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Empower the work that’s already been taking place

Meacie Fairfax, Associate Director, Strategic Research

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My mother and I both left our first stints at college, thirty years apart, because of the racist and exclusionary treatment we were met with on those campuses. Today, students of color continue to leave school because of the racial dynamic they encounter, with administrators, in classrooms with faculty, in appointments with advisors, and in interactions with staff and the broader campus community.

These students, along with their fellow faculty and staff of color, have long-established formal and informal spaces and communities of care to counteract the harm regularly inflicted by exclusionary and racist practices, particularly at Predominantly White Institutions. These same faculty and staff have asked for race- and identity-conscious policies and inclusive curricula, but have been starved of resources and institutional support, despite the administration’s professed commitments to advancing equity.

What remains in place are ad-hoc interventions that zero in on these students’ perceived deficits. It’s no wonder that students of color continue to feel like they don’t belong on our campuses-and inevitably leave.

Formal campus programs such as TRIO, Black Male Initiative, Minority Men Mentoring, on-campus cultural centers, and the work of community-based organizations such as College Success Foundation and Generation Hope are providing much-needed identity empowerment and development for students. However, that alone cannot counteract the damage wrought on our students, if only a small percentage of faculty and staff are participating in practices beneficial to their needs.

What campus leaders should understand is this: it’s often not new work that needs to happen. It’s an expansion of the work that already taking place in the edges and corners of your institutions by your diverse faculty and colleagues of color. They already know, see, and understand what resources our young people need.

Start by listening to them, then take that knowledge and translate it into campus-wide practices and policies to influence systems to adopt broader measures of student success. When we center the needs of diverse learners, these student populations can show us where we need to redesign our college to truly reach all students. Let’s be clear, this work requires partnership. We must connect with and intersect this work with colleagues across campus and sectors – and that starts with rebuilding relationships on campus, and in our communities.

The work of creating an inclusive community requires each and every one of us.

So how do you advance the work and meet the moment? It’s time to ask a few questions:

  • What is the makeup of your campus community?

  • What is the climate for your students of color?

  • Are you giving efficient resources to the personnel who are doing the work?

  • And how are you mitigating bias in the classroom, the place where the bulk of our students’ time is spent?

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