Racism

Report spotlights work of 10 campus-based centers focused on racial healing and transformation

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Association of American Colleges and Universities report examines the establishment of 10 campus-based centers focused on racial healing and transformation.

Actions higher ed institutions should take to help eradicate racism (opinion)

Higher education institutions in the United States are failing to fully buy in to an equitable and just society for all. Although affirmative action is meant to redress former policies and practices that excluded or limited Black and brown people (and women) from obtaining postsecondary educations and good jobs, racial disparities persist in both arenas.

Black and Latinx students are more likely to receive educations from institutions that are less funded, have higher dropout rates, operate for profit, pay lower faculty salaries and have higher student-to-faculty ratios. The educational spending gap alone gives white students a $5 billion advantage over students of color at public colleges every year, and spending directly impacts student graduation rates.

For those who do graduate, racial inequities follow them into the job market. A 2019 study by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University found that white workers, as compared to Black and Latinx workers, are more likely to have good jobs, increased their share of good jobs between 1991 and 2016, and have a disproportionate share of good jobs relative to their levels of employment. Among Black, Latinx and white workers with good jobs, the researchers found that white workers are paid more at every level of education. The racial inequities in representation and earnings shifted $554 billion from Black and Latinx workers to white workers in 2016 alone.

The outlook is bleak: American institutions have already ensured immense generational advantages for whites and disadvantages for people of color. And this will continue if we do nothing.

The time for all social institutions to become antiracist and sever all ties with systemic racism is long overdue. As Beverly D. Tatum, a scholar of race in America, reminds us, we are in an active cycle of racism. Being passive will only ensure that we will still have racial inequities far into the future.

I mourn in fury because our country failed to protect Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and so many other precious lives while continuing to disenfranchise many more. Taking inspiration from organizations addressing the criminal justice system like the Movement for Black Lives and Civil Rights Corps, and drawing upon my experiences in higher education, I envision colleges and universities as antiracist institutions that participate fully in restoring the dignity, sanctity and empowerment of communities of color through policies and practices that produce and sustain racial equity.

Three Tiers of Recommendations

In the rest of this essay, I will suggest various practices and policies to help leaders of higher education institutions close the racial gaps. I’ve divided my recommendations into three tiers that progressively unfold toward a greater embodiment of antiracist positions for higher education.

First, however, if the reforms are to be effective, these four overarching principles must prevail, as well:

  1. All reforms must be committed to reinstating civil rights, restorative justice, dignity and respect to the communities that have been the targets of systemic racism.
  2. All reforms must be holistic, recognizing that racism is a pervasive system that holds a tight iron fist on Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities. They must not just be a haphazard menu of options but be part of a cohesive approach.
  3. All reforms must be participatory, enabling BIPOC communities and independent civil rights organizations to share decision making. In particular, local communities must be empowered to influence priorities and offer meaningful oversight.
  4. All reforms must be intersectional, acknowledging the great diversity among BIPOC communities, including but not limited to economic status, immigration status, gender, sexual orientation, pregnancy, religion, disability, HIV status and ethnicity -- which, when intertwined, can deepen the inequalities in our societies.

Within the context of those four principles, leaders of colleges and universities should consider the following.

Tier 1 -- Novice: ensuring responsibility and accountability. You are responsible for educating and providing knowledge about BIPOC histories of racism and implicit bias training to your communities. You are holding yourself and your institution accountable for ensuring that racism does not continue within your institution. You work to ensure that those who represent or attend your institution are prepared and empowered to be allies in fighting racism. This is about breaking institutional silence and becoming a responsible social organization. You:

  • Publicly take responsibility for your college or university’s historical participation in racism and discrimination, and you acknowledge who has benefited and who has been disadvantaged or harmed.
  • Develop funded, mandatory antiracism workshops, reading groups and teach-ins for department faculty, university staff and students led by experts in their respective disciplines that include BIPOC histories of racism.
  • Advance campus debate about racial justice by inviting antiracist and BIPOC history speakers to hold discussions in and outside classrooms.
  • Publicly denounce all racism, hate, discrimination and bias -- both before and after all incidents.
  • Follow transparent procedures for removing faculty, staff and students who are found to be perpetuating discrimination, hate and/or bias on and off campus.
  • Implement a universitywide hate and bias incident reporting system with safeguards for victims and transparent methods for addressing all reports effectively. You ensure that collected data on incidents is disseminated for analysis, policy improvements and prevention.
  • Fund semester-long and winter, spring and summer break trips for students to historical sites to learn the histories of racism and colonialism. You also reform service programs so that they do not re-enact colonialist exchanges with communities of color.

