Shaun R. Harper, provost professor in the Rossier School of Education and Marshall School of Business, Clifford and Betty Allen chair in urban leadership, and executive director of the Race and Equity Center at the University of Southern California, discusses racial equity initiatives in higher education.
Provost Professor, Rossier School of Education and Marshall School of Business; Clifford and Betty Allen Chair in Urban Leadership; and Executive Director, Race and Equity Center, University of Southern California
FASKIANOS: Thank you, Maureen, and good afternoon, good morning to all of you. Thank you for joining us for today’s Educators Webinar.
I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at the Council on Foreign Relations. Today’s meeting is on the record, and the video and transcript will be available on our website, CFR.org/Academic. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
We’re delighted to have Shaun Harper with us to talk about racial equity initiatives in higher education. Dr. Harper is a provost professor in the Rossier School of Education and the Marshall School of Business; the Clifford and Betty Allen Chair in Urban Leadership; and founder and executive director of the Race and Equity Center at the University of South Carolina (Edit: University of Southern California). He is also president of the American Educational Research Association and was appointed to President Barack Obama's advisory council for My Brother’s Keeper in 2015.
Previously Dr. Harper served as president of the Association for the study of higher education and spent a decade at the University of Pennsylvania where he was a professor and founding executive director for the Center for the Study of Race & Equity in Education. His research focuses on race, gender, and other dimensions of equity in colleges and universities, businesses and firms, and K through twelve schools. Johns Hopkins University Press will be publishing his thirteenth book, entitled Race Matters in College. So Dr. Harper, thank you very much for being with us.
Following George Floyd’s murder, we are seeing a large-scale civil rights movement in the United States and around the world in support of Black Lives Matter. It would be great if you could share with us your perspective and talk about how colleges and universities can take action to work toward racial equity and greater inclusivity and diversity on their campuses. So over to you.
HARPER: Yeah, thank you so much, Irina. I really appreciate having been invited to be a part of this important conversation.
I almost always do as I’m told. One person has already sent me a text message, who is joining us in this virtual environment today, asking me to tell everyone that I work at the University of Southern California, the other USC—not South Carolina.
So greetings from the University of Southern California. I am really thrilled to spend some time talking about, you know, race in America more broadly, and then drilling down into race in higher education.
Irina, I really appreciated you acknowledging the murder of George Floyd as being a real catalyst for a movement. You know, let me say, as you might imagine, being the executive director of the USC Race & Equity Center made for a very, very intense five weeks in the month of June, for sure, as, you know, people were really—leaders were really reaching out from all of the areas in which we do our work—K-12 schools and districts, colleges and universities, and certainly businesses and firms. Never in the history—our now almost decade-long history of the center were we so overwhelmed with, you know, a national and, at times, even global outcry for help, assistance, resources, guidance, and so on, than we were in the month of June.
I do want to make sure, though, that everyone who is with us fully understands what the uprisings were about in June. They certainly were about the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. But they also were about longer-standing patterns of police brutality and police misconduct in predominantly Black and brown communities. It was about the police killings of unarmed Black people; not just George Floyd.
A third thing that the movement is about is, you know, understanding longer-standing systems of racism, both structural and systemic, and cultural racism, the way that racism shows up in policy and in practice, you know, really across, you know, many organizations and social contexts. So it’s not just about policing. It’s not just about confederate monuments, but also about, you know, again, other manifestations of systemic racism.
I will say just one more thing about the movement. You know, it took a sudden turn around week four where, you know, it wasn’t just about people marching in the streets. But then people started turning inward in their own organizational contexts. We definitely saw a lot of this in companies and firms across the country where very distressed CEOs were reaching out to us saying, our Black employees are writing these open letters talking about their experiential realities as people of color in, you know, largely predominantly White workplace environments. In some instances, those open letters were not just circulated internally, but also were circulated via social media. We also saw lots of young students of color, both in K-12 and in higher education, make known via these Instagram posts their racialized experiences in their educational context.
So the movement also has been really about raising both national and global consciousness about the inaction that has long occurred around racial issues—again, across a multitude of both educational and workplace settings. So, you know, it has been a really fascinating, you know, five weeks for me. I definitely—and so have my colleagues here at the center—we have brought a lot of expertise to the table as we’ve engaged with folks. But we’ve also learned a lot.
