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In My Opinion….

...A collection of blogs on topics of interests to leaders, advocates and professionals.

Is Racism Alive and Nurtured in Higher Education Institutions?

 Do You Ever Wonder What is Really Happening in Higher Education?

Do You Ever Wonder What is Really Happening in Higher Education?

The past several years a number of higher education institutions around the country have experienced some form of racial demonstration both positive and negative.  On one hand students of color coupled with white progressive peers are demanding equity throughout curriculum, in hiring practices, in services, and especially in treatment. While at the same time, several uninformed, perhaps ignorant, perhaps scared students and even faculty undermine positive efforts. Is it fear? Is it ignorance? Is it a sense of superiority? Is it pure and simple institutionalized racism? The history of how higher education institutions were started in this country could shed some light.

In this short blog I don’t have time to relay all the history but just think about a few simple questions and do some homework:

·       Who started these institutions?

o   White men and a very few white women much later in the industry’s evolution.

·       Who wrote the bylaws and charters at the start of these institutions?

o   White men.

·       Who had access to education in the early stages of these institutions?

o   White men.

·       Who has directed the trajectory of these institutions (even today)?

o   Mostly white men.

·       Who makes most top level as well as mid level decisions even today?

o   Mostly white men.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. Think about it, institutions that have been designed and molded for over a hundred years now by the same gender, culture, modality and format are just not equipped to respond effectively, civilly and honestly to students facing racist attacks. Fear, ignorance, lack of acceptance of gender privilege as well as white privilege, lack of willingness to engage in open, honest dialogue and much more important, a lack of willingness to do the hard work that leads to visible-sustainable-long term change keeps these institutions entrenched in traditional structures and policies which provide safety from having to change.

Institutional racism is alive and more concerning, it is nurtured within higher education. The traditional structures created to protect those in power which are primarily exclusive not inclusive; designed for the elite not the wider population; articulated for the few not the many; managed with disrespect not respect for divergent opinions; and I could go on, but the critical thing to remember is that these hidden truths, known by all in higher education, keep real change from even getting started.

The response thus far, is that everyone creates some sort of diversity initiative; the most enlightened create a diversity council and position to focus on “the issue”. But guess what at the time of making real change, institutional gatekeepers show their true stripes and while students both white and of color, which pay extremely high tuition and fees suffer in classrooms that disrespect their experiences, backgrounds and their sense of self, nothing changes.

Don’t be surprised by racist incidents taking place in multiple institutions. The gatekeepers are hard at work to preserve the structures once only open to the elites.  

What do you think? Share your thoughts.

Marta Rosa