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Academics, Experts Share Diversity Dreams for 2019

With 2018 in the rearview mirror and 2019 in the windshield, Diverse asked some academics and other experts to share their biggest wish for diversity, access and inclusion in higher education in the new year.

“My biggest wish is that we can redress the growing economic segregation in higher education, ensuring that everyone has access to liberal education as the foundation for democracy,” said Dr. Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Dr. Susana M. MuñozDr. Susana M. Muñoz

Dr. Sim J. Covington Jr., chief diversity officer and adjunct professor in the Department of Social Sciences at Finger Lakes Community College, said he hopes that “real progress is made in the world of higher education around awareness, intention and impact. As the national climate continues to play itself out at colleges and universities across the country, promotion of peace and social justice is crucial in the world today. The American landscape has been plagued with examples of conflict pertaining to diverse perspectives, and colleges and universities have a rich opportunity to tap into their mission of creating a civilized society.”

This year, he added, “higher education institutions should help support positive impact by promoting care for humanity, civic engagement, and intellectual growth. My hope is that in the face of divergent views, civility and respect are the foundation of all interactions, as faculty and staff model progressive behavior for the student body while helping create informed and enlightened citizens in our community, state, country, and world.”

Dr. Emilie M. Townes, professor of American studies and womanist ethics and society at Vanderbilt Divinity School, said she wants to see ” the upper administration in colleges and universities begin to reflect the diversity, access and inclusion being encouraged in the student and faculty populations of those universities.”

Donnie J. Perkins, chief diversity officer in the College of Engineering at The Ohio State University, echoed Townes’ challenge to administrators, encouraging them to celebrate and share their diversity-related successes and challenges.

“I would like to see board members, presidents, provosts, deans and other influential leaders in higher education exert stronger leadership and strengthen accountability for outcomes at all levels on their campuses,” he said. “I also wish that they empower their chief diversity officers or diversity and inclusion leaders with the political and human capital and financial resources to drive and achieve diversity, access, inclusion and equity goals.”

It’s imperative that all colleges and universities ask themselves a critical question, said Dr. Susana M. Muñoz, assistant professor of higher education and co-chair of the Higher Education Leadership Program in the School of Education at Colorado State University-Fort Collins: “In what ways do our everyday practices and policies, which dictate our actions and behaviors, reproduce White supremacy and heteronormativity?”

“The fact that people of color, trans folks and other historical minoritized groups have to be resilient as a survival mechanism in the academy is evidence that institutions are not addressing racist/heteronormative/colonial structures and ideologies,” Muñoz said. “Equity and justice are not problems to be fixed but rather learning imperatives, pedagogies, values, and the compass which should be guiding institutional efforts.”

Muñoz added: “Also worth mentioning, my wish for the last 19 years has been for a clean DREAM Act, which includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented peoples who are currently living in the United States.”

Dr. Wil Del Pilar, vice president of higher education policy and practice at The Education Trust, challenged elected officials to “take bold action to make a high-quality higher education accessible and affordable for students of color and students from low-income families. But wishing for it is simply not enough. Education advocates have to design equity-focused policies – like outcomes-based funding formulas that reward colleges for enrolling and graduating the most vulnerable students – and build diverse coalitions to push toward educational equity and justice.”

Race weighs heavily on the minds of others.

Dr. Mary Frances BerryDr. Mary Frances Berry

“Acknowledge the fact that African-Americans descended from slaves in the United States are mostly missing in the aggregated admissions data from elite higher education institutions,” said Dr. Mary Frances Berry, professor of history and Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought, University of Pennsylvania. “Dana Goldberg’s New York Times detailed story makes this clear. This has been true increasingly since Bakke was decided in 1978 and is ironic given that attacks on affirmative action mostly depict the same group as benefitting while excluding others.”

Dr. Donna Y. Ford, professor of education and human development and Cornelius Vanderbilt endowed chair in the Peabody College of Education at Vanderbilt University, said she wants “to see significantly less racism, sexism, and classism in higher education, and students in all majors and at all ranks receiving substantive training to become culturally responsive professionals. I want to see more Black and Hispanic faculty and administrators recruited and retained in higher education. I want to see colleges and universities committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion in philosophy and action.”

Roswell Lawrence, Jr., assistant to the vice president for Finance & Administration and director of Client Relations at the University of Georgia, wishes that “we as higher education administrators, faculty and staff at predominately White institutions are able to demonstrate a willingness to learn. Understanding that the students in the K-12 school system have become increasingly diverse, we must adapt the way many PWI post-secondary institutions view recruitment and retention.”

The optimal way to recruit, retain and graduate students of color is different from doing the same for White students, he added.

“We should not expect students of color to adjust to a system, culture and climate that was not designed for them. Higher education should adjust the strategy to fit the increasingly diverse student body. If we exhibit an ability to learn and properly support all students, one of the many benefits will be happy alumni who are willing to give back in multiple ways.”

The cost to students of higher education was on the mind of many, including Beth Maglione, vice president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, who called on Congress to pass legisltion that has been introduced to mke the FAFSA easier “by allowing a direct data share between the IRS and Department of Education,” she sid. “Too many qualified students fail to attend college due to the complications related to the student aid application process.”

Dr. Charles A. Burt, Student Loan & Foreclosure Ombudsman in the Banking Bureau of the District of Columbia Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking, zeroed in on the student loan crisis and said he wants to see African-Americans free themselves “from the handcuffs of student loan debt.”

“Too many African-American student loan borrowers are serving a financial prison sentence with no opportunity of parole,” he said. “According to two analyses of federal data on student borrowers, nearly 50 percent of all African-American students who borrowed federal loans were in default within 12 years of graduation.”

LaMont Jones can be reached at [email protected].  You can follow him on Twitter @DrLaMiontJones


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