Beyond Diversity: Dismantling Barriers in Education

Article excerpt

Virtually all educational institutions today can be described as culturally diverse. Although the degree of diversity certainly varies, predictably members from different cultural groups are present in these institutions as students and employees. Goals and mission statements for educational institutions discuss pluralistic notions and hiring practices that reflect the numbers of diverse faculty and staff hired. However the presence of these cultural groups is not sufficient to ensure that they will be extended power and privileges by those currently holding power and privilege in institutions and in society in general. Despite claims to the contrary, the barriers to understanding diverse cultural groups are still existent in institutional cultures where the subtleties to our racist past persist. The purpose of this paper is to uncover the issues involved in institutional racism and provide an understanding of the next steps of moving from understanding institutional racism to dismantling barriers in education.

Virtually all educational institutions today can be described as culturally diverse. Although the degree of diversity certainly varies, predictably members from different cultural groups are present in these institutions as students and employees. Goals and mission statements for educational institutions discuss pluralistic notions and hiring practices that reflect the numbers of diverse faculty and staff hired. However, the presence of these cultural groups is not sufficient to ensure that they will be extended power and privileges by those currently holding power and privilege in institutions and in society in general. Despite claims to the contrary, the barriers to understanding diverse cultural groups are still existent in institutional cultures where the subtleties to our racist past persist. The purpose of this paper is to uncover the issues involved in institutional racism and provide an understanding of the next steps of moving from understanding institutional racism to dismantling barriers in education.

In order to comprehend the barriers and the broader economic, social, and historic factors of institutional racism within the United States, it is first necessary to understand the "types of minority status" (Ogbu, 1993, p. 484) in this country. Ogbu explains that minorities in the United States who compare relatively well with their European American counterparts are those "closest to their ancestral cultural practice in socialization and social orientation, not those closest to the Western model" (p. 484). In other words, minorities who immigrate to the United States because they perceive that they will be able to achieve greater economic opportunities and political freedom fare better than those minorities who were brought here involuntarily, such as Africans brought here through slave trade. Ogbu speculates that because newer immigrants may not understand how racism and racial prejudice influence how the dominant group thinks about them they therefore operate psychologically apart from the status quo. In short, they may not internalize the racial prejudice or racism that affects and overpowers involuntary minorities.

There continues to be much discussion concerning the definition of racial prejudice which leads to racism (Campbell & Marable, 1996; Hayes & Colin III, 1994). This discussion centers around the issues of power, privilege, who can be racist, and even if there are such concepts as race and racism today. Racial prejudice is the "prejudgement by others that the members of a race are in some way inferior, dangerous or repugnant" (Campbell & Marable, 1996, p. 49) to members of groups that typically enjoy power and privilege. Campbell and Marable describe racism, then, as "the oppression of a group of people based on their perceived race. Racism is both a belief system and the domination of people based on these beliefs" (p. 49). Colin III and Preciphs (1991) define racism as "conscious or unconscious, and expressed in actions or attitudes initiated by individuals, groups, or institutions that treat human beings unjustly because of their skin pigmentation. …