The College of Education will create a five-year strategic plan to enhance racial equity in the college, led by a task force of Roosevelt University professors, alumni, students and Chicago leaders.
The group will outline plans to make the college a safer, more equitable space for marginalized students to thrive. In its brainstorming phase, the task force aims to be “radically and unapologetically inclusive,” says Nevin J. Heard, Ph.D, NCC, who is heading the initiative.
The task force has the opportunity to advance equity in higher education at the College of Education as well as the future students of Roosevelt graduates.
“The racial disparities that exist in our society start young, at the elementary level. The school-to-prison pipeline, and the ways that Black and Brown students are disciplined, affects their trajectory later on,” Heard said. “This is why the College of Education should be at the forefront of this mission for racial equity.”
Heard joined Roosevelt University in 2018 as an assistant professor of clinical counseling. His research focuses on racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ populations, people of low socioeconomic statuses, people affected by HIV/AIDS, and where those identities intersect.
“I was excited to come to Roosevelt because social justice is literally written on the walls. I fell in love with the institution and the model and ideals,” said Heard. “It’s good to be a part of work where we are truly living that mission.”
TASK FORCE PRIORITIES
- Student Recruitment, Retention & Support: Is Roosevelt attracting and retaining students of color? How can the college improve our programs to meet their needs?
- Creating an Antiracist Culture: What can faculty and staff, as individuals, do better to help our students? How can the college create spaces for students to hear each other’s experiences?
- Curriculum & Student Outcomes: Review and ensure curriculum and instruction reflects our college’s commitment to antiracism and culturally responsive pedagogy. Collect and analyze student outcomes data and take steps to produce more equitable outcomes across all programs and demographic groups in the college.
- Human Resources: Collect and analyze data related to the diversity of our faculty and administrators across all programs in the college. Set ambitious but achievable goals for employing a significantly larger percentage of faculty and administrators of color.
- Scholarship: Review and assess the scholarship of faculty and develop plans for supporting enhanced focuses on diversity, inclusion and equity.
- Community Engagement & Service: Set achievable goals and aim for field placement of candidates for licensure in diverse settings.
Last summer, after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other Black people, many institutions committed to antiracist work. Heard said that the College of Education had been working on racial equity initiatives across the college before, but that summer reinvigorated their efforts to put plans into action.
The task force has brought in Chicago educators at the forefront of racial equity work in their communities. Alumna Shelly Davis-Jones (EdD ’13) is superintendent of a school district in Dolton, Ill., and serves on the College of Education advisory board. Adjunct professor Gina Harris is the climate and culture coach at a middle school in Oak Park.
Heard and his colleagues envision classrooms where students won’t worry that a racially insensitive comment will go unchecked, and spaces that celebrate students’ identity beyond the performative.
“I've been a Black, queer student in a predominantly White space all of my life. I know how isolating those experiences can be,” Heard said. “Often, academic settings aren't built for students of color.”
A truly equitable college experience, says Heard, means that students are treated differently, instead of equally, to meet their needs. Initiatives could include groups for first-year students of color to help students see each other and build bonds, or opportunities for students to take classes from professors who look like them.
“When we think of racism, it’s as a system built on policies and structures that for too long have advantaged some and disadvantaged others,” he said. “We need structural changes that ensure and safeguard the best experience for everyone, including students of color.”
College of Education faculty and staff have also hosted antiracism trainings that ask them to grapple with their own implicit biases. Heard plans to support more professional development opportunities, but Heard says he is glad to be a part of a project that goes beyond self-reflection.
“Often, within conversations about racial equity, people want to look inward first,” he said. “That's very important. But while we're doing our work on ourselves, we need to create systemic change.”
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