United States: Racial Tensions On Campus: Six Practical Solutions For Educational Institutions

Last Updated: January 6 2016
Article by Scott D. Schneider

Almost five years ago, the Department of Education issued its "Dear Colleague" letter on Title IX and sexual violence. The letter was a not-so-subtle reminder that Title IX requires federally funded educational institutions to prevent sexual harassment and violence. After that, the day-to-day work of many higher education attorneys and student affairs professionals has never been the same.

Are similar changes on the horizon with respect to considerations of race on campus? There are several signs suggesting the answer very well may be "yes," making now an opportune time to evaluate how your campus is handling these issues. 

An Increase In Campus Activism On Issues Of Race

Last month, both the president of the University of Missouri system and the chancellor of the university were forced to resign amid a controversy over the university's purported anemic response to complaints of race discrimination on campus. Similar demands for leadership changes have been made at other colleges. 

For instance, at Ithaca College in New York, students have been pushing for the removal of Thomas Rochon as president. The protestors have cited to what they consider to be his failure to adequately respond to several racially charged incidents, and an unwillingness to address an environment where students of color purportedly feel unwelcome. Faculty and students at Ithaca have walked out of class and have submitted no-confidence votes to Ithaca's Board of Trustees. 

Protests at other universities have become common. Indeed, students at 74 schools nationwide have gone as far as submitting detailed lists of demands to their respective universities primarily centered on campus racial issues.

The Federal Government Weighs In, And A Supreme Court Decision Awaits...

The U.S. Department of Education is closely following these developments. In a November 20, 2015 op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, outgoing Education Secretary Arne Duncan noted that the Department's Office for Civil Rights has received more than 1,000 complaints of racial harassment at colleges and universities during his tenure. He also noted that the Department had recently "convened campus leaders from around the country...to tackle the issue of racial harassment on campuses and to lay out solutions to foster supportive educational environments."

Of course, lurking in the background is the Supreme Court's consideration of affirmative action in the Fisher v. University of Texas case. Oral arguments in that case took place in December 2015, and several signs suggest a sea change may be on the horizon with respect to whether race can be used as a factor in university admissions. A decision in that case is expected by June 2016.

Put simply, all indications suggest that the issue of race on college campuses will continue to have a high profile over the next several years. In addition, significant changes with respect to institutional obligations may be in the offing depending on how the Supreme Court rules in the Fisher case and whether the Department of Education decides to definitively weigh in on the matter of race.

What To Do Now?

For schools looking to be proactive in this area, here are six practical suggestions:

It's Time To Review Institutional Policy. Over the past five years, schools have spent considerable time drafting, reviewing, and revising their sexual misconduct policies. Now is the time to do a similar review of institutional race discrimination policies. Is your institution clear about what conduct is prohibited, how to report race discrimination, who will handle complaints, etc.? Is your institution comfortable that your current policy and process are consistent with best practices in handling discrimination complaints?

Messaging To The University Community. Again, similar to what institutions have done with respect to sexual misconduct, now seems to be an ideal time to make clear to the campus community what sort of race-related conduct is prohibited and how people who believe they have been victims of race discrimination can complain.

A number of interesting free speech issues have popped up throughout the country about how far institutions should and can go in describing what the school prohibits. Campus communications regarding race discrimination should at least be informed by the national conversation over legitimate free speech concerns. 

Are There Enough Of The Right People? An increase in awareness and attention can lead to an avalanche of complaints. It is essential for schools to be in the best position to handle race discrimination complaints in a prompt, thorough, and equitable manner.

It is equally important that institutions have a high degree of confidence in the skills of its frontline personnel who will serve as the face of the institution in handling these often emotionally charged cases. Put in stark terms, one high-profile incident handled poorly by someone who is overwhelmed or not up to the job can result in catastrophic consequences for your school.

Sense Of Urgency. Institutions have learned in recent years that complaints of sexual misconduct have to be given priority over other less-pressing matters. You should put issues involving race in the same category. As more students complain that their concerns of race discrimination have not been treated seriously, it is clear that the same sense of urgency which has become second nature in dealing with complaints of sexual misconduct needs to also apply to complaints of race discrimination.

Checking Climate. Most schools are doing climate surveys to assess sex discrimination on campus. It may make considerable sense to piggyback on those efforts and gauge the campus climate on race. How do students of color feel about conditions on campus? Are there recommendations to improve climate? Are students aware of institutional policies and how to express concerns? Having a sense of the current racial climate can go a long way in helping a college or university target prevention efforts and prioritize resources. 

Emotional Intelligence And Understanding The Unique Nature Of Higher Education. Finally, it bears noting that the calls for resignations at the University of Missouri and Ithaca College were not based solely on concerns about inadequate response to race discrimination. Rather, there were a number of other issues in play, including the sense that senior leadership was very "top-down" in how they governed, and that school leaders did not have an interest in traditional shared-governance models.

Whether that criticism is fair or not, it goes without saying that the management of universities is unique. The sort of top-down approach that may work in traditional business settings may only needlessly complicate already nettlesome areas in higher education. Put simply, institutional constituencies affected by a problem appreciate being consulted with and working on important institutional initiatives and solutions to that problem.

Considerations of race on campus clearly fits the bill. An approach to addressing racial concerns that involves only senior management at a school will likely be poorly received and may actually escalate problems. Rather, schools looking to tackle racial problems would be well advised to identify those groups on campus who are interested in the issue and, at the very least, solicit their opinions about how things are and how things can be improved.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Scott D. Schneider
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions