Over the last several weeks institutions of higher education have written statements of support in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. However, there has also been criticism lodged at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) for providing statements and establishing working groups/task forces but little changes in regards to policies and practices that impact the lives of their Black students, staff, and faculty.
Not only is there a moral imperative for change but also a financial one. Given the negative impact of COVID-19 on potential enrollment numbers in the fall and the potential push for racial justice on behalf of Black students when they return in person, it is in the interest of PWIs to implement concrete policies and practices that advance and support the Black populations on their campuses.
As senior leaders prepare for the fall semester, I would like to provide 10 concrete policies and practices that could positively impact the institutional climates for their Black populations.
1. Pay Black Athletes: In recent years, the NCAA has been pressured to acknowledge an obvious issue, that college athletes are not amateurs but are a part of a multi-billion-dollar industry and should be paid. This is a social justice and equity issue, particularly in the high revenue generating sports such as football and basketball. Presidents should implement policies that move beyond just proposing that third parties pay student athletes for things like using their photos in advertising or their names on the backs of jerseys. The NCAA should implement policies changes that allow students to receive profits from the revenue their institutions gain from television contracts and ticket sales.
2. Establish and Fund Black Cultural Centers: These centers are repositories of Black history and provide a safe haven and support for Black students, faculty and staff. In a time of financial strain, some institutions may think it would be best to not establish such centers, merge them with other cultural centers if they exist, or dissolve them. That would be a mistake. This is the time to increase our investment in these centers and provide them with the financial and human resources they need.
3. Support and Promote Black Faculty: Dr. Shaun Harper, executive director of the Race and Equity Center at the University of Southern California said it this way: “I care less about words and more about actions. …Institutions should hire more Black people to be deans and provosts; they should award tenure to more Black people.” One way to work towards that end is to require that all individuals serving on faculty search committees and tenure and promotion committees participate in implicit bias training. If they do not, they forfeit their opportunity to serve. Provosts and deans also should be willing to fail searches if there is no ethnic or racial diversity among the qualified final candidates for searches.
4. Fund Research on Black Issues: Given the limited funding opportunities for research in some social science and humanities fields for studying issues impacting the Black community, competitive internal grants should be developed to help faculty and students investigate solutions to advance the Black community.
5. Raise Profile of Black Scholarship and Opportunities: One of the critiques by Black scholars is that PWIs seem to recycle a small group of Black faculty between universities. Only a select few are able to gain tenure-track positions and often lack the critical mass of senior Black scholars at their institutions to mentor and support them. Additional faculty lines should be created to attract Black faculty through cluster and “target of opportunity” hire opportunities. Also, consideration needs to made in the tenure and promotion processes to appropriately assess research on Black issues as it can be devalued, along with academic journals that exclusively publish Black scholarship.
6. Strengthen Black Studies Programs: These academic programs have been notoriously under-funded and under-resourced at many PWIs. Most faculty within these programs have a primary appointment in another discipline or field within their institution rather than a primary appointment within these programs. PWIs should establish endowed chair or distinguished professor positions specifically assigned to Black studies programs.
7. Shift Focus to Equity and Justice: As Dr. Dafina-Lazarus Stewart, professor and co-chair of the Student Affairs in Higher Education program at Colorado State University suggests, PWIs should shift the language they use to describe work seeking to advance and liberate Black people within their institutions from nomenclature that appeases, such as the terms diversity and inclusion, to more transformative terminology such as equity and social justice. In practice, that would look like altering the names of offices, divisions, and position titles to include “equity and social justice”.
8. Educate Alumni, Donors and Funding Agencies: One of the main sources of resistance for change can be alumni and donors. Many may not see why investing in programs targeted at Black initiatives are important. It is important for the President and other senior leaders to be capable and willing to speak forthrightly about challenges impacting Black people and their opportunities for advancement and progress. This includes the importance of funding initiatives and supporting policies that specifically impact Black students, staff, and faculty.
9. Establish Commissions on Institutional History: Very few PWIs have investigated the history of their Black population’s contributions to their institutions. Brown University is one such institution that established a committee to study the link between their university’s historical relationship to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. This type of initiative not only helps to provide healing to an academic community through acknowledgement of the tragedies and triumphs of Black people on these campuses, it also enables the campus community to appreciate the ongoing contributions of Blacks at their institution.
10. Create Reparations Commission: PWI presidents should establish and chair a commission on studying reparations at their institutions seeking restorative justice for the American descendants of slaves. Similar to the framing of reparations called for by Dr. William “Sandy” Darity, professor and director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University, and writer, Ta-Nehisi Coates, institutions should not only view the need to acknowledge and provide recompense for possible slave labor, but should seek to address financial disparities in pay to Black employees and lack of access to employment and education from reconstruction, Jim and Jane Crow, until now.
Dr. Sydney Freeman, Jr. is an associate professor of Higher Education Leadership and Qualitative Research at the University of Idaho.