Tier 2 -- Intermediate: countering and redressing a legacy of racism. Having acknowledged that your institution is embedded in a society that has systematically targeted and disempowered BIPOC communities through racist and discriminatory policies, practices and laws, your institution begins to redress and dismantle centuries of racism embedded in the fabric and culture of society. This is done by supporting internal and external community efforts dedicated to those actions. You:

  • Increase funding for departments, centers and faculty that offer social justice, critical race, queer, ethnic and gender studies classes and workshops.
  • Incentivize departments to hire researchers and educators who do critical race, ethnic and gender studies work.
  • Dedicate alternating years of your institution’s work contracts to local Black- and brown-owned businesses or guarantee that 50 percent of all contracts go to BIPOC-owned businesses.
  • Build and fund student internship opportunities with organizations fighting against systemic racism.
  • Divest from police departments and redirect funding to local restorative justice services.
  • Create visible, well-funded and continuing partnerships with HBCUs.
  • Eliminate legacy and donor considerations in applications.
  • Create a campuswide antiracism campaign.
  • Create or reinvest in comprehensive antiracist policy institutes on the campus to fight institutionalized racism in partnership with local, regional and national organizations. Publicly report goals and progress.
  • Support graduate student workers and adjunct faculty unions rather than opposing the collective bargaining power of your graduate students and adjuncts.

Tier 3 -- Advanced: enacting an equitable antiracist society. Desiring to live in a just world, your institution enacts policies that create and maintain equity among racial groups, despite ongoing racism in our society. You:

  • Divest from prisons, parole and bail corporations, and prison vendors.
  • Build local food system infrastructures in communities that are historically the target of systemic racism.
  • Invest in affordable housing infrastructure in communities that are historically the target of systemic racism.
  • Create low-interest loan programs for Black, Indigenous, immigrant, queer, working-class and POC small business owners.
  • Divest from banks that have a record of racially inequitable lending practices.
  • Offer free or low-cost community education programs in BIPOC communities.
  • Build accessible pathways to enter your institution for BIPOC communities (for example, by changing advertising practices and sending representatives to BIPOC communities).
  • Invest in programs that support K-12 education in communities that are historically disadvantaged by racism.
  • Create dual-enrollment programs in partnership with high schools that serve BIPOC and working-class communities.
  • Lower tuition fees and create sliding-scale tuition structures.
  • Eliminate the use of standardized test scores in college admissions.
  • Make all on-campus housing, meal plans and extracurricular institutional activities optional and affordable.
  • Pay all staff, graduate workers and faculty members a living wage with health care, paid sick leave and paid maternity leave.
  • Eliminate all conflict-of-interest contracts and enact policies to fight internal corruption and discriminatory hiring, firing and promoting practices.
  • Reduce adjunct and non-tenure-track faculty positions at your institution to 20 percent or lower, and increase tenure or tenure-track faculty positions to 80 percent or higher.

This work should not wait for legal mandates, nor should an institution self-regulate its progress. Rather, higher education institutions should build strategic initiatives with research-based advocacy centers (e.g., the Poverty and Race Research Action Council), institutional evaluation and consulting organizations (e.g., Beloved Community and Achieving the Dream), and similar independent national and local groups dedicated to enacting an antiracist society.

And this work should begin now. As Martin Luther King Jr. aptly wrote, “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

Krishni Metivier is a doctoral candidate focusing on race and religion at Duke University and former chair of the university’s graduate student task force against hate and bias.

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The 'First Amendment response' as the first response to racism on campus

The First Amendment is important, but it's not recommended as college officials' first response when students engage in racist and offensive speech.

Faculty should support the academic freedom of colleagues who buck conventional wisdom (opinion)

In March, as the coronavirus crisis moved college instruction online, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk called on students to send “any and all videos of blatant indoctrination” to his organization. “Now is the time to document & expose the radicalism that has been infecting our schools,” Kirk tweeted.

The reaction among my fellow professors was swift and sharp. You can’t teach -- or, at least, you can’t teach well -- if you’re always looking over your shoulder, wondering who will troll you for a stray comment about white privilege or the Israel/Palestine conflict. Kirk’s efforts threatened academic freedom, we said, and an attack on one professor was an attack on all.

