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The U.S. student population is more diverse, but schools are still highly segregated

Headshot of Sequoia Carrillo

Sequoia Carrillo

Pooja Salhotra

Divisive school district borders.

The U.S. student body is more diverse than ever before. Nevertheless, public schools remain highly segregated along racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines.

That's according to a report released Thursday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). More than a third of students (about 18.5 million of them) attended a predominantly same-race/ethnicity school during the 2020-21 school year, the report finds. And 14% of students attended schools where almost all of the student body was of a single race/ethnicity.

The report is a follow up to a 2016 GAO investigation on racial disparity in K-12 schools. That initial report painted a slightly worse picture, but findings from the new report are still concerning, says Jackie Nowicki, the director of K-12 education at the GAO and lead author of the report.

Why White School Districts Have So Much More Money

Why White School Districts Have So Much More Money

"There is clearly still racial division in schools," says Nowicki. She adds that schools with large proportions of Hispanic, Black and American Indian/Alaska Native students – minority groups with higher rates of poverty than white and Asian American students – are also increasing. "What that means is you have large portions of minority children not only attending essentially segregated schools, but schools that have less resources available to them."

"There are layers of factors here," she says. "They paint a rather dire picture of the state of schooling for a segment of the school-age population that federal laws were designed to protect."

School segregation happens across the country

Segregation has historically been associated with the Jim Crow laws of the South. But the report finds that, in the 2020-21 school year, the highest percentage of schools serving a predominantly single-race/ethnicity student population – whether mostly white, mostly Hispanic or mostly Black etc. – were in the Northeast and the Midwest.

School segregation has "always been a whole-country issue," says U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., who heads the House education and labor committee. He commissioned both the 2016 and 2022 reports. "The details of the strategies may be different, but during the '60s and '70s, when the desegregation cases were at their height, cases were all over the country."

How The Systemic Segregation Of Schools Is Maintained By 'Individual Choices'

How The Systemic Segregation Of Schools Is Maintained By 'Individual Choices'

The GAO analysis also found school segregation across all school types, including traditional public schools, charter schools and magnet schools. Across all charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, more than a third were predominantly same-race/ethnicity, serving mostly Black and Hispanic students.

There's history behind the report's findings

Nowicki and her team at the GAO say they were not surprised by any of the report's findings. They point to historical practices, like redlining , that created racially segregated neighborhoods.

And because 70% of U.S. students attend their neighborhood public schools, Nowicki says, racially segregated neighborhoods have historically made for racially segregated schools.

The 50 Most Segregating School Borders In America

The 50 Most Segregating School Borders In America

"There are historical reasons why neighborhoods look the way they look," she explains. "And some portion of that is because of the way our country chose to encourage or limit where people could live."

Though the 1968 Fair Housing Act outlawed housing discrimination on the basis of race, the GAO says that in some states, current legislation reinforces racially isolated communities.

"Our analysis showed that predominantly same-race/ethnicity schools of different races/ethnicities exist in close proximity to one another within districts, but most commonly exist among neighboring districts," the report says.

School district secessions have made segregation worse

One cause for the lack of significant improvement, according to the GAO, is a practice known as district secession, where schools break away from an existing district – often citing a need for more local control – and form their own new district. The result, the report finds, is that segregation deepens.

"In the 10 years that we looked at district secessions, we found that, overwhelmingly, those new districts were generally whiter, wealthier than the remaining districts," Nowicki says.

Six of the 36 district secessions identified in the report happened in Memphis, Tenn., which experienced a historic district merger several years ago. Memphis City Schools, which served a majority non-white student body, dissolved in 2011 due to financial instability. It then merged with the neighboring district, Shelby County Schools, which served a wealthier, majority white population.

This Supreme Court Case Made School District Lines A Tool For Segregation

This Supreme Court Case Made School District Lines A Tool For Segregation

Joris Ray was a Memphis City Schools administrator at the time of the merger. He recalls that residents of Shelby County were not satisfied with the new consolidated district. They successfully splintered off into six separate districts.

As a result, the GAO report says, racial and socioeconomic segregation has grown in and around Memphis. All of the newly formed districts are whiter and wealthier than the one they left, which is now called Memphis-Shelby County Schools.

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Why Busing Didn't End School Segregation

"This brings negative implications for our students overall," says Ray, who has led Memphis-Shelby County Schools since 2019. "Research has shown that students in more diverse schools have lower levels of prejudice and stereotypes and are more prepared for top employers to hire an increasingly diverse workforce."

The GAO report finds that this pattern – of municipalities removing themselves from a larger district to form their own, smaller school district – almost always creates more racial and socioeconomic segregation. Overall, new districts tend to have larger shares of white and Asian American students, and lower shares of Black and Hispanic students, the report finds. New districts also have significantly fewer students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, a common measure of poverty.

Diversity in the Classroom: Teaching, Types, and Examples

School children sit on the floor and listen to their teacher read a storybook.

Learning about and understanding diversity in the classroom can enhance the perspective of both prospective and developing teachers in many ways as they engage with the realities of today’s classrooms.

First, today’s teachers are likely to confront a range of different types of students—students with different socioeconomic backgrounds, different learning abilities/disabilities, and different ethnic or religious identities. Second, working effectively with classroom diversity is critical to promoting educational equity and optimizing both access and outcomes. Third, learning about diversity and developing strategies for working productively with those who are different entails short- and long-term benefits for students. Finally, diversity in the classroom is a teaching tool and opportunity for educational enrichment in itself. 

Explore the impact of diversity in education, why diversity matters for students, and how teachers can foster diverse and inclusive learning environments.

Educational Equity

Educational equity refers to the idea that every student should have access to the necessary resources to reach their full academic potential. 

Without educational equity, academic success is significantly more difficult for some students. Systemic barriers—such as housing insecurity, inadequate nutrition, and underfunded classrooms—continue to prevent students from reaching their full potential. Certain groups of students do not receive the same educational opportunities and accommodations as their peers. This can lead to a lack of diversity in the workforce, barriers to social mobility, mental health issues, and increased poverty.

When students from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to the same resources and opportunities as their more privileged peers, they are more likely to succeed academically and professionally. Educational equity is important because it prioritizes all students having the opportunity to reach their potential, regardless of their identity or circumstances.

Diversity, Culture, and Social Identities

Diversity in the classroom refers to differences in social identities. A person’s age, race, socioeconomic status, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, disability, and nationality all comprise a person’s social identity. Our identities are intersectional and overlapping, and many aspects of our identities change over time. 

Types of diversity that can be present in the classroom include:

  • Ability diversity : This includes differences in students’ physical, mental, and learning abilities.
  • Age diversity : This includes differences in students’ ages.
  • Gender diversity : This includes differences in students’ gender identity and expression.
  • Ethnic diversity : This includes differences in race, ethnicity, national origin, and languages spoken at home.
  • Religious diversity: This includes differences in belonging to and identifying with the values and/or practices of a particular religion or sect. 
  • Socioeconomic diversity : This includes differences in income, education levels, occupations, and housing security and stability with regard to students or their families.
  • Experiential diversity : This includes differences in students’ life experiences, such as immigration, military service, adoption, or foster care.
  • Sexual orientation diversity : This includes differences in students’ sexual orientations.
  • Geographic diversity : This includes differences in students’ local or regional identity and experiences based on where they live, learn, and play. 

Diversity in the classroom is not limited to these examples. Individuals can belong to multiple social groups at the same time. Note that diversity is not only about visible differences. Along with the last three categories above, differences in learning styles, personality, mental health, and more are often present without being visible.

Why a Diverse Teacher Workforce Matters

Diversity in the classroom is not limited to the student population—it includes teachers, too. 

The teacher workforce that supports elementary students is far less racially and ethnically diverse in the US than the students they teach, according to data published in 2021 by Pew Research Center. While the share of Asian American, Black, and Hispanic teachers has increased over the past two decades, this minor increase has not kept pace with the rapid diversification of the general US population. 

For example, Pew reports that between 2017 and 2018 (the most recent study based on National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data):

  • 79 percent of US public school teachers identified as non-Hispanic White, whereas only 47 percent of all public elementary students identified this way.
  • 9 percent of US public school teachers identified as Hispanic, whereas 27 percent of public elementary students identified as Hispanic.
  • 7 percent of US public school teachers identified as Black, whereas 15 percent of public elementary students identified as Black.

Recent empirical studies show evidence for improved learning outcomes for students who have teachers from the same racial and/or ethnic groups. According to findings synthesized by Brookings Institute in 2022, students who had a same-race teacher tended to experience educational benefits such as:

  • Improved test scores
  • Improved course grades
  • Improved working memory
  • Better attendance
  • Better interpersonal self-management
  • Higher likelihood of taking an advanced math class
  • Higher likelihood of being selected for a gifted and talented program
  • Higher likelihood to graduate from high school
  • Higher likelihood to intend to enroll in college

Diversifying our educational system must therefore include increasing the representation of teachers who belong to different racial and ethnic communities. Students of color deserve to have the opportunity to learn from teachers who may share similar cultural experiences as them. 

Teaching Diversity in the Classroom

Valuing inclusion in the classroom can help to create a more respectful learning environment for everyone.

Students can be taught as early as pre-school and elementary school how to use accurate terms to describe their own social identity. For example, a child can proudly affirm that they are both Black and Korean American, having a mother who is a Black woman from Chicago and a father who is a Korean man from Busan. Likewise, a child can proudly affirm simply having two mothers or two fathers.

Students should also learn to celebrate and respect people from cultures different from their own. Diversity is crucial for elementary school students to learn about because it helps them to appreciate the differences among people and cultures. In a rapidly diversifying world, students deserve educators and educational resources that teach diversity in the classroom and affirm the importance of inclusion, respect, and justice for all. 

Learning about diversity from an early age can lead to more inclusive and respectful interactions with others and can also help students develop a sense of empathy and understanding for people who may have different experiences or perspectives.

Kids often express a natural curiosity toward the food, sports, art, clothes, children’s books , games, toys, and dances of different cultures. This openness and enthusiasm for learning from and about people who are different is something teachers must encourage and nurture. 

Students who learn to appreciate and support members of diverse groups as children can grow up to be strong leaders of diverse and inclusive communities. 

Contribute to the Ongoing Effort to Diversify Education

With the right teaching tools, educators can foster diversity and inclusion for the next generation of students. The significance of diversity in the classroom takes its impetus directly from a historical context where many classrooms were not diverse–either by political fiat or teaching philosophy–but its impact and its mission lies in promoting equity and positive outcomes for today’s students.

If you’re interested in an enriching career as an educator who embraces the mission of using diversity in the classroom as an educational opportunity, American University’s online Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) and online Master of Education (MEd) in Education Policy and Leadership programs may be a great next step for you. We prepare graduates with the tools they need to approach the diversity landscape in education with an informed perspective and teach students from diverse backgrounds. 

Start pursuing your goals in education with American University.

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Education Trust, “Educators of Color Make the Case for Teacher Diversity” 

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Inclusivity in Education: Tackling Inequalities and Promoting Quality Learning

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by Omar Mame Diop, Chief of Section and Programme Specialist in Education and Abhinav Kumar.

To read the published version in the SCOONEWS click here

Education offers the simple ability to read, write, count and calculate which plays a vital role in the process of social progress and development. Access to education has the power to improve the quality of life of an individual by providing economic opportunities; changing public perceptions towards human rights; giving a political voice and understanding legal rights- rights, which an individual might already possess but is not able to utilize because of a lack of knowledge and awareness about what it entails. While access to education is essential, the primary aim of schooling is to transfer knowledge and teach skills to students. In other words, it is important to balance an increase in ‘quantity’ of education with a simultaneous increase in the ‘quality’ of education which is accessible and affordable for each and every individual. 

With the vision of “Leaving no one behind”, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) 2030 Agenda by the United Nations has played a pivotal role in drawing attention to the inequalities which restrict access to quality education across the globe. While SDG 4 and SDG 10 specifically talk about ’Quality Education’ and ‘Reduced Inequalities’ respectively, the remaining 15 SDG’s directly or indirectly highlight the emergent need to build an inclusive environment which provides equitable access to quality education for all. 

Inequalities do not just exist in societies exclusively but in most cases, different forms of inequality intersect with each other and exacerbate the situation for some individuals. For instance, due to prevailing prejudices, a poor woman from an indigenous community living in a rural area is likely to be more disadvantaged than any other individual in the same locality. This highlights social injustice towards individuals within a community based on their gender, caste, location and cultural habitats. It is extremely important to realise that inclusivity is not restricted to providing access to schools by building infrastructure, ensuring school facilities and increasing enrolment. Geographical location; nutrition; mental health; disabilities are some of the many factors which need to be addressed whilst advocating for inclusivity in education.  

While there are policy frameworks laid down by the Government of India to reduce and challenge inequalities, they are either not applied correctly or there are multiple forms of inequalities which make these policies redundant. In the education sector, The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 was passed in an attempt to boost primary level education enrolment rates for children aged between 6 and 14 (Government of India 2009). While this has had a positive impact on the enrolment rates in Bihar with student enrolment rates going above 90% for primary level education (Mukul 2015), figure 1 highlights the large number of disparities among different social groups. Nearly 60% of the Schedule Caste (historically termed as ‘socially backward communities’ in India) remain to be illiterate while the ‘general’ category seems to have better access to quality education with a 20% figure. Consequently, these differences tend to restrict access to other social protection systems in the long run. This implies the need to amend policies in a way which creates equal opportunities for every individual in the country, regardless of her/his economic status or social identity.

