How four Wisconsin colleges are partnering to achieve racial equity

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How four Wisconsin colleges are partnering to achieve racial equity

Early learnings from our first Moon Shot for Equity region

The Moon Shot for Equity initiative endeavors to eliminate college completion equity gaps across geographic regions by helping neighboring colleges and universities work together to deploy in tandem proven equity-based best practices and training. Our first region launched late last year and is comprised of four schools in Southeastern Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, the University of Wisconsin Parkside, Milwaukee Area Technical College, and Carthage College. These pioneering institutions are working together to root out institutional racism and other pervasive inequities to provide an inclusive and supportive pathway for all students.

We are a little over half a year into our work with the Southeastern Wisconsin region, and our partners have already made some amazing progress. It has been exciting and inspiring to listen to, lead, collaborate, and support their efforts. Together, we are committed to sharing our experiences in the hope of informing and inspiring other institutions to take the lead on equity. Here are three milestones from our first six months of work and the lessons we have taken away from the work to date:

1. We built buy-in for expansive change management teams by using structures already in place

Campus leaders are often shy to take on initiatives for fear of change fatigue. To combat this, we started our work with a discovery phase to better understand processes and structures already in place for hundreds of administrators, departments, faculty, advisors, and support staff. This insider look allowed us to pinpoint areas for further development and to mitigate areas of concern. Armed with that knowledge, we tailored training, recommended team compositions, and provided tools and resources.

This process built broad buy-in across all four schools. It led to the formation of 27 cross-institutional teams to direct the project, design implementation strategy, and implement the Student Success Management System technology. These teams prioritized five best practices for the first phase of the project and engaged an inclusive group of nearly 200 individuals to serve on the best practice implementation teams within and across institutions.

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cross-institutional teams formed in the region across four schools

By embracing an inclusive leadership style, one of our change management goals, stakeholders can lead in place while spanning boundaries of the institution for maximum collaboration. Another essential aspect of our change management work with regions: these teams are led by new leaders and not just the “usual suspects” on campus. The Moon Shot provides these up-and-comers a ready venue to gain experience and prepare them for next-level work.

2. We facilitated equity-mindedness training for hundreds of participants

To change our institutions, we must first examine and change ourselves. Yet, the vast majority of institutional training on bias or anti-racism doesn’t often provide a sufficient course of study on race and diversity, nor the necessary upskilling. Absent this work, most campus-wide initiatives have failed and will continue to fail.

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participants across the Moon Shot region have joined the equity mindedness trainings

Since the depth of training needed is beyond the capacity of most institutions, we chose to partner with national experts, the USC Race and Equity Center. To date, they have led over 600 participants across the region through three of the twelve planned e-convenings. These challenging and powerful sessions have focused on leading productive conversations on race, how to confront acts of racism and violence on campuses, and ways to address colleagues’ encounters with workplace racism.

Rather than share our take, below we share some of the many comments participants voiced across those sessions:

“The ‘micro-invalidations’ term helped me understand how to think about passionate expressions about not ‘seeing color’ and how not focusing on race divides rather than unites us. This term helps clarify that not wanting to talk about race (or gender, etc.) invalidates the experiences of many colleagues or citizens.”

“Many [Blacks] lose their voice, their passion, and their zeal for fear of being misrepresented when simply sharing their opinions, talent, or expertise.”

“Our silence is a way of not participating. Our ignorance is a way of not participating. Our refusal to demand systemic changes in broken places is a way of not participating. I think we are still the students in the back of the class, refusing to hand in our assignment in fear of getting it wrong. It is incredibly sad.”

“One thing I think white people can do to become more open to feedback and correction is to be more self-aware of the value we place on comfort in our lives and in what situations it might not serve us very well to prioritize that comfort.”

3. We have executed on our first practice, hold reform, ensuring students a quick win

Through the work of this team, leaders uncovered that the offices with the bulk of these holds, i.e., the library, police department, cashier’s office, and student affairs, often had no understanding of the impact it was having on students. Faced with this somber reality, teams reviewed whether holds were needed in the first place and determined which holds warranted restricting registration. This review enabled teams to create new intervention pathways to aid student hold resolution. Teams are also revising the language they use to communicate to students, opting to use positive psychology and inclusive language to ensure offices connect with students instead of inadvertently pushing them out of the door.

To date, these regional partners have eliminated 73 unnecessary and obstructive holds. They are also reviewing 10 more, replacing many with processes that accomplish the same goals. This much-needed change comes at a critical time when schools should be ensuring that harmful policies such as holds do not hinder a student’s ability to persist to the fall.

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holds removed with 10 more under review across the region

It has been exhilarating to see the regional work and the institutional and individual commitment to equity. By embracing the three lessons we shared above, these groups of individuals have made campus-wide and regional changes in support of all their students.

The work continues

The work to support Black, Latinx, Native, Asian, first-generation, low-income, and in turn, all students requires that we disrupt institutional norms daily and expand our ecosystems to serve everyone. We are emboldened to make our campuses equitable and, in turn, transform higher education. We look forward to sharing further updates from Southeastern Wisconsin and other regional partnerships in the coming months.

Ready to find out more?

Learn more about the Moon Shot for Equity, an initiative to close equity gaps in higher education by 2030—and how to join us.

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