Envisioning Diversity and Social Justice in Higher Education through Our Work with Marygrove by Will Cherrin

As a part of the community engagement team I have had the fortunate opportunity to work closely with Marygrove College in helping them achieve their integrative urban leadership vision.  Marygrove’s goal is to develop urban leaders through the explicit integration of urban leadership principles in, among other things, their course curriculum.  Though I have only been part of the project for a few months, the drive to create such major organizational change has been inspiring.  The effort requires the participation and buy-in of the entire faculty and staff and a significant amount of time and resources.  What intrigues me most about this endeavor is to see first-hand that major change like this is possible.

Though I am an advocate for developing leadership skills in college students, I automatically began thinking about how this model could realistically be applied to working towards social justice in predominantly white institutions (PWIs).  In her talk during a Race and Social Justice Symposium last semester at the University of Michigan, Dr. Yolanda Moses, Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Excellence and Diversity at UC Riverside, spoke about dismantling systems of oppression in higher education.  She gave several recommendations for how we can overcome institutional oppression at PWIs, including: structuring diversity as a core institutional value, allocating resources to support diversity initiatives and create programs to educate administrators to know their role in promoting diversity.  While I was excited to hear practical recommendations for climate change at the post-secondary level, Dr. Moses’ suggestions also seemed extremely daunting.  Until I connected them to what Marygrove is doing.

What if PWIs integrated diversity and social justice principles, and made sure that all faculty members were trained to explicitly address and discuss them? What if they required all faculty members to explicitly state on their syllabus which diversity and social justice principles their class targeted and how students would embody those principles by the end of the course?  What if they spent the time and resources that Marygrove has spent towards implementing these principles into the core institutional mission? We can continue to address campus inequity and climate issues with small band aids or we can tackle them at their core.  I guess the real question is: When most PWIs talk about diversity and social justice, is this level of institutional change something that they truly desire or are the band aids a strategic response to not address the issue in its totality?