Making foundational learning part of ‘Inclusive Education’

Inclusivity is also to be met with quality learning outcomes. The World Development Report 2018 entirely focused on the urgent need to promote learning to fully utilize the potential of education (World Bank 2018). The report shares a decline in the learning abilities of students mainly from developing countries and has emphasised on the need to prioritize learning and not just schooling. Amongst the developing countries, with a population of over 1.3 billion people spread across the 28 states and 8 union territories, the challenge of providing equal access to quality education is a tremendous one for India. In fact, as per the latest census data, India has a high child population (0-18 years) percentage (39%) highlighting the increased responsibility on the state for providing equitable access to quality education to all age groups (Government of India 2018).  While this shows that India has a huge challenge to overcome right now, an optimistic way to look at it is that if an ‘efficient’ education system is put in place at the earliest, the country can reap benefits of its high demographic dividend in the long run.

There are multiple pathways to build an ‘efficient’ education system in India. There is substantial evidence at both, international and national level to prove that one of the most effective ways to attain quality education for all is investment in Early Childhood Education (ECE) (OECD 2019). The India Early Childhood Education Impact (IECEI) study, conducted by the ASER Centre and the Centre for Early Childhood Education and Development (CECED), shows that children who have access to high-quality ECE are more ‘school ready’ than those who do not (Kaul et al. 2017). Over and above ECE’s potential to improve linguistic, cognitive and socio-emotional skills of the child, ECE is also extremely beneficial for the mother, the family and the national economy in the long run (OECD 2017).

Despite increasing evidence that ECE contributes towards better education, social, health and economic indicators; universalization of pre-primary education was not given the priority it requires in India until recently. The draft National Education Policy (NEP) 2019 has stated that the learning gaps start even before children attend school. It has identified foundational learning as the root cause of the learning crisis in the country and it is now upon state governments to anticipate and simultaneously react to the challenges ahead in providing foundational literacy and numeracy skills to make all young children ‘school ready’.     In order to make sure a holistic approach towards inclusivity in education, UNESCO defines inclusive education as- “Inclusion is seen as a process of addressing and responding to the diversity of needs of all learners through increasing participation in learning, cultures and communities, and reducing exclusion within and from education. It involves changes and modifications in content, approaches, structures and strategies, with a common vision which covers all children of the appropriate age range and a conviction that it is the responsibility of the regular system to educate all children” (UNESCO 2005).

In its efforts to address inclusivity, the Government of India passed the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act, 2016 which identified the types of disabilities have been increased from 7 to 21 and that the Central Government will have the power to add more types of disabilities. This was a great step taken in addressing inclusive education as it went beyond the physical aspects of disability and included mental aspects. Inclusive Education had to be rethought and implications of disabilities on learning had to be considered and addressed.

UNESCO New Delhi is committed in promoting and ensuring the need to provide equitable access to quality education for all. Inclusive education comes out of a vision of the world based on equity, justice and fairness. In this regard, UNESCO New Delhi office launched, ‘N FOR NOSE - State of the Education Report for India 2019: Children with Disabilities’, in July 2019. It aims to articulate a vision of education for children with disabilities for 2030 as set out in national and international policy documents and legislative frameworks. Similarly, an annual report on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) will be released in 2020. As we step up our efforts in the countdown towards achieving the 2030 agenda, we reaffirm the need to form an education system which is inclusive by tackling social, cultural, economic and spatial inequalities within countries. Concerted and multi-sectoral efforts are the need of the hour to ensure the fulfilment of the SDGs’ pledge of ‘leaving no one behind’.

In 2020 and during a period where almost all countries are going through a crisis situation due to Covid19, it is our duty to reflect on the difficulties of those people who cannot switch to e-learning methods due to their inability to access the internet, computers and laptops or even lack of knowledge about online learning courses. As we advocate for education for all in such testing times, we need to ensure that individual from all backgrounds are made part of the education ecosystem which can further empower them to fight situations like these in the future.

To face the COVID-19 crisis, UNESCO has provided immediate support to countries by updating the distance learning guides for more than 1.47 billion children who are out of school because of school closures across the globe (UNESCO 2020).

As a right, learning must continue and the efforts should go more to those who are the most disadvantaged. There is an urgent need to emphasize the role of education in responding to such crises. UNESCO New Delhi Education team will continue to think and reflect on:

  • How to ensure the continuity of learning for all even in times of crisis/emergency
  • How to train teachers for their preparedness and what to include in the content of their education
  • How to organize distance education, home schooling and personalized pathways.

Related items

  • UNESCO Office in New Delhi
  • SDG: SDG 4 - Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

This article is related to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals .

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How 9 Leaders Think About Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Their Schools

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The role of diversity, equity, and inclusion in K-12 education remains under national debate as DEI more broadly faces political attacks that have focused largely on higher education and the business world.

Some district and school leaders have taken to a rebranding of DEI to focus less on explicit references to racial disparities and more on the general concepts of inclusion and belonging for all students. Experts have pointed to the continued need for specific policies and practices addressing the needs of underserved students. For instance, this frame of mind acknowledges that disparities can exist even within racially homogenous school districts.

To better understand where school and district leaders stand on what DEI offers K-12 education and what belonging and inclusion for all means, Education Week reached out to school and district leaders who are members of AASA, The School Superintendents Association.

Ahenewa El-Amin speaks with students during her AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What DEI looks like in K-12 schools

In my opinion, DEI, in a K-12 setting, means ensuring that there are no opportunity gaps for any one subgroup of students. This could be things like computer access (device as well as connectivity), having a diverse staff of certified teachers to deliver instruction, making sure that all communication is in families’ home languages, offering multiple times of day for parents to meet with teachers for conferences, providing rich books for families to have in their homes, and paying for school fees of the students who have a free and reduced lunch status.

We are the only Unified Champion school district in Tennessee [a program through Special Olympics Tennessee]. This means that we include our students with the most severe disabilities in all of our activities as well.

— Cathy Beck, director of schools in Ashland City, Tenn.

When I think of DEI efforts (we don’t use that term anymore due to the unfortunate politicization of it) in our school district, it is about paying attention to—and promoting—the participation and representation of diverse individuals and groups. We also make purposeful efforts in hiring to more closely mirror our student demographic so they can see themselves in the various positions.

Our goal should always be to have our classes, teams, clubs, etc. look similar to our student demographics.

— Theron Schutte, superintendent in Marshalltown, Iowa

For us, the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion is far more than a school board-approved policy or a priority in our strategic plan. It is, quite simply, about helping students and communities to understand that there is a place in the world for them—no matter how they show up—and that place has value. What that looks like may differ from student to student, from school to school, and from community to community. But the inclusiveness that comes with diverse and equitable work must first be centered around building a sense of belonging in every single student we serve. Only through belonging can we help our students grow and, ultimately, succeed.

I offer you a phenomenal example from a graduation ceremony at one of our developmental centers, which educates students with significant disabilities. One of the school’s graduates has a propensity to sit down on the floor frequently, and he got up from his seat and did so several times during the ceremony. When it was his turn to receive his diploma, the student stood briefly with the principal before sitting down on the stage. Without missing a beat, the principal sat down next to the student, handed the student his diploma, turned them both to face the photographer, and moved seamlessly on with the ceremony. That is the epitome of meeting students where they are, of helping them understand they belong, of celebrating milestones no matter the location, and of recognizing the value and worth that every human in our schools and communities brings to the table.

— Mark Bedell, superintendent of schools, Anne Arundel County, Md.

Successful public schools are educational communities where all students thrive. Diversity is our stance that recognizes the gifts, strengths, and assets that each student brings. Equity is making sure that the district is providing what each student needs so that there are no longer opportunity gaps in our system. And inclusion is the act of creating belonging and success for every student.

— Jennifer Spencer-liams, assistant superintendent in Tualatin, Ore .

What inclusion and belonging entails

Unfortunately, DEI has been politicized and weaponized as a nefarious concept. As educators, we must ensure that students are accepted, valued, and feel a sense of belonging so that they can learn. Emotional and physical safety are integral for achievement to occur.

At Birmingham Public Schools, we distribute a culture and climate survey to understand the needs of our students. We use that data, as well as focus groups with students, to drive initiatives that improve the experience for our students.

Our strategic plan specifically includes equity and inclusion as core values, and a strategic aim of creating a culture of unity and well-being. I am proud that our stakeholders have named that every single person in our community should be celebrated for who they are because it makes us stronger.

— Embekka Roberson, superintendent in Birmingham, Mich.

Schools must focus on educational equity to ensure every student has access to exemplary learning opportunities with the support they need. Schools must commit to creating a climate and culture that ensures all people consistently feel valued, respected, included, safe, and a strong sense of belonging.

In addition to setting intentional and deliberate goals that can be measured, the best way for schools to know if students feel they belong is by asking them. Schools must commit to a process that amplifies student voice and we must commit to ensuring students know their voice was heard and valued through meaningful action. Engaging students through advisory and action councils, as well as frequent perception surveys help us measure our students’ sense of belonging. As part of their school improvement process, Naperville schools are required to set, measure, and report on sense of belonging to the school board.

— Dan Bridges, superintendent in Naperville, Ill.

Students at Ruby Bridges Elementary School in Woodinville, Wash., play during recess on April 2, 2024. Students have access to cards with images and words on them so all students, including those who do not speak, can communicate on the playground.

Why invest in DEI and belonging

The purpose of focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the PK-12 environment is to ensure that ALL students receive access, opportunity, and success along their learning journey. School leaders can ensure that all students feel a sense of inclusion and belonging by first modeling leadership that puts the needs of ALL children first as well as being willing to confront historic barriers that may exclude some children from success. When we treat ALL kids like OUR kids, our classrooms, schools, districts, states, and nation thrive.

— Nathan Quesnel, head of school, Norwich Free Academy, Conn.

At Battle Creek Public Schools, we approach everything through an equity lens to ensure that every student feels seen by name, need, and strength. Over the past seven years, we have been intentionally transforming the student and family experience in our district to ensure we are being inclusive to our diverse community—for example, by communicating with our families in their preferred languages as much as we can, including in Spanish, Burmese, and Swahili, and by offering International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Our ultimate goal is 100 percent success for every Bearcat, and that is only possible if our students feel welcome and valued. That is the environment we strive to provide every day.

— Kimberly Carter, superintendent in Battle Creek, Mich.

With mental health issues on the rise and the rapid growth of artificial intelligence, DEI awareness and a sense of belonging are more critical than ever in our schools. It is essential that our students know that they are seen, heard, valued, and respected, or we will lose them. They need to know their identity to be successful in life.

— Alena Zachery-Ross, superintendent in Ypsilanti, Mich.

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America’s Lingering Problem With School Segregation

As the Biden administration takes aim at systemic racism and manages a pandemic that exposed racial fault lines in education, some see a chance to attack an intractable problem: school segregation.

The Lingering Problem of School Segregation

diversity issues in education

Charlie Riedel, AP-File

Students sit separated by plastic dividers during lunch on the first day of in-person learning at Wyandotte County High School, March 21, 2021, in Kansas City, Kan.

In Massachusetts, where echoes of the 1970s busing riots still haunt the commonwealth's public school system, a new integration effort is underfoot in education – one that could, for the first time, shine a light on the state's hypersegregated districts and push them to change the status quo inside and outside their borders.

"Being from Lynn, everyone thinks my school district is diverse," Brendan Crighton, a Democratic state senator, says about the urban outcrop north of Boston that he represents, an early industrial center brought to its knees after a major fire in the 1980s, but one that's currently experiencing a resurgence in part due to a thriving immigrant community.

"On the surface, it is diverse," he says about the 16,000-student school district, where 42% of students are Hispanic, 37% are white, 11% are Black and 23% of families live below the federal poverty line. "But our schools are actually highly segregated. To get people to see that and be able to change that would be a huge accomplishment."

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diversity issues in education

To that end, Crighton filed a bill this month that would label schools and school districts as either "diverse," "segregated" or "intensely segregated," and would institute annual reporting on a host of new data points, including the racial composition of students taking the SAT or ACT, advanced placement courses and other certain math and science classes. It would also establish a voluntary competitive grant program for districts seeking to better integrate their schools, as well as groups of school districts that partner to increase diversity across parts of Massachusetts.

"This is not a super-complicated policy solution," Crighton says. "We want to break it down so policymakers can see this as a clear problem, and I think it will encourage districts to have these harder conversations. I think we can find a way to make that happen."

Similar efforts are underway in Maryland, Minnesota, New York and many other statehouses where lawmakers are wrestling with the most intractable and contentious issue plaguing the country's public school systems – segregated schools.

The momentum comes as the Biden administration takes aim at systemic racism and inequality in the wake of George Floyd's death and in the midst of a pandemic that exposed and then exacerbated major racial fault lines in America's education, health care and housing systems.

Earlier this week in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the president talked about "consigning millions of American children to under-resourced schools" in a speech he delivered marking the 100 years that's passed since white rioters burned to the ground the prosperous and thriving Black neighborhood of Greenwood and massacred hundreds of people who lived there.

The president's fiscal 2022 budget request includes a $20 billion equity grant that would more than double the federal Title I program for schools serving lots of low-income families – with all new funding prioritized for states that find more equitable ways to target the aid to schools that need it the most.

Biden's messaging "complements and reaffirms" a lot of the work that's been underway for years in Massachusetts, Crighton says.

