ICYMI: Establishing anti-racist policy

The second of the Friday Forums on Racism in Higher Education held on Friday, Oct. 23 addressed how organizations approach what is necessary for developing anti-racist policies and creating change in institutions of higher education. The discussion featured Amelia Parnell, vice president for research and policy at NASPA (Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education), Eugene Anderson, vice president for external Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and Noe Ortega, acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The conversation was moderated by Lori McDonald, vice president for student affairs at the University of Utah. In case you missed it, view the full event and transcript below.

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) at the U is hosting these national conversations each month with the goal of helping attendees start on a journey to eradicate racism and share best practices for sustained growth and action.

The series showcases best practice models designed to disrupt complicit racism—regardless of discipline and professional field—with topics addressed at all levels of leadership.

  • University of Utah staff and faculty members of all disciplines are encouraged to submit a breakout-session proposal here.
  • The next Friday Forum titled “A Racially Just Workplace” will be on Nov. 20 at 1 p.m.

Resources: 

Oct. 23 event transcript: 

Note: This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Mary Ann Villareal:

Good afternoon and thank you all for joining us in this October installment of the Friday Forum series. We are thrilled to have you join us. For those of you who joined us in September, welcome back. We’re grateful that you are joining us on this long journey towards the work of becoming an anti-racist campus and engaging national leaders in this conversation along the way.

Friday Forums is a commitment by the University of Utah to the state and region in elevating national conversations and showcasing models of disrupting complicit racism. During each session, we will engage national thought leaders in discussions and provide opportunities for participants to share ideas on actionable items towards a diverse, equitable, and inclusive campus.

I’d like for us to pause for a moment as I read to you our Indigenous Land Acknowledgement. The University of Utah has both historical and contemporary relationships with Indigenous peoples. Given that the Salt Lake Valley has always been a gathering place for Indigenous peoples, we acknowledge that this land, which is named for the Ute Tribe, is the traditional and ancestral homelands of the Shoshone, Paiute, Goshu, and Ute tribes and is a crossroads for Indigenous peoples. The University of Utah recognizes the enduring relationship between many Indigenous peoples and their traditional homelands. We are grateful for the territory upon which we gather today. We respect Utah’s Indigenous peoples, the original stewards of the land, and we value the sovereign relationships that exist between tribal governments, state governments, and the Federal government. Today, approximately 60 thousand American Indian and Alaska Native peoples live in Utah. As a state institution, the University of Utah is committed to serving native communities throughout Utah in partnership with Native Nations and our urban Indian communities through research, education, and community outreach activities.

As we turn to today’s forum, Establishing Anti-Racist Policy, our panelists will address how their organizations approach developing anti-racist policies and what is necessary to make change. We hope that you will continue to grow with us throughout the year as we embark on this journey.

Before I introduce our moderator and panelists, I want to thank our partners. The office of the President, my cabinet colleagues, University Marketing and Communications, University Human Resources, University Business Auxilliary, University Student Affairs, DOMO the business Cloud, Convene, our virtual meeting platform, and as well, I’d like to thank the team from Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion who work to make this event possible and work between each event to ensure that we can bring to you some incredible thought leaders along the way.

So today my colleague and friend, Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of Utah Lori McDonald, will serve as the moderator. Lori McDonald is a Ph.D. and is serving in her second year as Vice President for Student Affairs at the U. She has previously served as the Associate Vice President and Dean of Students. Credited with the capacity to build vibrant partnerships with major offices in academic units across campus, McDonald provides an innovative leadership to a comprehensive Student Affairs division that includes housing and residential education, student development and inclusion, student health and wellness, and the office of the Dean of Students. She sits on the President’s Cabinet and the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Academic Leadership Team. McDonald earned her doctorate from the University of Utah’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy. She has a Master’s degree in higher education and student affairs from The Ohio State University and a bachelor’s degree in biology, also from the U. This year of her tenure as Vice President marks the 24th year of service within the University of Utah’s Division of Student Affairs.

We’re also joined by the Vice President for Research and Policy from NASPA, Amelia Parnell. Amelia Parnell is the Vice President for Research and Policy as NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education where she leads many of the association’s scholarly and advocacy focused activities. She writes and speaks frequently about topics related to student affairs, college affordability, student learning outcomes, and the institution’s use of data and analytics. Her policy and practitioner experiences include prior roles in association management, legislative policy analysis, internal audit and TRIO programs. Her research portfolio includes studies of leadership in higher education, with a focus on college presidents and vice presidents. She is the author of the forthcoming book, You Are a Data Person: Strategies for Using Analytics on Campus and a co-editor of the book, The Analytics Revolution in Higher Education: Big Data, Organizing Learning, and Student Success. Amelia currently serves on the board of directors for EDUCAUSE and is an advisor to several other higher education organizations. She holds a Ph.D. in higher education from Florida State University and Masters and Bachelors degrees in business administration also … oh, excuse me, not also, from Florida A & M University.

