Hartford, Connecticut, October 11, 2016 – Trinity College hosted a lecture by Shaun R. Harper, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania professor and executive director of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the Presidents’ Forum on Sunday, October 2. Harper’s presentation was titled “From Rhetoric to Accountability: Rethinking Institutional Responses to Student Demands for Equity and Inclusion.” Harper was introduced by Trinity College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney and Eric Estes, a 1991 graduate of Trinity, who is the vice president for campus life and student services at Brown University.
Harper’s lecture, which was open to the public, served as the opening address for “Setting the Tone: Student Activism, Community, and Presidential Leadership,” a two-day forum for college presidents and administrators hosted by President Berger-Sweeney and the Consortium on High Achievement and Success (CHAS). The goal of the forum was to offer presidents and their invited guests to take away a set of concrete strategies to transform moments of crisis into opportunities to accomplish meaningful and much needed change on their campuses. Other speakers featured during the event were Carol Geary Schneider, Ph.D., president emerita of the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), and Ajay Nair, Ph.D., senior vice president and dean of campus life at Emory University. Additionally, a Presidents' Panel Discussion featured moderator Lee Pelton, president of Emerson College; Trinity President Joanne Berger-Sweeney; David Oxtoby, president of Pomona College; Sean Decatur, president of Kenyon College; and Katherine Bergeron, president of Connecticut College.
||Participants in a Presidents’
Panel discussion at the “Setting the Tone” forum for presidents were, from
left: moderator Lee Pelton, president of Emerson College; Trinity President
Joanne Berger-Sweeney; David Oxtoby, president of Pomona College; Sean Decatur,
president of Kenyon College; and Katherine Bergeron, president of Connecticut
The audience at Harper’s lecture was packed with Trinity faculty and students, presidents and other administrators from over 20 institutions, and members of the general public – all curious to know more about Harper’s insights on race and equity on college campuses.
Harper shared his understanding of what students from underrepresented groups are experiencing on college campuses, the changes they seek, and why presidents, college administrators, and faculty must directly and constructively engage the issues raised by student-activists over the past year. His recommendations are based on Campus Racial Climate Studies – where Harper and his team from the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education spend three to four days on college campuses conducting focus groups with students of color and their white peers about the realities of race on campus. Harper collects statistical reports from offices of institutional research that typically show racial disparities in enrollment, academic performance, graduation rates, promotions and salaries, and a range of other metrics. Harper expressed his frustration that the majority of colleges that commissioned these studies did not go on to implement any real changes to halt or reverse systematic inequalities that affect students and faculty of color. He said, “These colleges did not want to know the truth” about racial issues on their campuses.
The findings of the Campus Racial Climate Studies helped to debunk myths about racial issues on campus. The most prevalent claim that Harper says the results challenged was that “It is not students of color who are trying to take away others’ freedom of speech, they are exercising their own free speech.” Harper believes giving students of color freedom of speech is not a threat, and that conversation is necessary in order for college campuses to see progress.
The findings also illustrate racial tensions in the classroom. Harper shared one particular quotation that he said summarizes what he heard from many students: “We want conversation. We want dialogue. We want a greater diversity of classes offered, we don’t want to just read about white, egocentric history and ideas.” Harper encouraged the audience to visit www.thedemands.org to see outlined “demands” by students to end systematic and structural racism on their specific college campus.
Harper made clear that multicultural affairs staff cannot be the only ones on campus to address matters of inclusion. Academic departments and offices across each institution must be receptive to and supportive of these efforts. Training for professors and administrators to gain cultural sensitivities are important, as is the need to rethink course syllabi to ensure the inclusion of authors from culturally diverse backgrounds. Additionally, Harper noted, faculty members who feel discomfort in discussing race-related topics should seek to read about and study ways to better address matters of diversity and inclusion, just as they would if they sought to learn about any other subjects with which they are unfamiliar.
Harper is the author of more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles and other academic publications. His research has been cited in over 4,000 publications and he is a president-elect of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) and an elected member of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Executive Council. He has been interviewed on CNN, ESPN, NPR, and featured or quoted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and 11,000 other media outlets. He was appointed to President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper advisory council in 2015, and recognized in Education Week as one of the 12 most influential professors in the field of education in 2016. He also is “A huge fan of President Joanne Berger Sweeney and a fan of Trinity College.”
Online access to a video recording of Harper's talk is available to members of the Trinity community through Trinflix. The video may be accessed by entering a Trinity College username and password, then selecting the recording of “Shaun R. Harper, Ph.D.: From Rhetoric to Accountability: Rethinking Institutional Responses to Student Demands for Equity and Inclusion (1:39:30)” from the playlist.
Written by Catie Currie ’17
Photos by John Atashian