In fact, the Massachusetts bill has roots in two federal efforts – the Strength In Diversity Act, a bill from Rep. Bobby Scott, Virginia Democrat and chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, which cleared the House last year but died in the Senate, and the Obama-era Opening Doors, Expanding Opportunities grant, which the Trump administration eliminated in 2017. Both sought to push states and school districts to tackle segregation in their public school systems.

"For years, people have been scared to talk about this because of the history of Boston in the '70s and busing, but it's shifted a lot with all these conversations about race and the action in the past few years," Crighton says.

Public opinion seems to be on Crighton's side.

New polling from the Century Foundation found that 84% of people said it was somewhat, very or extremely important that public schools have a mix of students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and 83% said it was important to have a mix of students from different economic backgrounds.

Historically, though, the issue has proven largely intractable.

Research published last year by Harvard University's Making Caring Common project shows that while the vast majority of parents – regardless of political affiliation, race and class – strongly favor schools that are racially and economically integrated, affluent white families who have more choices for where they enroll their children almost always end up enrolling them in schools that mostly serve other affluent white families.

The biggest reason for that, the researchers found, was that wealthy white parents value school quality over integration, view integrated schools as "educationally inferior" and determine school quality in large part based on how many other white, advantaged parents send their children to a particular school.

That's been the crux of the problem in Maryland's Montgomery County, a school district bordering the District of Columbia that on its face is racially and economically diverse but where there exist pockets of intense wealth that have maintained hyper-segregated feeder patterns for decades.

Controversial efforts to rezone the school district have been nearly a decade in the making, and the ongoing battle is held up by Maryland gubernatorial candidate John King, a former education secretary under the Obama administration, as one of the most blatant examples of how a progressive state like Maryland still wrestles with major issues of inequality.

In New York City, former school Superintendent Richard Carranza announced his departure in February, citing as one of his main reasons for leaving the failure of Mayor Bill de Blasio to fully commit to and support his vision for integration.

For Crighton, chairman of the state Senate's housing committee, taking a hard look at school segregation in the state was a natural next step of his committee's efforts to drive integration in the housing market. He says he expects the proposed bill to draw widespread support next legislative session, especially on the heels of last year's controversial zoning overhaul, which cleared a path for more Black and Hispanic families to access communities they've long been locked out of.

"It's going to take a long time to get all communities to do the right things, but we're already seeing multi-family projects that were previously held up by a few votes now happen," Crighton says. "It's making a difference."

What will be more difficult, he concedes, but is just as important to fully tackling the issue of segregated schools – especially in school districts like Lynn, which is home to 11 schools that are more than 100 years old and where property taxes don't bolster the system in the same way they do in wealthier districts – is a massive injection of funding for school infrastructure needs.

"The quality of our school buildings has always been linked to school segregation," he says, noting that cities just outside Boston, like Lynn, suffer from an outdated school construction funding formula that "creates barriers for low-income communities and communities of color to finance new construction."

Crighton has also filed a bill that would provide additional funding to school construction projects that increase diversity.

"We continue to build state-of-the-art schools in wealthier and whiter communities, which only further segregates our schools and neighborhoods," Crighton says. "Putting real dollars behind school integration can help make it a reality."

The Biden administration is in the process of pushing an infrastructure package that would send $100 billion to K-12 schools to update facilities, though it's unclear the votes are there to drive it through the evenly split Senate.

"Unless we dump a ton more funding into this, we're never going to catch up. And as a result, you'll see more white flight than you already are in gateway cities where, even if people want to be in a diverse classroom and want their kids to learn in a diverse setting, they're not going to send their kids to a school that's falling apart," Crighton says. "They can't compete."

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Valuing Diversity: Developing a Deeper Understanding of All Young Children's Behavior

Diverse group of preschoolers with their hands on a globe

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Everything we think, say, and do is processed through our own cultural backgrounds. But because culture is absorbed and passed down from generation to generation rather than explicitly taught, we’re seldom aware of it.

Culture shapes not only our values and beliefs, but also our gender roles, family structures, languages, dress, food, etiquette, approaches to disabilities, child-rearing practices, and even our expectations for children’s behavior. In this way, culture creates diversity.

Cultural diversity and teachers

For teachers, it is essential to see and understand your own culture in order to see and understand how the cultures of children and their families influence children’s behavior. Only then can you give every child a fair chance to succeed.

Think about your own upbringing. How did your family’s expectations affect what you did? Were your parents, siblings, and other relatives close or distant? Were they strict, lenient, or somewhere in between? Were your school’s expectations any different? All of this, and more, plays a part in how you view the behavior of the children you teach.

These ideas lie at the heart of NAEYC’s position statement Advancing Equity in Early Childhood Education . Its guiding principles include

  • Recognizing that “self-awareness, humility, respect, and a willingness to learn are key to becoming a teacher who equitably and effectively supports all children and families”
  • Developing a strong understanding of culture and diversity
  • Understanding that “families are the primary context for children’s development and learning”

One major takeaway from the position statement is that early childhood educators must support consistently warm and caring relationships between families and their children, respect families’ languages and cultures, and incorporate those languages and cultures into the curriculum, their teaching practices, and the learning environment.

Cultural diversity and young children

Children bring their own set of culturally based expectations, skills, talents, abilities, and values with them into the classroom. And they begin to develop their self-concept (at least in part) from how others see them. To form positive self-concepts, children must honor and respect their own families and cultures and have others honor and respect these key facets of their identities too. If the classroom doesn’t reflect and validate their families and cultures, children may feel invisible, unimportant, incompetent, and ashamed of who they are.

Many people, including educators, have long believed it is better to act colorblind and/or “cultureblind”—that is, to not acknowledge color or culture. But research has shown that this artificial blindness keeps us from recognizing, acknowledging, and appreciating important differences. Worse, it may lead to unintentional bias toward or disrespect for those who are different from us.

We know now that acknowledgments of color and culture are essential for legitimizing differences. Color and culture make each one of us special and enable us to offer unique gifts and opportunities to groups we are part of. At the same time, color and culture help children learn about each other and the world. In short, color and culture enrich classrooms.

To appreciate what each child can contribute to the class, teachers need to learn about each family’s cultural values. Helping children to see themselves in your pedagogy, curriculum, environment, and materials enables them (and their families) to feel welcomed and valued.

Take a look around your classroom.

  • Why not have the children create their own posters with their own artwork, things from home, and photos families can supply?
  • Why not forge connections and support children’s learning by asking family members to help children use their home languages throughout the room?

It’s important to see cultural and linguistic differences as resources, not as deficits. As NAEYC’s equity position statement puts it, “Children’s learning is facilitated when teaching practices, curricula, and learning environments build on children’s strengths and are developmentally, culturally, and linguistically appropriate for each child.”

The difference between equitable and equal

Equal is not the same as equitable. Every child in your group has different needs, skills, interests, and abilities. Equal would mean giving all children the same activities, materials, and books. Equitable means ensuring that you consider each child’s strengths, context, and needs and provide all children with the opportunities that will support them in reaching their potential.

It’s crucial to recognize the inequities that children and their families face—in school and out. The position statement reminds us that “dominant social biases are rooted in the social, political, and economic structures of the United States. Powerful messages—conveyed through the media, symbols, attitudes, and actions—continue to reflect and promote both explicit and implicit bias.” For example, research conducted by Yale University professor Walter Gilliam clearly shows that young African American boys are subject to higher rates of suspension and expulsion than their White European American peers.

How cultural diversity shapes behavior

Your culture and the children’s cultures aren’t the only cultures at work in your classroom. Every school and early childhood education program has a culture too. The cultures of most American schools are based on White European American values. As the makeup of the US population becomes more diverse, there is more cultural dissonance—which impacts children’s behavior.

White European American culture has an individual orientation that teaches children to function independently, stand out, talk about themselves, and view property as personal. In contrast, many other cultures value interdependence, fitting in, helping others and being helped, being modest, and sharing property. In fact, some languages have no words for I, me, or mine .

Children who find themselves in an unfamiliar environment—such as a classroom that reflects a culture different from their home culture—are likely to feel confused, isolated, alienated, conflicted, and less competent because what they’ve learned so far in their home culture simply doesn’t apply. They may not understand the rules, or they may be unable to communicate their needs in the school’s language.

Rethinking challenging behavior

Because your responses to children’s conflicts and challenging behavior are culture bound, it is all too easy to misinterpret children’s words or actions. The next time a child seems defiant, ask yourself, Is that behavior culturally influenced? Could I be misunderstanding the child’s words or actions?

For example, White European Americans tend to use implicit commands, such as, “Johnny, can you please put the blocks away?” Children raised in the White European American culture understand that they are being told to put away the blocks. But children raised in the African American culture may interpret this utterance differently. In their culture, adult commands are usually explicit: “DuShane, put away the blocks.” To African American children, an implicit command in the form of a question may seem to offer a choice about how to behave.

Culture also defines personal space, including how much space feels appropriate in the block area, at circle/meeting time, and in the dramatic play area. In some cultures, children feel comfortable playing close to one another; in others, the same space may feel claustrophobic and lead children to hit or shove a playmate who seems too near. Similarly, you may stand too close or too far away, depending on children’s cultures. For example, if Cadence doesn’t pay attention to your request to keep the sand in the sandbox, you may be too far away to connect with her.

In White European American culture, teachers expect children to sit still and maintain eye contact to show that they’re paying attention. But in other cultures, children might show their interest by joining in; they may learn through hearing or telling a story, watching others, or using trial and error. If they don’t understand the lesson, they might have a hard time paying attention. Or they may be paying attention in a different way.

Culture counts

There are many rewards for teachers who take culture into account. You can form authentic, caring relationships with children and families; build connections between what children already know and what they need to know; select activities, materials, and instructional strategies that honor children’s cultures and life experiences; and teach children the skills they need to succeed in a global society.

diversity issues in education

From the Pages of Young Children : Research on How Culture Affects Learning

For more examples of how culture affects learning, check out “ Diverse Children, Uniform Standards: Using Early Learning and Development Standards in Multicultural Classrooms ” in the November 2019 issue of Young Children. The authors, Jeanne L. Reid, Catherine Scott-Little, and Sharon Lynn Kagan, provide several examples of culturally influenced differences in how children pay attention, approach learning, seek guidance, and express their knowledge and skills. They also offer tips to help teachers address standards for early learning that are not sensitive to these cultural differences.

This article supports the following NAEYC Early Learning Program Accreditation standards and topic areas

Barbara Kaiser  is the coauthor of Challenging Behavior in Young Children  and Meeting the Challenge.  She has over 30 years experience working with young children, educators, and families. She has taught at Acadia University in Nova Scotia and at Concordia University and College Marie-Victorin in Montreal, Canada, and presented workshops, keynote speeches, and webinars on challenging behavior in the United States, Canada, and has provided workshops and keynotes on challenging behavior throughout the world.

Barbara Kaiser

Judy Sklar Rasminsky is a freelance writer who specializes in education and health. With coauthor Barbara Kaiser, she has written Challenging Behavior in Young Children  (now in its fourth edition) and Challenging Behavior in Elementary and Middle School, which both earned Texty awards from the Text and Academic Authors Association; and Meeting the Challenge, a bestseller selected as a comprehensive membership benefit by NAEYC. For more information, see the authors' website, challengingbehavior.com , and blog, childrenwithchallengingbehavior.com .

Judy Sklar Rasminsky

Vol. 13, No. 2

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Racial and ethnic equity in US higher education

Higher education in the United States (not-for-profit two-year and four-year colleges and universities) serves a diversifying society. By 2036, more than 50 percent of US high school graduates will be people of color, 1 Peace Bransberger and Colleen Falkenstern, Knocking at the college door: Projections of high school graduates through 2037 – Executive summary , Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), December 2020. and McKinsey analysis shows that highly research-intensive (R1) institutions (131 as of 2020 2 Institutions with very high research activity as assessed by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education. ) have publicly shared plans or aspirations regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Ninety-five percent of R1 institutions also have a senior DEI executive, and diversity leaders in the sector have formed their own consortiums to share expertise. 3 Two examples are the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education and the Liberal Arts Diversity Consortium.

Despite ongoing efforts, our analysis suggests that historically marginalized racial and ethnic populations—Black, Hispanic and Latino, and Native American and Pacific Islander—are still underrepresented in higher education among undergraduates and faculty and in leadership. Students from these groups also have worse academic outcomes as measured by graduation rates. Only 8 percent of institutions have at least equitable student representation while also helping students from underrepresented populations graduate at the same rate as the general US undergraduate population. 4 For a closer look at the data behind the racial and ethnic representation among students and faculty in higher education, see Diana Ellsworth, Erin Harding, Jonathan Law, and Duwain Pinder, “ Racial and ethnic equity in US higher education: Students and faculty ,” McKinsey, July 14, 2022. Not included in this discussion are Asian Americans, who face a distinct set of challenges in higher education. These issues deserve a separate discussion.

These finding are not novel, but what is significant is the slow rate of progress. Current rates of change suggest that it would take about 70 years for all not-for-profit institutions to reflect underrepresented students fully in their incoming student population, primarily driven by recent increases in Hispanic and Latino student attendance. For Black and Native American students and for faculty from all underrepresented populations, there was effectively no progress from 2013 to 2020. 5 For a closer look at college completion rates, see Diana Ellsworth, Erin Harding, Jonathan Law, and Duwain Pinder, “ Racial and ethnic equity in US higher education: Completion rates ,” McKinsey, July 14, 2022.

Intensified calls for racial and ethnic equity in every part of society have made the issue particularly salient. In this article, we outline some of the key insights from our report on racial and ethnic equity in higher education in the United States. We report our analysis of racial and ethnic representation in student and faculty bodies and of outcomes for underrepresented populations. Then we discuss how institutions can meet goals around racial and ethnic equity.

