Perspective: Strategically Dismantling Systems of Inequity to Create Change in Higher Education
Two weeks ago, I discussed “The Importance of Reaching Out to Black Faculty, Staff, and Students to Create a Community of Care.” On many college campuses; especially those with a less diverse executive team they are struggling to figure out next steps. Protesters across the nation have been leading the effort on the reform of a system that has historically been racist in the form of policies, programs, and laws to enforce a system that creates a dichotomy of us against them when we examine race, class, and/or gender. In higher education, this examination of systemic and institutional racism is even more apparent.
Strategically at this time, higher education executive teams must listen, evaluate, and create systems to remove the equity barriers. Listening must be critical without the biases and a one-size fits all philosophy. We utilize vocabulary such as “student-ready” and “grit’, and have not examined or defined opportunity gaps. We allow data to build us up to say the achievement gap is closing without realizing we have coined another phrase for “separate but equal” for those in underrepresented minority groups (URMs). When we interrogate the data of URMs taunting the achievement gap has been closed, we systemically hide the disaggregate data of those groups within the URMs; such as African Americans. We also intentionally bypass the opportunity gap that continues to widen for African Americans even with a college degree.
Executive teams must question what they have inherited, the present, and the future of their institutions. Executive teams, what is the plan? Most campuses have responded with denouncing racism and have made a commitment with doing better for African Americans. What is the action plan? What is the concerted action plan that will be a top-down movement to create effective institutional change? What plans have you created for yourselves to understand your own biases personally and as a leader? How do you move your campus forward with being proactive rather than reactive?
I recommend the following to start:
1. Start cross-examining your leadership. What capacity do they have to lead in these spaces? What cultural competence level is lacking and how do you close this gap. This is a difficult conversation to have, but a conversation that must be had sooner than later.
2. What are some of the immediate planning (i.e. admissions, funding for programs that can target special populations; especially African American students, etc.) you can make happen that does not include only programming, but an honest evaluation of campus policies and procedures that do not promote equity? This means having a non-punitive conversation and listening session with key leaders and/or our staff in each divisional area to understand concerns, lack of equity, opportunities of growth, and possible next steps. In addition, you want to have community listening sessions to understand the perception of the community about your university?
3. Organize a team of leaders approved by the President of your college to lead efforts to remove the curtain of inequities. Unlike most teams, this team should be dedicated to this effort not just another committee to serve on and not have the valuable time to address the issues. This committee should have monthly meetings with the President to address issues, progress, and lack of progress.
4. If you are part of a large city, I suggest collaborating with your K-12 and community college partners. This is also a pipeline issue. We are all responsible for our children’s education.
5. Demystify data. Review data and make the data readily available to discuss. Tell the story of the data of access, retention, and graduation as you were teaching fifth grade. Meaning, everyone should be able to understand your story of access, retention, and graduation for all groups.
6. Have a listening session with the community that has been harmed with a leader who is trained in restorative justice. This may take more than one session that will be difficult for both parties involved.
I offer this information, because I have colleagues across the nation whose leadership is at a standstill. As leaders in higher education, we are automatically tapped to be leaders in our community and across the country. I challenge all higher education leaders to carry the mantle of equity, social justice, and opportunity for all. As leaders in higher education, I leave you with the words of our former United States President-Barack Obama, "Let's not excuse violence, or rationalize it, or participate in it. If we want our criminal justice system, and American society at large, to operate on a higher ethical code, then we have to model that code ourselves."
About the author: Dr. Hamilton began his educational career at the University of Southern California. During his time at USC, he assisted students of color interested in the medical field from middle school and high school to think seriously about the medical profession through math and science programming and mentoring. Additionally, Dr. Hamilton has worked with the Cal WORKS welfare-to-work program and was a classroom teacher for 3rd/5th grade students and adult education in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Currently, he serves as the Assistant Vice President, University Access & Retention at CSU, Long Beach while teaching part-time in the Sociology Department. In this position, he provides leadership for the following departments: University Outreach & School Relations, Assessment, Testing, Men's Success Initative, Office of Multicultural Affairs, Educational Opportunity Program, and TRIO. He has also served as the Director of New Student Programs for the Academic Advancement Program at UCLA. He has taught Cultural Diversity, Multicultural Counseling and Socio-cultural Foundations courses at Pepperdine University, National University, and Occidental College. From 2009-2013, Dr. Hamilton was elected and served as a Board of Trustee on the Compton Community College District, representing Carson, Compton, and Willowbrook-Enterprise.
Dr. Hamilton has served as the Special Assistant to the Vice Provost of Academic Affairs at California State University, Long Beach where he has made recommendations concerning retention issues for students of color.
Dr. Hamilton has presented at numerous conferences and workshops success strategies for students of color across the country. More.