You know, I’ve been a professor now for—this is starting my eighteenth year. There has never been a time that I’ve learned more than I have over the past five weeks as we’ve engaged in this work. So I wanted to just like set the stage here by helping people understand, you know, really the four dimensions of what the moment and the movement is about.
I do also want to take some time, though, quickly here—realizing that we have a higher ed audience, I do want to talk about reopenings, our return to campus. You know, some institutions are, you know, moving forward with their plans to reopen their campuses this fall.
I had the enormous privilege yesterday of testifying to the House of Representatives. There was a congressional hearing on campuses reopening, and there were things that I said there that I want to just very quickly recap here because I honestly feel very strongly about all ten of these things because they have, I think, enormous racial equity implications for campuses that are moving forward with plans to reopen.
The first is we need to think about the risk that awaits essential workers. You know, essential workers on college and university campuses are food-service professionals, custodial workers, maintenance workers, and so on. Given the stratification of the higher education workforce, it’s primarily people of color who are in those lower-level service roles who will be required to come to campuses. Then those people are going to have to go home to their families, to their children. I think we are taking a huge risk at putting those essential workers—primarily people of color—at risk of, you know, becoming infected with the virus.
Another is—you know, there is a looming financial crisis, right, and there will inevitably be terminations and layoffs. It will not be tenured professors like me who are laid off; it will be the aforementioned service workers, and administrative assistants, and, you know, other people who are in positions that have far less protection. Those are primarily people of color who will be laid off and terminated. So we have to be really thoughtful in our workforce reduction plans. We ought not make those plans in a raceless way because ultimately it’s going to lead to, you know, racial disproportionality in who is laid off.
I’ve definitely been thinking a whole lot about, you know, the violence against Asian Americans and Asian immigrants in the U.S.—the horrifying violence that we’ve seen since the pandemic began. You know, certainly it doesn’t help when the president of the United States refers to the coronavirus as kung flu and the Chinese virus. I don’t know that college presidents and campus task forces are thinking deeply enough about how do we protect Asian American students and, you know, Asian international students, and faculty members, and employees when we reopen. I’m afraid that those folks are going to be at risk of enormous stereotyping and physical violence.
I, you know, thought, you know, well before Monday’s announcement about, you know, visa complications, and ICE deportations—which I just think are just terrible and ridiculous for international students—I predicted ten days ago that there would be some sort of visa restrictions, and there would be some version of a travel ban of, you know, people coming from other countries, and that, you know, it would largely be sinophobic and xenophobic motives, you know, driving those actions, and what do we have now? We have, you know, this crazy moment of, you know, these complications that I don’t think are just about credit hours and, you know, where other people are studying, you know, in an on-campus environment. I think that, you know, there are some—you know, again, some sinophobic and xenophobic undercurrents.
I’ll go quickly. There are just a couple more.
We know for sure that communities of color, particularly African American communities, have been disproportionately affected by mortality during the pandemic; that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate effect on people of color. As we return to campuses, it is highly likely that students of color and employees of color will have lost family members, friends, and members of their community at rates that are higher than their White counterparts. We have to have more than adequate grief, and trauma, and mental wellness support resources for those students of color and employees of color as we return them to campuses.
We also have to think about what it means to return them to their communities. I talked earlier about the essential workers having to go home after work, after having been, you know, exposed to students and other employees, but, you know, let me say for a moment that I’ve been studying these campus reopening plans, the ones that are public facing, and most institutions are planning to conclude in-person instruction by Thanksgiving in anticipation of a second wave of the virus.
We have to be thoughtful about—we’re going to be sending all students back home in, you know, the third week of November. But for students of color, if we send them back home, you know, having been exposed to the virus, we’re then sending them back to communities that have already been disproportionately devastated by COVID-19.
All right, three more.
For some reason, some institutions are foolishly still thinking about playing football this fall, and there all of these like very sophisticated plans about how to assure physical distancing in stadiums. You know, I read one a couple of weeks ago from Ohio State where they were trying to figure out how they could get twenty (thousand) to thirty thousand people into the stadium, you know, with appropriate physical distancing. Those are great plans, but what about the actual people on the field? They are largely Black. They are overwhelmingly Black. Football is a contact sport, right, and you literally have many people passing around a surface, like an object, that germs have been deposited on, and they are passing it back and forth. Yeah, that’s going to disproportionately affect Black people because the players are disproportionately Black on those teams.
