Attending conferences on the recruitment and retention of minorities is often bittersweet. While it is energizing to meet others in higher education who are concerned and dedicated to the issues of recruitment and retention, it is equally as frustrating to see so few high-level administrators in attendance.
Our participation in the Ninth Annual Conference for Recruitment and Retention of Minorities in Education held at SUNY-Oswego was no different; a significant number of faculty and junior-level administrators were present, but the only CEO in sight was Stephen Weber, president of the host institution.
College and university presidents can play a major part in perpetuating the very situation they seek to alter. By claiming that they cannot effectively recruit administrators and faculty of color and that the system doesn’t work, they absolve themselves of the responsibility of actually changing that which isn’t working. In other words, they could change the method of recruitment for the target audience rather than claim that the target audience cannot be reached with present tools.
Is there then something that top white administrators can learn from their African-American counterparts to elicit the same kinds of positive results? Do white CEOs need a lesson in “being Black?”
Here are some recommendations that differ from the usual ones offered in our conference presentations.
* Become bicultural or multicultural People of color must be bicultural if they want to succeed at predominantly white institutions. They need to understand the “power-coded” methods of communication — both verbal and nonverbal — and the importance of “system” values and modes of thought. For whites to become bicultural they, too, need to learn how to operate with ease in a culture unfamiliar to them. They should find ways to immerse themselves in an “other” culture and allow themselves to experience culture shock. For example, white CEOs might attend and participate in activities sponsored by Puerto Rican or African-American community organizations. The consequences of being bicultural are significant, as people begin to view events and actions from different perspectives and consider the “other” as an integral part of their mindset.
* Be more inclusive. Another by-product of being bicultural is an expanded vision of who constitutes “we.” White CEOs should consider who the “we’s” are in their lives. Insofar as administrators, faculty, staff and students of color identify with an institution that is traditionally white, they embrace a notion of inclusion, of being a “we.” Too often, on the other hand, top white administrators join and attend the local Kiwanis Club or the Chamber of Commerce, but send a vice president or junior administrator — an African American, if possible — as a representative to a NAACP or other community-based function. By delegating representatives to do outreach to communities of color, CEOs deny themselves an opportunity for inclusion that would mutually strengthen the ties between two cultural groups.
* Take professional action. The old saying “actions speak louder than words” is appropriate here No number of opening-day speeches extolling the virtues of pluralism can substitute for personal action. For example, if a tenure-track position is open in the English department and the search committee returns with a list of exclusively white candidates, fill the position as a one-year appointment and have the committee try again.
* Promote reciprocity. Becoming a multicultural institution taps into hidden potential. Just as being bicultural is greater than the sum of knowing two cultures, so too a multicultural institution is greater than the sum of the cultures it embraces. Corporate America has awakened to the benefits of cooperative teamwork, and academia should recognize similar benefits from hearing a plurality of views and perspectives.
* Be accountable. Accountability usually comes packaged in flow charts and bottom lines; however, what we are advocating is a process. What is required is both action and reflection. Putting into action some of our suggestions is a first step and certainly should not be done to the exclusion of more traditional suggestions for increasing recruitment and retention of people of color. But it is important to take stock along the way to assess personal growth and change.
In the end, there are no simple or quick solutions, but there is plenty of work to be done by people who wish to create an atmosphere that is inclusive and equitable.
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