Call for Proposals: 2018 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Democracy

Deadline for proposal submission: Friday, August 25, 2017

“If activists and dissenters are marginalized in the assumed safety of the democratic culture that the higher education environment aims to provide, what does that say about the ability of American public research universities to prepare students for active and engaged participation in a diverse democracy?”
—“Student Activism as Civic Engagement: Challenging Institutional Conditions for Civic Leadership at University of Virginia,” Walter F. Heinecke et al.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) invites proposals that examine how educational, cultural, and structural aspects of higher education are preparing today’s student population for life, work, and participation in democratic society—and how these aspects might need to change to best meet the educational aspirations of today’s students and realize our nation’s founding principles.  

AAC&U strongly encourages proposals that balance conceptual and theoretical frameworks with concrete, pragmatic examples; that highlight the mechanics and how-to pieces of a practice, strategy, or model; that facilitate reflection and engagement that helps translate vision into practice; feature mature evidence-based programs; and foster discovery and problem solving through idea sharing and community building. Proposals should address how the work can be adapted in a wide range of institutional types, including community colleges and minority-serving institutions.

All session presenters are responsible for conference registration fees, travel, and hotel expenses.  Presentations will take place from Friday, March 23 at 8:00 a.m. through Saturday, March 24 at 11:00 a.m. Presenters should plan to be available at the time their session appears in the conference program.

Developing and Submitting a Proposal

The online proposal form includes the following fields:

  • Name, title, discipline, institution name and Carnegie Classification, and email address of each facilitator
  • Session format
  • Proposal Topic
  • Session title (100-character limit including spaces)
  • Anticipated participant learning outcomes (100-word limit)
  • Background and evidence of effectiveness of work being presented (250-word limit)
  • Plan for participant engagement (150-word limit, not required for posters)
  • Brief description to be used in conference program if accepted (examples follow each description) 
  • LEAP Featured Sessions 

Proposal Review Criteria

AAC&U strives to offer a balanced, informative, and thought-provoking conference focused on frameworks for undergraduate liberal education. It seeks to empower and embolden all educators to provide a coherent, purposeful undergraduate experience for all students, with emphasis on effective pathways from cornerstone to capstone at and among two- and four-year institutions.  

The proposal selection committee will include experienced academic professionals of a diverse range of backgrounds and areas of expertise. Successful proposals will represent evidence-based theory-to-practice models that interrogate the effectiveness of existing campus cultures and structures in the context of today’s student demographics; local, national, and global communities; and our nation’s reliance on an educated and engaged citizenry. It invites innovative strategies and work in progress for transforming cultures that are not keeping pace with these realities. The following elements serve as proposal selection criteria:

  • Potential for the proposed session/presentation to advance new equity-minded approaches to teaching and learning; to break down elitism in the academy; and to foster and sustain collaborations among academic affairs and student affairs.   
  • Inclusion of evidenced-based theory-to-practice models that connect research and scholarship with effective approaches to developing courses, curricula, pedagogies, assessment practices, and campus cultures that engage all students in high-quality learning experiences and that connect student learning with critical social issues that matter to students and to society.
  • Extent to which the session/presentation offers creative, novel, and transformative mechanisms for designing and facilitating critical dialogues to advance understanding across difference and and promote idea sharing for institutional transformation.
  • Extent to which the proposed session/presentation provides evidence of effectiveness, lessons learned, challenges overcome, and applicability across a range of institutional types.
  • Explicit plans for involving participants in reflection, discussion, exercises, and other activities that will help them understand and apply the material.
  • Extent to which proposals reflect diverse perspectives, innovations, disciplines, and strategies for change. Student voices and perspectives are encouraged.  

Proposal Topics

We offer a few questions and topics to guide proposal development. These prompts serve as points of departure and are not intended to limit the range of creative ideas and innovations. We look forward to learning about your expertise, experience, and lessons learned in identifying and addressing the inconvenient truths that impede student access to high-quality learning experiences and the development of inclusive campus cultures that respect, nurture, and engage all voices.

