RSO DEI Toolkit

The principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are growing increasingly important in today’s world. As our society becomes a more globally society, it is critical to us to understand how to translate DEI principles into tangible goals with meaningful and measurable results. The MSU 2030 Strategic Plan reflects this mission and outlines two DEI objectives that we seek to advance here: first, to provide a world-class academic environment that integrates DEI in teaching, research, and service, and second, to increase proactive engagement with historically underrepresented and underserved communities based on partnerships informed by shared goals and mutual learning. In the spirit of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Report and Plan, we aim to increase diversity, ensure equity, promote inclusion, and enhance outreach and engagement at the student level.

This Toolkit was jointly created by the Associated Students of Michigan State University (ASMSU), the Office of Spartan Experiences in the Department of Student Involvement and Leadership in the Division of Student Life and Engagement, and other campus partners devoted to making Michigan State University a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. The purpose of this Toolkit is to assist Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) in incorporating DEI principles and practices within their organizations. Our hope is that this Toolkit will be an ongoing resource for RSOs and student leaders throughout their time at Michigan State University.

  • Introduction

    Every Registered Student Organization (RSO) is responsible for creating diverse, equitable and inclusive environments for their members and the MSU community. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) awareness and practices can positively impact recruitment, retention, organizational strength, and making members well welcomed and valued. 

    There can be many well intentioned practices that can negatively impact the way many marginalized students from engaging with student organizations, such as expensive club fee, insensitive recrtuiment themes and practices, and an overall lack of awareness and knowledge of DEI in leadership. 

    Research has shown that having a diverse and inclusive workforce improves innovation, problem solving, and decision-making. For instance:

    • Research shows that gender-diverse and ethnically-diverse companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their markets (McKinsey).
    • When making a business decision, research shows that diverse teams will outperform their individual peers by 87% (PM Editorial).
    • Research also shows that diverse teams are much cognitively faster than their peers, meaning they solve problems much quicker (Harvard Business Review).

    As you being to utilize this Toolkit, we encourage you to consider the following questions to start your reflection and thinking about DEI within your RSO:

    1. Are your RSO practices aligned with your organization's mission?
    2. Is your RSO representative of the demographic that you are trying to target within the student body?
    3. Have you been conscious of DEI when recruiting members and conducting business?
    4. Do you actively aim to support students of color, LGBTQ+ students, first-gen students, low-income students, disabled students, and other minoritized groups in your organization?
  • Definitions
    • Diversity represents our varied collective and individual identities and differences. We recognize that diversity is a central component of inclusive excellence in research, teaching, service, outreach, and engagement. We are committed to engaging, understanding, promoting and fostering a variety of perspectives. We affirm our similarities and value our differences. We uphold that to truly be excellent, a university must support diversity. (MSU DEI Plan)

    • Equity goes beyond fair treatment, opportunity and access to information and resources for all, although these are crucial to the success of the university. Rather, equity can only be achieved in an environment built on respect and dignity that acknowledges historic and contemporary injustices. We are committed to intentionally and actively redressing barriers, challenging discrimination and bias, and institutionalizing access and resources that address historical and contemporary social inequalities. (MSU DEI Plan)

    • Inclusion actively invites all to contribute and participate. In the face of exclusive differential power, we strive to create balance. Every person’s voice is valuable, and no one person is expected to represent an entire community. We are committed to an open environment and campus where student, alumni, staff, faculty and community voices are equally respected and contribute to the overall institutional mission. (MSU DEI Plan)

    • Pronouns are words that substitute for nouns or noun phrases. Personal pronouns are words that are used in the place of names. Although we often use gendered pronouns to refer to people, such as she/her and he/him, it is important to realize that everyone does not fall into this binary. It is always best to refer to someone with the pronouns they identify with. (Gender Sexuality Campus Center)
  • Pronouns

    People should be referred to by the pronouns which they identify with. Using the pronouns that a person asks for you to use is a way to show them respect and to create a more trans-inclusive environment. Using someone’s pronouns is also about basic human dignity. It’s respectful to ask someone for their pronouns, especially if you’re just meeting them for the first time. Below are some considerations to incorporate pronouns usage within your organization.  