Eugene Anderson. Eugene L. Anderson, Ph. D., currently serves as Vice President for External Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, EDEI, at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, APLU. In this role, Doctor … Eugene, he’s also a good friend, is responsible for the strategic direction and management of the Office of EDEI and for ensuring that APLU’s values of DE are integrated into APL’s external work. He also helps lead the APLU Council of 1890 Universities and the Commission on Access, Diversity, and Excellence. Eugene has published and spoken extensively on diversity in higher education and higher education trends, including co-authoring a 2018 status report on engineering education. Eugene previously served as the Chief Policy Officer and Managing Vice President at the American Dental Education Association, and in various roles at the American Council on Education. He holds a doctorate in education policy, master’s in urban and environment planning from the University of Virginia and a baccalaureate degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

Noe Ortega. Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Noe Ortega was nominated to serve as Secretary of Education in October 2020. Prior to his nomination, he had served as the Deputy Secretary and Commissioner for the Office of Postsecondary and Higher Education at the Pennsylvania Department of Education. As commissioner for higher education, he led the work of the agency aimed at closing the post-secondary attainment gaps that have persisted among historically underrepresented populations and communities of color in Pennsylvania. Additionally, Mr. Ortega facilitated the efforts of the department to improve the diversity of Pennsylvania’s educator workforce and to ensure that every student of the Commonwealth has access to educators who have been trained in culturally responsive and culturally relevant approaches to teaching and learning in the classroom. Prior to joining PDE, Mr. Ortega spent eight years at the University of Michigan, where he had several academic and administrative roles. During his tenure, he worked as the Assistant Director and Senior Associate at the National Center for Institutional Diversity and as the Managing Director for the National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good.

While most of his research focused on post-secondary access and success for all students, his most recent publications examine how public investment in higher education influences decision-making at colleges and universities. Additionally, he spent nearly a decade working in the area of financial aid and enrollment management at both public and private institutions in Texas, and he also served as the P-16 Specialist for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

So with that, I want to say thank you to our panelists, thank you to my colleague and friend, Lori McDonald, for moderating today, and for everyone as we move forward. We look forward to having you engage with us along the way. Thank you.

Lori McDonald:

Thank you so much, Mary Ann. So what a wonderful group of panelists. Thank you for being here today. When we talk about policy, I usually see people either … those of us who are policy nerds, we kind of get excited, but I also see a lot of people kind of shrug and think, “Oh, policy,” but to set the stage, could you please let us know how do you conceptualize what anti-racist policy is or should be, and what this means to higher education. I wonder if Doctor Parnell would jump in first.

Dr. Amelia Parnell:

Yeah, I’d be glad to. Let me also say, Lori, I feel your pain in that sometimes people hear the word policy and they don’t run to it the way that I run to it. I think it’s because they don’t really see it for its whole value, all that it can offer. I also have to just say thank you for having us all together. Since I get to go first, maybe I can let my colleagues allow me to say thank you. This is a great time to be just in this kind of group conversation. It takes this type of momentum to keep it going, so thank you for the invitation.

I think that what it comes down to when we’re talking about just the word anti-racist, from my perspective, is we’re talking about someone who understands what racism is, they understand what the factors are that keep in going. Unfortunately in how we continue to have it to this point in 2020. I think they understand or try to understand, that there’s an impact on different groups of people. Either they’re directly impacted by it because they are the recipient of racist behavior or they’re someone that understands there are others who do it even if they don’t intend to. I think that it also requires them to understand how pervasive it is, so we’re talking about it in the context of higher education but anti-racist practice can be far outside and far wider than just higher education and if that’s not enough, I think understanding all of that, they then commit to looking at every situation with an anti-racist lens if they can.

So I think that type of work with regard to policies and practices means that you are actively trying to not contribute to existing structures that marginalize individuals based on race, that they’re trying to challenge the structures that are there with a focus on truly making the way that you operate and do your things differently, and then if that’s not enough, elevating race as a focus point for planning going forward. So I think that what means for higher education is a commitment to doing our work in a way that shows the result of individuals who have been directly impacted by racism and possibly still are. It’s a completely different campus environment, one that affirms their identities and helps them thrive and I think we all can take a part of that. So that’s a longwinded way of saying that’s what I think it means and how that impacts higher education.

Lori McDonald:

Thank you. Would Dr. Anderson like to weigh in?

Eugene Anderson:

Yes. Sorry, I had a … thing. Let me add to what Amelia said with a historical perspective, which I think for me this discussion is so important that we keep in mind the history of this country. So often today, there are conversations about racial issues, sometimes in a vacuum removed from the history of segregation, discrimination, very deliberate policies and the aftereffect of those policies and that is a mistake and you can’t understand developing anti-racist policies without understanding those, so let me give the Land Grant perspective because I think it’s a good example.

