Pledging to Disrupt Systemic Racism in Higher Education Advocacy

By Southern, Kyle | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, July 9, 2020 | Go to article overview

Pledging to Disrupt Systemic Racism in Higher Education Advocacy


Southern, Kyle, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


It happened again. I recently received an email inviting me to register for a panel discussion on the effects of COVID-19 on higher education. The panel included several people I know; I respect each person on the panel, and all of their work. But there was a problem, and you probably already know what it was. Everyone on the panel was White. Across a full panel of experts discussing this of all topics, how could there not be a single voice from a person of color?

Since then, Pew Research Center has published new data showing, "Black Americans account for about 13% of the U.S. population but 24% of the coronavirus deaths." In Washington, D.C., where I live, less than half the population identifies as Black, but three out of four COVID-19 deaths to date have been of Black Washingtonians.

The data on COVID-19 deaths and the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other Black Americans are part of the same story. They are but the latest chapters in a more than 400-year-old story of racial oppression, segregation, disenfranchisement, and economic marginalization. As Yale scholar Demar Lewis, IV and many other scholars and writers have noted, the traumatic effects of this country's history of lynching remain strong among Black Americans - just as police killings perpetuate this trauma intergenerationally.

I have sat uncomfortably on raised chairs during enough panels with only other White speakers. I have rolled my eyes at enough invitations to events on education issues for which only White people would share their views. I have witnessed enough higher education researchers and advocates who make their living on equity work perpetuate cycles of mistreatment of graduate students and earlycareer colleagues.

To specify steps toward disrupting systemic racism in my field and communities as a White male, I am making a personal pledge:

1. I will not be part of a panel composed of only White speakers. When invited to serve on a panel, I will ask if any advocates/scholars of color are confirmed. If not, I will suggest people of color to invite instead.

2. If circumstances require I be in the audience for an event where only White speakers are featured, I will ask how and why the event was held without any voices from Black, Indigenous, or other people from racially and ethnically minoritized populations.

3. When interviewed for a story on a higher education policy issue, I will refer the reporter to at least two advocates/scholars of color to speak on the topic. At least one of the people to whom I refer the reporter will be a woman who identifies as Black, Indigenous, or as a person of color. Fulfilling this commitment requires me to consistently read and share publications by advocates and scholars of color.

4. I will support programs and professional conferences that make explicit provision for fostering relationships with first-generation scholars and scholars of color (i.e., Black, Brown, or Indigenous). I have adapted this commitment from the Diversify Academia pledge articulated by the Editorial Board of The Activist History Review. …

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