Colleges and universities (especially land-grant institutions) have an obligation to increase the pool of those students who are included in the applicant pool and subsequently admitted and who come from underserved and systemically marginalized communities. While previous chapters have outlined a number of action items that colleges and universities can follow to be more genuine in their efforts to build meaningful partnerships with communities traditionally underrepresented and underserved on their campuses, it is worth reiterating two specific ideas here based on the work of the VIP Scholars program.
College and university administrators across the country are finding it increasingly difficult to not be confronted with the fact that students on their campuses (particularly students of color) are fed up with instances of casual, everyday racism (Binkley & Whack, 2015). As opposed to putting their proverbial heads in the sand, administrators at institutions of higher education must recognize that these incidences are symptomatic of broader societal structures that place more value on the experiences and lives of White people than on the experiences and lives of people of color. Rather than sitting idly by while students struggle with notions of privilege and oppression in spaces ill equipped to foster opportunities for meaningful dialogue and learning, university and college leaders must lay out a bold vision for diversity and inclusion on their campuses that is informed by notions of equity and social justice. Some potential components of a plan might include the appointment of a diversity and inclusion administrator (with appropriate institutional support and power), the creation of a diversity curriculum that would be a requirement for undergraduate students, mandated diversity training for faculty and staff, the creation of a multicultural student center, the creation of ethnic studies departments, and prioritizing the hiring of faculty and staff from underrepresented communities. These are only a few recommendations that colleges and universities can enact, but an important component in any effort to address diversity and inclusion on a campus must include the time-consuming work of building consensus among campus partners such as students. Any effort initiated without the input of students and other campus partners will not likely solicit the needed buy-in to make initiatives successful.
The previous section laid out the imperative of a stronger alignment across the K–16 system. A vital question for university and college administrators to ask themselves is whether their engagement with surrounding communities connects university knowledge with community knowledge in mutually beneficial ways. An unfortunate reality for far too many communities near institutions of higher education is that the nature of the relationship disproportionally benefits colleges and universities that use communities as sites for research and for enriching the experiences of undergraduate students who themselves are not from the community. Faculty research, field placements, and community service activities devoid of meaningful efforts to shift how the university operates in response to needs voiced by the community only perpetuate the paternalistic relationships that many institutions of higher education have with surrounding communities and their schools. This stance furthers deficit-oriented views about the perceived wealth in certain communities and the value of developing mutually beneficial relationships with certain communities. The nature of this relationship has not been lost on community schools that are understandably hesitant in granting access to university-affiliated programs. Nonetheless, it is vitally important that university and college administrators begin the process of building trust with community schools by providing students from these communities with the necessary tools and resources to pursue admission to, enroll in, and graduate from their institution. Developing pipeline programs in partnership with communities is perhaps one of the most effective ways to develop responsible and genuine relationships with communities that disrupt both the absence and one-sided “exchanges” that have become far too representative of the presence of universities in their surrounding communities.