At APLU, we represent Land Grant Institutions, like the University of Utah. In my role, I also work closely with the 19 Land Grant historically black colleges and universities, HBCUs. Now, what’s the history of the existence of those? Those institutions come out of the second Morrill Act where Congress saw that in the South in particular, the institutions that were established or funded with money from the first Morrill Act were not providing educational access and opportunity to African Americans newly freed from a period of enslavement. Certainly those in Congress, enough members saw that as an issue, but they wanted to respect state rights so they passed the second Morrill Act, said, “Here’s some money and we want you to use it for an educational opportunity of African Americans, but we can’t tell you what to do so if you still want to segregate, that’s your choice but then you have to set up separate institutions.” So you get the 19 Land Grant HBCUs because you had states and state institutions with very explicit policies to not admit African Americans and other persons of color as well.

So you fast forward to where those policies began to be challenged in the courts. We have Brown v. Board for essentially K12 level, but then there are national cases around higher ed. Those policies were attacked throughout the country and the South, but what happened was the courts said that those institutions had to strip away those policies but you went from essentially segregation in writing to segregation in practice that wasn’t in writing because you didn’t address the inequity of the K12 system of black communities and in many instances, you now took institutions that actually let almost every white student in and added, to some extent, artificial admissions standards utilizing tests that you knew students from communities that had a lower quality K-12 system would not be able to pass. So it’s, to me, a historical perfect example of how even when supposedly we removed race from a policy, it’s still a racist policy because of other practices in place.

So you fast forward now to 2020. We’re still trying to unravel, right, these sorts of systemic issues and policies, especially in the higher education context, because student’s ability to enter into any university is completely dependent on their access and opportunity up until this point in time, right, and that is based on where they live, it’s based on the socioeconomic status of their community, the opportunity of their parent, employment, a whole host of things. So from a higher education standpoint, this history of how we have these policies that were very specifically discriminatory, while they might not be on the book in the same way, they still linger in how opportunity is provided throughout the country.

Lori McDonald:

Thank you. Acting Secretary Ortega, would you like to join in?

Noe Ortega:

Sure, Doctor McDonald, and I appreciate again the opportunity to join this group and to speak alongside both Doctor Anderson and Doctor Parnell as well. When I reflect on the idea that you shared in terms of anti-racist policy and practices, I feel like sharing a sort of framework that adds to what’s already shared by my colleagues where I get to share this opportunity with is that these tend to be things that follow certain steps to identify, right, and I really do think that in places where you do see good anti-racist policy and practice, they begin with sort of an acknowledgment of privileges, understanding where the genesis of some of these things have come from, right, and a real reflection on that piece then naturally leads to being able to identify what’s systemically at the root and what the policy is directed.

In many cases, they also identify norm and norm-setting structures. I think this is really important in higher ed, because you have a lot of the functions, the core functions of the academy, that simply exist to name and identify norms within either a discipline or a particular area. When I think about the nature of the simple cultures of the academy where you see a lot of policies and practices emerge, you have this sort of division between the academic and the student affairs side of the house, and I feel like a lot of this is artifacts that exist in policies that ultimately make their way to practices and create certain divisions. Then they also create certain statuses.

I feel like when you think about anti-racist policy and practice, you look for the same translation in identifying them. Does this individual policy we’ve put in place oppress certain groups? Does it elevate others? Then you begin by understanding that as a framework for policy and practices on campuses, and I think for me in my role when we constantly try to use that lens at all types of policies that are emerging around education, we use that to really understand. I think similar to how we started off this entire session with some clear acknowledgments of where we exist and how the U came about. Sorry, trying to make sure I use the lingo. It does so by really acknowledging sort of place and I think in many cases, policies and practices should do that. Pay tribute to where they came from, whether it’s the Morrill Act as was raised by Doctor Anderson in terms of a historically black college or university or other entities that have emerged from somewhere else and being able to understand that genesis gives you a clear understanding of where you’ve come and how far you still need to go, which should be translated into these policies and practices on a regular basis.

I hope this sort of adds to what my colleagues shared a little bit earlier, as well, around this.

Lori McDonald:

Yes. Thank you. I think all of you have brought up that looking at policy both from a perspective of access but then the norming that we’re doing on our campuses also has impacts on student success while they’re here, so thank you.

One of our participants, one of our attendees, submitted a question prior to this starting and wanted to know how important it is to have buy-in from faculty and the administration before reforming racist policies. The specific example that they gave was that focusing on admittance tests like the SAT, the ACT, the GRE, noting that research has shown that they may be more accurately representative of socioeconomic status than predicting college success, and we have a pilot right now at the University of Utah that is looking at not using those test scores. I’m wondering if … might want to weigh in on this about building buy-in from faculty and administration.

Noe Ortega:

I do think this is a really interesting question that you raise, particularly in areas where you’re embarking on efforts that are really dismantling systemic structures, right, and so when you move into the space of anti-racism and addressing that on particularly college campuses, you are going to deal with essentially claims, age-old claims, to certain ideas and territories that exist and pervade on a college campus.

