CEOs’ views on campus racism

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Racism on campuses comes in various forms, from overtly racist language to subtler bias in hiring practices, according to a group of California community college CEOs surveyed for a new report. But it was the latter — in particular, hiring, promotion, performance evaluation or lack of faculty diversity — that most of the college leaders cited regarding how racism has shown up at their campus.

Wheelhouse: The Center for Community College Leadership and Research at the University of California, Davis, in mid-June surveyed 41 community college CEOs in the state about their personal and institutional experiences with racism and bias, barriers to creating more equitable campus environments, and their own capacity to lead on these issues.

Second on the list of how racism shows itself on campus is in classroom interactions/inclusive curriculum, followed by “microagressions” and invisibility/unwelcome/voiceless student groups (See chart, below).

In regards to racism in hiring and promotions and lack of faculty diversity, several CEOs described a set of “unnecessary disqualifications of minority candidates for dubious reasons,” while others described simply a disregard for the need for diversity among faculty, the report said.

CEOs also cited student experiences related to racism more generally as an area of concern, including direct mistreatment and disrespect, acts of microaggressions (comments or actions that subtly, often unintentionally, express a prejudiced attitude toward a minority person or group), and an overall disregard for diversity and the recognition of racial identity. Many of the leaders described a lack of connectedness and belonging experienced by Black students in particular, and, in some cases, more generally by students of color, the report said.

Even minority leaders participating in the survey cited their own experiences with racism while in leadership positions, the report said. CEOs noted being stopped by police because they were “new to the area,” being accused of being “too educated,” receiving anonymous letters and racist language, and being subject to verbal attacks such as “go back to where you came from,” and other examples of hostile work encounters.

Internal challenges

The two-year college leaders expressed hope about recent momentum for conversations and actions on race and equity, but noted that they are realistic about challenges they face — both personal and institutional — in leading for change, according to the report. Many of them said they were frustrated over structural barriers that they described as impeding progress toward more welcoming, equitable institutions.

A third of respondents noted that staff and faculty at their institutions are uncomfortable with conversations about race and racism — “denial that institutional/structural racism exists,” or that there were pockets of resistance to the notion that Black people face particular bias or hostility. “A few cited the difficulty of sustaining focus on anti-blackness at institutions where the leadership team or the student body is primarily White or Latinx,” the report said.

Open to professional development

Half of respondents noted the need for cultural competency training or other targeted professional development for faculty and staff. Nearly all them indicated they would like to seek guidance and/or mentorship in this area, citing a desire to find professional development opportunities, engage with specified programs and CEO workshops to hone their abilities to manage difficult conversations, the report said.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.