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The Racial Equity and Justice Institute: A New Resource to Guide Equity-Minded Campus Reform

Since March 2020, the tragic impacts of the pandemic have exacerbated the realities that Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, and other students of color too frequently experience on college and university campuses:

  • diminished feelings of belonging or welcoming
  • a lack of faculty, librarians, staff, campus leaders, or trustees that are representative of students’ racial or ethnic groups
  • campus climates that are often openly hostile
  • ongoing exposure to policies, practices, and pedagogies that are based in racism, including pervasive Whiteness

Until “race no longer determines” outcomes in higher education, our campuses are not making good on our promises to students. Now in its fourth year, the Leading for Change Racial Equity and Justice Institute (REJI) has developed data-informed, hopeful strategies to help eliminate racial equity gaps on college and university campuses.

Convened and led by Bridgewater State University, REJI currently comprises teams from thirty-one higher education institutions that are participating in equity-minded inquiry; identifying data-informed racial equity gaps on campuses; and designing, implementing, and assessing strategies to make their educational practices more racially equitable.

This year, the REJI campuses are offering free access to Leading for Change: Racial Equity & Justice Institute Practitioner Handbookan in-depth guide that features tenets of racial equity in education, campus case studies and programs, racially equitable data and assessment practices, strategies for academic excellence through racial equity, examples of racially equitable student service reforms, and changes to campus policing practices that centralize racial justice. Several of the strategies identified by REJI campuses are shared below as examples of the types of practices available in the free ebook resource.

Make Racial Equity Your Top Priority

The handbook’s first chapter shares the work of three higher education leaders in Massachusetts—Carlos Santiago, commissioner of the Department of Higher Education; Frederick Clark, president of Bridgewater State University, and Yves Salomon-Fernández, former president of Greenfield Community College—as they describe strategies their institutions employ to advance racial educational equity at the state and institutional levels. These practices include the establishment of racial equity as the top priority for public higher education institutions in Massachusetts, a campus-wide racial-justice taskforce that conducted a racial justice and equity audit with input from one thousand campus constituents, and a range of equity-minded institutional structures such as strategic plans and a diversity and equity plan.

Learn about the Lived Experiences of Minoritized Students

The handbook is informed by the experiences of Black, Asian, Latinx, Indigenous, and other students of color. At Greenfield Community College, the Seeds of Success participatory action research project involved racially minoritized students in research design, implementation, and data analysis to examine the assets and strengths that students can use to succeed on campus. At Cape Cod Community College, staff overcame a common narrative in higher education—that disaggregating data to examine racial equity gaps is not possible due to small numbers of students of color on campus—by developing an antiracist data analysis technique using a student equity matrix.

Show Students They Belong and Matter on Campus

Campuses that achieve academic excellence through racial equity show students of color that they matter, that they can (and are expected to) succeed, and that risk-taking to expand academic knowledge and skills is celebrated. The Boston Pipeline Initiative at Wentworth Institute of Technology provides students with academic coursework, community-based problem-solving opportunities, and meaningful experiences with campus resources and STEM professionals. At Northern Essex Community College, Programa Internacional de Educación Superior Latinos is an example of how a campus can build on the cultural wealth of Latinx immigrants. The college honors students’ knowledge, expertise, and skills by supporting them in the validation of credentials and degrees gained in their home countries.

Recognize that Institutions—Not Students—Have Deficits

Equity-minded educators know that it is the institution—not the students—that must address their deficits. North Shore Community College disaggregated their data on academic suspensions, saw inequitable outcomes, and decided their processes needed to change. In a series of workshops, North Shore’s student services staff drew on students’ strengths to support them in navigating institutional appeals processes. Through this and other programs focused on student retention, more minoritized students are persisting to graduation. At Northeastern University, a program pairs Black and Latinx students with established professionals who share their racial or ethnic identities. The professionals provide students not only with networking opportunities and social capital but also with role models who are thriving professionally.

Centralize Racially Just Practices in Policing on Campus

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and Bridgewater State University offer a new model on “Racially Just Policing.” This chapter gives campuses a framework to audit existing practices of campus police by utilizing community-driven policing, establishing community expectations, functioning with transparency, and reckoning with the history of policing as experienced by communities of color.

REJI members institutions offer this handbook as a contribution to the growing field of research on racially equitable practices in higher education. We invite new partners to adapt any of these practices to meet the needs of your campus.

Sabrina Gentlewarrior is the vice president of student success and diversity at Bridgewater State University. Campuses interested in joining the Racial Equity and Justice Institute can write her at sgentlewarrior@Bridgew.edu.

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