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Alumni Influence to Facilitate Diversity Starts With a One-Dollar Donation

Dr. William B. Harvey

Those people of color who received some or all of their higher education at predominantly white institutions frequently describe their experiences in these hallowed environments as bittersweet, with more emphasis on the bitter than the sweet. They recall the various incidents of racism that they encountered at their alma mater, the rarity of seeing and interacting with professors who shared their racial and ethnic background, and the paucity of courses that nourished their cultural identity within a sea of classes that supported the structural racism of the status quo.

Dr. William B. HarveyDr. William B. HarveyNevertheless, some of these alumni maintain various levels of contact with their alma maters – ranging from attending reunion events, to regularly reviewing materials they receive from the college or university, to making monetary donations they hope will help produce a more inclusive atmosphere for current and future generations.

It’s common knowledge that change in the academy happens very slowly. In fact, former college president Brian Rosenburg maintains that β€œif maintenance of the status quo is the goal, higher education has managed to create the ideal system.” This observation holds true in even greater fashion when there is a racial dimension to any proposed modifications.

One striking example was highlighted in the case of a highly regarded private liberal arts college in the Midwest when it recently issued a public announcement about the creation of a department of African Diaspora studies on campus. The college revealed the connection of this curricular modification to demands made by African American students for classes in this field when it acknowledged that the Concerned Black Students organization submitted this proposed change to improve student life on campus to the president – in 1971. To its credit, the college has made more timely progress in other areas during the 52-year interval; the announcement about the new department was made by the vice president for academic affairs, who is an African American woman.

To facilitate and sustain positive changes in the academy, influence and pressure from both internal and external sources are necessary. As potential financial contributors to their alma maters, alumni are in an especially interesting position to advocate for an institutional environment that affirms and supports people of color. Given the conservative political forces across the nation that are currently pushing to reduce and eliminate support for diversity, equity, and inclusion, meaningful actions by alumni are vital to provide campus leadership with support for the humanistic core values that they previously espoused.

By organizing and coordinating a campaign of collective activism, alumni of color can help their alma maters identify and support a variety of measures that could enhance positive pluralism on their campuses. Popular on-campus reunion events for alumni of color reflect the latent dynamism and possibilities in this group.

A multi-step approach would begin by identifying a symbolic starting date β€” the first day of African American history month or Hispanic Heritage month, for example β€” as the point at which the president or chancellor would receive a flurry of handwritten notes from alumni of color, and inserted in the note would be a check in the amount of one dollar. It’s quite plausible that hundreds of such messages could be directed to the institutional leadership.

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