Ending Institutional Racism in Higher Education
BY MICHAEL A. DOVER
Recently Danielle Smith, executive director of the Ohio Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, asked, “If you only have fifteen minutes to talk to a brand-new-to-the-topic mostly wealthy, white audience about racism/white supremacy culture and how this plays out in the organizations they lead . . . what would you include?”
In 2019, at an American Sociological Association plenary panel on racism in higher education, I asked these questions: “Is Bakke’s prescription for affirmative action still the law of the land? Should we still be talking about and fighting for affirmative action in higher education?” The reply to both questions was yes and that we should also focus on diversity and inclusion in general.
How can we conceptualize affirmative action and institutional racism in higher education? Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones, in an American Public Health Association webinar in June, said when there is “inaction in the face of need” that is disproportionately experienced by people of color, that is institutional racism.
My 2019 Humanity & Society article showed that human injustice takes place when oppression, dehumanization, and exploitation produce systematic inequality in opportunities to access resources that satisfy human needs. Such injustice leads to wrongfully unmet needs and serious harm unless there is primary or secondary prevention or enforcement of human rights. Systemic racism, as a form of oppression, also embeds itself in dehumanization and exploitation.
In higher education, systemic racism as well as unfair or unjust individual acts and organizational practices combine to produce institutional racism. How can we name them and “move the needle” towards ending racism in higher education? I will focus on fifteen issues I’ve witnessed from teaching full time or part time in New Orleans, New York, Michigan, and Ohio since 1983. Others have also raised and advocated about these issues.
(1) Do we pay a living wage to student employees? If we enabled students to work ten hours a week at $15 an hour, instead of fifteen hours a week at $10 an hour, we could start undermining racism’s impact on student disadvantage.
(2) Can we spend less on marketing and embrace targeted outreach to inner-city youth, parents who are raising children, veterans, and older adult nontraditional students? Can we prioritize transfer students, who do not always enjoy the same new student orientations and advising and tutoring services?
(3) Can we prioritize institutional research on educational opportunity of African American descendants of slavery in the US and the Caribbean-and the women and people with disabilities among them?
(4) Why is there continued underrepresentation of African American and other people historically discriminated against on our faculties? Instead of focusing primarily on implicit bias of faculty members, why not also raise consciousness about the entire range of individual, unit, university, and societal reasons for underrepresentation? For instance, do we use best practices such as cluster and interdisciplinary hires and inter-university collaboration in placing postdoctoral scholars in faculty positions?
(5) Do part-time faculty disproportionally teach our more diverse evening and weekend students? What about faculty diversity among these underpaid and underappreciated educators?
(6) Are we increasingly taking a “let them eat online” attitude to students who might better be served by evening or weekend in-person or fifty-fifty hybrid classes?
(7) What can we do to diversify our graduate programs by linking graduate assistantships and financial aid linked to needs-based and mission-related factors such as demonstrated commitments to work with oppressed and vulnerable populations?
(8) Do our university foundations and research offices prioritize fundraising, grant-seeking and internal funding for research that involves and attracts diverse groups of faculty and students and addresses topics of importance to oppressed and vulnerable populations?
(9) Do our universities have a policy of reallocating faculty lines when a search fails or when a faculty position becomes vacant? Such policies may force units into making offers to candidates who may not best advance the university’s strategic and diversity aims. This also creates a departmental disincentive against hiring internal candidates because the line would be lost. However, giving case-by-case assurances that a unit can keep the line if an internal candidate is selected is unfair to external candidates.
(10) Are student services available during evenings and weekends, including strongly expanded mental health services that can address the toxic stress faced by African Americans and other students of color, some of them also part of the LGBTQ+ community?
(11) Most universities have child development, physical education, and elementary and secondary education majors, so why are there so few on-campus day, evening, and weekend “short-session” childcare services and tutoring and other assistance programs? Such services could be offered in our libraries and recreation centers, which tend to be underutilized on evenings and weekends. This would also be a way to engage the next generation of college students.
(12) What is your university’s policy on financial holds? Do poor students and students of color have to put off registering because of small amounts owed so that by the time the amount is paid, the preferred course sections or the ones with full-time faculty are full?
(13) How does the digital divide work at your campus? Do half the students have great laptops while others cannot run the best software? Does the university supply universal access to necessary software and sell or finance computers in ways integrated into student accounts and financial aid?
(14) Recently, Academe Blog reported that the University of California may engage in sweeping changes to its public safety policy. What can other universities do to re-imagine public safety on campus?
(15) What if each university actively asked its constituents to respond to a survey asking them what they would suggest if they had fifteen minutes to speak or could suggest fifteen ways of dismantling institutional racism on campus, practicing affirmative action, ensuring diversity and inclusion, and considering what reparations for historical injustice are needed?
We now have a window of opportunity to address the legacy of slavery and segregation. We must advance demands for systemic change in higher education and work pragmatically to bring them to fruition by addressing specific manifestations of inaction in the face of unmet human and educational needs.
Guest blogger Michael A. Dover is an associate college lecturer in the School of Social Work at Cleveland State University and publisher of the journal Reflections: Narratives of Professional Helping.
Originally published at https://academeblog.org on July 9, 2020.