Content Warning: This article discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or a mental health crisis, contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. Help is available, today and every day.
“This is the beginning of the end for DEI in America’s institutions,” conservative activist Chris Rufo posted on X (F.K.A Twitter) after the news broke that Harvard president Dr. Claudine Gay resigned from that position.
"We will expose you. We will outmaneuver you. And we will not stop fighting until we have restored colorblind equality in our great nation,” he said.
Reading that statement brings me great pause. To think one would articulate their efforts to end diversity, equity, and inclusion so boldly is beyond me.
There are targeted, strategic attacks currently underway that are aimed at eliminating decades of progress in the name of diversity, equity, and inclusion on college campuses in the United States.
Throughout 2023, dozens of bills passed across the country that limited DEI efforts and strategies on publicly funded college campuses. And, with the resignation of Dr. Claudine Gay, many are not only celebrating but also continuing to think of the “long game” they have in mind: to eliminate efforts of diversity, equity, and inclusion altogether, not just on college campuses.
After delivering testimony that was not well-received by some members of Congress regarding antisemitism on college campuses, there were accusations of plagiarism aimed at Dr. Gay, allegations she has since responded to and denied.
Following persecution and harassment surrounding these events, Dr. Gay resigned from her position as president of Harvard University. After only serving in the office for six months, she has the shortest tenure of any Harvard University president.
She remains on faculty at the oldest institution of higher education in the United States.
The battle of DEI on college campuses has been a focal talking point for many conservative politicians in recent months.
College campuses are a litmus test for the support or opposition, to efforts of diversity, equity, and inclusion on broader corporate and legislative scales.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said DEI stands for “Discrimination, exclusion, and indoctrination.” Other leaders have said DEI attempts to prioritize the education and social progress of one race over another.
My question is this – when, exactly, did Black people stop suffering from racism and anti-Blackness?
- Was it when Abraham Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation? Don’t be silly.
- Was it when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed? Certainly not.
- Was it when Barack Obama was elected president? That argument is just tired, at this point.
There has never been a time in the history of the United States of America wherein Black people and people of color were not persecuted, villainized, and slighted through efforts of social inequities.
In the initial months of 2023, the Supreme Court overturned decades of legal precedent by asserting the unconstitutionality of race-conscious admission practices in higher education. Subsequently, discussions emerged regarding the fairness of legacy admissions.
Interestingly, many of those same individuals who deemed the consideration of someone's historically marginalized background as unfair found themselves supporting the celebration of college applicants whose families had previously attended the universities they aspired to join.
In Texas, a recent piece of legislation has created dire circumstances for diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in the Lone Star State. TX State Senate Bill 17 requires public universities to end diversity, equity, and inclusion work.
Universities in the Lone Star State will also be unable to offer training on diversity and inclusion for their faculty and staff or require diversity statements in hiring processes.
The sentiment echoes: "If a prestigious university doesn't prioritize DEI, why should I?"
We’ve already seen the corporate responses to universities' willingness to abandon their commitments to racial equity. Many have been all too quick to join.
The targeted efforts to dismantle measures of equity and inclusion on college campuses are having detrimental impacts on Black employees and those from historically marginalized backgrounds. Black women have always suffered in the academy despite nurturing and leading so much of its growth.
This was made tragically evident in the death of Dr. Antoinette “Bonnie” Candia-Bailey, who died by suicide after years of harassment and mistreatment in a reportedly hostile work environment at Lincoln University.
When organizations and institutions forsake their commitments to equity and embrace exclusion, the repercussions are not merely hypothetical. Psychological safety is not a buzzword.
These are people's lives we are talking about.
Educator and activist Janique Sanders, MPA, is a higher education professional and community organizer with a focus on social justice and intersectionality. She shared her thoughts with RSE about the state of DEI on college campuses:
“From the loss of Dr. Antoinette Bonnie Candia-Bailey, my sister, to the resignation of Dr. Claudine Gay, both women are people I can aspire to be in many ways, and yet the future of many Black people, especially Black women in higher education seems bleak. What is happening across major higher education institutions across our nation is the backlash to educational equity and equity in totality. Institutions that speak to power and the rights of all individuals are seen as targets in our current geopolitical landscape. Thus making it impossible to teach students the historical precedents of our global society and its current implications. Most movements within the United States have involved college-aged students at their cores. Does it seem to be a coincidence that higher education is under attack?”
Janique’s observations paint a perfect picture of why this moment is so important. The work never ends. At least not yet.
Lately, I've been repeating a phrase: "The day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit."
Higher education serves as a garden within the broader landscape of the United States. Currently, a seed has been planted, and its flower grows.
For years, dedicated educators have been working to address and dismantle the inequities that afflict higher education, such as burdensome loan debt and unjust admissions practices.
Because of their efforts, the garden still blooms. The seeds of equity and justice are blossoming. In classrooms and across campuses, flowers of positive change are emerging.
Despite attempts by the pesticides of white supremacy to stifle the growth of our youth and the cultivation of communities, let us not forget -
The day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit.
We must tirelessly fight to allow higher education to continue growing and blossoming into a field that creates opportunities rather than limiting them.
Corporations are watching. They pay attention and wonder how they will tend to or neglect their organizations. Will they forsake equity? Though it may seem like a flower bed outside the business's home unit, it is central to the heartbeat of commerce and profit.
This moment in history is critical. Advocates of diversity, equity, and inclusion are called to bear witness to the effectiveness of this work. How will you respond?
Raven Solomon Enterprises is a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion education and consulting firm that aims to help organizations integrate DEI through exploration, motivation, and activation. Through a myriad of services (including Keynote Speaking, DEI Learning and Development, Strategic Advisory, and Leadership Coaching), RSE helps organizations make spaces more inclusive