I worry about that. I worry a lot about, you know, chronically underfunded minority-serving institutions, historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges, and community colleges. Those are the institutions that do more than their fair share of educating college students of color. They don’t have the resources that my very well-resourced University of Southern California has to, you know, reconfigure labs, and lecture halls, and so on, to ensure physical distancing. So, you know, unless there are more considerable, you know, both state and federal investments, I am afraid that those institutions that, you know, enroll their disproportionate shares of communities of color and students of color, are not going to be able to protect them in the same ways that well-resourced institutions are able to.
We have seen throughout the pandemic, in both K-12 and in higher ed institutions, you know, way too much evidence about the digital access inequities, and, you know, certainly those inequities have fallen along socio-economic lines with lower-income students not having consistent and reliable access to high-speed Internet. But given the way that race and class co-mingles in America, it’s been disproportionately students of color.
So as we think about these hybrid models of instruction for fall quarter, fall semester, with some courses meeting in person, and others meeting online, we have to pay very serious attention to getting students of color and lower-income students the resources they need to be able to afford high-speed Internet so they don’t fall further behind.
Lastly—the last consideration here is that, you know, over the entirety of my career, I have been studying the racialized experiences of students of color in higher education, as well as the racialized experiences of workers in corporate contexts. But in the higher ed space, we have heard consistently from students of color that the curriculum doesn’t reflect their cultural histories, cultural interests, cultural identities; that faculty teaching practices are largely unresponsive to, you know, the cultural ways of knowing and learning that are important for students of color.
We’ve heard from students of color consistently about the racial micro-aggressions and stereotyping that they often experience in college classrooms, and in labs, and in other places. Those are longstanding issues that, you know, were ever present, really, in in-person environments. I worry that, you know, as we upskill faculty members to teach more effectively online for fall semester, it can’t be just about, you know, cool teaching tricks to, you know, keep all students engaged. We also have to think about how do we not, you know, like, exacerbate, you know, longstanding racial climate problems—for in-person learning environments, how do we not exacerbate those in virtual learning environments? I worry, right, that if we don’t pay attention to that, that students of color are going to be even more alienated online than they have been in person.
OK, Irina, you asked me to talk for ten minutes or so. That was more like twenty minutes, so I’m going to stop now and—(laughs)—turn this back over to you for some comments.
FASKIANOS: Thank you, Shaun. I could listen to you all day. That was fantastic. And my apologies—University of Southern California. I have the wrong glasses on. (Laughs.)
HARPER: No, it happens all the time.
FASKIANOS: I don’t have my reading glasses on.
All right, so this is—we’re going now to all of you. You can click on the participant’s icon, raise your hand, and I will recognize you. And of course, we want to also use this forum to share best practices and think through how to tackle these issues that we’re discussing here.
So let’s first go to Beverly Lindsay. And please tell us where—your affiliation so that we know what higher education institution you are representing, and it will give us context.
And you need to click the unmute button to open your mic, so don’t forget to do that. (Pause.)
Beverly, can you—Beverly Lindsay, can you click your unmute button, accept that prompt? (Pause.)
OK, we will try to go back—come back to her.
Q: Can you hear me now?
FASKIANOS: Yes. Beverly, it’s great to hear your voice.
Q: (Laughs.) OK, good morning. Shaun, as usual it was great to hear your cogent comments.
HARPER: Thank you.
Q: I would like to share a couple of comments and then get your reaction because I was hearing you talk about the issues behind the unrest of Black Lives movement. One of the issues that often happens is African American professors will often discuss issues. For example, a colleague—this is public information, unnamed—was a criminology specialist. He was never promoted to a full professor, yet became an ambassador under a former president.
There are also the issues of tenure and promotion to faculty who don’t teach certain issues such as race and race relations. The atmosphere on campus often reminds me of what happened during 9/11, and so department heads, deans, provosts, even the presidents, and sometimes the board will give voice to these issues, but they don’t actually do it. For example, in many universities, the number of tenured faculty is similar to what it was 25 years ago.
So how do we begin to address those problems on campuses so that we can also address external problems?
HARPER: Dr. Lindsay, I so appreciate your question. I miss you a lot. This is great to kick this off with you.
Obviously, I’ve been thinking about this a whole lot. In fact, I’m going to bring together—I know that you asked me a question specifically about higher ed, but I’m really going to bring together my two worlds here.