A mirror of wider systemic inequities

Colleges and universities are places of teaching and learning, research and creative expression, and impact on surrounding communities. As the data and analysis in this report illustrate, these institutions have been reflections of existing racial and socioeconomic inequities across society.

These hierarchies include chronic disparities in outcomes throughout the education system. Consider that students from underrepresented populations still graduate from high school at lower rates compared to White and Asian students and tend to be less prepared for college. 6 “Public high school graduation rates,” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), US Department of Education, May 2021; “Secondary school completion: College and career readiness benchmarks,” American Council on Education (ACE), 2020; “Secondary school completion: Participation in advanced placement,” ACE, 2020. Evidence suggests that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are exacerbating these high school inequities, 7 For more, see Emma Dorn, Bryan Hancock, Jimmy Sarakatsannis, and Ellen Viruleg, “ COVID-19 and education: The lingering effects of unfinished learning ,” McKinsey, July 27, 2021. which heavily influence the makeup of higher education’s student population. Forty-one percent of all 18- to 21-year-olds were enrolled in undergraduate studies in 2018 compared to 37 percent of Black students, 36 percent of Hispanic students, and 24 percent of American Indian students. 8 “College enrollment rates,” NCES, US Department of Education, May 2022.

Our analysis suggests that higher education has opportunities to address many of these gaps. However, our analysis of student representation over time also suggests that progress has been uneven. In 2013, 38 percent of all not-for-profit institutions had a more diverse population than would be expected given the racial and ethnic makeup of the traditional college-going population—that is, 18- to 24-year-olds, our proxy for equitable racial representation—within a given home state. By 2020, that number was 44 percent. At this rate, the student bodies of not-for-profit institutions overall will reach representational parity in about 70 years, but that growth would be driven entirely by increases in the share of Hispanic and Latino students.

Many institutions have indicated that in addition to increasing student-body diversity, they also seek to improve graduation rates for students from underrepresented populations. A positive finding from our analysis is that nearly two-thirds of all students attend not-for-profit institutions with higher-than-average graduation rates for students from underrepresented populations. However, when we overlay institution representativeness with graduation rates, only 8 percent of students attend four-year institutions that have student bodies that reflect their students’ home states’ traditional college population and that help students from underrepresented populations graduate within six years at an above-average rate (Exhibit 1). 9 For institution-specific completion data, see Diana Ellsworth, Erin Harding, Jonathan Law, and Duwain Pinder, “ Racial and ethnic equity in US higher education: Completion rates ,” McKinsey, July 14, 2022.

In addition, our analysis shows that from 2013 to 2020, only one-third of four-year institutions had improved both racial and ethnic representation and completion rates for students from underrepresented populations at a higher rate than underrepresented populations’ natural growth rate in that period (2 percent). If we look at improvements in racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic representation among students, only 7 percent of four-year institutions have progressed.

Among faculty, complex reasons including the changing structure of academia and patterns of racial inequity in society mean that faculty members from underrepresented populations are less likely to be represented and to ascend the ranks than their White counterparts. 10 Colleen Flaherty, “The souls of Black professors,” Inside Higher Ed, October 21, 2020; Fernanda Zamudio-Suarez, “Race on campus: Anti-CRT laws take aim at colleges,” email, The Chronicle of Higher Education , April 26, 2022; Mike Lauer, “Trends in diversity within the NIH-funded workforce,” National Institutes of Health (NIH), August 7, 2018. Additionally, representational disparity among faculty is more acute in R1 institutions. When we analyzed the full-time faculty population relative to the population with a bachelor’s degree or higher (given that most faculty positions require at least a bachelor’s degree), in 2020, approximately 75 percent of not-for-profit institutions were less diverse than the broader bachelor’s degree–attaining population, and 95 percent of institutions defined as R1 were less diverse. Additionally, the pace of change is slow: it would take nearly 300 years to reach parity for all not-for-profit institutions at the current pace and 450 years for R1 institutions.

Higher education’s collective aspirations for parity of faculty diversity could arguably be even greater. Faculty diversity could be compared to the total population (rather than just the population with a bachelor’s degree or higher) for several reasons. First, comparing faculty diversity to bachelor’s degree recipients incorporates existing inequities in higher-education access and completion across races and ethnicities (which have been highlighted above). Second, the impact of faculty (especially from the curriculum they create and teach, as well as the research, scholarship, and creative expression they produce) often has repercussions across the total US population.

Therefore, in this research, we compared faculty diversity to the total population. Our analysis shows that 88 percent of not-for-profit colleges and universities have full-time faculties that are less diverse than the US population as of 2020. That number rises to 99 percent for institutions defined as R1. Progress in diversifying full-time faculty ranks to match the total population over the past decade has been negligible; it would take more than 1,000 years at the current pace to reach parity for all not-for-profit institutions. (R1 institutions will never reach parity at current rates.) When looking at both faculty and students, few institutions are racially representative of the country; only 11 percent of not-for-profit institutions and 1 percent of R1 institutions are (Exhibit 2).

With faculty representativeness as the goal, it is important to highlight multiple opportunities to improve across the pipeline. From 2018 to 2019, there was a four-percentage-point gap between the percent of individuals from underrepresented populations with a bachelor’s degree and the percent of the total population with a bachelor’s degree. In the same period, there was a 12-percentage-point gap between the groups in regard to doctorate degrees, whose holders are a significant source for new full-time faculty. 11 “Degrees conferred by race/ethnicity and sex,” NCES, US Department of Education, accessed June 22, 2022. Therefore, addressing the lack of advanced-degree holders is one near-term priority for moving toward parity. Additionally, multiple studies have highlighted that faculty from underrepresented populations have less success receiving funding, getting published, or having their recommendations adopted, despite high scientific novelty, which could be driving the increased gaps at R1 institutions. 12 See the full report for more details.

Finally, colleges and universities are often prominent employers in their communities. University workforces reflect societal patterns of racialized occupational segregation, with employees of color disproportionately in low-salary, nonleadership roles. Our analysis suggests that these roles also shrunk by 2 to 3 percent from 2013 to 2020.

Racial and ethnic equity in US higher education

A webinar on ‘Racial and ethnic equity in US higher education’

Institutional reflection and progress.

Eighty-four percent of presidents in higher education who responded to a 2021 survey said issues of race and ethnicity have become more important for their institutions. 13 Scott Jaschik and Doug Lederman, 2021 Survey of College and University Presidents , Inside Higher Ed, 2021. However, sectorwide challenges such as declining enrollment, greater public scrutiny—accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic—and stagnating completion rates can make institutional progress on racial and ethnic equity more complicated. 14 Richard Vedder, “Why is public support for state universities declining?,” Forbes , May 24, 2018; Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, “Colleges lost 465,000 students this fall. The continued erosion of enrollment is raising alarm.,” Washington Post , January 13, 2022; Emma Dorn, Andre Dua, and Jonathan Law, “ Rising costs and stagnating completion rates: Who is bucking the trend? ,” McKinsey, April 2022. In this context, institutions looking to advance their goals around racial equity could consider five broad actions learned from their peers who are further along in their efforts:

  • realignment
Institutions looking to advance their goals around racial equity could consider five broad actions learned from their peers who are further along in their efforts.

While none of these strategies is a magic bullet, some or all of them may be useful for decision makers throughout higher education.

To start, decision makers and stakeholders at individual institutions could understand and reflect on their institution’s role in ongoing racial inequities before applying those insights in a review of its current systems. The initial reflection can create an environment of intellectual and psychological honesty and make conversations about each institution’s commitment to rectifying racial inequities feel more natural and productive.

After a comprehensive historical review , institutions could identify the ways in which their processes, systems, and norms contribute to the marginalization of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. For instance, universities could incorporate processes designed to boost racial equity in their administration of research and grant activities. Such processes would consider factors from researcher diversity to how the execution of the research may affect racial and ethnic groups differently.

Each institution could then realign its resources based on its stakeholders’ shared aspirations for racial equity. Decision makers could consider areas of initial focus, the breadth of impact they wish to have, and the institutional capabilities they can use to realize their goals.

Leaders may respond by embedding their new racial-equity priorities into their institution’s culture. This work involves incorporating racial equity as part of the strategic plan, dedicating sufficient resources to the effort, and assigning a senior leader and staff to support the president in implementing ideas and tracking progress. Clear and frequent communication to each institution’s stakeholders—including alumni, staff, and donors—at each stage of this work will ensure that people in every part of the institution and its extended community are progressing together toward a shared goal.

To be sure, many institutions have begun to explore measures that address some of the inequities embedded in higher education. Some of these actions may light the path for collective action by all institutions to achieve sectorwide reform . For instance, colleges and universities can provide learning opportunities more equitably if they eliminate race- and wealth-based advantages in admissions, such as legacy and donor admissions. Johns Hopkins University is one institution that has eliminated legacy admissions, which helped to increase the share of Federal Pell Grant–eligible students from 9 percent to 19 percent over the past decade. 15 Pell Grants are awarded by the US Department of Education to low-income students seeking postsecondary education. For more, see “Federal Pell Grants are usually awarded only to undergraduate students,” US Department of Education, accessed June 29, 2022. Sara Weissman, “Johns Hopkins ditched legacy admissions to boost diversity – and it worked,” Diverse: Issues in Higher Education , February 5, 2020. Significantly, the change has made no meaningful difference in alumni giving. 16 Scott Simon, “Johns Hopkins sees jump in low-income students after ending legacy admissions,” National Public Radio (NPR), January 25, 2020.

As centers of research and creative expression, higher-education institutions could also consider targeted programs that support the work and progression of researchers from underrepresented populations. For example, the University of Massachusetts Boston allocates at least 20 percent of its faculty-hiring budget for pairing a specialized hire with a complementary hire from a historically marginalized group.

Finally, universities could ensure that their financial success is translated into positive outcomes for the surrounding communities. Action from the higher-education sector could result in institutions—especially ones with significant endowments—committing to investing in their surrounding communities.

By pursuing racial-equity goals, the higher-education sector may achieve gains in core areas of impact. If sustained, these investments in institutional action could benefit students, faculty, community members, and society.

Diana Ellsworth is a partner in McKinsey’s Atlanta office, Erin Harding is an associate partner in the Chicago office, Jonathan Law is a senior partner in the Southern California office and leader of the global higher education practice, and Duwain Pinder is a partner in the Ohio office and leader in the McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility.

The authors wish to thank Arthur Bianchi, Avery Cambridge, Elisia Ceballo-Countryman, Judy D’Agostino, Ayebea Darko, Maclaine Fields, Kyle Hutzler, Charmaine Lester, and Sadie Pate for their contributions.

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Pushback over diversity in the classroom push teachers out of schools

The U.S. is facing a school staffing shortage.

At the end of the 2021 school year, sixth-grade teacher Anita Carson decided to resign.

Carson, of Polk County, Florida, told ABC News that she didn't want to leave her students behind. But when new laws began to restrict what teachers could teach about diversity, she said it would make "an already hard job – even if you love it – really unmanageable."

Across the country, legislation has forced strict limitations on classroom curriculum and discussions concerning race and LGBTQ issues.

Schools and libraries have reported a massive increase in book-banning efforts from legislators and parents on topics like racism, race, sexual orientation, gender and more.

The U.S. has 300,000 teacher and school staff vacancies according to the National Education Association. And the culture wars over censorship and diversity in the classroom have pushed out teachers like Carson from schools.

"We are seeing that teachers are personally targeted. They're targeted in social media, they're targeted in everyday life," said Emily Kirkpatrick, the executive director of the National Council of Teachers of English. "It is leading towards an extinguishing of the passion of why teachers got into the profession in the first place."

PHOTO: Anita Carson, a former Polk County, Florida, teacher, resigned from her position due to incoming laws that restrict what teachers can teach about race and diversity.

The fight over education

Several bills across the nation have broadly targeted race, gender and sexual orientation in classroom education.

Supporters of these bills say that students should not feel shame, guilt or discomfort based on school lessons. Many teachers have reported heavy vetting when it comes to books and curriculum; several math textbooks in Florida were rejected for allegedly having racial "indoctrination."

MORE: Authors of color speak out against efforts to ban books on race

"We can and should teach this history without labeling a young child as an oppressor or requiring he or she feel guilt or shame based on their race or sex," said Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt when he signed an anti-race education bill in May 2021. "I refuse to tolerate otherwise during a time when we are already so polarized."

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis shared similar sentiments when signing the now-blocked Stop WOKE Act , which limited education on race and was deemed unconstitutional by a judge.

"No one should be instructed to feel as if they are not equal or shamed because of their race," DeSantis said in June. "In Florida, we will not let the far-left woke agenda take over our schools and workplaces. There is no place for indoctrination or discrimination in Florida."

PHOTO: Willie Carver, a former teacher in Kentucky, left his job due to growing pressures against lessons on race as well as discrimination he faced as a gay man.

Some teachers say these efforts will block them from discussing the nation's past and present accurately.

They also say these efforts are eroding the quality of public education and making it harder for students and teachers from marginalized groups to succeed.

"We have a nationwide challenge with getting students to read and to want to read," Kirkpatrick said. "Teachers work so hard to find books that will appeal to students and that students can identify with and relate to. And so what legislators are doing is making that extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible."

Stories from teachers who left

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Michael James, a former special education teacher in Escambia County, Florida, resigned after he alleged that pictures of historic Black figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Harriett Tubman were taken down from his classroom walls because they were inappropriate.

