Tags:

Introduction

In November 2015, Brown University President Christina Paxson shared the draft of Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion: An Action Plan for Brown University with the university community – students, faculty, and staff – and requested feedback, noting that input is “vitally important for establishing a set of achievable actions to build a better Brown.” The document outlined a set of actions to promote diversity and inclusion and to confront the issues of racism, power, privilege, and inequity that are part of the Brown experience for many, both on and off campus.

With equity at the core of our work, AISR is proud to share our response, posted below. AISR has years of experience addressing issues of race, power, and privilege through research and technical assistance to communities, school districts, and other education stakeholders. Our approach is uniquely suited to the urgent need to enlist all of Brown’s diverse voices to combat structural racism and create a just and inclusive campus. We are prepared to support the Plan’s implementation on campus and in the broader community.

(More information is available via Brown University's Institutional Diversity and Inclusion website.)

Response

AISR’s Leadership Team applauds the University’s effort to address issues of diversity and inclusion, and we appreciate the invitation to comment. What’s taking place on campus isn’t new or unique to Brown; this is part of a broader historical story and the ongoing national debates and struggles around race, power, and privilege. With these challenges and difficult conversations come opportunities to lead and do the right thing.

We commend the plan for setting ambitious goals to enhance diversity and inclusion at the individual level – for faculty, students, and staff. The plan recognizes the need to “confront the issues of racism, power, privilege, inequity and injustice many campus members face.” However, we feel that the plan falls short in removing institutional and structural barriers to diversity and inclusion: a necessary step toward equity that is sustainable and comprehensive rather than episodic.

Inevitably, without fundamental changes in their structures, systems, and practices, institutions will continue to reproduce inequities despite their best efforts on behalf of individuals. AISR’s long-time colleague Greg Hodge, an Oakland-based social change activist and organizational development expert, in an AISR-sponsored forum, described a continuum from diversity to inclusion to equity (see https://vimeo.com/93506403). Diversity, or simply the presence of more people from underrepresented groups, is not enough to achieve sustained change. The next step, inclusion, involves making sure these people have a voice in decision-making. But the last step to get to equity requires permanently changing the policies and practices of institutions and holding those institutions responsible by measuring systems-level behaviors and outcomes.

The Diversity and Inclusion Plan places excessive responsibility for leading the change process on auxiliary centers and programs without sufficient attention to the role of academic departments and offices across the University. A deep commitment to diversity and inclusion must pervade the entire Brown experience. A recent AISR study on Black and Latinx male achievement in Boston public schools highlighted the importance of students “seeing themselves in the curriculum.” The Master’s in Urban Education Policy (UEP) program, for instance, carried out jointly by the Annenberg Institute and Brown’s Department of Education, frames race, power, privilege, and equity as central unifying themes. The program routinely attracts and graduates a high percentage of students of color and provides them with the tools they need to continue to promote diversity and inclusion in the world outside Brown.

Brown also owes a commitment to the greater Providence community as an institutional citizen. As part of Brown’s response to the Report of the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice – commissioned in 2003 and published in 2006 – Brown promised to “raise a permanent endowment in the amount of $10 million to establish a Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence.” That promise remains unfulfilled; some of the Diversity and Inclusion funds could be invested in that cause.

AISR is prepared to support implementation of the Diversity and Inclusion Plan on campus and in the broader community. AISR has years of experience addressing issues of race, power, privilege, and equity through research and technical assistance to communities, school districts, and other education stakeholders. Our approach is uniquely suited to the urgent need to enlist all of Brown’s diverse voices to combat structural racism and create a just and inclusive campus, and our focus on urban public education is highly relevant to the issues raised in the plan. Our expertise and experience align with the University’s strategic plan, Building on Distinction:

Campus Community

  • Equity is central to all our work.

  • We start from a view of young people and communities of color that is based on their strengths and assets, not perceived deficits.

  • We are seasoned conveners and facilitators of difficult, high-stakes, cross-sector conversations on race, power, and privilege with the aim of concretely improving educational opportunities and outcomes.

Investing in People

  • We have a track record of success in helping communities of color build the capacity to increase their voice in educational decision-making.

  • Our senior leadership is among the most diverse of any department at Brown. Our diverse staff include a good number of bilingual, bicultural people and first generation college-goers, which informs our work in a culturally responsive way.

  • Our work around youth engagement and organizing has given us expertise and a firm evidence base in helping students of color become valued allies and contributors to school improvement.

Academic Leadership

  • Our work on college readiness has given us a good idea of what systemic supports are needed to help students of color succeed.

  • The curriculum, summer practicum, and internship opportunities we have developed for our UEP program embed equity, diversity, and inclusion in the students’ educational experience.

Accountability

The Diversity and Inclusion plan concludes with a section on accountability for implementing the plan. If diversity and inclusion efforts are to lead to true equity, University leadership, including senior administrators and the Corporation, must commit to making fundamental organizational changes. Once again, AISR offers its expertise to support University-wide accountability for sustained transformation:

  • Our theory of action, research, and field work are grounded in the systemic issues of racism, power, and privilege and in how we can eliminate oppressive systems to make our communities fairer and more just. We have extensive experience in working with school districts, foundations, and other institutions to create sustainable, systemic change aimed at achieving greater equity in opportunities and outcomes for underserved populations. We also have extensively worked with communities and students to help build their capacity to advocate for and support systemic change.

  • In our research in urban public education, we have developed several sets of groundbreaking indicators to measure systemic progress that go beyond the traditional ways of evaluating individual outcomes such as standardized test scores, which by themselves do not illuminate a path to greater equity.

  • Our approach is not simply to study inequity, but to help systems make fundamental changes that will move them toward greater equity. 

We have expertise in some of the specific areas suggested in the plan, such as promoting university-wide research and academic programming on power, privilege, identity, and structural racism; promoting the careers of staff and administrators; expanding partnerships with organizations that promote high school students of color; and incorporating issues of race, ethnicity, and identity into the integrative themes. We are eager to explore how we can partner with other Brown entities to support the Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion effort.

Thank you once again for the opportunity to contribute to this plan. We stand ready to fully participate in the ongoing efforts to help Brown follow the pathway to becoming the diverse, inclusive, and academically excellent community we all aspire to.