“If one of your colleagues gets hit, support them,” Yale University philosopher Jason Stanley urged. “It is not a time to lecture them about what you think they did wrong. They need your support, not your moralizing and sanctimoniousness. We’re all in this together.”

So where were these staunch defenders of freedom when Harald Uhlig was getting flayed recently for criticizing Black Lives Matter?

Sitting on their hands, mostly. Over the past century, at moments of great national stress, our profession has failed to rally behind colleagues who buck the conventional wisdom. And we’re repeating that ugly history right now, by hanging them out to dry.

That’s what happened to Uhlig, a prominent economist at the University of Chicago and the editor of the prestigious Journal of Political Economy. In a series of tweets on June 9, Uhlig said that Black Lives Matter had “torpedoed itself” by demanding the defunding of police. He went on to compare BLM to “flat-earthers and creationists,” calling for “sensible adults to enter back into the room” for “serious, earnest, respectful conversations” about police reform.

Uhlig wasn’t done. “Look: I understand, that some out there still wish to go and protest and say #defundpolice and all kinds of stuff, while you are still young and responsibility does not matter,” he added. “Enjoy! Express yourself! Just don’t break anything, ok? And be back by 8 pm.”

I understand why many of Uhlig’s fellow economists were offended by his posts, especially in a field that has struggled to enlist minority scholars. Uhlig didn't simply question BLM; he dismissed and demeaned it. And, of course, his opponents are free to express their opinions, just as Uhlig should be.

What I cannot accept is the way they called for his head, which is different from criticizing his comments. The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago cut ties with Uhlig, who had been a consultant in its research department. And economists around the country demanded that he step down as editor of his journal, arguing that his tweets had made him morally unfit at such a charged political moment.

Uhlig isn't alone. At the University of California, Los Angeles, business school professor Gordon Klein was placed on leave for an email rejecting his students' demand for a "no-harm" final exam -- that is, one that can only help your grade -- in light of the recent traumas suffered by African American students. Klein asked how he could know which students were black -- especially in a class that was meeting online -- and noted that Martin Luther King Jr. had said people should not be evaluated by skin color. "Do you think that your request would run afoul of MLK's admonition?" Klein asked.

Again, I can understand why students were offended by Klein's response. But I can't understand the decision to remove a 39-year teaching veteran from the classroom, which should send chills down the spine of anyone who cares about academic freedom in the United States. With one errant email -- or a single thread of tweets -- you can be rendered a pariah forever. The national good demands it, or so we like to imagine.

That's what we said during World War I, when at least 20 faculty members lost their jobs for criticizing America’s role in it. They got no help from the American Association of University Professors, which had issued a statement two years earlier claiming that the university should be an “intellectual experiment station” where everyone was free to say what they thought.

But all of that went out the window when the country went to war. A month after the United States entered the conflict, the AAUP resolved that professors had “special obligations” to support the war effort. It added an extra warning for faculty members of German descent, who should “refrain from public discussions of the war” and “avoid all hostile or offensive expressions concerning the United States and its government.”

The most prominent casualty was Columbia psychologist James McKeen Cattell, who didn’t publicly denounce the war but did question conscription for it. That was enough to get him fired. “What had been tolerated before has become intolerable now,” Columbia president Nicholas Murray Butler declared. “What had been wrongheadedness was now sedition.” Didn’t Cattell know there was a war going on?

A similar argument was used to dismiss more than 100 professors in the 1950s: at another moment of grave existential danger, this time from Communism, we simply couldn’t risk letting anyone play for the other team. But critics added a new twist, claiming that Communists’ allegedly slavish devotion to their creed made them unfit for a university that prized the free exchange of ideas.

So purging Communist professors was really “a matter of ethical hygiene,” wrote Sidney Hook, the most prominent defender of the dismissals. By embracing Communism, the argument went, those professors had forsaken the values that defined the university itself.

The biggest myth about the McCarthy period is that purges of university faculty were imposed upon an unwilling professoriate. In fact, most American faculty members embraced the campaign to remove Communist or left-leaning colleagues. They took loyalty oaths, condemned “fellow travelers” and did everything else they could to protect the university from its supposed Red enemy.