The district has refuted the claims, saying officials were "astounded by Mr. James' allegations, as his demeanor in the classroom that day was very friendly and accommodating."

The district claims officials told James he would have to change his board to accommodate state standards and that he obliged, though James said he did not agree to this.

James told ABC News that he taught in a diverse school district where 34.6% of students are Black and felt it was important that his students see themselves represented in the classroom.

PHOTO: Willie Carver is seen in this photo teaching class in an undated photo. Carver, a former teacher in Kentucky, left his job due to growing pressures against lessons on race as well as discrimination he faced as a gay man.

"Bottom line -- this is all about small precious children that need to be protected, loved and rigorously educated and not treated less than others in a higher income area or poorly because of race or income," James said in a statement.

Similarly, 2022 Kentucky Teacher of the Year Willie Carver resigned from his position at Montgomery County High School after he says he faced harassment from parents and residents over his sexuality, as well as restrictions on what educators could teach about race.

MORE: Book bans and anti-LGBTQ laws: how queer authors are responding

"The last year began with me hearing administrators telling us not to teach racial things and us having to push back pretty hard," Carver told ABC News. "I have very few students of color. It is all the more important for us to make sure they feel seen or that they feel represented. It's also all the more important that my students who are white have experiences with perspectives outside of their own, especially when they're faced with such racism at home, often, or in their communities."

Carver, a gay man, also said his school district did little to defend him from attacks on his identity from a local woman who claimed he was "grooming" children in a student-run LGBTQ group.

Carver is now working as an academic adviser at the University of Kentucky.

Montgomery superintendent Matt Thompson told ABC News in an email, "Mr. Carver is a wonderful English and French teacher. We wish him well in his new endeavor."

Carson, the former Florida teacher, now works as a community organizer for the local political advocacy group Equality Florida. The activist group fights against the very bills that pushed Carson to leave her work as an educator. She said if parents can come to understand what's being taught in the classroom, kids would benefit.

"This idea that teachers are trying to hide things from parents when we've been spending decades, begging for parents' involvement and having curriculum nights and parent conferences and constantly having events that parents can come to … it's incredibly false and toxic," Carson said.

She said these bills pit parents against teachers and severely limit conversations about how to best serve the students.

"I left teaching but I could not leave advocating for my kids and advocating for students," Carson said.

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A Troubling Lack of Diversity in Educational Materials

The author of a new report on the representation of social groups in educational materials shares a few things teachers can do to ensure that all of their students are reflected in class resources.

Elementary school teacher reading a book to students in classroom

Teaching and learning experts have emphasized the importance of cultural responsiveness in fostering engaging learning experiences for students. Educators who use this approach make connections between the curriculum and students’ experiences, affirm and integrate students’ culture in the environment, build on their preexisting knowledge and skills to learn content, and enhance their accurate knowledge of diverse people and different perspectives.

In a recent New America research report titled “ The Representation of Social Groups in U.S. Educational Materials and Why It Matters ,” I conducted a meta-analysis of research that addresses how culturally responsive materials support student learning and how different social groups are represented within educational materials. These findings generated takeaways that can be applied to educational settings.

Mirrors and Windows

When describing children’s experiences with literature, Rudine Sims Bishop popularized the concept of “mirrors and windows,” which researchers and educators still apply. Mirrors refer to materials that make connections with students’ daily experiences, whereas windows expose students to and help them acknowledge and appreciate different contexts and cultures.

Students may identify with characters based on familiar circumstances and life experiences, similar personalities, shared hobbies, common heritages, and social identity such as race, ethnicity, and gender. When materials are mirrors, students are more positively engaged in their learning process (i.e., asking questions and completing assignments).

Culturally responsive materials can enhance students’ engagement, improve their academic achievement, and support their written and oral language development and reading comprehension. Materials that are mirrors can serve as bridges to materials that are windows. Students also value learning about people who have different circumstances, perspectives, and cultures.

Some researchers define educational materials as “societal curriculum” because they indirectly teach students about cultures, languages, attitudes, behaviors, and society’s expectations of and values attributed to them and different people based on social identity markers. Characters also influence children’s racial/ethnic and gender identity development and their understanding of different racial, ethnic, and gender groups.

Representation of Social Groups

When examining windows and mirrors available for different racial, ethnic, and gender groups, research indicates an underrepresentation and patterns of limited and narrow portrayals of characters from certain social groups, even with some progress.

Studies of children’s books indicate that most of the characters within the sample are White, ranging from half to 90 percent of the illustrations. Characters who represent Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities are about 10 percent of the illustrations or fewer, with some ethnic and racial groups featured at 1 percent. Textbook analyses indicate that European White Americans are featured in half or more of pictorials and illustrations (in some cases more than 80 percent), and people of BIPOC communities are featured less frequently, with some groups featured as low as 1 percent. Both cases differ from U.S. Census demographics.

Research typically examines gender from a female/male binary perspective. Studies from the 20th century to the present indicate a fluctuation of representation, with some periods featuring males more than females (sometimes twice as much), and other times there is a balance. One study that examined gender representation in award-winning books found no nonbinary characters, whereas a study that focused on LGBTQ-themed books found transgender characters represented.

Educational software also reveals a similar gender disparity, with males in some cases presented twice as much or more than females. One study highlighted a gradual decrease in female character representation between pre-K and 12th grade. When examining the intersection of racial/ethnic and gender identities, findings in children’s books reveal that characters of color are often males, and female characters are often White.

Researchers identified patterns of narrow and problematic portrayals, and also promising and positive depictions that may vary with each racial and ethnic group, such as mixing elements of tribal groups when presenting Native Americans or Asian Americans in lifestyles from several centuries in the past.

Educational texts may use a “heroes and holiday” approach in recognizing different heritages, focusing on celebrations and historical figures. In some cases, texts portray members of certain communities in the United States as not American. Other studies note inaccurate and/or incomplete information regarding the portrayal of people, events, and cultures.

Female characters are often presented as passive, dependent, and submissive, and engaged in activities that include shopping, cooking, and caretaking. However, there is a shift toward portraying females as more active and engaged in a variety of roles. Nonbinary and transgender characters are rarely portrayed, and those characters of intersectional racial/ethnic and gender identities may be presented in limiting and problematic portrayals, with occasional affirming depictions.

Applying Findings to Educational Settings

The report concluded with three takeaways that can inform educators of strategies to implement in their settings.

Create a sense of belonging:  A fuller story of the United States, its people, and demographic subgroups is needed. Affirm that students are part of learning environments and communities by including U.S. demographic subgroups in American history curricula and educational materials generally. Educators should ensure that materials reflect American people, history, current events, and society and provide a balance of windows and mirrors.

Develop cultural authenticity: Scholars noted the cultural background of content creators and if they shared the same background as the primary characters. When choosing and developing educational materials, examine the characters, their activities, and the creator’s ability to authentically represent complex depictions. This could mean creating a vetting system for materials and curricula to ensure that they are authentic and accurate.

Recognize nuanced identity: Details of stories and characters, such as interactions and relationships between characters, names, clothing, and variation within groups, are important and can support students in identifying, relating, and connecting to a variety of careers, disciplines, and hobbies. Educators can curate a list of culturally responsive materials that offer opportunities to connect and identify with characters.

Culturally responsive education, when done well with intention, makes all students feel they are a part of the educational community.



Diversity in the Classrooms: A Human-Centered Approach to Schools

  • Published: 17 April 2020
  • Volume 51 , pages 429–439, ( 2020 )

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This article explores the perceptions of experiences and insights of four Alberta teachers on the understanding of diversity in the classrooms. The teachers in this multiple case study argue that the popular understanding of diversity, especially in schools, is often supported by American contextualized narrative of polarized racial views focusing on assumptions of contrasting ‘whiteness’ visible in race, culture and socio-economic status associated to ones’ skin colour, for instance it recognizes dark-skinned students as diverse as opposed to teachers who are perceived simply as a large group of ‘white, middle-class ladies’. Such conceptualization of diversity is problematic as its social-constructed understanding implies that teachers of European descent share a common ‘Euro-centered’ history, culture, and ethnicity, while Europe is in fact an ethnically, historically and culturally diverse continent. These assumptions have serious implications on teaching and learning as it directly reflects on teacher preparation programs, professional development practices and educational policies. The selective approach to diversity based on race and culture does a disservice to education’s purpose as it over-focuses on visible aspects of differences among students while it disregards the universal needs of a community of learners in schools. This paper advocates for a human-centered understanding of diversity in schools, which seeks to understand diversity beyond the socially constructed borders surrounding race, culture and gender, often used to define teachers as simply ‘white’ in the context of diversity in Canada.

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The Texas School District That Provided the Blueprint for an Attack on Public Education

By Jessica Winter

An illustration of a white pencil erratically scribbling over the silhouette of a young student on a crimson background.

In October, 2018, on the night of a high-school homecoming dance in Southlake, Texas, a group of white students gathered at a friend’s house for an after-party. At some point, about eight of them piled together on a bed and, with a phone, filmed themselves chanting the N-word. The blurry, seesawing video went viral, and, days later, a special meeting was called by the board of the Carroll Independent School District—“Home of the Dragons”—one of the wealthiest and highest-rated districts in the state. At the meeting, parents of Black children shared painful stories of racist taunts and harassment that their kids had endured in school. Carroll eventually convened a diversity council made up of students, parents, and district staffers to address an evident pattern of racism in Southlake, although it took nearly two years for the group to present its plan of action. It recommended, among other things, hiring more teachers of color, requiring cultural-sensitivity training for all students and teachers, and imposing clearer consequences for racist conduct.

As the NBC reporters Mike Hixenbaugh and Antonia Hylton recounted in the acclaimed podcast “ Southlake ,” and as Hixenbaugh writes in his new book, “ They Came for the Schools: One Town’s Fight Over Race and Identity, and the New War for America’s Classrooms ,” Southlake’s long-awaited diversity plan happened to emerge in July, 2020, shortly after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer sparked Black Lives Matter protests against racism and police brutality across the United States. It was also the same month that a journalist named Christopher Rufo published an article in City Journal headlined “Cult Programming in Seattle,” which launched his campaign to make “critical race theory”—an academic discipline that examines how racism is embedded in our legal frameworks and institutions—into a right-wing panic button. A political-action committee called Southlake Families PAC sprang up to oppose the Carroll diversity plan; the claim was that it would instill guilt and shame in white children and convince them that they are irredeemably racist. The following year, candidates endorsed by Southlake Families PAC swept the local elections for school board, city council, and mayor, with about seventy per cent of the vote—“an even bigger share than the 63 percent of Southlake residents who’d backed Trump in 2020,” Hixenbaugh notes in his book. Some nine hundred other school districts nationwide saw similar anti-C.R.T. campaigns. Southlake, where the anti-woke insurgency had won lavish praise from National Review and Laura Ingraham, was the blueprint.

“Rufo tapped into a particular moment in which white Americans realized that they were white, that whiteness carried heavy historical baggage,” the education journalist Laura Pappano writes in her recent book “ School Moms: Parent Activism, Partisan Politics, and the Battle for Public Education ,” which also digs into the Southlake controversy. Whiteness could feel like a neutral default mode in many communities because of decades of organized resistance to high-density housing and other zoning measures—the bureaucratic backhoes of suburbanization and white flight. Today, the Carroll school district, though still majority white, has significant numbers of Latino and Asian families, but less than two per cent of the district’s students are Black.

In this last regard, Southlake is not an outlier, owing largely to persistent residential segregation across the U.S. Even in highly diverse metro areas, the average Black student is enrolled in a school that is about seventy-five per cent Black, and white students attend schools with significantly lower levels of poverty. These statistics are dispiriting not least because of ample data showing the educational gains that desegregation makes possible for Black kids. A 2015 analysis of standardized-test scores, for instance, identified a strong connection between school segregation and academic-achievement gaps, owing to concentrated poverty in predominantly Black and Hispanic schools. A well-known longitudinal study found that Black students who attended desegregated schools from kindergarten to high school were more likely to graduate and earn higher wages, and less likely to be incarcerated or experience poverty. Their schools also received twenty per cent more funding and had smaller classroom sizes. As the education reporter Justin Murphy writes in “ Your Children Are Very Greatly in Danger: School Segregation in Rochester, New York ,” this bevy of findings “lends support to the popular adage among desegregation supporters that ‘green follows white.’ ”

These numbers, of course, don’t necessarily reflect the emotional and psychological toll of being one of a relatively few Black kids in a predominantly white school. Other recent books, including Cara Fitzpatrick’s “ The Death of Public School: How Conservatives Won the War Over Education in America ” and Laura Meckler’s “ Dream Town: Shaker Heights and the Quest for Racial Equity ,” have also considered how those costs have been weighed against the moral imperative of desegregation. This is the axial force of a lineage that runs from the monstrous chaos that followed court-ordered integration in the nineteen-fifties and sixties and the busing debacles of the seventies to the racist slurs thrown around at Southlake. As my colleague Louis Menand wrote last year in his review of Rachel Louise Martin’s “ A Most Tolerant Little Town: The Explosive Beginning of School Desegregation ,” “It was insane to send nine Black teen-agers into Central High School in Little Rock with eighteen hundred white students and no Black teachers. . . . Desegregation was a war. We sent children off to fight it.” To Rufo and his comrades, there was no such war left to be fought; there were only the bitter-enders who hallucinate microaggressions in the wallpaper and whose books need to be banned from school libraries. A mordant irony of Rufo’s imaginary version of critical race theory is that Derrick Bell , the civil-rights attorney and legal scholar who was most closely associated with C.R.T., eventually came to be skeptical about school-integration efforts—not because racism was effectively over or because legally enforced desegregation represented government overreach, as the anti-C.R.T. warriors would hold today, but because it could not be eradicated. In a famous Yale Law Journal article , “Serving Two Masters,” from 1976, Bell cited a coalition of Black community groups in Boston who resisted busing: “We think it neither necessary, nor proper to endure the dislocations of desegregation without reasonable assurances that our children will instructionally profit.”

