Faculty workshop discusses inequalities in higher education

Chancellor%27s+Professor+of+Law+at+Berkeley+Law+School+Angela+Onwuachi-Willig.
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Faculty workshop discusses inequalities in higher education

Chancellor's Professor of Law at Berkeley Law School Angela Onwuachi-Willig.

Chancellor's Professor of Law at Berkeley Law School Angela Onwuachi-Willig.

Chancellor's Professor of Law at Berkeley Law School Angela Onwuachi-Willig.

Chancellor's Professor of Law at Berkeley Law School Angela Onwuachi-Willig.

Forrest Stewart, Staff Writer

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Chancellor’s Professor of Law at Berkeley Law School Angela Onwuachi-Willig led a faculty workshop titled “Presumed Incompetence: The Challenges Faced by Faculty and Students at PWIs” on Oct. 30 in the Dahl Centennial Union Nobel Room.

The workshop focused on the unique experiences of minority groups at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) and on ways that the institutional framework of colleges and universities fail to address social inequality.

The workshop was sponsored by the Dean’s Office, the Diversity Center, the Diversity Council, and the President’s Office. According to the Dean’s Office, Luther’s faculty is 91.3% white and the student body is 89.1% white.

Associate Professor of Political Science and workshop attendee Carly Foster highlighted reasons why this workshop was beneficial to the Luther community.

“We spent most of the time thinking and talking about the overall implications related to the hiring of minorities,” Foster said. “[It is especially important] in a place like this that’s pretty far removed from larger cities [and] in a fairly conservative political climate with few minorities.”

The workshop included a brief lecture by Onwuachi-Willig followed by group discussion and analysis of several hypothetical situations related to minorities’ experiences in higher education.

Assistant Professor of Political Science Pedro Dos Santos said the workshop touched on issues that directly impact the Luther community.

“As one of the very few faculty of color at a predominately white institution, [these things absolutely happen],” Dos Santos said. “[During] the hypotheticals, I just kept nodding my head [and thinking] ‘Yeah that happened to me.’”

Associate Dean and Director of Faculty Development Jeffrey Wilkerson co-sponsored the workshop. Wilkerson discussed his takeaways from the workshop.

“Just talking about these things is important,” Wilkerson said. “I think the real key to [the workshop] was thinking about faculty development. No two people have the same experience in an institution and…[it’s important to] help faculty think about how other people are navigating the institution.”

Foster says differences in experience can impact the likelihood that minorities remain in the Luther community. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the 2016 graduation rate of black and latino students at Luther was around 60% while the overall rate was 78%.

“Luther has challenges retaining people of color — both students and faculty — in part because of the location and in part because people don’t want to come here and be the only minority,” Foster said. “This is [about] trying to get beyond thinking of this as an issue of intentional racism and instead trying to think about ways that institutional factors make it harder to both attract and hold onto diverse candidates.”

According to the packet of hypothetical situations discussed at the workshop, there are several institutional factors that affect minorities. These situations ranged from minority faculty members receiving poor student evaluations for reasons other than the quality of their teaching to minorities and women being less likely than white men to apply for a job that they feel unqualified for.

“Those things aren’t a fault of Luther,” Foster said. “Luther didn’t create those problems. Yet, if we’re going to be serious about trying to bring people here, we have to do more community outreach and we have to find ways to make the community a little bit less closed.”

According to Dos Santos, Luther has been taking steps to try to accomplish that goal.

“Luther is ahead of a lot of other institutions,” Dos Santos said. “Not every institution has a Dean for Institutional Equity and Inclusion, especially not every small liberal arts college.”

Luther student Ashalul Aden (‘20) hopes that these workshops will lead to positive changes at Luther.

“I am very happy there are [these] workshops going on to help make Luther a more inclusive and culturally competent college,” Aden said. “By working together and attending such workshops, faculty and staff can help more students stay at Luther and guarantee they have a great experience while they are here.”

Foster also sees the workshop as a beneficial investment.

“I’m very glad that Lisa Scott is marshalling the school’s resources and taking some concrete steps to make Luther a better place,” Foster said.

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