Repeating Patterns

You don’t have to like Harald Uhlig -- or approve of his tweets -- to see that we’re repeating all the same patterns in the campaign against him. Uhlig, we’re told, is a cancer on the university. He represents the opposite of everything we stand for: diversity, inclusion and equity. He must be eliminated, at all costs.

And that means scrutinizing his earlier activities, just as Red hunters scoured the backgrounds of their targets. Uhlig’s tormentors even recycled a series of tweets he issued back in 2017, during the dispute over National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking a knee before games. “Would you defend football players waving the confederate flag and dressing in Ku Klux Klan garb during the playing of the national anthem?” Uhlig asked.

Critics said last week that Uhlig had equated Kaepernick with Confederates and the KKK, which was the surest sign that a full-on character assassination was underway. Uhlig’s point was that all of us can imagine certain kinds of activities that the NFL should prohibit, including the use of racist regalia. So the league clearly retained the right to regulate player behavior, no matter what you thought of its restrictions on Kaepernick.

But who’s got time for nuance when we're fighting the good fight? The point is to obliterate Uhlig, utterly and completely, which will in turn discourage any further critique of Black Lives Matter. How many people do you think will question BLM’s position on police defunding from this point on? Would you take that chance, now that you’ve seen what happened to Harold Uhlig?

And that, too, echoes earlier periods of repression. In the 1950s, especially, faculty members who had reservations about the Cold War against the Soviet Union almost always kept quiet about it. “I teach what I’m told, not necessarily what I think,” one anonymous professor wrote.

Our university leaders are busily issuing new loyalty oaths, declaring allegiance to Black Lives Matter, and everyone else is expected to follow along. That can’t be good for our democracy, or for our universities. It’s not even good for Black Lives Matter! Like any other social movement, BLM can only benefit from a full and free discussion of it.

I say that as an unabashed ally and supporter of BLM, which has done more than any other organization to expose and challenge racism in policing. But it doesn’t need to rest of us to police the university on its behalf. That patronizes the movement, all in the guise of protecting it.

So if somebody else gets hit for criticizing Black Lives Matter, stand by them. It is not a time to lecture them about what you think they did wrong. They need your support, not your moralizing and sanctimoniousness. And we’re all in this together.

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches education and history at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of The Amateur Hour: A History of College Teaching in America, which will be published in the fall by Johns Hopkins University Press.

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Administrators who say they support diversity and inclusion aren't reaching out enough to black colleagues now (opinion)

Courtney N. Wright asks, why aren't more administrators who say they support diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives reaching out to their black colleagues now?

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Diversity Newsletter publication date: 
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
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Dear DEI People: Your Black Colleagues Are Waiting
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Colleges shouldn't simply focus on diversity and inclusion but also attack systemic racism (opinion)

The language of diversity and inclusion, whether intentional or not, can often serve as a way for institutions to abdicate their responsibility for doing their part in dismantling racism and systems of oppression. I certainly admit my own complicity, in at times being seduced into operating against my better judgement and conflating the two.

But the current nationwide peaceful protests demanding justice for the black victims of police brutality and shining a light on ingrained policies and practices of inequality have solidified a recurring life lesson from my community work: diversity, equity and inclusion are not synonymous with antiracism.

Before speaking at universities or corporations, I am sometimes asked to send my slides a few days ahead of my visit. I usually have a few slides with embedded videos, so I’m always happy to get the assistance of a tech person. I’ve recently been thinking about a particular experience involving my slides.

Several months ago, I was invited to a university after student protests about what those students described as a string of racist incidents. My role was to speak to students, faculty members and administrators about racial implicit bias in anticipation of concrete actions to follow. During the preparatory phone call, the chief diversity officer shared that they had asked me to speak on campus because of my national reputation in implicit bias education and my extensive experience in facilitating conversations about race.

Shortly after I arrived on the campus, I attended what started as a wonderful breakfast with the president and other senior leaders. As I was waiting in the buffet line, the president walked up to me, thanked me for coming to campus and mentioned that he had seen my slides. I’ll never forget his next words: “You know, at ____, we try to include everyone in our university family. We value diversity. It’s not about race. I admit that we’ve had some issues in the past, but we try to all get along. We want to build a more diverse community to help prepare our students for the environment they will live and work in after graduation. I hope you can help us with that.”

As various senior leaders offered comments over breakfast, they reinforced the president’s comments. The laudable institutional goal of enhancing student diversity was viewed as subsuming issues of race. From their perspective, they had no need to speak directly about race. I gave my presentation as planned, with a focus on racial implicit bias.

