Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Higher education continues to be the measure of wealth in the United States, especially when considering, “for many working class students and students of color, a university education remains a pipe dream, as does the promise of social mobility said to come from a degree” (Thomas, 2020, p. 6). The lengthy legal history for access, equality, and equity to education proves the true value placed on education, social mobility, and the opportunities in the United States. Legal cases range from financial barrier, segregation, language equity, gender equity and Title IX, and disability; yet, in 2021, the conversation continues about access, support, retention, and graduation of working class students and students of color. According to Stone (2020), “the culture that drive an institution’s leadership, values, and day-to-day modes of operation is often implicit, normalized and seldom questioned” (Bess & Dee, 2008, as cited in Stone, 2020, p. 121). There are many references for the identification of individuals: people from oppressed groups, historically marginalized groups, people of color, working class people, first generation college students, who experience living in a world that does not value them, silences their stories, and erases their history (Stone, 2020). That world exists on college and university campuses. To address equity in higher education, higher education practitioners committed to the work must understand their audience, acknowledge the varying levels of awareness, and make an investment in the process of change.
Know Better, Do Better!
Attending conferences and networking with other higher education professionals, it is not difficult to start a Good Reads “want to read” list. With the wide-range of higher education literature around leadership, pedagogy, student success, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), it is mind-boggling that higher education institutions continue to see gaps in educational attainment for working class students, first generation college students, and students of color. It is not enough to know, the key is for campuses to put knowledge to action. For institutions to create a campus culture that promotes equity, there must be true understanding of the students the institution serves. According to McNair et al (2020), “at the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), engaged inclusivity transforms the dialogue on inclusion from general acceptance and tolerance of difference to active institutional transformation, based on the belief that the richness of our culture is because of our diversity and recognition of our common humanity” (McNair et al., 2020, p. 4).
Name It If You Want to Fix It
According to Harper (2009), “from its inception, the United States was founded on racist principles that have permeated the systems upon which this country functions, education is no exception” (Harper et al, 2009, 403). Before higher education institutions can make changes, individuals in leadership positions must acknowledge the current policies, procedures, and practices that hinder access and opportunity for students of color. This requires an honest conversation and acknowledgement to legitimize the countless stories of students, faculty, and staff of color who experience discrimination and microaggressions. “The suppression of voice, specifically the narratives of individuals from minoritized backgrounds reinforces systemic privilege by limiting the telling of counter-narratives that challenge the dominant culture” (Stone, 2020, p. 120). When people of color hear, “we all know why we are here”, it is a method to avoid naming the racist action that was brought to light. Not all situations are brought to light. According to Thomas (2020), “a commitment to diversity, ‘in all its forms’ because ‘it is the right thing to do’ avoids responsibility for the racism and inequity that are rampant across campus (Thomas, 2020, p. 118).
Challenge the Data – What Are We Hiding
Higher education institutions believe they do a “good” job of reporting disaggregated data when they use underrepresented minority (URM). According to McNair et al (2020), “using the URM category still shows that an equity gap exists, but it masks the difference in outcomes between Black and Latinx students” (McNair et al, 2020, p. 58). Masking is disguising or covering up and by doing so, higher education practitioners are unable to identify the exact practices, policies or procedures that contribute to the equity gaps in Black and Latinx students, faculty, and staff (McNair et al, 2020). Simply having the data is not enough, higher education practitioners must make sense of the data to make true change. The problem is once the data is revealed, the equity gaps must be addressed and that means taking a look at internal practices and policies at the local campus.
The Value of Education at a Hispanic Serving Institution
In order to contribute to the conversation and the work related to making education more equitable, I have to first evaluate my own identity and the intersectionality of who I am. I know that my skin color and gender walk into a room before I do. Simply reading my first name can cause hesitation and questioning on my ability to do a job and be in certain spaces. I can relate to one higher education practitioner who shared, “being a Black woman often feels like being exposed and invisible at the same time. I have often felt overlooked and forgotten about when opportunities arise, or expertise is needed” (Stone, 2020, p. 133). In 2021, the question is not “if” students, faculty or staff from the working class and people of color will experience racism, but “when” and how will we respond. We respond by continuing to show up every day, by creating communities on social media platforms, writing our own stories, and becoming doctoral students contributing to the conversation through research.
Harper, S. R., Patton, L. D., & Wooden, O. S. (2009). Access and equity for African American students in higher education: A critical race historical analysis of policy efforts. The Journal of Higher Education, 80(4), 389-414. https://doi.org/10.1353/jhe.0.0052
McNair, T. B., Bensimon, E., & Malcolm-Piqueux, L. (2020). From equity talk to equity walk: Expanding practitioner knowledge for racial justice in higher education. John Wiley & Sons.
Stone, Q. (2020). #BLACKOUT – Real issues and real solutions to real challenges facing Black student affairs professionals.
Thomas, J. M. (2020). Diversity regimes: Why talk is not enough to fix racial inequality at universities. American Campus.
U.S. Department of Education. (n.d.). School. College Scorecard. https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/school/?224147-Texas-A-M-University-Corpus-Christi