  • Real vs. Ideal: How do your mission statement, strategic plan, policies, and practices reflect and support your institution’s vision of the “ideal” campus? What realities (inconvenient truths) on your campus are impeding the realization of this vision? How can you and your colleagues address these barriers to foster a campus climate where all students achieve essential learning outcomes and a sense of purpose and agency?
  • Interrogating Assumptions: What assumptions does your institution make regarding the most effective educational, cultural, and structural frameworks for student learning? How are campus practitioners examining the language used to define inclusion, equity, and academic excellence and the ways that stakeholders perceive these definitions and their relevance to the quality of their lives? How are institutions questioning the capacity of traditional frameworks to prepare today’s students for success in a globally interdependent world?
  • Politics and Policies: How are current politics and policies affecting student access and success in higher education? How is higher education ensuring that all students feel safe and consider themselves to be part of the campus community? How are campuses allocating resources to focus on high-quality education, mentoring, and support for all students?
  • Structural Hierarchies and Institutional Transformation: How are educators breaking down elitism in the academy and connecting with all sectors of society to foster inclusive, critical dialogues and commitment to evidence-based reasoning for institutional transformation? What strategies are proving effective in moving beyond diversity and inclusion to achieve equity embodying our democratic principles? 
  • Biases: How are campuses addressing educational, cultural, and structural inequities based on implicit and explicit cultural and racial biases that impede student success?
  • High-Impact Practices and Evidence-Based Strategies: How are educators designing and implementing critical pedagogies, culturally relevant conversations, and high-impact practices from first to final year? How are they creating practices specifically for first-generation students? How are evidence-based strategies informing course, curricular, and cocurricular guided learning pathways? How are disaggregated data and assessment practices providing information about the changes needed to ensure achievement and success for all students?
  • Faculty Development and Engagement: How are campuses bridging inequities among adjunct, tenure-track, and tenured faculty? How are campus leaders preparing adjunct and tenured faculty to understand diversity, practice inclusion and equity, engage in campus-wide discussions, facilitate difficult dialogues, and understand where and how to foster safe spaces that lead to new understandings of self, community, and the world?
  • Institutionalizing Diversity, Equity, and Student Success: How are campuses moving from outside reward systems such as grants to institutional missions and strategic plans that reflect, operationalize, and fulfill our nation’s democratic promise of inclusion and equity?

LEAP Featured Sessions

Conference sessions designated as “LEAP Featured Sessions” highlight the innovative work of colleges and universities that are members of AAC&U’s LEAP Campus Action Network (CAN). Featured Sessions make explicit the links between campus-based educational reform and the LEAP Essential Learning Outcomes, Principles of Excellence, and High-Impact Practices developed as part of AAC&U’s Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative.

For more information on applying to have your conference session designated as a LEAP Featured Session, visit

Session Formats

Poster Session (90 minutes; 1–2 presenters; 6’x3’ table)
Poster presenters share visual models of equity-focused curricular and cocurricular frameworks (real vs. ideal), critical pedagogies, and approaches to promoting inclusive and difficult dialogues; strategies for institutional transformation and for interrogating assumptions; research findings and disaggregated data regarding student development and learning; faculty development, support, and reward programs and policies; and designs for high-impact practices. The poster session provides an opportunity for presenters to talk with attendees about how to apply findings to their own work. AAC&U provides a 4’x3’ bifold poster board and 6’x3’ table for the poster board and other resources.  

Example of a Poster Session

Five Principles of Inclusive Pedagogy
To be effective, twenty-first-century pedagogies must be sensitive to the increasingly diverse nature of today’s students. Colleges and universities must develop inclusive approaches that provide opportunities for all students to achieve their educational goals. Participants will learn about five pedagogical principles that foster inclusive learning. These principles include (1) instructor rapport; (2) student identification with course content that relates to their own experiences; (3) building on previous student knowledge of “schemas” or concept structures; (4) collaboration among student groups; and (5) relationship of course content to social issues. Faculty and student affairs educators can use these principles to implement specific teaching strategies. Administrators can use them to design and implement learning programs.

Facilitated Discussions (60 minutes; 1–4 facilitators; room set in round tables; no audiovisuals)
Facilitated Discussions provide time for colleagues to examine topics of similar interest through iterative sharing of expertise and experiences. They provide an opportunity to work through issues (e.g., interrogate assumptions), engage in problem solving (e.g., break down hierarchies), and explore new ideas—all from multiple perspectives. Proposals for a discussion should briefly set the context for the conversation related to one of the conference topics, and articulate the intended audience in terms of institutional type, position, or particular area of practice. Facilitators assist the group in examining new ways of thinking about the topic and strategies for moving forward given the professional reality and expertise of each individual in the room. This session should allow for questions from all participants to stimulate and focus the conversation so it is meaningful to all involved.