To be sure, my efforts will continue to include a focus on the importance of engaging a wide range of viewpoints, perspectives and backgrounds as I go about the diversity, equity and inclusion work that’s so important to me personally and to the organizations I work with. But my focus will also be on the fight to eradicate systemic racism. This focus has been a source of contention in some of the organizations and environments where I’ve worked or consulted. The belief abounds that we can simply conflate the interrogation of systemic racism with conceptualizations of diversity involving gender, age, LGBTQ identity, disability and so forth. The argument often goes something like this: “Our organization respects all differences, and we work to create an environment where everyone feels included and can do their best work.”

I agree -- strongly -- but that view doesn’t negate the obligation of individuals and organizations to identify and actively develop strategies to eliminate systemic racism in their environments and in our nation. In a country built on the subjugation of indigenous and black people, it is going to take more than respect for all differences to deal with the structures and unconscious biases that continue to marginalize -- and kill -- black Americans. Further, by simply adding race to the list of differences to be equally targeted in an institution’s diversity strategy, we may feel some degree of comfort that we are being “inclusive,” but that doesn’t begin to systemically or institutionally address America’s original sin: racism.

I’ve been at this long enough to know that the transition from statements to action varies by institutional context, mission, legal constraints and leadership. And clearly none of us has all the answers to complex institutional, national and even international factors that support and sustain structures of racism. But one thing is clear: in addition to our institutional work, we must acknowledge that there is wisdom in communities and neighborhoods all across our country. People in those communities and neighborhoods can be our partners and highlight ideas to reshape institutions and reformulate practices.

Recently I was part of a group of university and community leaders who were meeting regularly to explore strategies to impact inequality in the surrounding community and across the state. After the first few meetings, some community members talked about the challenge of finding money to pay for babysitting so that they could attend the early-morning meetings. With little hesitation, one of the community members suggested that the university find ways of paying for babysitting. That led to a broader discussion of how the university uses unrestricted endowment funds.

I vividly remember a comment: “If the university truly values community engagement, particularly around the issue of inequality, why can’t university funds be used for this purpose?” The discussion lasted beyond the meeting, with some university colleagues pulling me aside and talking about how “they” just don’t understand how universities are run. My reply was, “Perhaps they do … that’s the point.”

I certainly appreciate that there are no quick fixes. These are long-standing, complex issues. But we must not only seek the expertise of our colleagues but also step off our campuses and seriously listen to the wisdom of our community.

Many times, what they can offer us are not “tweaks” that end up, often unintentionally, simply reinforcing racist structures but rather bold, creative approaches that hold promise to move us more rapidly toward justice. The notion of slow, measured steps is absolutely unacceptable. Yes, it will require some of us to relinquish or share power in ways that may make people who hold power uncomfortable, but that’s a characteristic of structural change. At every turn, we must question the notion of incremental steps. The journey toward justice must be on a fast track!

Going forward in my engagements in higher education and corporations, I will continue to vigorously support the work, well supported by research, that points to the myriad benefits of diverse student bodies, faculties, workplaces, boards of trustees and executive suites, as well as the necessity to create inclusive environments that create well-being for all. My nationally recognized implicit bias education and bias reduction efforts will continue, as always.

But I am committed to helping higher education institutions re-examine their efforts in light of vanquishing systemic racism, including appropriate transformation of:

  • Diversity/equity/inclusion/racism education;
  • Conceptualizations and criteria for the measurement of “excellence” in management and senior leadership selection and advancement;
  • Decision-making processes;
  • University-community relations;
  • Conflict management approaches;
  • Distribution and criteria for use of unrestricted endowment funds;
  • University and corporate financial investments; and
  • International relations.

I will engage faculty, administrators and students in this work but also look to the creativity of people on the ground, particularly the wisdom of our young people. This is my life’s work, and if I ever need a reminder of the urgency of the moment, I’ll reflect on the words of my brothers and sisters who are no longer with us:

“Why do you have your guns out?”

“What are you following me for?”

“I don’t have a gun. Stop shooting.”

“You shot me! You shot me!”

“It’s not real.”

“I can’t breathe.”

Benjamin D. Reese Jr. is an adjunct professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences as well as family medicine and community health in the school of medicine at Duke University. He has previously served as chief diversity officer at the university and president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education.

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