    • Foundational Documents
      • Constitution/Guiding Documents:
        • Consider using gener-neutral pronouns (they/them) in your constitution, code of conduct, by-laws, etc. instead of (he/she)

    • Marketing
      • Indicate pronouns for speakers listed on your marketing materials
        • Consider this in the context of graphics, alt-text, and general marketing text
      • Review descriptions for gender-neutral language
      • Add your pronouns in your email signature
        • Ex: Vicki Smith (she/they) 

    • Meetings
      • When known, indicate pronouns for speakers on your agenda 
      • Encourage members to introduce themselves with their pronouns.
      • If name tags are utilized, have people include their pronouns 
      • For online meetings ensure that closed captioning/transcript is on and available
      • Encourage members to add pronouns with their names on Zoom/MS Teams, etc.


    If you do make a mistake and misgender someone, utilize the following steps to address the harm. You can remember this proces by the acronym A.C.T.:

    • Apologize
    • Correct
    • Try Again

    Sharing your pronouns is a complex experience of both comfort and uncomfortability. We recognize that this information is personal, and some individuals might not be comfortable sharing this to the public. However, we hope that by implementing some of these practices your RSO can begin to create an inclusive and welcoming environment in your organization, so that your members can feel comfortable to share this information.

    For more information and resources visit the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center.

  • Recruitment

    The lifeblood of any RSO is effective recruiting. Unless new students are continuously brought to meetings and events, an organization will limit its time on campus.

    DEI principles are, to some extent, built into the process of recruiting; recruiters frequently look for members who want to add their unique experiences, ideas, and perspectives to the greater conscience of an RSO.

    However, recruiting efforts may also become an RSO’s greatest barrier to the integration of DEI values. Gatekeeping often occurs in the form of staying in your comfort zone when recruiting. 

    Below are some reflections and considerations on how to layer in DEI principles and practices to your recruitment efforts:

    • Reflections:
      • Are you intentionally speaking to diverse populations/organizations?
      • Are there fees associated with being a member of your organization?
        • Does your organization help members who cannot afford those costs?
          • Ex: Membership costs/dues
          • Ex: Activity costs
      • Does your organization use an application process?

    • Marketing Materials:
      • Utilize sharp contrasting colors (dark on light or light on dark) to assist with colorblindness
      • Select images that example a diverse community, inclusing race, gender, accessibility
      • Utilize pronouns when appropriate (see Pronouns Section for more practices)

    • Digital Materials:
      • Utilize closed captioning for videos
      • Use alt-text for images and graphics
        • You can alt-test on social media platforms and websites

    • General Practices:
      • When meeting new members, introduce yourself with your pronouns
      • When meeting a group of new members, utilize gender-neutral phrases such as 
        • "Hi y'all"
        • "Hello everyone"
      • Be aware of your tabling space and set up for those with accessibilty needs
      • Consider a wide range of marketing platforms and mediums for each event and recruitment campaign
        • Such as a marketing plan that include print and digital or digital and in-person
  • Programming

    When planning events, it is important to consider the purpose and how it aligns with your role in the Spartan community and creates diverse, equitable and inclusive spaces. This section provides reflections and things to consider during the event planning process.

    • Reflections:
      • What is the intent of your event vs. what will be the impact of your event?
      • What does your event promote?
      • Does it align with MSU’s values?
      • Who is your target audience?

    • Brainstorming:
      • Include a diverse groups of individuals to brainstorm the event
      • Utilize different mediums to brainstorm 
        • Ex: Verbally, as a group, individually, etc.

    • Logistics:
      • Food:
        • Consider diertary accomodations:
          • Vegan, vegetarian, food allergies
      • Venue:
        • Aisle space for accessibility
        • Tables
          • Can a wheelchair fit at the table?
          • Is there enough space dedicated at the table for a wheelchair accomodation
        • Chairs
          • Does it have arms or no arms?
        • Can you get into the building or to the room?
          • Elevators
          • Accessibilty Ramps
      • Decorations:
        • Balloons:
          • Use mylar balloons to avoid latex allergies
        • Wall decorations:
          • Do they flow/float and could they hinder anyone with accessibilty accomodations
        • Lighting:
          • Avoid strobe or flashing lights

    • Tickets:
      • Cost of tickets
        • Can tickets be avoided by doing fundraisers?

