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Dr. Shaun Harper

Today’s Institute started off in the Askew Theater with Dr. Shaun Harper from the University of Pennsylvania. His speech titled, “A Racist Course of Study” covered information about how college and universities unknowingly or unintentionally teach white students to devalue students of color. Dr. Harper began his speech by discussing the importance of focusing his topic on white students and list four reasons:

  1. White students are still the majority. Dr. Harper elaborated on this point by using college demographic statistic at various large public institutions, including Florida State University, to demonstrate that students of color are largely underrepresented in higher education. He went on to discuss that because white students are overrepresented in higher education, they graduate in higher numbers and are also overrepresented in the government, corporate America, and within higher education faculty and staff.
  2. White students are often excluded from climate discussions. Dr. Harper proposed that when campus climate discussions do arise, they often do so in response to students of color.
  3. Dr. Harper’s third point involved an interaction with a student named Chris. While presenting at a liberal arts institution, Dr. Harper paraphrased a question posed by a student named Chris asking “Why do coloreds do this…?” The same student, who was a soon to be graduate, continued to use the term “coloreds” throughout the time he was speaking. The story prompted Dr. Harper to question how higher education could allow a student to graduate from an institution without basic knowledge of racial understanding.
  4. The last point made consisted of Dr. Harper expressing his passion for all students, higher education and wellness of the nation.

The above listed reasons were then followed by a presentation of the study where Dr. Harper and colleague, Silva Furtado, discovered nine lessons that college and universities teach white students. The study consisted of a ten year qualitative climate study at 22 predominately white colleges and universities in five regions.

Lesson 1: People of color are guests on our homes. Dr. Harper explained that this concept is reinforced through artwork and architecture throughout campuses. Many college campuses display statues of accomplished white individuals. Additionally, the large institutions studied, were founded by white men and these founders are advertised throughout campuses.

Lesson 2: Black lives do not matter in the curriculum. Not only black lives, but also Latino, Native American, Asian American, and other minorities lack representation in curriculum and literature. This lesson was explained as reading through a deficit prism, where curriculum lacks information about the beauty of various cultures.

Lesson 3: #Blacklives matter only in moments of crisis. Dr. Harper proposed that higher education, government, and companies care about people of color when they express distain of current social injustices through protests and public displays.

Lesson 4: People of color receive shoddy, minimal accommodations. Higher education needs to create spaces where students of color can appreciate their culture and feel affirmed by their peers. Using examples of his own experiences, Dr. Harper expressed that few universities and colleges provide this space for minority students. He concluded this section by explaining how institutions teach white students to give students of color only a little piece of the whole.

Lesson 5: Espoused values and compositional diversity are sufficient. Dr. Harper elaborated on how institutions verbally express commitment to diversity through mission statements, policies, and values. However, few institutions carry out these verbal commitments.

Lesson 6: Whites are on top, people of color are in custodial and service role. These roles are displayed throughout institutions where few individuals of color are in leadership positions among faculty and staff. Dr. Harper expressed that lack of diversity in faculty and staff leadership reinforces the idea of a hierarchy where white students are located at the top.

Lesson 7: Hire one person of color to handle all diversity issues. Dr. Harper used Human Resource Diversity Officers as an example of how institutions place one individual in charge of diversity instead of all individuals within a particular university.

Lesson 8: Black dudes are athletic, not smart. The colleges and universities studied reported higher percentages of black athletes compared to white athletes. Additionally, the same institutions have significantly less black students compared to white students. This excess of black athletes compared to black students reinforces the stereotype of black students as athletic and not smart.

Lesson 9: Micro aggressions and assorted forms of racial mockery are ok. Dr. Harper concluded his nine lessons with an anecdote of a student of color experiencing a micro aggression from a professor as well as an incident at Arizona State University where students within a fraternity held a “Black Party” on Martin Luther King Jr. day.

Dr. Harper concluded his session with four opportunities for educators to address these nine lessons that institutions teach white students. These included self-work, intentionality, assessment, and collaboration.