Example of a Facilitated Discussion

Achieving Academic Equity: Moving from Challenges to Opportunities (Advanced)
Session facilitators will utilize small-group discussions to explore three issues central to achieving academic equity for all students. They will invite participants to consider (1) how to identify equity gaps among underserved student populations and strategies for eliminating these gaps; (2) how to accommodate first-year students with heterogeneous academic preparation, particularly in a mid-to-large public institution; and (3) how to develop an equity-minded campus culture that embraces diversity and actively shares responsibility for student success.  Participants will consider and develop concrete strategies for achieving outcomes related to these three interconnected areas of work.

Workshops—Theory to Practice (75 minutes each; 2–4 facilitators; rooms set in round tables; audiovisuals available upon request)
Workshops provide opportunities for participants to bridge vision with theory and practice. Facilitators should guide participants in examining critical theories and scholarly evidence that support the mechanics of developing inclusive dialogues focused on questioning assumptions and exploring real vs. ideal institutional frameworks for equity-focused purposeful pathways for learning. Workshops might engage participants in examining and developing critical pedagogies, courses that connect student learning with real-world issues, curricular/cocurricular initiatives, professional development programs, and strategies for institutional transformation. Facilitators should provide scholarship and evidence related to the topic and engage participants in reflection, discussion, and design work. Reviewers will give priority to proposals that model high-impact practices such as collaborative and hands-on activities, those that include a diversity of facilitators, and those that explain how the work applies to other institutional types.

Example of a Workshop

Creating Inclusive Campus Climates: An Alternative Approach
Today’s knowledge economy depends on a highly educated and diverse workforce. Despite large commitments of time, money, and effort, reform of US higher education has been ineffective in closing the educational attainment gaps among students with different backgrounds. Further, colleges and universities struggle to move beyond the narrowness of curricula and pedagogies designed for a different time. Session facilitators will present the hypothesis that lack of institutional progress in addressing inequality is an artifact of the underlying system structure and posit that closing “achievement gaps” requires changes in the system itself. Facilitators will describe the work of a multi-institutional community of faculty and staff who aspire to diversity and equity in education through a process of transformation and shared practices that support personal and systemic change. This interactive session will encourage participants to contribute to a group concept map for change and challenge them to develop personalized action plans. Participants will broaden concepts of diversity to encompass diversity of thought and knowing, examine relationships between forms of diversity, and understand challenges associated with development of campus environments that honor and support diversity.

Innovation/Ideation Sessions (30 minutes; 1–2 presenters; room set in round tables; audiovisuals available upon request)
These sessions feature initial steps or cutting-edge advances in reframing higher education to focus on the assets, skills, and aspirations that students bring to college. They might address any of the suggested conference topics (or other topics of interest) to help participants interrogate and move past the assumptions that impede student access, success, and preparation for work and engagement in our global society. Sessions should describe the institutional context, guiding theories, status of the project including any lessons learned, and applicability to other types of institutions. Please allow time for audience questions.

Example of an Innovation/Ideation Session

Equity-Based Interdisciplinary Collaboration at an Urban Commuter Campus
This session will examine establishing and sustaining collaborations for curricular and cocurricular innovations and high-impact practices. Session facilitators will guide participants in discussing how to use an equity lens to investigate the research question, Taking into account an urban commuter setting and the needs of its first-generation and underrepresented student population, what do stakeholders describe as key elements of a successful program design? Participants will gain an understanding of utilizing institutional equity scorecard reports as frameworks for interdisciplinary programs, develop some essential questions to frame the challenges they face, identify their own stakeholders, and design a strategic plan for data collection and analysis. This will help the institution intentionally design innovative programs suited to student needs.

Additional Information

The deadline for proposal submission is Friday, August 25, 2017.

Upon submission of a proposal, the primary session contact should receive an automatic message confirming receipt. If the contact does not receive this message (and it has not been captured by contact’s spam filter), please email


The primary session contact will receive an email message indicating the decision on the proposal on September 22.

Expenses and Fees

All session presenters are responsible for conference registration fees, travel, and hotel expenses. Please ensure that all individuals listed in the proposal have this information and can be available at the appropriate time during the event. Presentation times take place Friday, March 23, at 8:00 a.m. through Saturday, March 24, at 11:00 a.m.  

AAC&U Sponsorship Program

Proposals that promote products or services available for purchase will not be considered through the regular proposal process, but will be referred to AAC&U’s Sponsorship Program

More information about sponsorships for the conference is available by writing to