We are going through a period in which colleges seems to be particularly unsafe and insensitive to the needs of students of color (though this has always been a problem). How can colleges address this and how can we support them in doing so?


Manya Whitaker, PhD, Developmental/Educational Psychologist; Assistant Professor of Education; Educational Consultant

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This is a timely and deeply important question. As a faculty member of color at a private institution of higher education, I grapple with these issues each day. I echo what Vielka Hoy said--we need to first move away from our initial reaction to judge the validity of one's feelings. I would like to add to her comments that in order to support students, it is imperative that faculty and staff on college campuses undergo frequent and deep diversity training. These trainings need to be taught by trained scholars in the field who can help academics look beyond their personal experiences to understand the structural nature of bias and oppression. It is also important that faculty and staff receive pedagogical and leadership training on how to teach/lead/guide students from underrepresented and marginalized groups. So often the language we use (or don't use), to whom we give eye contact, or even the questions we ask are laced with implicit bias and guided by stereotypes we often don't know we hold. The first step to creating and sustaining an inclusive college environment is to recognize our individual role in perpetuating unsafe, and sometimes hostile, spaces.

Vielka Cecilia Hoy, Founder/Director at Vielka Hoy Consulting, Teacher, and Parent

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This is something I have been thinking about quite a bit recently and am hoping to write an article about some of the aspects related to this issue. I think an appropriate response begins with something like what Oklahoma did after the SAE incident. I believe the first step is to really analyze what students are requesting and then to look impartially at the climate on campus. And, as in the above, implement structural pieces to address climate. I believe Oklahoma now also requires a diversity class for all students.

I think the next step is to remove judgment from our rhetoric when evaluating the incidents: if students of color, women, or anyone makes a claim about feeling unsafe, we do quite a bit of damage when we judge whether we think that is a valid threat or not. All too often, people assume students of color are too sensitive or that one's freedom of speech trumps students' needs to feel safe. It is interesting to note the prompt response to close part of the campus from the University of Chicago when White students were threatened and the exact opposite response at University of Missouri where Black students were encouraged and in some cases, required, to attend class when they were threatened in much the same way.

Finally, to the previous point, I think it is important to empower young people to stand up for themselves. In K-12, we do quite a bit to teach girls to not raise their hands; harshly punish students of color for minor offenses thereby instilling fear for authority rather than respect; and do little to provide safe and open spaces to discuss concerns surrounding their education. This has to change.

I hope that helps to at least start a conversation.

milan joy, nice post

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