As Classrooms Become More Diverse, Educators and University Leaders Must Look to Minority-Serving Institutions
There are nearly 4,000 accredited colleges and universities in the United States. Of these, more than 600 are Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs). Either by history or demographics, these institutions educate large numbers of students of color and 20% of college students overall. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have been educating African Americans and are responsible for building the Black middle class for over a century. Tribal colleges began their commitment in the 1970s during a time of Native American self-determination. Due to shifting demographics in many states, Hispanic Serving Institutions and Asian American, Native American, Pacific Islander Serving Institutions came to the fore. These are the most prominent types of MSIs but there are many other kinds as well, including Predominantly Black Institutions, Native American Non Tribal Serving Institutions, and Alaskan Native Serving Institutions.
Given how rapidly the nation is changing, with the majority of the K-12 student population being students of color and census projections stating that by 2050 that nation will be majority minority, MSIs are only going to grow in numbers.
In our new book titled Educating a Diverse Nation: Lessons from Minority Serving Institutions (published with Harvard University Press, 2015), Clif Conrad and I discuss what majority institutions can learn from MSIs as campuses and classrooms become more and more diverse. Here’s an outline of those lessons:
First, faculty members need to teach in ways that invoke the various cultural traditions and communities of their students. Far too often classrooms are ‘White-centered’ and students of color are asked to assimilate.
Second, students must be accepted as isand that means embracing their identity rather than trying to move them toward White traditions and norms. MSIs embrace the racial and ethnic identity of their students.
Third, administrators and faculty must come together to more deeply understand what leads to greater student learning. At MSIs, the student services and academic services sides of the college often come together in order to focus on the student rather than operating in silos. For too long, the student affairs and faculty affairs divide has hurt students by being stubbornly focused on division rather than learning.
Fourth, faculty members need to assume success on the part of student rather than holding implicit biases that see students of color as ‘not as strong’ or ‘less than’ in the classroom. MSIs meet students with assumptions of success and operate from an asset-based approach.
Lastly, colleges and universities need to create more peer mentoring opportunities for students. MSIs function with the idea that ‘your success is my success and my success is your success.. Rather than pitting students against each other – which is very typical at majority institutions – students are heavily encouraged to support one another and hold each other accountable.
Some of these lessons may seem obvious, but research tells us that they are not the norm at majority colleges and universities. They must become the norm if our country is to remain a strong, viable nation for future generations. We need to challenge faculty, students, and institutions to embrace the growing diversity in the United States in ways that strengthen opportunity for all of us. Hoarding opportunity might have short-term personal gains for individuals but its long-term impact on society is dire.
Note: To learn more about Minority Serving Institutions and their contributions to society, please visit the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.
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