STUDY: Student Activists Slowly Forcing University Presidents to Address Racial Disparities

By Kenrya Rankin Mar 17, 2016

A new study from the American Council on Education says that student-led protests are having an impact on college and university campuses across the country.

“Racial Climate on Campus: A Survey of College Presidents” anonymously surveyed 567 college and university presidents to uncover how they feel student activism is changing the way students and faculty alike address race-related issues. The results show that students at nearly half (47 percent) of the four-year institutions surveyed have organized around racial diversity concerns. And 75 percent of the folks presiding over four-year programs say that campus events related to Black Lives Matter, immigration and Islamaphobia have increased the racial dialogue at their school. That number drops to 62 percent for two-year schools.

While one president reportedly wrote: “The national issues have manifested at my campus as a genuine focus on eliminating the disparity in student academic achievement by ethnicity and on being more proactive in diversifying the faculty,” the increase in conversation has only lead to modest administrative action. On four-year campuses, just 55 percent of presidents said that the racial climate has become more of a priority, and 1 percent said its importance has actually decreased. Just 44 percent of leaders on two-year college campuses feel that it is more important now than three years ago.

Other key points:

  • 86 percent of the presidents surveyed at four-year institutions say they have met with organizers more than once, with 11 percent having met with them one time and 3 percent never holding a meeting.
  • Across the board, public universities are much more likely to take action on racial justice issues than their private counterparts.
  • Presidents say that as a result of student activism, they are working on the following actions: implementing cultural competency training (19 percent), developing or revising curriculum (19 percent), increasing diversity (9 percent) and allocating resources for support services for students of color (8 percent).
  • At two-year institutions, 94 percent of presidents think their faculty is sensitive to the need for racial diversity and inclusion. That number is 96 percent on campuses with four-year programs.