- Colleges can better respond to a race-related crisis on campus if they have a strategic diversity and inclusion plan, trust among stakeholder groups and conduct ongoing assessments of the campus climate, according to a new report by the American Council on Education, which uses the University of Missouri as a case study following students' high-profile protests in 2015 that led to the resignations of the system's president and campus chancellor.
- After a crisis, college leaders should listen to key stakeholders without giving defensive responses, speak “from the heart" instead of prepared statements, acknowledge racism on the campus, and involve students, faculty and staff in the decision-making process.
- The researchers advise against a common route college leaders take immediately after a crisis: launching a task force, collecting data and writing a report with recommendations. This not only fails to address students' emotions, the report argues, but it is also "destructive to campus communities that need authentic engagement from their leaders."
Colleges that fail to adequately address student concerns following racist incidents on campus can suffer from immediate and long enduring ramifications.
Along with the resignations of two of its top leaders, the University of Missouri saw steep enrollment declines. Freshmen enrollment dropped by 35% in the two years following the 2015 protests, The New York Times reported last year, though it has since partially rebounded. With less tuition revenue and a reduction in state funding, the university faced a $49 million budget shortfall that led to the elimination of 185 positions, among other cuts, this year, reported The Kansas City Star.
It's unclear to what extent these type of incidents have an effect on enrollment numbers, but the University of Missouri isn't alone in seeing enrollment fall after experiencing campus tensions. At the University of Maryland, for example, black student enrollment dropped to an eight-year low this fall after a black student visiting the campus from another college was fatally stabbed outside a bus stop in the spring of 2017, and a white U of Maryland student was charged with his death and a hate crime, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Colleges should be prepared to respond to these types of incidents, as they've only become more prevalent in recent years, the ACE report notes. White supremacists, in particular, have increased efforts to target campuses, with incidents of propaganda rising by 77% from those groups over the course of the 2017-18 academic year, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
After a racial crisis, campus leaders should create a space on campus for people to process trauma so emotions such as anger, distrust and fear don't build up without being addressed, the report notes.
The report cited several examples of college leaders who acted within their suggested guidelines in the wake of a crisis. For example, American University offered drop-in hours at its counseling center after a racist incident on campus. And after white supremacist Richard Spencer visited the University of Florida last year, its president W. Kent Fuchs identified him as racist and called on the campus to combat his hateful views with "love and good deeds," though he still faced criticism from some students, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported.