Responses on Race

1,000 complaints to U.S. Education Department in seven years; Brown releases $100 million plan to promote inclusiveness; Occidental sit-in ends after six days.

November 23, 2015

As protests over racial tensions continue to capture the attention of American higher education, some of the latest news:

Duncan Offers Statistics and Advice

The U.S. Education Department has received more than 1,000 complaints about racial harassment at colleges and universities in the last seven years, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Friday in an essay published in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Duncan wrote that, based on recent meetings with college leaders, institutions can take several steps to improve race relations on campus. He recommended that colleges issue "a statement of values" to "set the tone for students on campus." And when incidents take place that conflict with the desired tone, Duncan said it was important for college presidents to "lead from the top."

"When an incident occurs, institutional leadership have a key role in assuring students of their commitment to a safe and welcoming environment for all students and faculty," Duncan wrote. He said it was also important for incidents to be investigated quickly.

Colleges also need to "teach cultural competency," Duncan said. "Cultural competency is a core message that colleges and universities should be teaching (and learning) as a foundational component of what it means to be an educated American."

Duncan also addressed the concern some have expressed about whether demands of some protests run counter to a commitment to free expression. "Protecting free speech can sometimes mean protecting the right to hold and express views that are at odds with strongly held values. Campuses should not ignore the dissonance this creates, but use these moments to reflect, discuss and underscore the institution’s values independent of expressed views that may be anathema to those values," he wrote.

And Duncan added that not all speech is protected. "We must make real the First Amendment guarantee of free speech -- which is vital to a life of ideas on college campuses -- but there is no constitutional right to perpetuate hostile environments or to engage in threatening speech," he wrote.

Brown Plan Would Spend $100 Million

Brown University has released a plan -- still subject to final review -- that would spend $100 million over the next decade to promote a more inclusive campus. Brown has already announced ambitious goals for faculty diversity, and these plans include and add to previous commitments.

The plan -- both for students and faculty members -- will focus not just on diversity, but diversity across disciplines. For example, 18.6 percent of Brown's student body is from historically underrepresented groups (which does not include most Asian students), but the figure drops to 12.8 percent for those whose concentrations are in math, science and technology. Similarly, 8.1 percent of Brown faculty members are from historically underrepresented groups, but the figure drops to 4.7 percent in STEM fields.

Among elements of the Brown plan (beyond previously announced goals for faculty diversity):

  • Increasing financial support for students whose financial aid packages may not fully cover costs such as trips home for family emergencies, health insurance, laptops, and dining and housing during breaks.
  • Expanding the staff of the Brown Center for Students of Color, the Sarah Doyle Women's Center and the LGBTQ Center.
  • Develop professional development programs for faculty members, administrators and graduate students to "foster greater awareness and sensitivity on issues of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity."
  • Include training on racism, sexism and other issues in orientation programs for new faculty members.
  • Improve training for the campus police on issues related to diversity.
  • Increase the diversity of the graduate student body.
  • Expand programs to encourage minority students to study STEM fields.
  • Double the number of seminars for sophomores on issues of "power, privilege, inequality and social justice."
  • Establish new research centers on race and ethnicity in America, slavery and justice, and Native Americans.

In a letter introducing the plan, Christina H. Paxson, president of Brown, wrote: "Creating a just and inclusive campus community is key to Brown’s ambitions as a university. Legacies of structural racism and discrimination in our society and on our campus undermine our goals of being a diverse, inclusive and academically excellent community."

Occidental Sit-in Ends

Students at Occidental College ended a sit-in Saturday that had been going on for six days.

Organizers of the sit-in vowed to continue to push for change at the college. Administrators have already agreed to some of their demands, but not to a central one: the ouster of President Jonathan Veitch.


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