With that in mind, I offer this up gently, right, and this is to suggest that buy-in, in terms of consensus-building around this, is part of the problem. You’re taking something that’s at the margin and you’re putting it into the center of the institution, and by its very nature on a campus, the things that are central to the core functions and operations are essentially what get named into the mission of the institution. So as you’re moving to make diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts part of the very mission and value of core options of the institution, naturally, you’re going to expect a great deal of tension. I don’t necessarily think that it has to happen with consensus, but it should happen with understanding. A clear understanding of how this is important, elevated, and then how it translates into institutional excellence and success, and then the buy-in and consensus should be in the ideas and understandings that excellence and success are clear components of the institution and when something is identified as being part of that, then we seek to achieve it in a number of different ways.

So it’s something that I often think about when you’re dealing with really challenging issues. This is not to suggest that you want to leave people behind and not suggest perspectives. It’s a very different thing with regards to being able to move towards claiming that these types of efforts have a place at the core structure of the institution and that’s not always going to come with complete buy-in in a place where the very nature of a discipline or a school is to claim its own body of knowledge in order to achieve status and expertise, so it’s a very interesting sort of thing to navigate. So I offer that as kind of a starting point for this discussion.

Lori McDonald:

Thank you. If no one wanted to add to that? Okay.

Eugene Anderson:

Sure. I would just add to what Secretary Ortega said in that I think it is important to engage people on a campus, faculty, administrators, in a conversation around what are we actually doing with these sorts of instruments and measures, because often especially when it comes to admissions tests, we are sort of locked into this use of them that has been validated not by internal metrics but really by external evaluation of prestige of an institution through rankings.

So you’ve got to have faculty themselves think about what really the goal is and how we want to build our classes, and also the other thing is I did research years ago in looking at applicant pools and realizing that until you really kind of delve into with people even on a campus, if they’re not in admissions, they may not really realize how closely packed students in large numbers are, right, and the reality that an institution like the University of Utah has more qualified applicants than it has seats for. So this decision about who you select should be multi-faceted and complicated, this notion that it should only be this hierarchical list from one to whatever the number of spots are when the reality is the differences between one number and the next is minuscule and not predictive of any different performance.

I’ve had some success in having those kind of conversations with groups of faculty, in particular graduate professions, and showing them how just kind of tightly compacted large groups of students from various backgrounds were to get them to begin to see that what they think they’re seeing in test score differences really are not as meaningful in terms of outcomes and performance.

Amelia Parnell:

I think I would like to add to that, too. I’ll save most of my data center comments for later. I’ll find a way to work that back in there, but there’s a lot that I would say from a data perspective that relates to the onboarding, the admissions, the offering of an opportunity to a student, but then there’s so much more you can say about anti-racist policy and practice once they get there and how the data can inform that.

With regard to faculty, I think I want to put a bit of a positive frame on this, remind us that faculty as a group are not homogenous, and so depending of the institution you’re talking about, they could be our biggest champion for something like this. I do most of my work looking specifically at student services and things that students can possibly do once or twice a week outside the classroom, but when it comes to faculty, they are definitely going to see students because they have to. They are there in the classroom space and so I think leveraging those relationships and especially faculty who have backgrounds that match the students who have been marginalized, that’s a huge opportunity to see that as a mentoring relationship, a coaching relationship, and so I don’t know that the struggle that some might perceive faculty to have and being in this is not necessarily the same struggle for everybody. I think there are some faculty out there who would embrace an opportunity to say they would like to contribute to anti-racist practice, and probably already do a lot of things that we might not even know they do.

So I think the short answer is yes, they’re a critical player in this effort, but they’re not a homogenous group and some I think are ready for that challenge and probably have already been committed to the work.

Lori McDonald:

Thank you. Absolutely.

Doctor Anderson, perhaps you could take this question we received also from a participant. Campus climate surveys are often very routine on a college campus, but I love that this attendee is challenging how do we get from the survey to actually creating campus culture that is truly rooted in anti-racism?

Eugene Anderson:

So in terms of moving from an institution like the U can learn from a campus climate survey and actually get to creating a campus culture that’s inclusive, a big part of it comes down to looking to learn from the findings of a campus climate survey. So looking to learn, but then you’re trying to change culture so what you’re looking to implement and change must then be connected with various levers of change. Otherwise, those as Amelia mentioned who are going to be proponents of being an inclusive environment are going to be a front line and excited to use the findings, to even tweak the things that they are doing or that they want to do. There are other individuals and other parts of the operation that may not feel as compelled. Sometimes it’s not that people are against creating an inclusive environment, it’s that other metrics and evaluations of potentially their job are more dominant in consideration than what is coming out in a climate survey.

