support?
Wu Xie: I want to clarify I don't recommend institutions include endless identity categories - just allowing international students to self-identify race/ethnicity they connect with is important, so they are considered in resource allocation. After that, minoritized students should be considered across various campus offices collectively, rather than isolated in international student services. But representation is still an obstacle - most senior leaders at predominantly white institutions remain white. So how can you ensure minority voices are heard without symbolic or active representation from leaders of similar identities? That is where white allies advocating as representatives is crucial.
Zach Taylor: So, there are functional changes needed in how schools operate and serve students as well as representation changes in leadership. Where do you anticipate hurdles disseminating such research findings?
Wu Xie: A main hurdle is that senior leaders may feel findings don't apply to their specific institutional context since much research does not attend to contextual specifics. But if studies are methodologically rigorous, they discuss the transferability of their arguments and recommendations. So, leaders should work on judgment discerning what findings can reasonably inform their setting. Our Ohio State study on faculty progression considers institutional context closely. So, administrators readily trust the data can guide recommendations for this university specifically. Even research less tailored to a given context holds value for broadly improving practices - leaders just need training in applying it judiciously rather than dismissing it as irrelevant. They should have the mindset to carefully consider how empirically sound scholarship can be brought to action at their institution.
You can read more about Wu’s work at https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Wu-Xie-6