Hixenbaugh bookends “They Came for the Schools” with the experiences of a mother who decided to move her family from Los Angeles to Southlake, despite no family or community ties, so that her three Black kids could benefit from its top-flight local schools and beautiful green spaces. Years later, she watches from the stands at Southlake’s Dragon Stadium as her youngest child takes the stage to receive his high-school diploma, walking past seven school-board members “who’d voted to kill a diversity plan meant to teach students how to be kind to people who looked like him.” The young man would be off to college soon, back in L.A., and his mom was putting their house on the market. If she could do it all over again, she tells Hixenbaugh, “I wouldn’t have come.”

In the years before Brown v. Board of Education was decided, the N.A.A.C.P.—through the brave and innovative work of young lawyers such as Derrick Bell—had brought enough lawsuits against various segregated school districts that some states were moving to privatize their educational systems. As Fitzpatrick notes in “The Death of Public School,” an influential Georgia newspaper owner and former speaker of the state’s House declared, in 1950, “that it would be better to abolish the public schools than to desegregate them.” South Carolina, in 1952, voted 2–1 in a referendum to revoke the right to public education from its state constitution. Around the same time, the Chicago School economist Milton Friedman began making a case for school vouchers, or public money that parents could spend as they pleased in the educational marketplace. White leaders in the South seized on the idea as a means of funding so-called segregation academies. In 1959, a county in Virginia simply closed down its public schools entirely rather than integrate; two years later, it began distributing vouchers—but only to white students, as Black families had refused to set up their own segregated schools.

Despite these disgraceful origins, vouchers remain the handmaiden of conservative calls for “school choice” or “ education freedom .” In the run-up to the 2022 midterms, Rufo expanded his triumphant crusade against C.R.T. into a frontal assault on public education itself, which he believed could be replaced with a largely unregulated voucher system. “To get universal school choice, you really need to operate from a premise of universal public-school distrust,” Rufo explained. He had been doing his best to sow that distrust during the previous two years.

Twenty states currently have voucher programs; five states launched universal voucher programs in 2023 alone. But reams of evidence show that vouchers negatively impact educational outcomes, and the money a voucher represents—around eight thousand dollars in Florida, sixty-five hundred in Georgia—is often not nearly enough to cover private-school tuition. In practice, then, vouchers typically act as subsidies for wealthy families who already send their children to private schools; or they pay for sketchy for-profit “microschools,” which have no oversight and where teachers often have few qualifications; or they flow toward homeschooling families. Wherever they end up, they drain the coffers of the public schools. Arizona’s voucher system, which is less than two years old, is projected to cost close to a billion dollars next year. The governor, Katie Hobbs, a Democrat and former social worker, has said that the program “will likely bankrupt the state.”

Back in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has become the Captain Ahab of school choice—he fanatically pursued a voucher program through multiple special sessions of the state legislature, failed every time to sink the harpoon, and then tried to use the rope to strangle the rest of the education budget, seemingly out of spite. Abbott’s problem is not only that Democrats don’t support vouchers but that they’ve also been rejected by Republican representatives in rural areas, where private options are scarce and where public schools are major local employers and serve as community hubs. (Southlake’s state representative, a Republican with a background in private equity, supports Abbott’s voucher scheme—a bizarre stance to take on behalf of a district that derives much of its prestige, property values, and chauvinism from the élite reputation of its public schools.) White conservatives in Texas and elsewhere were roused to anger and action by Rufo-style hysteria. But many of them may have realized by now that these invented controversies were just the battering ram for a full-scale sacking and looting of public education. ♦

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Harvard removes dei statements from hiring process, issues new requirements focused on service and teaching.

Dean Nina Zipser announces changes in hiring process after diversity, equity and inclusion standards come under scrutiny.

AP/Steven Senne

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard will end its requirement for potential faculty to submit diversity, inclusion, and belonging statements (a variation of diversity, equity, and inclusion), according to a Monday announcement by Dean of Faculty Affairs and Planning Nina Zipser.

Ms. Zipser writes that she and the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Hopi E. Hoekstra, changed the policy after numerous faculty members said the requirements were “too narrow in the information they attempted to gather.” The faculty also expressed concern that the DEI statements could cause potential confusion for international candidates.

The DEI requirement mandated that all potential faculty describe their “efforts to encourage diversity, inclusion, and belonging, including past, current, and anticipated future contributions in these areas.”

New types of statements will take the place of the DEI ones, she said. Only candidates who become finalists will write a service statement discussing their “efforts to strengthen academic communities” and a teaching and advising statement on how they foster an “environment in which students are encouraged to ask questions and share their ideas.” 

Though prior service statements have asked for description of diversity efforts, the new one will not. The new requirements will apply to both external hiring and internal promotions and procedural reviews. 

Harvard, among other universities, has come under fire for its promotion of DEI, particularly after former President Claudine Gay failed to address campus antisemitism and her own academic plagiarism. Those failures led to her resignation less than a month after testifying in Congress last December.

While outsiders began wondering how much DEI among the faculty contributed to university protests this year, Harvard professors began raising greater concerns about the DEI statements. 

Harvard Professor Steven Pinker wrote that DEI statements “purge the next generation of scholars of anyone who isn’t a woke ideologue or a skilled liar.” 

Harvard Law Professor Randall Kennedy also wrote that such a litmus test must be abandoned. Even Professor Edward Hall, who generally supported DEI statements, criticized the expectation of devotion to “equity-based teaching.”

The DEI statements have been scrapped from the hiring process, but Ms. Zipser still found a way in her announcement to integrate diversity and inclusion language into faculty priorities. She writes, “This broader perspective acknowledges the many ways faculty contribute to strengthening their academic communities, including efforts to increase diversity, inclusion, and belonging.”

Mr. Diamond is a fellow at the Yorktown Institute. He has written for, among other papers, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Hill, National Review, and the Boston Globe.

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eAppendix. Interview Guide

eTable. Detailed Examples of Strategies Used by Admissions Leaders to Increase Diversity and Inclusion in US Medical Schools

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  • Understanding and Addressing How Racism Can Affect Medical School Admissions JAMA Network Open Invited Commentary February 24, 2023 Camila M. Mateo, MD, MPH; David R. Williams, PhD, MPH

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Ko M , Henderson MC , Fancher TL , London MR , Simon M , Hardeman RR. US Medical School Admissions Leaders’ Experiences With Barriers to and Advancements in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(2):e2254928. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.54928

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US Medical School Admissions Leaders’ Experiences With Barriers to and Advancements in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

  • 1 Division of Health Policy and Management, Department of Public Health Sciences, School of Medicine, University of California, Davis
  • 2 School of Medicine, University of California, Davis
  • 3 Department of Internal Medicine, University of California, Davis, Davis
  • 4 Workforce Innovation and Community Engagement, School of Medicine, University of California, Davis
  • 5 Storywalkers Consulting, Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • 6 Division of Health Policy and Management, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
  • Invited Commentary Understanding and Addressing How Racism Can Affect Medical School Admissions Camila M. Mateo, MD, MPH; David R. Williams, PhD, MPH JAMA Network Open

Question   How are US medical school leaders working to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in admissions given persistent calls to increase diversity in the physician workforce?

Findings   In this qualitative study of 39 deans and directors of admissions from 37 medical schools, participants described embedded processes and structures of institutional racism that hindered efforts to increase diversity in admissions and discussed their strategies to overcome these challenges.

Meaning   The study’s findings suggest that stated diversity commitments will likely remain performative until schools undertake major reforms to remove inequitable incentive structures, funding streams, and faculty and alumni influence as well as internal admissions processes that favor a predominantly White status quo.

Importance   Despite decades-long calls for increasing racial and ethnic diversity, the medical profession continues to exclude members of Black or African American, Hispanic or Latinx, and Indigenous groups.

Objective   To describe US medical school admissions leaders’ experiences with barriers to and advances in diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Design, Setting, and Participants   This qualitative study involved key-informant interviews of 39 deans and directors of admission from 37 US allopathic medical schools across the range of student body racial and ethnic composition. Interviews were conducted in person and online from October 16, 2019, to March 27, 2020, and analyzed from October 2019 to March 2021.

Main Outcomes and Measures   Participant experiences with barriers to and advances in diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Results   Among 39 participants from 37 medical schools, admissions experience ranged from 1 to 40 years. Overall, 56.4% of participants identified as women, 10.3% as Asian American, 25.6% as Black or African American, 5.1% as Hispanic or Latinx, and 61.5% as White (participants could report >1 race and/or ethnicity). Participants characterized diversity broadly, with limited attention to racial injustice. Barriers to advancing racial and ethnic diversity included lack of leadership commitment; pressure from faculty and administrators to overemphasize academic scores and school rankings; and political and social influences, such as donors and alumni. Accreditation requirements, holistic review initiatives, and local policy motivated reforms but may also have inadvertently lowered expectations and accountability. Strategies to overcome challenges included narrative change and revision of school leadership structure, admissions goals, practices, and committee membership.

Conclusions and Relevance   In this qualitative study, admissions leaders characterized the ways in which entrenched beliefs, practices, and power structures in medical schools may perpetuate institutional racism, with far-reaching implications for health equity. Participants offered insights on how to remove inequitable structures and implement process changes. Without such action, calls for racial justice will likely remain performative, and racism across health care institutions will continue.

Despite decades of diversity initiatives in US medical schools, such as affirmative action, Project 3000 by 2000, and diversity standards for accreditation, only affirmative action has brought substantive change, and the consequences of its termination are myriad. 1 , 2 The need for physicians from structurally excluded groups, including Black or African American, Hispanic or Latinx, and Indigenous physicians, continues to grow; such physicians broaden access to care, advance cultural humility, and advocate for underresourced communities. 3 , 4 From 2021 to 2022, the percentages of both Black or African American and Hispanic or Latinx first-year medical students increased to new highs yet remained substantially lower than their growing proportions in the applicant pool. 5

Racial inequities in the physician workforce reflect structural and institutional racism in the medical profession. 6 Structural racism (defined as the social, political, economic, and ideological factors that shape life chances based on race 7 ) limits educational opportunities and economic resources for prospective physicians from kindergarten to grade 12 through the undergraduate years, constricting the applicant pool. After medical students matriculate, lack of diversity fosters institutional racism (defined as policies and practices within institutions that produce outcomes that chronically favor a racial group or put a racial group at a disadvantage) that have negative impacts on the learning environment and climate. 8 - 21 Lack of racial progress cannot be attributed solely to a small applicant pool or attrition from the profession; medical schools are racialized organizations. 6

By serving as gatekeepers to the profession, admissions offices can perpetuate or counter racism within the medical field. Admissions committee members have cited the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), lack of faculty diversity, and inadequate institutional resources and commitment as barriers to increasing diversity. 22 - 25 Given long-standing awareness of such issues and repeated national campaigns, it remains unclear whether admissions leaders have pursued reforms and what happened if they did. Racialized organization theory posits that processes that appear impartial, such as admissions policies and practices, may passively sustain institutional racism. 26 In this qualitative study, we aimed to describe US medical school admissions leaders’ experiences with barriers to and advances in diversity, equity, and inclusion by investigating their definitions of diversity and inclusion, exploring their strategies and challenges, and highlighting the ways in which racism operates within medical schools.

In this cross-sectional qualitative study, a phenomenological approach was used to understand admissions leaders’ experiences, perspectives, and motivations with respect to diversity and inclusion. The study protocol was approved by the institutional review board of the University of California, Davis. During recruitment and before each interview, we informed participants of the study objectives and obtained verbal consent to record, transcribe, and publish quotations without identifying information. This study followed the Standards for Reporting Qualitative Research ( SRQR ) reporting guideline. 27

Team members identify as Asian American (M.K.), Black (R.R.H.), White (M.C.H., M.R.L., and M.S.), and multiracial (T.L.F.). Study design, analysis, and interpretation were informed by our differential experiences by race, gender, and power within academic institutions and our collective experiences serving on admissions committees, overseeing the admissions process, and facilitating discussions on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

We recruited deans and directors of admissions at US allopathic schools of medicine from October 16, 2019, to March 27, 2020, using personal networks, advertisement at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Learn Serve Lead 2019 meeting, and direct email correspondence. Information from interviews was analyzed from October 2019 to March 2021. We conducted purposive sampling to obtain a range of perspectives across school racial and ethnic composition. Using 2018 to 2019 data, 28 we ordered schools by percentage of students who have been historically and structurally excluded from the medical profession (defined as students who identified as American Indian or Alaska Native, 29 Black or African American, Hispanic or Latinx, and/or Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander), determined quartiles of student diversity (with quartile 1 comprising medical schools with the greatest diversity and quartile 4 comprising medical schools with the least diversity), and targeted recruitment for representation from each quartile.

We used the term structurally excluded to signify that certain racial and ethnic minority groups have been (and continue to be) excluded from the profession as a reflection of active rather than passive processes. Notwithstanding the lack of attention to Indigenous populations, we considered American Indian or Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander populations to be groups that have experienced substantial historical and structural exclusion. School-specific definitions of the term underrepresented in medicine (URiM; based on groups underrepresented relative to the population) and corresponding demographic characteristics were not publicly available. Therefore, in our reported findings, we used URiM when it was referenced by study participants.