So for some departments, for some individuals, a big part of it is how much does this matter in the evaluation of either myself as an individual or a department. I think a big part of that is then taking what we learn with the climate survey and tying it to what are the expectations that we have for faculty and staff in terms of the inclusive environment they’re providing students? Also, campus climate surveys also are about the environment for faculty and staff. So what are the expectations that were stated for leadership, for management, for the administration? So those things have got to be clearly articulated and there’s got to be some oomph, some leverage to them in terms of not just, “We’re going to talk about this and hope that people walk away and do something with it,” but that we also are looking to tie these expectations for using this information into ultimately the performance of various parts of the institution.

Lori McDonald:

Thank you. Doctor Parnell, in a slightly different take on that question, and you mentioned wanting to talk about using data. What are some best practices that we should follow in using data to inform anti-racist policy development?

Amelia Parnell:

I’m excited about this question. This is the other part of my job. People talk about data and they don’t run to that either, so I want to talk about policy and data and nobody wants to take me up on it, so see if I can travel with my soapbox.

I think when it comes to data conversations, I probably would put them into two main categories, most campuses that want to talk about it. The first is obviously using data to look at student’s performance and that’s usually what gets most of the airtime. How do we use this particular model? How do we find this trend data? I think a lot of this comes down to something very simple, which is to not rely on one single source of data. That seems like low-hanging fruit but it’s true, but I think the biggest and probably richest source of data is qualitative data from the students themselves about how they’re experiencing the campus. So when it comes to anti-racist policy and practice, those aren’t things that show up very clearly in a spreadsheet and so most often you’re going to have to talk to students and ask them, “How have you experienced what we’re offering you here,” and I say the first response is to not come back with denial. “Oh, that was just that one Amelia. I’m sure that most other students didn’t have that.”

So from a data perspective, how students are performing is an aspect of how they are experiencing the campus, so I would say the first best practice is to truly be willing to listen and gather those perspectives and do something with the results that you get.

Maybe elevating it up a little bit more, I would say be careful about inherent bias, and what I mean by that is of course many of us have talked about predictive models and that kind of goes back to that idea of using test scores, the idea that you can put a lot of different factors into a model. It would tell you whether Amelia is likely to persist or not.

Where the shift is going is not just predictive, but prescriptive. So now it’s to the point where you’re saying, “Hey, I now know that based on this model Amelia might not be doing so well by the third year. I want to go ahead and prescribe that we put her in this particular program or service,” something like that. The spirit behind it is good, but it could be laden with biases about who I am as an individual, how am I experiencing the campus, and so that practice piece of it, I say be careful about that.

I could go on and on about the student performance side, but the second way to use the data usually comes down to operations. So all of we’re talking about this from a management standpoint and I assume most of the attendees are not students themselves, so if there are people watching this wondering, “Hey, I’m in a role that’s responsible for a program, how do I actually take an anti-racist lens?” What I would say is be careful about looking exclusively at the outcomes of your programs. Most times you want to start a particular initiative or you want to have a day, or you’re going to have a racial awareness week or something like that and then you want to measure it based on the number of people who come or the number of people who give you good surveys and say that it was an effective event.

That’s fine. That’s a really great start, but if you’re responsible for an ongoing particular program on a campus, I would say look at the process by which that program is operating. Sometimes the outcomes that you’re looking for, if they’re not there, it’s not a product of having chosen the wrong program. It just truly might be that you offered it at the wrong time or students didn’t know about it or students didn’t really like the way it was delivered. So I think that, in summary, the best practices that I would offer are generally an inquisitive nature. You’ve got to be curious enough to want to look at it and you can’t have denial. So even if you’re not quite yet looking at prescriptive versus predictability, so looking at test scores, maybe that’s not your area. Maybe you’re not responsible for looking at large scale data or doing the interviews. I think you can’t be, at this point, committed to doing anti-racist work without at least being open to the idea of having data inform that. So that’s my short thinking on it.

Lori McDonald:

Thank you.

All right. Secretary Ortega, another of our attendees talked about that being in the midst of a structural change like the University of Utah is in striving for anti-racist practice, there are often transgressions is what they described as other people having transgressions that kind of set us back, and I wonder particularly you have been involved in state government for a long time, how do you keep moving forward?

Noe Ortega:

Sure. Institutions are really interesting when you begin to pay close attention because they’re defined by the culture, so myths, rituals, ceremonies. Those are all really big components. To this day, many of them still looks like they did a century ago. They’ve elevated somewhat but it really is what’s defining. Then you add on that that they’re really big on creating an identity that people believe in and buy in to. So when you go to the U, there’s something that it represents to an individual, and I think a lot is said about a number of institutions.

When you begin to move towards creating a structural shift, right, you’re really tapping into the way everyone relates to the experience they had at that institution and how they continue to envision it moving forward. A lot of the workaround dismantling racist structures and putting in place anti-racist policies and practices are for good reason shifting from some of the traditional ways and approaches that we’ve done things on college campuses, right, and one way is to include more folks into the identity.