The same thing that is happening in colleges and universities is also happening in businesses and firms. It’s that longstanding neglect and inattention to these issues that you are naming, right, that, you know, have reached a breaking point, really, in most organizational contexts.
You are absolutely right. The numbers of tenured professors of color are largely the same now that they were a decade ago or even two decades ago, which is just horrendous, and it’s because there never was a serious strategy, right? There were these random, like, activities, like let’s throw this program together that may, you know, increase the number of faculty of color, like, no, that didn’t do it. Let’s, like, throw some dollars over here; no, that didn’t do it. There has to be—there has to be a strategy, right?
At the USC Race & Equity Center, we have a resource that we call the USC Equity Institutes. It is a(n) eight-week professional learning series for very senior leaders at colleges and universities. It’s usually the president’s cabinet and, you know, a handful of other, you know, fairly senior administrators, deans, and so on. But the magic number is twenty. So over eight weeks we teach those twenty higher ed leaders things that they never learned anywhere else in their educational or professional upbringing about how to do racial equity; not just how to message it, not just how to articulate its importance, but how to like actually solve racial problems. So while that professional learning is happening, concurrently we also take them through the exercise of developing strategic racial equity projects for their campuses. Many institutions have taken on as a project increasing the numbers of faculty of color and, you know, miraculously, at the end of eight weeks, they have a super solid strategy with lots of input from us that, you know, is so much more robust, and sustainable, and measurable, and so on, than what they were doing before. And we’re already seeing like serious, serious needle movement on those campuses that have gone through the institutes. I think that we need that kind of effort to be honest. It can’t just be, you know, like a random, you know, grab bag of activities that are not part of a larger strategy.
FASKIANOS: Let’s go to Sovathana Sokhom, and if you could identify your institution. Beverly Lindsay is with the University of California.
Q: OK. Hi, my name is Sovathana Sokhom. I’m from Cal State Dominguez. And as you—probably you can tell is I’m Asian American.
And so I will just—I have a question in term(s) of we are so much consider about how the minority, right, and then being a minority faculty, and there’s some discrimination from the students, like they will say, you know, I don’t understand your English, I—you know, I say this assignment have no merit, and so on so forth like that. Or sometime they just, you know, being rude, but in the class when there’s a classroom right before we were shut down.
How do you respond to those, those student? Like, they discriminate against professor. Like, I say, you know, you have the right to not take the class and so on and so forth like that, you know, all the strategy that dealing with—(inaudible)—classroom of sixty students, and just one—you know, ninety-nine are good, but the one or two that, you know, make—how do you deal with them?
HARPER: Yeah, this is—this is really good. It’s a terrible thing that happens, but your question is a really good one.
You know, I mentioned that Black students in recent weeks have taken to Instagram, and these are Black students both in K-12 and in higher ed. You know, there is a Blacks at USC Instagram page, for example, but lots of other Black students across the country have been creating these, right, where they are cataloguing their racialized experiences. Those experiences have helped raise the consciousness of faculty members and institutional leaders around the racial micro-aggressions and other racialized experiences.
You know, perhaps a similar campaign focused around, you know, the experiences of Asian American and Asian immigrant faculty members and students could be useful, right? It could be a useful way of raising the consciousness about, you know, the ridiculous things that students, and colleagues, and others say to you and do to you. That is a very public-facing way, right?
I will say that we have a different way of doing this at the USC Race & Equity Center. We have these campus climate surveys that we’ve created. We’ve created one now for students that we call the National Assessment of Collegiate Campus Climates. It has since been—we launched it a year ago. It has since been administered to more than a half million undergraduate students across the country. Right now we’re hard at work on developing a faculty climate assessment and a staff climate assessment. Having your institution do one of those three surveys, or perhaps even all three of them, could also be a way to get some data about, you know, the experiences of, you know, Asian and Asian American faculty members because the data can be disaggregated by race, and by discipline, and by role type, and so on.
I just think—in other words, what I’m saying here is that we need data on these experiences; you know, data that can be sort of outward facing. I think of the Instagram post as data, as a matter of fact. But then also data that are collected through, you know, more expertly validated instruments. That could be a way to raise the consciousness of your department chairs, for example, that these are things that Asian faculty are experiencing in the classroom.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Let’s go to James Turner next.
Q: Hi, I’m with the Daniel Alexander Payne Community Development Corporation. I’m Black. I have a doctorate in physics. And we’ve been very—and we run a STEM program for 501(c)(3) now. And one of the problems has been—with minorities at STEM is that middle school has been a time when many fall out of the STEM pipeline. And so we’ve been working very hard to try to retain those students.
