How does one summarize the lessons learned over a month of discussions, activities, learning new theories, and sharing promising developments and practices across urban universities? In the culminating session of the USU Summer Meeting Series, The Road Map to Day 2, USU staff presented a framework that expressed the need for institutions to move toward equity-based approaches to student success, and that these approaches should be anti-deficit in their design. In higher education, the dominant narrative has been “fix the student” rather than “address the root cause”, or “fix the policy.” Anti-deficit approaches do not presume the problem lies with the student, but rather with organizational policies, practices, structures, and behaviors that are barriers for students of color, low-income, and first generation students.
Keeping this framework in mind, attendees participated in an activity called a TRIZ, that guided them to identify harmful practices and policies currently in place at their institutions that are prime for dismantling, and to identify steps to begin undoing them. An example that surfaced was the financial obstacles that certain majors and programs put in place, such as architecture, which require equipment and software purchasing that is often cost-prohibitive. In effect, this policy of requiring students to cover these costs outside of tuition and fees, and without providing any institutional assistance to bridge the financial gap, results in shutting out students who do not have the means to afford these additions.
It is not enough to simply identify barriers ingrained in institutional behavior and practice; urban university leaders must be called to action. This session concluded with a brainstorming session on collective actions that USU as a coalition could take to address and dismantle institutional racism, and its effects on students and community stakeholder. Over the next few months, USU will continue to engage members in the creation of a coalition-wide institutional racism initiative. The time is ripe for change in our country, and in postsecondary education, and urban universities are primed to lead this charge.
Header Image IStock Credit: gguy44