So you would expect transgressions to come when someone engages in such a lift. Ti’s really important in the places that I’ve seen a really good job at embarking on this kind of transformation are very clear that before they embark on this, they set some very clear goals, imperatives and priorities, begin to work things into artifacts that everyone on a campus is familiar with. One good example is either a student handbook or a curriculum, for example. What that does is allows people to have something to orient their thinking to when it becomes when they begin to experience the dissonance that you would expect when this shift begins, yet you have something that you anchor your work to and that’s familiar.

I think to keep moving forward, institutions have to be very intentional in that connection before they hit the go button on a lot of these initiatives, which is hard to do because oftentimes the push towards dismantling a structure, particularly when you’re looking to put in place an anti-racist structure, oftentimes are discontinuities that maybe come in the form of protests and mobilizations that force people into some kind of action immediately. When you don’t take the time to sort of begin to prepare for what that looks like, it becomes really difficult and you’ll deal with a lot of setbacks that won’t allow you to keep moving forward, and for me this is one way that you can being to resolve this and allow the university to engage in a path forward that leads this transformational change because nothing about this lift is going to be easy in any way.

Lori McDonald:

Thank you.

Doctor Parnell, maybe you could start with what advice you have for those who have long been engaged in this work, especially now at this pivotal time.

Amelia Parnell:

That’s a really good question, and I think it’s a group of people we don’t talk about very often unless they’ve made national news as an activist of some type, but I think there are a lot of people who’ve been committed to this work either formally because of their title or informally because they just happen to be someone that people gravitate to. So I think with those who’ve been immersed in this work for a really long time, they already know why. They know the history. They’ve done the work of being able to say, “This is a real issue and it’s going to be here for a while,” but I think the best advice I can give is to look for and appreciate the small wins because those add up. I think in a time when we have taken some serious hits, and I mean that in like a proverbial way, but we have experienced a lot of negative things, just downright difficult things that could make someone who’s been toiling for a long time say, “I am exhausted and I no longer want to do this work.”

But embedded in there are a lot of what I say small wins. Individual students who you might have a chance to interact with and they say, “My time here at the U was better because I got to know you,” and though we might look at that as just a regular part of your job, that one person can make a big difference, it’s enough to keep you going. So I think the small wins make a big difference.

The other is to be honest about what you’ve been doing and what it takes. I think those who carry the heaviest weight sometimes don’t ever want to say, “This is really heavy work,” and so sometimes it can be taken for granted that those people [inaudible 00:41:52] but they always do, you know what I mean? At some point, it’s okay to say, “This is what my day is like. This is what it takes to continue this work and be committed to it.” So telling your own story and not being so humble about it that people take you for granted.

The next thing I would say is accept help when it comes if someone’s offering, and understand that those who are offering may not have had as much experience but their heart is in it and that’s a good place to start. I find that in this time now, a lot of people are saying, “Hey, I really didn’t realize how pervasive racism is, and now that I do know, what can I do?” There are a lot of people who want to help. It’d be tempting to say, “Well, do your homework and come back to me.” We don’t have that luxury. Find a way to accept some help if you can.

Then the last thing is take a break when you need to. One of the biggest misconceptions about this equity is that it’s an agenda, which implies that it has a start and an endpoint. The unfortunate news is that racism in America will probably still be here, some element of it, decades from now and so knowing that, this shouldn’t put us in a position of defeat, but instead to say, “It’s a long game, not a short game,” and take those breaks when you can and tag in somebody who offers some of that help so you can take a break and come back and get those small wins and do the work that we all really need to do together.

So, that’s a great question. I appreciate it.

Lori McDonald:

Wonderful. I have another question that perhaps all of you could weigh in on.

Who is getting this right, and what is it that they’re doing? Or another way of looking at is what are some of the resources that you would recommend for those of us in higher education who are wanting to develop anti-racist policy and continually analyze it? Maybe Doctor Anderson, would you like to weigh in?

Eugene Anderson:

Sure. Yeah. I’ll weigh in. There are a lot of institutions doing some innovative and interesting things so I always hesitate to name one in particular but let me say, as we talk about these policies, I think one of the important places for universities like the U and other PWIs to look at is to historically black colleges and universities because they have a history of providing access and educational opportunity to a wide variety in students, and they really are unique in just taking that approach that both they want to attract the highest achieving and they also want to provide an opportunity for those who have not had educational opportunity at a high level and therefore might not be able to get into a four-year school, so this wide range of students.

When I talk with some larger, predominantly white institutions, there seems to be this uneasiness about kind of going too far outside of the mode of what they define as the profile of their traditional student. So I think there’s a lot to learn about … this mold, to some extent, is based on these systemic structures and systemic racism that we see. So if you break the mold then you have to look at how do you understand what you can do differently, how do you understand what the responsibility is of the institution. Amelia noted it earlier. It is not simply about what the student is not doing but it is what the institution should be doing.

When we look at our flagship, our big Land Grant institutions like the U, they have the size and the resources where they should be able to stretch far and wide in terms of who they’re bringing into the institution and how they’re supporting a more diverse array of institutions. Connecting to the data piece that I know Amelia’s fond of, it’s really interesting when you look at the percent of Pell students at institutions, and we’ve seen that number shrink at essentially the flagships institutions, and from my perspective, that’s something that public institutions should be really working to reverse. If you are a public institution, it means your costs are more affordable for in-state students.

