The presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will go down as one of the most unpredictable, and contentious, of American history. The candidates’ personalities, paired with the 24-7 news cycle and social media, made an already inundated time for political messaging completely saturated. It pushed people to their breaking points, revealing the worst in some and the true colors in many.
The end result is a country that will truly never be the same. Whether it’s neighbors with opposing yard signs who can no longer see eye to eye, or family members disinvited to Thanksgiving celebrations, the very real impact of this election season will linger for long after the votes were cast.
Things have changed for colleges and universities, too. It’s too soon to know exactly what to expect in the way of legislation, funding and federal support for the higher education landscape over the next four years, but there are some intangible effects that are already evident. The most basic of these lessons is this: We aren’t as far along as a diverse nation as we thought.
And it isn’t just set-in-their-ways adults either. The night of Trump’s victory, a black baby doll with a noose around its neck was found in an elevator at predominantly White Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. This is just one example that proves that the nation’s youngest adults are not all enlightened when it comes to diversity and equality; there is still a lot of work to be done and much of it should happen on college campuses. Yet, on the higher education scene students are still being marginalized — whether that discrimination is direct or a result of policy.
So where do we go from here? As a collective college and university system, how do we piece together our latest revelations about our nation and apply it to building a more diverse ecosystem?
Recognize the new normal
It starts by colleges acknowledging that we truly aren’t as progressive (as a nation) as we thought. Of course, those of us who have made diversity our life’s work have long been aware of the holes in the equality spectrum. But now we have an entire nation who is seeing it, some for the first time, too. Whether they choose to acknowledge it or not, a deeper awareness of the plight of many marginalized Americans was revealed during election season. It will impact the way we treat each other and it will impact the atmosphere of college campuses. People just know more. That knowledge ups the responsibility of what colleges teach and how they interact with student bodies.
Acknowledge everyday injustices
Discrimination isn’t always outright. It doesn’t always manifest in hate crimes or racial slurs. Many times it is subtly ingrained in our societal fabric – penetrating our psyche to the point that we don’t even notice it anymore. This is especially true for the traditionally privileged of society – the white, middle-class males (if we are going for a stereotype). The unfair things these Americans have faced pale in comparison to minority groups, and even women. When you’ve never been exposed to the type of establishment racism and division that are common to disadvantaged populations, it feels like that type of existence is far-fetched — maybe even made up. It takes movements like Black Lives Matter or (fill in the blank) or even the obvious xenophobia and racism that arose during the election season to really wake a person up.
Colleges must step up when it comes to eliminating inequality across the board with a more proactive approach. Instead of having a crisis team on call, universities must work consistently to give all students the opportunities they deserve. They must also call on the workforce beyond the college years to do the same. Where there is a student at a disadvantage, questions must be asked as to what led to that point – and how it can be fixed.
There is no easy fix for where we are as a nation when it comes to diversity. Colleges and universities have the responsibility to spearhead positive change, though. The next generation of adults deserve better opportunity and higher education is the starting place.
Matthew Lynch is a higher education consultant and owner of Lynch Consulting Group, LLC. He currently resides in Richmond, Virginia.