About a year or two ago I saw a statistic, though, that really upset me quite a bit, and that was that, for STEM—Black students who are entering colleges with a STEM major, only one-third of them graduate with a STEM major. And so there was no delineation there about whether they left school, or whether they changed majors, or what, but still, though, only one-third managed to finish the process as a STEM major.
I wondering, are there some—first of all, are you familiar with that statistic, and secondly, are there some things there are unique to STEM that need to be worked on?
HARPER: Sure, James, I really appreciate this question. Yes, I’m definitely familiar with that statistic. It’s even worse, James, when you disaggregate by STEM field. You know, the numbers of students of color persisting are even lower in particular majors.
In terms of the things that can be done, you know, I mentioned those USC Equity Institutes that we do with higher ed leaders. We’ve now done those on more than forty campuses across the country. We have adapted that model. We have a proposal to a foundation right now—I’m like 99.9 percent sure that it is going to be funded at this point—to do a year-long Racial Equity Leadership Academy for 250 department chairs in STEM fields at colleges and universities across the country, and what we will be doing is, once a month we will be teaching those 250 department chairs strategies for helping their faculty colleagues better integrate, you know, the cultural interest and cultural identities of students of color into the STEM curriculum; how to understand implicit bias when it shows up in, you know, lab interactions between faculty members and students, or between students and students; how to retain students of color and, you know, understand, you know, like the factors that lead to their departure and academic underperformance in STEM.
It isn’t just because they were underprepared for the academic rigors of STEM work. That isn’t—that isn’t the only reason why some students of color leave. They also leave because of the racial climate of the department. They also leave because of the racial stereotypes of their faculty members.
So over this year-long academy, we will be upscaling, you know, STEM department leaders on, you know, strategies for engaging their faculty colleagues and, you know, again, like understanding the racialized experiences of students of color, and more importantly, not just the experiences, but also these department chairs will teach their faculties what we teach them during this year-long series. So that’s one part of the academy.
The other part, quickly, is that we will bring together all of the physicists, and they will work on a racial equity plan for students of color in physics. All of the mechanical engineers who are part of this academy will work together to create a racial equity strategic plan for mechanical engineering; all of the biologists, so on and so forth. So what we will see come out of the academy is not just 250 department chairs who now know how to lead better on these issues, but they also will have worked collaboratively on field-specific and discipline-specific racial equity action plans that could then be, you know, used by their colleagues all across the country on these issues.
Q: Thank you very much, and best of luck to you on your funding.
HARPER: Thank you. Thanks. (Laughs.)
FASKIANOS: Jessica Dawson next.
OPERATOR: Irina, if you could go to the next one, we’re having technical issues with that one.
FASKIANOS: Yes, I see that.
OK, so next we shall go to—let’s go to Kevin Collymore.
Q: Hi. Thank you for today’s webinar. I’m Kevin Collymore. I’m an administrator here at New York University on the East Coast. Shaun, thank you for all your contributions to higher ed thus far.
My question is, so last week I posted or created an editorial in the Chronicle that pretty much the title is, “Colleges Must Confront Structural Racism,” on campus, and one of the ten steps I put was if you don’t have a chief diversity officer, now might be the time to hire one. Given what you mentioned about staff and faculty, knowing that chief diversity officers, their portfolio is more of a student-facing or student affairs position, what is your advice for those who are in charge of the college’s EDI plan to extend that branch into the classroom, like how you mentioned about—with the previous person about, you know, students leaving their department because of bias and not feeling welcome. How might an administrator who has an EDI title or chief diversity officer break into the silos of the faculty tenure community, if that makes sense?
HARPER: It totally makes sense. Let me say quickly here, that—before I answer your actual question—the most frequently asked question that I got from corporate CEOs throughout the month of June as they called, like, you know—like, just like very stressed out, is should I hire a chief diversity officer? And my answer to every one of them was no. No, you should not. If this was not a thing that you were planning to do before the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, like, suddenly, like now you’re like feeling the heat from your Black employees that you need to do something, and this is the one thing that you’re going to do, like, no, you shouldn’t do that. That’s not going to—that is not going to be enough, right? So that’s what I said to them.