So regardless of whether you’re a predominately white institution or Hispanic serving institution or an HBCU, you should be looking at the diversity of students, both racial-ethnic diversity, but also very importantly, that socioeconomic diversity and looking at how you increase the share of your students that are Pell recipients.

Lori McDonald:

Great. Thank you. Doctor Parnell, do you have some recommendation for those of us wanting to engage in this or examples of who and how they’re doing it right?

Amelia Parnell:

Yeah, I think I have some examples, not necessarily of specific campuses. I have to first agree with everything Eugene said about HBCUs in my completely biased opinion as a graduate of one. I think it’s because for the most part, campuses will take their own approach and I think each campus’s context is different, so I don’t want to let everybody off the hook and say, “Don’t hold this one up as an example,” but you could make a case that even those who haven’t gotten national attention are still committed to it. So I think in terms of getting it right or doing it well, the first place you start is with your internal conversation and a commitment to say, “We are not going to be in denial about this. We are really going to examine and interrogate everything we’ve been doing.”

Now if you’re looking for models to use as you have those conversations, then I think I can suggest some resources that would be good. One that comes to mind, I don’t know that is necessarily with an anti-racist frame, but if you go to Google and put in “culturally engaging campus environments”, there’s a CECE white paper as well as a CECE kind of survey that you can take with your campus team and talk about ways that your campus is or is not hitting some of those markers. I don’t know if it’s out or publicly released yet, but the Institute for Higher Education Policies, or IHEP, they are working on an equity tool for leaders, so those who are part of the cabinet or campus leadership team to talk through what their policies and practices are.

I think on a practical sense, and like I said don’t formally endorse this one, but of course I think if you Google it, the USC Center probably will come up pretty quickly. I don’t know that I would suggest any one right now run specifically to any one singular training but instead start with their campus conversations and go back to their data and what is it exactly that they’re trying to get, in terms of a more anti-racist environment, and work from there. I think you could pull from any resource, but I think it starts with the conversations on campus first and commitment to the idea that it’s not going to be just your single diversity equity inclusion officer’s job. I could make a case for every person on the campus having a lens of that, and to get it right I think means an ongoing conversation. It should be at the top of meeting, “How are we doing and how are we making progress on those particular ideals.”

I hope that helps, but if after this you want links, I can provide some to you.

Lori McDonald:

Thank you. Acting Secretary Ortega?

Noe Ortega:

Sure. I think a lot of the resources that I would encourage folks to do is to really begin with historical artifacts at your respective institutions. I’m a big fan of historical antecedents really informing the development of policies and often we forget to sort of look back at the genesis of the institution and I think the HBCU example was perfect, asking the questions of existence for a particular segment of institutions. The why part of that question is really difficult, right, when you begin to understand why HBCUs were created second after Land Grant institutions and you begin to think about the emergence of community colleges and who certain sectors for, right? You begin to really get a sense of how our system of higher education, when it doesn’t find a fit for someone into the norms of a particular institution, rather than integrating them, they create a new system for them to go to, and if you go all the way to the current, it’s why we have HSIs, AANAPISIs, and you keep going down the list, we keep fragmenting the system as a clearly intentional way of segmenting populations that we feel should not be included into our institution and those are the kinds of difficult observations that you need to make, right? Lots of talk about our landmarks on college campuses, right, and the removal of them which is coming up quite regularly, and those are reminders of where the institution has come from, right, and I think acknowledging those things are really important for people to be able to build a pathway forward. This is not a dismissive, because you need to continue to revisit some of the challenges that the institution face and I think that’s part of growth, but I would really encourage folks to really look into their archives. Lots of this stuff exists, and you can uncover some things that the institution probably did not want you to see at some point, and those are really good thing to really understand how to move forward.

The fact that there’s a lot of great researchers out there doing work here, if you do get on Google Scholar and begin to look at higher education, diversity equity inclusion, it’ll yield some very, very amazing work. All of it is useful but you really have to know where you’re at as a institution. These are such localized curated paths that you can’t draw on a body of knowledge that maybe is being held as a seminal piece and think that it’s going to uniquely apply to your situation, because you may have so much further to go than other institutions and I think that’s a real important acknowledgment. Otherwise, you’re going to feel that you’re going to be using benchmarks and milestones that have no relevance at your institution and you’ll feel like you’re not accomplishing as much as you can.

So I really want to encourage folks to take to into that particular part in doing this work, but I appreciate the question, Doctor McDonald.

Lori McDonald:

Thank you. Thank you so very much. I think we’re closing in on the end of the hour, but we do have some time for any closing comments, suggestions that any of our panelists might have for us. Does anyone want to start?

