2016 Opens with Professor Shaun Harper: “Universities and the Mis-Education of White America: A Learning Imperative for Faculty and Administrators”

On Monday afternoon, CNDLS Executive Director Eddie Maloney welcomed TLISI attendees by expressing his excitement to bringing together people from across Georgetown campuses to think deeply about teaching and learning. He thanked the TLISI planning team and partners before welcoming Provost Groves to introduce Professor Shaun Harper, Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania, and our keynote speaker. In his own remarks, Groves expressed the hope that Harper's talk would help carry further conversation on serious, sustained work toward equity in higher education, especially in light of the recent addition of the Engaging Diversity core requirement at Georgetown. "What can we do to make this community more open and equitable?" he asked. Through a collective awareness of challenges, he wants Georgetown to respond to students' desire for these conversations. After taking the stage, Harper opened his talk with how he looks to innovate the diversity imperative by discussing the white student."Usually when we discuss the diversity imperative," he said,"we are making sure there is representation." He went on to address a question that many ask in response to his introduction,"Why are we talking about white students when discussing diversity in the 21st century classroom?" He framed his talk with this study on race bias by CNN wherein children assign negative attributes to dark skin. Throughout his talk, Harper drew insights from the third chapter of his forthcoming book, Race Matters In College, and described what he refers to as"the mis-education of the white student." Citing the importance of beginning conversations about race in the K-12 environment, Harper shared that from the toddler years, children are socialized—through media, school, and their parents—to ascribe problematic meaning to race. He offered an example of a well-intentioned parent reinforcing the idea that "we are all the same" and inadvertently invalidating different experiences and backgrounds that peers may carry with them. Years down the road, such a "color blind" approach can come back to haunt students, as Harper described in his example of a student graduating from a top university who, when approached about having used the word "colored" to describe his black peers, was taken aback. Through this work, Harper is addressing the lack of racial consciousness present in education and wants to help institutions more effectively prepare students for leadership and citizenship in a diverse democracy. Having established the need for more deliberate conversations on race in higher education environments, Harper offered several suggestions for addressing onlyness (the psychoemotional burden of being the only one of a social group in a given space), stereotype threat (a situational predicament in which people feel at risk of conforming to stereotypes about their social group), and microaggressions (casual, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to a certain social group), all of which are commons experiences for marginalized students. Of note was the suggestion that universities invite feedback from students of color on their experiences both on campus and in the classroom, as well as the statement that, simply, faculty and staff need to have these often difficult conversations about race with their peers. "Get feedback from colleagues at your institution or at another institution. Invite their perspective and advice," he said. In order for spaces of higher education to create a racially inclusive climate and raise racial consciousness amongst students, faculty, staff, and administration need first to be able to talk to each other.

On Monday afternoon, CNDLS Executive Director Eddie Maloney welcomed TLISI attendees by expressing his excitement to bringing together people from across Georgetown campuses to think deeply about teaching and learning. He thanked the TLISI planning team and partners before welcoming Provost Groves to introduce Professor Shaun Harper, Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania, and our keynote speaker.

In his own remarks, Groves expressed the hope that Harper’s talk would help carry further conversation on serious, sustained work toward equity in higher education, especially in light of the recent addition of the Engaging Diversity core requirement at Georgetown. “What can we do to make this community more open and equitable?” he asked. Through a collective awareness of challenges, he wants Georgetown to respond to students’ desire for these conversations.

After taking the stage, Harper opened his talk with how he looks to innovate the diversity imperative by discussing the white student.”Usually when we discuss the diversity imperative,” he said,”we are making sure there is representation.” He went on to address a question that many ask in response to his introduction,”Why are we talking about white students when discussing diversity in the 21st century classroom?” He framed his talk with this study on race bias by CNN wherein children assign negative attributes to dark skin.

Throughout his talk, Harper drew insights from the third chapter of his forthcoming book, Race Matters In College, and described what he refers to as”the mis-education of the white student.” Citing the importance of beginning conversations about race in the K-12 environment, Harper shared that from the toddler years, children are socialized—through media, school, and their parents—to ascribe problematic meaning to race. He offered an example of a well-intentioned parent reinforcing the idea that “we are all the same” and inadvertently invalidating different experiences and backgrounds that peers may carry with them.

Years down the road, such a “color blind” approach can come back to haunt students, as Harper described in his example of a student graduating from a top university who, when approached about having used the word “colored” to describe his black peers, was taken aback. Through this work, Harper is addressing the lack of racial consciousness present in education and wants to help institutions more effectively prepare students for leadership and citizenship in a diverse democracy.

Having established the need for more deliberate conversations on race in higher education environments, Harper offered several suggestions for addressing onlyness (the psychoemotional burden of being the only one of a social group in a given space), stereotype threat (a situational predicament in which people feel at risk of conforming to stereotypes about their social group), and microaggressions (casual, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to a certain social group), all of which are commons experiences for marginalized students. Of note was the suggestion that universities invite feedback from students of color on their experiences both on campus and in the classroom, as well as the statement that, simply, faculty and staff need to have these often difficult conversations about race with their peers. “Get feedback from colleagues at your institution or at another institution. Invite their perspective and advice,” he said. In order for spaces of higher education to create a racially inclusive climate and raise racial consciousness amongst students, faculty, staff, and administration need first to be able to talk to each other.