I’m going to tell you—so I reached—you saw me reach for my notes. I have my actual notes here that are a day old. We are hiring a chief diversity officer here at the University of Southern California, and I am on the search committee. We had our first search committee meeting yesterday; hence these notes.
Here’s what I said to my colleagues. We’re not like those corporations who are like just thinking about this for the first time. You know, we actually do have lots of diversity and inclusion work here at USC. We’ve been thinking about potentially having this CDO for a while so, you know, this wasn’t like just sort of a(n) arbitrary sort of thing in response to the moment. But what I said to our colleagues yesterday is that most chief diversity officers at higher ed institutions have very little money, very little power. They don’t have very many staff members. They have no real meaningful access to the president, the provost, deans, and faculty members. So that’s the wrong way to have a chief diversity officer, right?
I also said to them that, you know, many institutions will merely, you know, just sort of search around and find the least confrontational person of color who has been there forever, and promote that person to CDO just because they’ve been around, and that, you know, the person isn’t a troublemaker, right? That’s also the wrong way to go about it, right?
We need people in those roles who are going to hold us accountable to the values that we espouse in our mission statements, in presidential speeches, in admissions materials, and so on; not just a, you know, nice, friendly Latina who has been there forever or, you know, a nice Black guy who isn’t going to rock the boat. You know, that is not going to bring us the kinds of structural and systemic change that you wrote about in your Chronicle of Higher Ed article.
Yeah, I said one more thing to them. You know, many institutions will hire a chief diversity officer who is a mere academician. Now listen: I’m a very serious scholar. I’m a very serious academician. But that, on its own, wouldn’t qualify a person like me to be a good chief diversity officer. We need people who are also strategists, people who can help the institution develop strategies; not just like random activities, or not just sort of theorize about the problem, but can also help an institution identify a set of concrete actions.
You know, that’s the thing, by the way—and I know you know this from the piece that you’ve written and from your other work—the thing that people are calling for right now in this moment is action. They don’t want any more statements, any more speeches, any more broken promises. They want actions. So a CDO can’t be just a person who, you know, understands these things conceptually and intellectually. They also have to be people who have a serious track record and some serious expertise on solving complex equity, diversity, and inclusion problems.
My sense is that—and I spend a lot of time with CEOs in higher ed. I love them. So many of them are my friends. I don’t mean this so disrespectfully as it’s going to sound, but the truth is most presidents and their Cabinets when they were thinking about creating chief diversity officers, they didn’t take into account all of these considerations. I can guarantee you that we are going to take into account all of them here at USC as we move forward in our search for our first CEO.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Jessica Dotson (sp). We’re having technical issues, but she chatted her question, which is: Dr. Harper, could you speak to cultural ways of knowing, that you mentioned, and the way that the dominant pedagogy ignores these? And just for context, she is at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
HARPER: Thank you, Jessica. I really appreciate your question.
You know, I am just about done—just about meaning, like, 75 percent in—with my newest book, Race Matters in College. In the first chapter of the book, which is titled, “Born Racist,” it is about how higher education institutions were racist from the start. Literally the colonial colleges were largely financed by profits from the American slave trade industry. And literally at many other colleges and universities throughout the South and elsewhere it was unpaid labor from enslaved African peoples in the Americas that laid the bricks and built the first buildings on those campuses. You know, those institutions for literally hundreds of years had no people of color. Many of them also had no women.
What I’m saying here, Jessica, is that it was mostly White men who determined what a college or university should be, how it should be organized, how it should function, what its curriculum should entail, how that curriculum should be delivered. It was White people in just about every academic field and discipline who determined what counts a knowledge in that particular field of discipline. As higher education institutions have become more diverse, racially and ethnically, since the 1970s, the diversity of the curriculum has not kept pace with the diversity of the student body.
And therefore, you know, we are still delivering to students of color—to all students, by the way. Not just students of color; White students as well. I’ll come back in a moment and quick say something about that. But we’re delivering to students a curriculum that was largely sort of determined by White people what it should include. So when I say cultural ways of knowing, that we have to take on as an empirical activity, as an inquiry activity, you know, understanding what it is that, you know, communities of color value as knowledge.
We have to ask our students of color and our alumni of color, for example, what’s missing from the curriculum. We have to ask our colleagues who are faculty of color, you know, to provide us some insights on how we might integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion across the curriculum. Notice, that I didn’t say how we add on just on course on diversity and have that be it, right? But instead, how do we integrate these topics meaningfully across the curriculum?
