Photo courtesy of Humboldt State
Photo courtesy of Humboldt State

Dr. Shaun Harper kicks off HSU’s Presidential Speaker Series

The focal topic of this year’s speaker series is racial equity
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Dr. Shaun Harper spoke in the inaugural presentation of the series about how it is important for universities to have a strategic plan when it comes to tackling racial equity throughout their institution and academic curriculum.

The virtual presentation was held on Feb. 11 and also included a short presentation from Professor Pam Bowers and advanced graduate students in the social work department. Each event in the series will feature scholarly and creative work happening at HSU that corresponds to the topic.

Bowers and the group of graduate students are working on the Department of Social Work implicit curriculum needs assessment.

The masters project’s goal is to gain a better understanding of student and faculty experiences pertaining to microagressions, racial aggressions, homophobia, and transphobia that occurs at HSU, specifically within the Department of Social Work.

“This is about improving the educational climate,” Bowers said. “It is about continually examining our own prejudices and our own biases and finding ways to improve upon those and build with trust and humility.”

The presentation from the group was a good lead into Harper’s as it touched on many similar points. Each recognized that confronting the truth of the current and past educational climate is the only way for a University to truly enact change across campus.

“I need not tell you that the racial chaos that we’ve seen in our country over these past four plus years have had a spillover on to college and university campuses,” Harper said.

Harper and colleagues at the University of Southern California Race and Equity Center recently established the National Assessment of Collegiate Campus Climates to better assist the widespread demand for racial climate assessments within the past couple of years. It is a quantitative survey that will be administered annually in hundreds of participating colleges and universities across the nation.

Over the past 17 years, Harper and colleagues have interviewed, face to face, with more than 10,000 students and 2,000 employees at colleges and universities. They assessed different aspects of equitable fairness that they sensed while on campus.

“After you graduate from Humboldt State, are you feeling prepared to go live, work and lead in a place that’s much more racially diverse?” Harper said to the audience regarding typical questions they ask students being assessed, specifically white students.

Harper said that many white students acknowledged their desire to want to, but the assessment showed that they don’t know much more as a college senior about race and racial equity and how to solve racial problems than they did when they were a high school senior.

“White students, would you know, therefore, matriculate through the institution, graduate and go into the world without understanding other people’s racialized experiences,” Harper said.

On the other hand, Harper said that the people who work at the institution don’t know how to do equity, they don’t know how to solve racial problems and they don’t know how to decolonize the curriculum. Therefore, it is extremely hard for students, specifically white students, to become equitable leaders and decision makers in various industries, despite the diversity of the United States of America.

“It’s not enough to just be a good white person or a good anti-racist white person,” Harper said.

There are practical recommendations that he suggests universities must do if they are indeed going to achieve and sustain racial equity. Denouncing white supremacy and racism in all their forms, specifying racial equity among equity groups across campus, investing in the reparation of historical negligence in equity and harm, and being much more intentional about integrating race and racial topics about people of color and cultural histories across the curriculum are all ways HSU can better support students of color.

Humboldt State University, along with thousands of other universities across the nation, have an opportunity to enact real change when it comes to racial equity. The first step is to confront the truths of racial inequity that lie within the environment on campus.

As the event came to a close, Dr. Lisa Bond-Maupin, the acting deputy chief of staff & special assistant to the president, assured those at the event that the university is listening to Harper and plans to utilize the information offered by each speaker in the series.

“For folks who may not be aware, HSU is preparing to engage in the National Collegiate Campus Climate survey, under the direction of our new Campus Diversity Officer Dr. Ndura,” Bond-Maupin said.

President Tom Jackson, Jr. started the Presidential Speaker Series to engage HSU and the local community in international conversation. The next event is being held on March 10 and will include Dr. George Yancy from Emory University.

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