Promoting Equity for Black Lives in Postsecondary Education

It has been inspiring and hopeful to see higher education leaders, including those who lead large community college systems, speaking out about systemic racism against the Black community and the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and several other African Americans who became the latest victims of our country’s original sin. Some college leaders have issued press statements, videos, and social media to urge a call to action and express solidarity with Black students, faculty, administrators, staff, and communities. For the first time, we are seeing a greater acknowledgment of the existence of systemic racism and a call for its dismantling, including self-examination of what needs to be transformed within their own institutions.  

This support from college leaders is critical, particularly given the role that community colleges and universities play in tearing down historic systems of discrimination in higher education. These institutions foster future generations of leaders and have been instrumental in lifting students and their families out of poverty; hence having generational impact. As such, college leaders should take bold steps now into the future to create campus climates that address the needs of Black lives and communities of color in surrounding neighborhoods.  Below is a list of actions for college leaders to help support Black lives in higher education:

  1. Ensure—both now and as college campuses begin to open—that Black students, faculty, administrators, and staff feel safe at school and in neighboring communities. Create a warm, welcoming learning environment that supports Black lives and fosters a sense of belonging and community.
  2. Have clear vision, mission, and solidarity statements that prioritize the need for humanizing and antiracist policies, curriculum, and services, which are important declarations of an institution’s values and commitment. Leaders must demonstrate their commitment to the values expressed in such statements through their actions, particularly as they are expressed through budget priorities and the allocation of resources. Budgets that prioritize sustained funding for staff, faculty, and administrative positions that directly support programs for Black student recruitment and success are key.
  3. Promote economic security for Black students and families. Proactively ensure that Black students receive the financial aid and public benefits they are eligible for. This includes continuing to provide access to the emergency aid authorized under the  CARES Act to cover the cost of basic living expenses and supports related to the disruptions of COVID-19.  
  4. Make culturally responsive and trauma-informed mental health and counseling services available to Black students, faculty, staff, and administrators on an accessible and ongoing basis. Create sustained opportunities for groups to come together for collective support of each other and to build wellness and a sense of community.  
  5. Increase the presence of Black students on college campuses by creating welcoming and supportive campus environments. In consultation with Black students, administrators, faculty, and staff, strengthen existing effective strategies or develop new ones to recruit and retain Black students. Ensure that Black students have access to the full range of learning opportunities, campus resources, and targeted supports, including social/emotional support, to persist in college and beyond.
  6. Increase the recruitment and retention of Black administrators and Black faculty with experience in applying equity and social justice principles in their work in full-time, tenure-track positions across all disciplines. Promote and support majors and courses centering communities of color and social and economic justice issues that can help mitigate racism and poverty in local communities. 
  7. Create safe spaces for open dialogues and community-wide discussions about strengthening institutional policies and practices to promote racial equity and inclusion, including increasing the representation and retention of Black students, faculty, and staff and addressing the impact of national and state policies on Black lives. Colleges and universities can serve as hubs for building transformative communities that are racially inclusive and aware.
  8. Support cultural centers and student organizations led by Black students and other students of color that work to promote democracy, civic participation, and social action. 
  9. Bolster career services counseling for recent graduates, particularly for Black graduates who may struggle to find jobs in the coming weeks or months. Strengthen partnerships with employers to help secure employment opportunities for Black graduates and other graduates of color who may face discrimination in the job market.
  10. Conduct racial justice and equity audits of campus departments and units to ensure that policies and institutional practices support racial equity and inclusion and are making progress in dismantling racist policies that cause harm to Black lives and communities of color. 
  11. Colleges and universities must also address their historical ties to slavery. They can create a reparations fund for the descendants of slaves, rename buildings, replace statues with those of prominent African Americans, and take other actions to confront their participation in slavery.
  12. Serve as anchor institutions by investing in and partnering with Black communities and other communities of color. Develop and strengthen partnerships with community-based organizations, Black leaders, and social and economic justice organizations to create aware and transformative communities. 

We must honor the memory of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Nina Pop, D’Andre Campbell, Tony McDade, Regis Korchini-Paquet, Ahmaud Arbery and many others who we are simply unaware of. Through their words and actions, higher education leaders can demonstrate that, truly, Black Lives Matter and are valued.