The reproduction of racial inequality by higher education

A newly released report by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University provides further evidence that colleges and universities function to reproduce racial inequality, with the advantages going to whites and the disadvantages going to blacks and hispanics.

Here is a slide show illustrating the report’s main conclusions:

While this is not especially new or surprising, it is important evidence that runs counter to the common narrative of education being a universal democratizing and leveling public good.
One strategy for disrupting the ways colleges and universities reproduce racial inequality as documented in this report is to cultivate a greater degree of diversity literacy, both within the walls of academe and in our communities.  Diversity literacy, if taken seriously within academia, would mean recognizing the ways higher ed works as an inequality engine and developing specific strategies for throwing wrenches into the gears of these engines.  Diversity literacy is not simply learning to value difference (though it is that); it is also–and more importantly–about recognizing the ways that practices and policies result in unequal opportunities and outcomes across lines of difference.

Frederick Douglass on the 4th of July

Frederick Douglass’ classic speech ruminating on the meaning of the 4th of July to the slave

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

is worth revisiting as we celebrate this national holiday.  Tragically, although our nation no longer abides institutionalized slavery, the lingering effects remain deeply entrenched in our institutions, policies, and practices.

Here’s a key excerpt from the speech:  “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than. all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which lie is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.”

Bollinger on the Diversity Rationale

Lee C. Bollinger in The Chronicle of Higher Education on the educational importance of a diverse student body:


June 27, 2013

To Move Forward, We Must Look Back

To Move Forward, We Must Look Back 
 To Move Forward, We Must Look Back</I> 
 <B>By Lee C. Bollinger 1

Dave Cutler for The Chronicle

By Lee C. Bollinger

In the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the decision has been understood as upholding the principles underlying affirmative action to create a diverse learning environment, opening the door to a still unknown level of judicial review of admissions practices at colleges and universities, and generally sidestepping the most fundamental questions about diversity and race in America. I want to suggest that this decision, despite its seeming moderation, should also serve as a call to action.  read more here


Fisher v. U. Texas at Austin

The SCOTUS has ruled in this much-anticipated affirmative action case. In a 7-1 ruling (Justice Kagan recusing herself, and Justice Ginsburg dissenting), the Court ruled that since the lower court did not rigorously apply the strict scrutiny standard, they need to re-examine the case. In particular, Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, made it clear that the court could not simply take the word of the university that no other race-neutral admissions policies would achieve its diversity goals. Thus, the Court clarified that universities need to demonstrate that a race-conscious admissions policy in fact achieves the diversity goals and that no alternative race-neutral policy would do so.

This ruling is mixed for on one hand, the Court did not overturn Grutter (permitting race-conscious admissions policies), although both Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas indicated in their concurring opinions that they would overturn Grutter if given the chance; and on the other hand, the opinion appears to make it more difficult for university admissions policies to pass the strict scrutiny standard by requiring more evidence.

Most interestingly, in her dissenting opinion, Justice Ginsburg argued that even ostensibly race-neutral policies (such as Texas’ 10% Plan) are not really race-neutral.  This is because the 10% Plan, for example, was crafted with Texas’ racially segregated housing in mind.  She is arguing that policies that are race-neutral or color-blind in fact are not so neutral because they sustain the status quo in which whites already benefit from having a systematic advantage.