Diversity, Equity, Equality, and Inclusion: Can We Talk?


For those young enough to remember The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (aging myself), you can remember when Johnny would go on vacation, comedian Joan Rivers would fill in as guest host. When Joan was about to say something provocative or simply give her opinion, she would make the statement which doubled as a question: Can We Talk?! When speaking on the advancements of Blacks in Higher Education, I must ask, Can We Talk?!

Can We Talk?! - We recently watched the U.S. Senate hearings of Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson. Judge Brown Jackson, who happens to be a Black woman, was nominated by United States President Joe Biden and became the most recent appointed United States Supreme Court Justice. Like previous SCOTUS Justice nominees, Justice Brown Jackson has earned commendable professional and educational accomplishments. Although she has a record of superb accolades, greater than many of the United States Senators who grilled her and voted on her appointment, she still had to endure at times, a demeaning, tumultuous, and disrespectful Senate hearing. It was appalling to watch legislators, who are voted in by “the people”, be dismissive and speak to her as if she is not reminded daily that she is a Black woman before any of her earned accomplishments. Watching the United State Senate hearings made me reflect on how this plays out for Blacks in Higher Education.Dr. Jonelle KnoxDr. Jonelle Knox

Can We Talk?! - As a Black man, I am proud to see accomplishments and advancements being made by Black professionals in higher education. Today, we are seeing more Blacks take the helm as presidents of colleges and universities in the United States than ever before. Although those numbers are not increasing as rapidly at Predominantly White Institutions, there is an increase at community colleges. However, there is an “elephant in the room” that many are not discussing. Advancements for Black professionals in higher education are happening more frequently for Black women than it is for Black men. Before an opinion is formed that I am favoring one gender over another, please hear me out. 

Can We Talk?! - In 2019, I wrote an editorial where I explored the topic of the lack of Black males qualified to work in higher education and shared my own journey.  I want to return to the question I asked in my op-ed, Not Enough Black Males Qualified to Work in Higher Education – Cliché?. After it was published, I received countless emails, DMs, and social media messages from Black men across the country who shared my experiences and sentiments. Some reached out to send notes of encouragement, to share their own frustrations, while others indicated that they had simply given up. Those who gave up, spoke on how they felt they were fighting a never-ending battle; thus, reminding me on how closely this reflects Black male students we serve in grades 9-12 and post-secondary education. I thought it was time to provide some follow-up to my 2019 op-ed.

Can We Talk?! - Included in my current work portfolio is NYC Men Teach, an academic support program designed to support and increase men of color teachers in public K-12 classrooms. NYC Men Teach, has reached success by placing thousands of men of color into K-12 classrooms in New York City. However, still lagging are Black and Hispanic male teachers. Due to established diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as public funds usage policies, I receive just as many student applications from women of color and whites (both males and females) as I do from “men of color” to participate in my NYC Men Teach program. How are we ever going to increase the number of Black men in higher education if we cannot get them to view working in education as a rewarding career? Furthermore, how will we ever get Black men to remain in the education field if they are not supported once they enter, breaking through the glass ceiling?

Can We Talk?! - Over the last few years, we have seen more Black women than Black men make upward advancements into both presidencies and provost/vice president of academic affairs roles in community colleges. Women in higher education have created networks and organizations such as H E R S which has been instrumental in supporting woman, inclusive of Black women, break through once closed doors. This may be one of the reasons that it is projected that gender parity of women presidents in higher education will be reached by 2030. By 2030, will we see the same type of advancement of Black males moving up into provost/vice president of academic affairs positions and presidencies? Will organizations be created to holistically support men, particularly Black men, as they are advancing into senior leadership roles in higher education?

Can We Talk?! - I remain concerned that Black males who are qualified, willing and ready to work and advance in higher education are not being afforded the same opportunities as their white peers and currently as their Black female counterparts. The pathway to a college presidency is typically by someone who has previously served as a provost/vice president of academic affairs or a politician, followed by those who have served as a vice president of student affairs or advancement. It is not enough for Blacks, particularly Black men, to be in the pipeline, talent pool, or the diverse candidate/finalist. Furthermore, it is not enough to place Blacks into chief diversity officer and vice president of human resource positions to say that the senior college leadership is diverse. If Blacks, particularly Black men, are not provided with more opportunities to participate in this pipeline, how will diversity, equity, equality, and inclusion advancements ever be accomplished in higher education?

Dr. Jonelle Knox has more than 20 years of higher education, corporate, and governmental experience. He currently serves as associate higher education officer – academic affairs at (CUNY) College of Staten Island (CSI). Additionally, Dr. Knox is an adjunct associate professor at (CUNY) Bronx Community College and ASA College.