George Floyd was brutally murdered by police just two years ago. Since then, our nation has seen a sharp rise in anti-CRT laws and white supremacist attacks, as well as continued abuse of blacks at the hands of the police.
Colleges and universities have responded with public commitment to ethnic justice. But little has changed in two years.
Although we are not the first to say that such a statement was effective, our combined experience of two decades in higher education tells us that despite having the best intentions, a statement of words will not bend the institutional structure. Only precise, concrete actions have the potential to change.
As sociologists, we understand that structures and systems play a role in maintaining white supremacy. Higher education, like other institutions, is based on white supremacist ideology, and so, although words are a good first step, the transformation comes from sustainable structural change.
It is not always intuitive to think that organizations can be associated with different ideologies, because they are not living things, breathing things. However, sociology teaches us that when an organization is created, the ideological beliefs of those who create it are embedded in the organization through the organization’s principles, methods, and overall design.
So, for example, since the United States was founded on the concept of slavery and white supremacy, the white supremacist ideology shapes issues such as what kind of knowledge and labor is preferred, who is hired, what kind of resources people have, and how to achieve success. Defined
For the two-year anniversary, the organizations have taken a variety of steps, from the inaugural conference of the race to the documentary screening, until the anniversary is recognized. Nevertheless, real indicators of change, such as increasing the number of black students or increasing the number of black faculty members, are slow to be implemented.
Without structural and financial resources, the proposed initiatives to increase diversity, equality and inclusion would fail. For example, in this year’s proposed California budget, Governor Gavin Newsom urges the University of California system to work towards promoting equity for students, but for that to happen, more needs to be done. The budget is a clear statement of priority, and racial justice must be a definite line item in the budget.
In the 2021-22 academic year, campuses have had to constantly struggle with the reality that black students and teachers are not always welcome. At the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, 26 percent of black students feel that 8 percent of white students do not belong to their campus. A few days after the results of this survey were published, some black students received a racist email, which fully explained why a quarter of black students did not welcome it. A noose was found hanging from a tree on Stanford University campus in May. A three-term black professor is leaving the University of Denver due to differences in climate and work pressure on campus.
To be sure, two years is a short time for an organization that often runs slowly, and some changes have taken place as diversity among college presidents has increased. But it remains to be seen how many presidents will be able to make a real difference on their campus.
While higher education is advancing at a glacier pace, true racial justice is already a long way off. Some organizations are on the right track. For example, the University of California system announced in April that it would waive tuition for Native students who are part of a federally recognized tribe. This is a great first step, although the program should be extended to all native students, regardless of tribal affiliation.
Colleges and universities must make a genuine commitment to racial justice and renew their commitment to tackling the problems of white supremacy. This commitment will require more aggressive concrete efforts, including other actions:
- Recruitment of more diverse faculty and staff;
- Provide funding for the recruitment of faculty members or clusters with expertise in race and ethnicity;
- Investing on campus mainly for students of color in white institutions and especially for black students;
- Courses on race and racism are needed; And
- Pushing back against the legislatures that make policies to ban the teaching of those subjects
While many college leaders may feel that they are already taking such necessary steps to create a welcoming and inclusive campus, there is much more to be done.
One way to determine progress is to measure faculty, staff and student diversity. No magic numbers or tipping points reveal whether an organization has hit an ideal level of diversity and using these calculations alone will not provide a complete picture. College leaders must consider the state of their institution and the experience of the people in it. If teachers and students do not feel welcome on campus, that is not a real change.
That said, numbers can help improve performance and set goals. Each organization should carefully consider the metrics they set. They may consider the structure of their population that is related to the community they serve. They can set really strong goals to increase diversity through recruitment and recruitment practices or to monitor staff and student retention. In addition, leaders must ensure that faculty, staff and students have the resources and support they need. It is also important to carefully consider questions that may help identify future interventions, such as which faculty is gaining tenure? Who rose to the leadership position on campus?
Each college and university has its own challenges and strengths. Administrators do not always know what is happening on the ground. Collecting data from faculty, staff and students can help provide a more accurate picture of the campus environment. This data should be collected anonymously and in such a way that marginalized people in the organization feel comfortable sharing their perspectives. Who collects the data – a research team outside of faculty experts, DEI staff, student leaders or experts — and how they are collected will vary by organization. Regardless of the plan, administrators should be transparent at all stages of the process; Collaborate with faculty, staff and students; And share the results and how they plan to tackle the results to create a welcoming and integrated campus.
Organizations should be committed to regularly reviewing their processes and climate, as real change will only come from protracted and transparent commitments to these goals. The commitment made by the leaders of higher education institutions two years ago must be fulfilled to ensure that all students are able to learn and that teachers and staff are able to work in institutions where they are supported and treated as full human beings.
It is important to remember that, despite what the people in the organization want, the structure of those organizations often makes progress difficult and slow. Creating real change and building a new world where there is true equity and inclusion we cannot stop the lack of action so far. If higher education leaders are willing to try, they can do much more to advance the cause of ethnic justice.