To preserve confidentiality, we aggregated participant race and ethnicity into 4 major categories (Asian American, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latinx, and White); none of the participants identified as American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, or other Indigenous groups. For those identifying as multiple races and ethnicities, all races and ethnicities were counted; therefore, the number of participants in racial and ethnic categories exceeded the total number of participants in the study.

We conducted in-person and online interviews (with M.S. acting as the primary interviewer and M.K. and M.C.H. acting as secondary interviewers); the interview guide is available in the eAppendix in Supplement 1 . Interviews ranged from 30 to 90 minutes and were audio recorded, transcribed, cleaned of additional identifying information, and stored using an alphanumeric study identification number. We imported and analyzed transcripts using Dedoose software, version 7.0.23 (SocioCultural Research Consultants). 30 Participants completed a survey that included self-identified gender, race and ethnicity, years of experience in admissions, and a personal background prompt (“Please indicate any terms that describe you: socioeconomically disadvantaged during childhood/adolescence, first generation to college, have a disability”).

We used a combined deductive and inductive approach. Two reviewers (M.K. and R.R.H.) conducted 2 rounds of independent review, comparison, and resolution of transcripts to develop initial and final codes. One reviewer (M.K.) then conducted a final coding of all transcripts to produce categories, which were reviewed by the full team.

To enhance trustworthiness, we created an audit trail, including detailed memos on coding and analysis, and we used investigator triangulation across team members’ experiences to determine preliminary and iterated themes. Investigators who coded the transcripts conferred with other team members with specific admissions leadership experience to confirm and/or add context.

Thirty-nine deans and directors of admissions from 37 institutions, with 8 to 12 leaders from each medical school diversity quartile, participated in the interviews ( Table 1 ). Overall, 56.4% of participants identified as women, 10.3% as Asian American, 25.6% as Black or African American, 5.1% as Hispanic or Latinx, and 61.5% as White (participants could report >1 race and/or ethnicity). Admissions experience ranged from 1 to 40 years. In total, 28.2% of participants identified as socioeconomically disadvantaged in childhood, and 30.8% identified as first-generation college students.

All participants initially defined diversity by listing race and ethnicity but immediately qualified their answers by asserting that diversity captures “much more,” such as life experiences, perspectives, sexual orientation, gender, rurality, military service, college athletic activities, and religion ( Table 2 ). While participants said that diversity was discussed “everywhere” in their institutions, most felt that only student admissions offices had made substantive diversity gains. Two participants expressed concern that the shift to a generalized definition of diversity had supplanted attention to unresolved racial inequities.

Irrespective of how participants defined diversity, they described challenges specific to racial and ethnic diversity efforts ( Table 3 ). First, participants cited senior leadership difficulties, which included (1) frequent turnover, leading to loss of leaders with a commitment to diversity, and a reluctance among interim leaders to enact changes; (2) shifting priorities, in which initial commitments were later abandoned for other causes; and (3) performative attention without supporting policies or resources.

Second, most participants reported that undue emphasis on academic scores, particularly MCAT scores, hampered their work. All participants acknowledged that persistent structural disadvantages (rather than differences in ability) contributed to lower mean MCAT scores among those labeled as URiM. Justifications for overweighting MCAT scores included (1) predictive value for medical school success, namely licensure examinations; (2) convenience for screening a large volume of applications; and (3) the school’s US News & World Report rankings. One participant explained that while scores constitute only a fraction of the US News & World Report ranking calculation, matriculant scores are one of the only domains by which schools can exercise direct influence on their ranking. Consequently, senior leadership regularly pressured admissions officers to prioritize MCAT scores.

Third, participants listed the ways in which applicants with social and political connections may have advantages in the process, including through offering additional reviews, “keeping an eye out” for a given application, automatically granting interviews, and maintaining a database of preferred applicants. Many participants emphasized that these connections were not considered in final acceptance decisions. However, a few participants acknowledged that these intermediate steps favored applicants with racial and socioeconomic advantages.

When comparing responses by institutional diversity, we found divergent themes ( Table 3 ). Participants from schools with lower diversity expressed frustration with intense competition for a small pool of applicants and an increasing need for scholarship funds. One participant reported that, in the past, elite schools colluded to negotiate scholarships and offer acceptances to URiM applicants. The participant felt that when the AAMC stopped sharing multiple acceptance information with schools in 2019, competition across all schools inadvertently increased because they could no longer rely on hidden agreements to secure the students they wanted.

In contrast, participants from schools with higher diversity reported the lack of inclusive environments as their major challenge ( Table 3 ), citing inadequate faculty and resident diversity, instructors’ implicit biases, and overt hostility from faculty, alumni, and other students. Participants expressed concern that negative environments damaged their school’s reputation among applicants, which then detracted from their recruitment efforts. A few participants expressed experiencing substantial burnout due to increasing student diversity within an unsupportive environment, and some participants had predecessors who had left the institution for these reasons.

Participants described the ways in which external policy and organizational factors affected their work ( Table 4 ). Many reported that Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) accreditation standards motivated their institutions to support diversity efforts in admissions. However, some cautioned that LCME standards, which are self-defined, led to a down-leveling effect such that schools pursued lowered diversity objectives that could be achieved without major reforms. Many participants referred to AAMC initiatives on holistic review. Some reported that such efforts had helped them garner institutional support for reforms, while others dismissed holistic review as a rebranded diversity effort. Some characterized holistic review as a performative process that could unintentionally counteract diversity efforts ( Table 4 ). Another participant explained that when admissions ratings systems reward applicants for cumulative hours or number of experiences (without attention to how those experiences should be valued), applicants with socioeconomic advantages benefit because they have more time and resources for such extracurricular opportunities. Participants also stated that the legal and policy environment overshadowed all racial and ethnic diversity work; several participants expressed concerns about legal liability in the use of race and ethnicity in admissions, irrespective of whether their institution was subject to such a ban.

Participants articulated several strategies to advance diversity in medical schools. These strategies included changing the story, the process, the people, and the organization ( Table 5 ; a detailed list of strategies is available in the eTable in Supplement 1 ).

Several participants used narrative change to support their work, with 2 main themes emerging ( Table 5 ). First, they reframed the purpose of admissions, which is summarized as follows: the responsibility of admissions is to select students for their potential as future physicians, not for their guaranteed success in school. The responsibility for academic success is shared with student support services and medical education. Participants described this as a counter-narrative to prevailing norms that prioritize selecting students for their predicted likelihood of success on standardized tests, irrespective of the schools’ curriculum or educational milieu.

Second, they advocated for changing the institutional mission to guide admissions priorities, which is summarized as follows: the institutional mission is to serve historically and currently underserved racial and ethnic minority populations. Defining racial and ethnic minoritized populations allowed leaders to set priorities in academic measurements, educate committee members on their use, and increase transparency in the admissions process.

Receptivity to narratives varied by the messenger’s race and ethnicity. White participants frequently cited the benefit of using quantitative data to dispel myths about academic scores and to reinforce narratives of success among URiM students, while non-White participants encountered resistance when articulating similar narratives to their institutional leadership, even with supporting data.

Participants instituted an array of process changes ( Table 5 ; eTable in Supplement 1 ). They developed mission-based measurements throughout the process, modified or eliminated initial screening by academic measurements, and capitalized on recent undergraduate admissions scandals to eliminate advantages for those with social and political connections. To reinforce change, several participants adopted a continuous quality improvement approach, collecting and analyzing data and providing committee feedback throughout the admissions season.

Most participants reported that admissions committee members received implicit bias training, which varied from a single online module to multiday in-person workshops. They expressed mixed opinions on the efficacy of training, favoring other strategies, such as reconstituting committees and staff for greater diversity, establishing a shared commitment to reform, and creating an environment that supports open discussion. Not all participants had the ability to select their committee members without faculty elections and/or approval, and they lacked support for proposed changes due to inadequate diversity among faculty.

Participants emphasized that all units must be engaged in diversity work rather than admissions operating in a silo. Those who expressed the greatest satisfaction worked in partnership with or held roles in offices of student affairs, education, or diversity, equity, and inclusion. Establishing collective responsibility helped them manage relationships with senior leadership, particularly among nonphysician and non-White participants. Those who could report directly to the dean reported greater protection from opponents, reinforced credibility, greater prioritization of their work, and increased leadership accountability.

Many participants felt that including students in the admissions process proved valuable because senior leadership was more responsive to student concerns. Participants from schools with a higher level of diversity stated that student input had prompted school changes in support services and curricular reforms. Furthermore, they emphasized that such changes are critical for fostering an inclusive educational environment, which not only benefits racial and ethnic minority students but also impacts the ability of admissions officers to recruit a more diverse applicant pool in the next cycle.

In this qualitative study of 39 deans and directors of US medical school admissions, we found that admissions leaders held various interpretations of diversity, continued to face challenges to increasing racial and ethnic diversity, and engaged in multiple strategies to overcome these barriers.

Our findings are consistent with research reporting the ways in which institutions of higher education shifted from defining diversity as specific to racial and ethnic inequities to a safer and more ambiguous concept of diverse experiences and perspectives that are unrelated power structures. 31 James Thomas, 32 an educational sociology researcher, described this process as condensation, which undermines reforms by diverting attention from the distribution of power and privileges based on race. In contrast to earlier research, none of the participants characterized diversity as a necessary term to comply with legal prohibitions against the use of race and ethnicity in admissions considerations. 33 All participants proceeded to discuss race and ethnicity initiatives, suggesting that definitions of diversity arise in part from their institutional structures.

Ambiguous expectations may explain why participants felt that only admissions offices had made substantive progress within their schools. Thomas 32 described this process as flattening, in which diversity is discussed and promoted everywhere but practiced nowhere. As Ahmed, 34 a feminist scholar, has explained, when academic units are not held accountable, merely discussing diversity may become conflated with doing real diversity work. Participants in our study had greater racial and ethnic diversity than typical populations of physicians and deans, 35 potentially explaining their greater attention to these issues and higher expectations of their institutions.

We found that holistic review may perform rhetorical work that is similar to the term diversity . While holistic review initiatives have been associated with increases in student racial and ethnic diversity, 36 the concept does not explicitly call attention to racialized privileges. Our findings suggest that admissions leaders aiming to reform their processes may inadvertently replicate a system of unearned advantages. Flattening and condensation regarding holistic review 37 may explain why some participants found holistic review to be an effective diversity strategy, while others did not. Holistic review is an important guiding principle but should not be conflated with specific justice-based criteria, continuous internal evaluation, and institutional accountability.

According to Thomas 32 and Garces and Cogburn, 38 when diversity does not explicitly address racial and ethnic inequity, schools can maintain White-centered frameworks and norms in their admissions processes. Participants described common features of unsuccessful diversity initiatives, including inconsistent leadership, inadequate resources, and performative quick fixes. 32 , 34 They described goals and strategies, but our findings suggest medical schools have not remediated the overarching structural conditions. 6

Participants explained why their admissions processes overweighted academic scores, even when they personally disagreed with the practice. Previous studies 31 , 39 - 42 have noted cultural resistance to change in medical schools, particularly the ways in which administrators and faculty frame diversity as oppositional to merit. These studies 31 , 39 - 42 did not examine racialization of contexts. 43 , 44 Critical race theorists studying institutions of higher education have explained that the perceived conflict between merit and diversity is rooted in underlying biases about the capabilities of racially minoritized individuals. 45 These biases prevent faculty and administrators from considering diversity as an integral value. 46 , 47 Admissions leaders have less opportunity to enact reforms if they must also fight entrenched institutional White supremacy.

Our findings are consistent with selective inclusion, a term coined by Berrey 33 to describe the process by which institutions admit a small number of individuals who belong to minoritized racial and ethnic groups in the name of diversity but maintain traditional admissions policies and practices to preserve institutional reputation. National rankings systems convert academic scores to prestige, which increases fundraising capability. 48 School reputation and financial incentives reward practices such as MCAT screening and maximizing scores, even when these practices have been associated with lower racial and ethnic diversity in the student population. 49 , 50 Participants explicitly described the ways in which deans, development offices, faculty, and alumni all intervene in admissions practices for these reasons. With increasing application volume, using the MCAT for screening provides administrative efficiency while potentially eliminating qualified applicants. This practice is consistent with an organizational culture in which admissions leaders are expected to adapt to structures rather than modify them. 26

Conferring advantages to applicants with social connections reinforces selective inclusion by rewarding the prevailing racialized status hierarchy. Some participants engaged in practices that, due to structural racism, disadvantaged American Indian or Alaska Native, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latinx, and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander applicants. Those who attempted to remove social privileges encountered resistance from deans, faculty, and alumni, illustrating another way in which organizational culture supports institutional racism. 26 Perceived threats to majority interests may lead to retrenchment and collusion behaviors as well as hostility. 38 This reaction may explain why 1 participant felt that admissions leaders should advocate for removing social privileges to protect schools from legal liability rather than arguing that such changes are needed to improve diversity. The prospect of litigation is also a concern among majority stakeholders.

Participants from schools with lower racial and ethnic diversity operated from the perspective of scarcity (ie, too few qualified applicants), whereas those from more diverse schools focused on increasing the applicant pool. Our study was not designed to ascertain causal effects, but findings suggest a need for greater investment in pathway programs and recruitment and more inclusive medical school environments. We noted that schools that made progress in admissions practices in 1 year risked losing these gains if school climate and curriculum were not also addressed.