    • Calendar:
      • Class schedules
      • Religious and federal holidays
      • Time of day

    • Themes:
      • Your RSO may plan an event that intends to celebrate a particular culture, ethnic group, or nationality. When planned appropriately, these types of events can prove to be a tremendous success, where members of a celebrated group feel validated and appreciated. However, when these events are not carefully planned, they may be perceived by a targeted group as cultural appropriation. Instances of cultural appropriation may inflict trauma upon members of marginalized communities. It is important to be mindful of how you represent other cultures and identities, so that everyone feels respected. 
        •  Avoid themes and costumes that relate to an identity (IDI Office):
          • Black face
          • Cultural stereotypes
          • Islamophobia
          • Transphobia
          • Mental illness
          • Sexual harassment
          • Homelessness
        • Avoid themes and costumes that are related to traumatic events (IDI Office): 
          • Mass casuality event victims
          • National tragedies
          • Pandemic victim
          • Holocaust victim
  • Conflict Management and Accountability

    Conflict is a normal part of human interactions. When your RSO features an intellectually diverse membership, conflict is inevitable when planning events, coordinating operations, and pursuing your organizational mission. Conflict resolution involves knowing how to handle conflict before it arises, and in the event it does arise, knowing how to reach a peaceful solution. When you are prepared for conflict, situations can transform into positive learning experiences for all parties involved. It is an essential skill that will be beneficial throughout life. Below are reflections and  strategies for your RSO to use when managing conflict. 



    • What are the ideal outcomes or goals of the resolution process?
    • How willing are those involved to be actively engaged in the process?
    • Which resolution pathways (see below Strategies) have strengths and weaknesses that most effectively meet your needs?


    • Establish healthy communications and norms within your organization at the beginning of each year.
      • Report up, not out. talk to your advisor or others above you if you need help in situations, instead of spreading the information throughout the organization

    • Attack the behavior, not the person. Do not focus on the individual but the action/behavior of harm. 

    • 3 D’s: Delegate, Distract, Direct. This may be an effective strategy when responding to an tense social situation. Even though this may not lead to a solution for the root of a problem, it can reduce tensions enough to engage in the type of dialogue that leads to constructive problem solving.
      • Delegate: Ask assistance from another person when intervening.
      • Distract: Derail the incident by talking about something completely unrelated.
      • Direct: Put yourself into the situation and confront the problem. 

    • The PALS Approach: There may be moments where you are faced with a person who might be saying something problematic or hurtful about a specific community. When in this situation, remember the acronym PALS to stay connected with the person and speak your truth clearly. This approach may help resolve a bias incident, as well as help the afflicting party learn from their actions. PALS stands for:
      • Pause: The goal of pausing is to interrupt the flow of conversation and show the speaker that you’re interested in what they just said. It’s very important to use this step when you hear someone say something that needs to be acknowledged. Some ways you can pause the conversation is by saying phrases like “Wait a second”, “Excuse me”, or “Um, hold on a second”.
      • Acknowledge/Ask: Acknowledge what the person is saying. This shows that you are trying to understand what the other person has said. Even if what they said is against your own ideas, doing this shows respect and interest. Then, ask for clarification. Try to make sure you understand what the other person said. Let them know what you heard them say, maybe you misunderstood what they said. Sometimes this is all you need to do.
      • Listen: Although it sounds like a simple step, it is probably the most important step to continue engaging with the person. There is a difference between simply hearing a person in order to think of your response and the more active, engaged listening that takes place when you are truly trying to understand the meaning of what is being said. It is important to get curious and authentically listen to learn.
      • Speak your truth/story: Speak your truth, you want to be clear and describe your objective. Share your learning as well. There is something powerful in storytelling. We know that people are moved to open up and take other perspectives when they hear stories.
      • More information about the PALS strategy can be found at this webpage:
  • Resources
  • Contacts

    If you would like to meet with a team member to discuss more on how you can implemnt DEI practices into your RSO or have questions please feel free to contact any of the following:


    Assistant Director for Registered Student Organizations:

    RSO Consultant Manager: 

    RSO Consultant: