How higher ed leaders can generate productive conversations around race
- Due to the issues associated with the 2016 election and the rise of hate speech on campus, higher education leaders must incorporate training for faculty members and students on handling and discussing instances of "racial stress," or impacts on mental or physical well-being, in order to build racial literacy, said Howard C. Stevenson, executive director of the Racial Empowerment Collaborative and a University of Pennsylvania professor, during a National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) conference panel Thursday.
- Another panelist, Deborah Johnson, who works in Michigan State University's office of inclusion, explained that her institution, working with Stevenson's team, implemented training focusing on emotional intelligence, fostering inclusive dialogue on the "fears and experiences" of groups on campus, and building a culture of care among faculty members and staff working in classrooms.
- Throughout the implementation process, Johnson said Michigan State scaled the program by having administrative lunches to explain the need for racial literacy, working with student cultural advisors, and providing books as awards for those participating in training sessions. She said the key was building on existing diversity initiatives, by creating added value, keeping data on participation and making the conversation accessible in multiple ways for different audiences.
Institution leaders are increasingly realizing that as the makeup of incoming students becomes more socioeconomically, age and racially diverse — and controversial instances of free speech and student protests become more frequent within more politically engaged generations at the same time — they are going to have to make their campuses more welcoming and appealing as a part of their business models. Hollins University President Pareena Lawrence told Education Dive in an Office Hours video that those schools unprepared to handle these new potential enrollees are going to fall behind:
"Are we ready for a student body that is primarily students of color— and that is going to come soon, so if we are not cognizant of it right now our schools and universities will not be ready in the next 10 years — to welcome this large incoming class of students of color," said Lawrence.
"Businesses — same thing, these students are going to be your customers. If you don't understand them, you don't understand their needs, you don't respect them, you don't welcome them: guess what's going to happen to your bottom-line?," she said. "I want to be a moral argument first, but really ignore the moral argument the economic argument is right there."
That's why, explained Johnson and Stevenson at the NADOHE conference in Washington, D.C., institution leaders ought to consider implementing racial sensitivity training for faculty, as well as student staff members like teaching assistants to really create a culture where campus community members are thinking twice about their own implicit biases. This is especially important, said Stevenson, as institutions have seen a rise in incidents of intolerant behavior across college campuses.
Johnson said that the key to implementing a culture of care and putting action to lip service on inclusiveness is by spending time building relationships with community members to show them the real opportunity that can come from such training, tailoring it and making it appealing to different groups. For instance, she mentioned graduate students weren't as willing to share the costs of training, but when the institution footed the bill, there was more engagement.
"People were willing to participate because 'we focused on building relationships.' We developed an opportunity context, saying 'these are the advantages we are going to have,' by creating a program like this." said Johnson. "The pre-literacy domain on race, the stress management, the racial assertiveness, those are the places where we achieved large changes in the overall group."
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