The persistence of admissions challenges highlighted how pervasive organizational factors could be in weakening initiatives to advance racial equity. Our findings underscore the ways in which admissions policy and practice may reproduce and be shaped by institutional racism.

Ray 26 described the importance of both internal and external opportunities to dismantle racism within organizations. A few participants conducted a detailed audit of their internal processes, which allowed them to interrogate and upend traditional practices. Participants’ internal strategies included developing a mission-based review process and diversifying committee membership. 41 , 48 , 51 , 52 Notably, our study illustrated the ways in which participants tried to implement change. Several participants referenced the importance of narrative change, a key element of critical race theory known as counter-storytelling. 53 Counter-storytelling reframed the purpose of admissions, shifting the focus to awarding the assets offered by structurally excluded applicants rather than fighting against deficit narratives. However, even this strategy was contingent on the racialized power structures that determine the credibility of the narrator. This issue reflects another avenue by which academic medical programs undervalue and underrecognize the contributions of racial and ethnic minority leaders.

Our findings reinforce the long-standing assertion that schools must pursue multiple coordinated strategies by changing the story, people, process, and organization together. Beyond diversity goals, admissions leaders need committee member representation, standardized evaluation measures, and procedures that have clear capability to end racial inequities in the medical profession. 47 Collaborating with other units, particularly medical education (eg, curriculum), may overcome institutional silos that continually burden diversity work, preventing coordination and reducing collective responsibility. 32 , 34 Participants felt most effective when they had supportive colleagues, authority to reform processes, and protection from other actors by senior leadership. Admissions leaders have no shortage of methods for advancing diversity ( Table 5 ; eTable in Supplement 1 ), but pursuing these methods as solo efforts can lead them back to the same barriers encountered by their predecessors.

Participants in our study described using a few external strategies. They reported that the LCME accreditation standards could stimulate accountability and motivate medical school leadership. The AAMC holistic review tools, which are designed to specifically address racism, 54 have lent credibility to admissions leaders advocating for institutional reform. To sustain long-term change, medical schools should extricate themselves from larger systems that conflict with their missions and should instead work with policy makers and funders to secure support for initiatives that prioritize training physicians from, and for, underresourced communities.

This study has several limitations inherent to a cross-sectional key-informant qualitative study. First, we spoke with admissions leaders, not individual committee members. In a previous study of holistic review, 51 committee members reported confusion about the purpose of the initiative, increasing their resistance to proposed AAMC reforms. Second, our study should not be considered representative of US medical schools; consistent with qualitative paradigms, we aimed for representation of perspectives rather than populations. Given the differing objectives of osteopathic medical schools, we did not sample from these institutions. However, because the number of osteopathic physicians has grown rapidly in the past decade, investigation of their admissions processes is needed. Third, we conducted our study before the COVID-19 pandemic and the renewed attention to racial justice after the murder of George Floyd; whether these events prompt sustained changes in admissions policy and practice remains to be seen. 6 For the 2021 to 2022 academic year, Black or African American and Hispanic or Latinx enrollment increased but at a rate 50% lower than their increase in the applicant pool. 5 This discrepancy may reflect the fact that the structural dimensions of medical schools, including rankings, funding imperatives, and lack of faculty diversity, remain largely unchanged. Our study period does not cover recent cases heard by the US Supreme Court, in which plaintiffs have argued that considerations of race and ethnicity in admissions discriminate against Asian American and White applicants. 55 The implications of these legal cases for participant perspectives are unclear; previous research 56 found that state bans on affirmative action produced some secondary consequences for private institutions and states without bans. Fourth, this study examined admissions policies and practices with respect to institutional racism. Academic medical programs also need to address other forms of institutional oppression, including ableism and heterosexism and their intersectionality, which can all be weakened under the umbrella of diversity. While beyond the scope of our study, these issues require additional investigation.

This qualitative study found that medical school admissions leaders encountered multiple constraints within the current organizational and power structures of academic medical programs. Comprehensive institutional- and process-level reforms are needed to dismantle admissions systems that perpetuate institutional racism. Increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of the physician workforce is foundational for achieving health equity. Academic medical leadership should pursue both internal and external opportunities, as there is still much work to be done.

Accepted for Publication: December 19, 2022.

Published: February 24, 2023. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.54928

Open Access: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the CC-BY License . © 2023 Ko M et al. JAMA Network Open .

Corresponding Author: Michelle Ko, MD, PhD, Department of Public Health Sciences, University of California, Davis, Medical Sciences 1C, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616 ( [email protected] ).

Author Contributions: Dr Ko had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

Concept and design: Ko, Henderson, Fancher, Simon, Hardeman.

Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: Ko, Henderson, London, Simon, Hardeman.

Drafting of the manuscript: Ko, London, Hardeman.

Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Ko, Henderson, Fancher, Simon.

Statistical analysis: London, Hardeman.

Obtained funding: Ko, Henderson, Fancher.

Administrative, technical, or material support: Ko, Henderson, Fancher, Simon.

Supervision: Ko.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Ko reported receiving grants from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) during the conduct of the study. Dr Henderson reported receiving grants from the HRSA during the conduct of the study. Dr Fancher reported receiving grants from the HRSA during the conduct of the study. Mr Simon reported receiving personal fees from the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine outside the submitted work. No other disclosures were reported.

Funding/Support: Support was provided by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation COVID-19 Fund to Retain Clinical Scientists awarded to UC Davis School of Medicine by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (Dr Ko).

Role of the Funder/Sponsor: The funder had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

Data Sharing Statement: See Supplement 2 .

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Welcome Message from the Dean / Message d'acceuil du doyen

Vivek Venkatesh, Faculty of Education Dean

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Dear members of the Faculty of Education Community,

I am so proud and excited to begin my term as your Dean (as of June 1, 2024). In this first message, I wanted to share with you my vision for our Faculty and tell you a bit about my background.

Born in India, I grew up in Venezuela, the USA, and Singapore before immigrating to Canada in 2000. I am a former mathematics and language arts educator with an undergraduate degree in Computer Science, a teaching license for secondary schools, and graduate degrees in Educational Technology. I am joining you after spending more than two decades at Concordia University, where I recently held a Professorship of Inclusive Practices in Visual Arts, served as Chair of the Department of Art Education (Faculty of Fine Arts), and was the Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance. Since 2017, I have also held the UNESCO Co-Chair in the Prevention of Radicalization and Violent Extremism. My research, filmmaking, and musical practices have been devoted to creating public pedagogical and artistic spaces for pluralistic dialogues about sensitive contemporary issues.

As Dean, I plan to uphold values that embody respect for diversity in viewpoints, a commitment to informed decision-making, as well as an empowerment-oriented approach in learning from and working with colleagues and students. I believe that transparency, pluralism, and collaboration are key components to creating positive working and learning environments for all.

In the past few years, we have been challenged to think and function differently when faced with the crises of navigating a global pandemic, combatting climate change, uncovering social injustices, and rising divisiveness resulting from world events. As leaders in Education, we must address emerging societal issues by creating dialogic solution-oriented frameworks that foster mutual respect and safeguard pluralism. Our collective responsibility is to inspire students and our public to become lifelong learners equipped with the critical thinking skills and creativity necessary to help repair the world.

As I begin my role as your Dean, I anticipate making meaningful connections across our departments, offices, and teams. I very much look forward to getting to know you all and to being able to represent our wide-ranging interests to the larger McGill community and beyond. I hope to provide support and guidance to further elevate the incredible and impactful work being done and to showcase the Faculty’s collective successes on a global stage. In addition to my leadership within the Faculty, I take pride in building bridges to new partners in communities, including practitioners, policy-makers, philanthropists, and diverse stakeholders who are passionate about Education’s role in advancing human development for the 21 st century.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me vivek.venkatesh [at] mcgill.ca (by email) and let’s be in touch as we embark together on the 2024-2025 academic year.

With my best regards,

Vivek Venkatesh

Chers membres de la communauté de la Faculté des sciences de l'éducation,

C'est avec beaucoup de fierté et d'enthousiasme que je débuterai mon mandat de doyen (le 1er juin 2024). Dans ce premier message, je souhaite partager avec vous ma vision de notre Faculté et vous parler un peu de mon parcours.

Né en Inde, j'ai grandi au Venezuela, aux États-Unis et à Singapour, avant d'immigrer au Canada en 2000. Je suis un ancien enseignant en mathématiques et en arts du langage avec un diplôme de premier cycle en informatique, un brevet d'enseignement pour les écoles secondaires et un diplôme d'études supérieures en technologie de l'éducation. Je me joins à vous après avoir passé plus de deux décennies à l'Université Concordia, où j'ai récemment occupé un poste de professeur de pratiques inclusives en arts visuels, été directeur du Département d'éducation artistique (Faculté des beaux-arts) et codirecteur du Centre d'étude de l'apprentissage et de la performance. Depuis 2017, je suis également titulaire de la coprésidence de l'UNESCO pour la prévention de la radicalisation et de l'extrémisme violent. Mes travaux de recherche, mes réalisations cinématographiques et mes pratiques musicales ont été consacrées à la création d’espaces pédagogiques et artistiques publics propices à des dialogues pluralistes portant sur des questions contemporaines sensibles.

En tant que doyen, je compte défendre des valeurs qui définissent pleinement le respect de la diversité des points de vue, l'engagement à prendre des décisions informées, ainsi qu'une approche axée sur l'autonomisation dans l'apprentissage et le travail avec les collègues et les étudiants. Je crois que la transparence, le pluralisme et la collaboration sont des éléments essentiels pour créer des environnements de travail et d'apprentissage positifs pour tous.

Au cours des dernières années, nous avons été mis au défi de penser et de fonctionner différemment face aux crises liées à la gestion d’une pandémie mondiale, à la lutte contre les changements climatiques, à la découverte des injustices sociales et aux divisions croissantes résultant des événements mondiaux. En tant que dirigeants du secteur de l’éducation, nous devons aborder les problèmes sociaux émergents en créant des cadres de dialogue axés sur les solutions qui favorisent le respect mutuel et protègent le pluralisme. Notre responsabilité collective est d’inspirer les étudiants et notre public à devenir des apprenants permanents, dotés des capacités de pensée critique et de créativité nécessaires pour contribuer à guérir le monde.

Alors que je débute mon rôle de doyen, je prévois établir des liens significatifs entre nos départements, bureaux et équipes. J'ai très hâte de faire votre connaissance et de représenter nos vastes intérêts auprès de la communauté élargie de McGill et au-delà. J'espère vous fournir un soutien et des conseils pour rehausser davantage le niveau de l'incroyable travail accompli et de mettre en valeur les réussites collectives de la Faculté sur la scène internationale. Outre mon leadership au sein de la Faculté, je suis fier de bâtir des ponts vers de nouveaux partenaires au sein des communautés, notamment des praticiens, des décideurs, des philanthropes et divers intervenants passionnés par le rôle de l'éducation dans la promotion du développement humain au 21 e siècle.

N'hésitez pas à me contacter vivek.venkatesh [at] mcgill.ca (par courriel) et restons engagés ensemble dans la réussite de l'année universitaire 2024-2025!

Veuillez agréez mes meilleures salutations,

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  23. A Troubling Lack of Diversity in Educational Materials

    A Troubling Lack of Diversity in Educational Materials. The author of a new report on the representation of social groups in educational materials shares a few things teachers can do to ensure that all of their students are reflected in class resources. By Amanda Armstrong. March 9, 2022. Allison Shelley / American Education.

  24. Diversity in the Classrooms: A Human-Centered Approach to Schools

    Diversity among teachers is often narrowed to three aspects: race, culture, and gender. This article focuses on human diversity in schools theorising that if we expand our understanding of diversity beyond the 'borders' of race, culture and gender; human beings, including all teachers independently of ethnicity, may or may not have similar ideas, skill sets and personalities as well as ...

  25. The Texas School District That Provided the Blueprint for an Attack on

    Board of Education was decided, the N.A.A.C.P.—through the brave and innovative work of young lawyers such as Derrick Bell—had brought enough lawsuits against various segregated school ...

  26. Harvard Removes DEI Statements From Hiring Process, Issues New

    The Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard will end its requirement for potential faculty to submit diversity, inclusion, and belonging statements (a variation of diversity, equity, and inclusion), according to a Monday announcement by Dean of Faculty Affairs and Planning Nina Zipser.. Ms. Zipser writes that she and the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Hopi E. Hoekstra, changed the ...

  27. Microsoft On the Issues

    News and perspectives on legal, public policy and citizenship topics

  28. US Medical School Admissions Leaders' Experiences With Diversity

    Beyond diversity goals, admissions leaders need committee member representation, standardized evaluation measures, and procedures that have clear capability to end racial inequities in the medical profession. 47 Collaborating with other units, particularly medical education (eg, curriculum), may overcome institutional silos that continually ...

  29. UC Davis EAOP Black Youth Symposium 2024

    The Black Youth Symposium is a transformative event dedicated to addressing the critical issues of mental health awareness and higher education empowerment among underrepresented youth. This symposium aims to provide a supportive platform for Black youth to explore and nurture their mental well-being while gaining valuable insights and tools to ...

  30. Welcome Message from the Dean / Message d'acceuil du doyen

    As leaders in Education, we must address emerging societal issues by creating dialogic solution-oriented frameworks that foster mutual respect and safeguard pluralism. Our collective responsibility is to inspire students and our public to become lifelong learners equipped with the critical thinking skills and creativity necessary to help repair ...