It isn’t just that you have the one week in your marketing course where you talk about multicultural marketing, and that checks the box. But, you know, how do you in fact in a marketing course, you know, integrate, you know, the perspectives and behaviors of consumers of color? How do you, you know, help people understand, you know, consumer behaviors, not just in, you know, the particular workplace environments or particular businesses, but, you know, how do you also think about, like, purchasing behaviors in predominantly Black and predominantly Asian American communities? And how do you think about the sustainability of Asian businesses? So on and so forth. So that’s what I mean.
I said I was going to come back and say something about White students. So the third—the third chapter in Race Matters in College is titled “The Miseducation of White America.” And it is about how we send millions of college-educated White people into the world every year, without having afforded them a proper course of study on anything racial. We hear almost unanimously in our campus racial climate assessments from White students who are seniors that they know not—very little more as seniors in college than they did four years prior when they were seniors in high school. That unless one trips and falls into a sociology of race course or into an ethnic studies course, one really could go through four, five, or six years of college without ever learning a thing about structural and systemic racism, or about communities of color, so on and so forth.
So then we send them into the world. They become leaders across every industry in the economy. It still remains the case, by the way, that in every industry overwhelmingly the people who lead those industries, the executives are White. When we send them into the world without a proper course of study on anything related to race, and racial equity, and racial justice, and so on, and they go and they do racist things, or they create policies that both sustain and, at times, even exacerbate racial inequality and racial disproportionality, higher education institutions are largely responsible for that, because we were the people who underprepared them for citizenship and leadership in a racially diverse democracy. So, you know, making the curriculum, you know, more inclusive of communities of color isn’t just about students of color. It’s also about their White classmates who will go into the world and be citizens and leaders.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Let’s go to Coda Rayo-Garza. If you could accept the unmute prompt.
Q: Hi, Shaun. This is Coda.
HARPER: Hi, Coda.
Q: I am over at the University of Texas here in San Antonio. And one of the things, you know, about Texas, as we are truly becoming a battleground state, and in light of the sort of new force that has—that has come through with the Black Lives Matter movement, we have seen students, you know, step into the higher ed space with that as well. And in particular I’m talking about the defund movement, and the call to defund campus police. And so as someone who’s worked in higher ed—you know, I’m a lecturer at UTSA but also formerly worked in policy for several elected officials—you know, I’m wondering how does that translate over within the sort of, you know, going from municipal and government law enforcement and the defund movement? Some of those suggested policies and strategies, how do they translate into the higher ed space? Is that something that folks have started looking into or talked about—or have been talking about?
HARPER: Sure. Coda, I really appreciate your question. I just noticed that we have eight minutes remaining, so I will attempt to be concise in my responses. Here at the University of Southern California, our president, Carol Folt, sent an email to every member of our campus community last week announcing a set of actions that we’re taking in response to anti-Black racism and, you know, actions that we’re taking to better support our Black students, Black faculty, Black staff, and Black alumni. I thought that the list of actions that President Folt announced were fantastic.
There have been some people who have written back and said, yeah, but what about the defund the police? We want USC to discontinue its relationship with LAPD. I just don’t know that that is a realistic thing, right? You know, our is an urban-situated university here in L.A. And, you know, I don’t—I don’t know that it’s realistic to expect that we will discontinue a relationship with, you know, law enforcement officers who play a role in keeping us all safe in an environment that, you know, sometimes has crime and violence.
Here’s what I will say, though, about the list of actions that our president announced. The first thing on that list, she announced a partnership with the USC Race and Equity Center that entails extending an invitation to every Black person who is a member of our community—students, faculty, staff, and alumni. We will be conducting focus groups separately, you know, with each of those groups. Lots of those. Lots of focus groups across each of those members of our community.
Those focus groups are not going to be about, you know, tell us your experience, and relive your trauma, and unpack your racial pain. Instead, they’re going to be about what are some ways that this university can better respond to your specific needs and expectations, you know, as Black members of the community? How can USC, you know, be more inclusive, more equitable, more respectful for you? What are your expectations of the institution, right?
So that will then allow us to have, you know, a catalogue—really seriously, a serious catalogue of, you know, articulated actions from Black members of our campus community. And we can then, you know, sort of put those into columns. These are things that we can do today. Here are things that we can do within the next six months, as an institution. Here are things that may take us three years. And unfortunately, here’s a column of other things—like ending our relationship with LAPD—that we just can’t do. So I think that that particular strategy will allow us to do some serious thought taking and crowd sourcing of expectations and actions, then allow us strategically to deliver on those.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Let’s go to Khalid Azim next.