Noe Ortega:

I’d like to go first, only just not to have the last word. I want to jump to the front of it because I don’t want to be responsible for the last takeaway, right, so my message maybe will get embedded into the wonderful ideas that I think Doctor Parnell and Doctor Anderson can give you.

I think as you begin to think about organizing yourself around structural change such as this, right, often we can go to the obvious, which is the things that most people will frame around the unconscious, the indirect effects. But the Academy is known for a lot of its conscious efforts that are about creating divisions in the system and often I ask folks to begin there. I don’t pick on faculty, but it’s just a lot of my orientation is in the world of research, the whole idea that even getting something as simple as interdisciplinary work, which is outside of our boundaries, to get folks to buy in that, and turn it into the right currency that leads to better paths, like tenure for example, are real challenges but we intentionally seek out to create those divisions, I feel like many of the things that we create and so don’t look for the unconscious initially. Go to the things that you tend to replicate on a day to day basis that you’ve identified as the core functions and operations and being dismantling there.

Lori McDonald:

Thank you. Doctor Anderson, you mentioned wanting to go.

Eugene Anderson:

Yeah, I’ll go next. So in closing one of the things I would say is I do realize from having this conversation with university leaders across the country that they sometime seek pushback from donors, sometimes elected officials who don’t see the need for policy change as it relates to increasing access and equity in the institutions. What I say to those leasers is I think it’s important for those who question the need fro change, to emphasize the need for increased educational opportunity for a changing nation, an increasingly diverse nation where the skills are changing and the technical level and the educational level is necessary.

So from a national economic standpoint, more education for all, for underserved communities should be an imperative of importance for everybody. In the last ten years we’ve seen a steady decline in the number of white high school graduates. It peaked in ’08, it’s just … birth rate is lower than other groups. It’s going to go down. In that same decade, we saw a doubling in the number of Latinx high school graduates. We as a nation should be focused on ensuring educational opportunity at the K through 12 and now the higher education level for those kids because that’s the key to success.

I spoke out in Oklahoma last year and there were several members of the Oklahoma Board of Education that were there, and it’s an aging, still predominantly white state. But I made the point to them that they should want every black and brown kid to get as much math and science as possible so they can take care of them when they’re older, either through their tax dollars or by becoming healthcare providers. That’s how they should understand the value and the need for this educational opportunity. We no longer can have this, “Well, I only want my group, my community, to have the opportunity.” It needs to be an opportunity for everybody, more math, more science. It needs to be the way that we understand this from a national perspective.

So that’s what I say and I think is important as a pushback to those who pushback around any ideas around increasing access and anti-racist policies.

Lori McDonald:

Thank you. Doctor Parnell, the last word.

Amelia Parnell:

Thank you, colleagues, for giving me the last words, I guess since I had the first word. Here’s what I would say. I think when it comes to this particular topic, there’s so many additional pieces to it that always rise up and privilege came up as one of them. The idea that if we go too far with this, those who previously … I don’t want to say enjoyed, but benefited from certain types of privileges might lose that privilege and I think the longer we continue to see it in that frame, we’re always going to have a split. There’s always going to be those who have to give up something for somebody else, saying, “I’ve lost something.”

I don’t think that we should continue to frame it that way. I think it’s a trust issue. The idea is that they do give up privilege, but they can trust that things will be better once those who receive what they should have gotten will make the world a better place. So I actually don’t see this is a loss. I know we should fear it as loss but instead see the possible gains. Imagine the millions of individuals who would be able to do so much more if there were not these structures and policies and practices holding them back. The contributions they would make, of course. Everything that Eugene just said.

So this is the time for us to do it. I think the culminating crisis that we’re in right now gives us a great opportunity to not turn back and to also start to script a new part of our history. At this point, so many of us have been ashamed by what has not been done to take care of those who’ve been really affected by some serious racial issues over the last few decades. We’re in that moment now we can start to turn things in a different direction.

So I would encourage us to keep having these kind of conversations with lots of resources at the end for people to go dig into, like follow up panels, and so that steady drumbeat when we pass that baton to the next person, we won’t find ourselves 50 years from now having these same conversation. I’m optimistic that we won’t so I’ll just say again, like I started, thank you for this time to have these conversations and if it’s recorded, maybe in a decade or so we’ll look back at some of these same challenges and say that we’ve done a better job.

Lori McDonald:

Thank you so much. Mary Ann, that’s a perfect segue into our continued conversations. Mary Ann.

Mary Ann Villareal:

Wow. Thank you. I don’t even know how big to make this thank you for all that you shared with us today and I hope that we’ll be having this conversation sooner than a decade from now about where we are in the change ahead.

For all of you that joined us today, I hope you’ll join us again next month for our next Friday Forum on November 20th. Our topic there is A Racially Just Workplace and you can find more information at diversity.utah.edu and we’ll share the information that Doctor Parnell noted in terms of the white papers and other sources, resources, at that website as soon as we are able.

Again, to my friends, colleagues, thank you and I look forward to doing this work with you. Have a wonderful day.