Q: Hi, Shaun. I’m from Columbia Business School.
And my question is about, you know, changing culture and environment to be, you know, welcoming and safe for everyone in our community. Some things, you know, take time to change. My question is, what can we do immediately? What are some concrete steps that we can take today to make sure everyone feels, you know, good about—and comfortable about being part of our institution?
HARPER: Sure. You know, every time I hear Columbia Business School I think of our dear colleague, Kathy Phillips, may she rest in peace. You know, in terms of immediate actions, you know, I think that one thing that you can do is facilitate conversations. We’ve been doing a ton of those over the past five weeks with higher ed institutions, with the Air Force, with companies and firms across every industry. And they’ve been enormously productive. So you know, those kinds of forums, when they are facilitated well, allow you to hear things that maybe you haven’t heard before.
There are particular things that we do in those forums. For example, because we’ve been having to do them all on Zoom, we do polling—live polling. One of the poll questions that we almost always include is: My company or my institution has a serious problem with racism. People go in and they do the poll. We did one of these with an insurance company last week with four thousand employees, and like 78 percent of them agreed that their company has a problem with racism. That then allowed us to, you know, like, really open up a conversation that was long overdue in that insurance company, and at institutions when we’ve done that. So that’s one thing you can do right away.
Another thing you can do is the activity that I just described, the thing that we’re doing here at the University of Southern California, where we’re starting with Black students, faculty, and staff, and alumni. And we’re asking them, like—just like straight up, like, how can this institution serve you better? If you ask them, I can guarantee you they’ll tell you. And, you know, that is a repeatable process that you can do with Latino and Latinx faculty, staff, and students. Native American faculty, staff, and students and alumni. Asian American, and so on, and so forth.
One last thing that you could do right away—sorry if this sounds like terribly inappropriately self-promoting—but, you know, I really believe in the climate that we have created here. Those surveys, they could give you some very serious data on the realities and complexities of race in your institutional context. You know, a lot of times institutions waste a lot of money and a lot of time on just, like, random diversity activity that lead to nothing. Like, imagine if instead you were taking strategic action in the investment of your dollars in response to what your actual diversity, equity, and inclusion challenges and opportunities are.
Those are the kinds of things that could actually lead to measurable change. But you can’t—you can’t make those investments until you have done some sort of formal assessment of the climate to understand where the investments—where it makes sense to make the investments. Otherwise, we’re just going to keep, like, wasting money on just, like, random diversity consultants, random people who’ve written interesting books on various diversity things, but aren’t going to make a difference in the actual, like, improvement of our—of our campus communities. Those are things you could do right away.
FASKIANOS: And with that will have to be the end of our webinar. I apologize to all of those. There are so many hands in the air. We just could not get to you.
But, Dr. Shaun Harper, this was fantastic. We are looking forward to your book, Race Matters in College. Is your congressional testimony online?
HARPER: It is online. The recorded version is on YouTube and the actual—the actual written testimony is on the House website.
FASKIANOS: Great. We’ll circulate it after this call, so—
HARPER: I can actually—I have a link. I’ll put the link in the chat to the testimony.
FASKIANOS: OK, great. Great. And we’ll circulate it to everybody. And you can also follow Dr. Harper. He is active on Twitter. So I encourage you to follow him at @DrShaunHarper. And we will also come back to you, Shaun, for other resources we can share with the group. But this has been a terrific conversation. Thank you for all the work that you’ve been doing. And we look forward to continuing to follow what you’re doing at the University of Southern California.
We will continue to convene this series. Please feel free to send us ideas of topics you’d like to cover, speakers, et cetera. The next Educators Webinar will take place on Wednesday July 22, from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Eastern time. Preeti Malani, chief health officer and a professor medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Michigan will lead a conversation on campus health and safety. So we hope you will join us for that. We will send out an invitation. Please do follow us on Twitter at @CFR_Academic, and visit CFR.org, ThinkGlobalHealth.org, and ForeignAffairs.com for additional information and analysis on COVID-19, racial justice, as well as many other matters on U.S. foreign policy.
I hope you all stay safe and healthy during this challenging time. And thank you again for joining us today. We look forward to your continued participation in the Educators Webinar Series this summer.