A Review of
Building the Anti-racist University, action and new agendas
A Seven-Point Guide to Creating an Antiracist University
The author provides a map to transform higher education institutions
Dr. Ian Law, founding director of the Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies (CERS) at the University of Leeds, reviews twenty years of scholarship and initiatives by the Centre related to racism and higher education in the UK. Founded in 1998, CERS produces policy-relevant research that seeks to dismantle racism. In the 1990s, the Centre studied racial disparities in undergraduate admissions and the absence of antiracist developments in higher education. Since the early 2000s, CERS has launched an institutional antiracism toolkit, published an edited book on racism in higher education, hosted an international colloquium on Black male academic success, and advanced other innovative programs and research to inform antiracist policy.
In this article, Law critically examines the state of higher education as it pertains to racism. Too often, he states, universities fail to recognize how racism shapes their institutions and how to respond to such challenges with creativity. For example, when higher education institutions claim to be “post-racial,” this ideology can mask systemic issues faced by racialized students, faculty, and staff, such as poor access to resources, white-centered curriculum, discrimination, and harassment. However well-intentioned, colorblind or race-neutral policies can hinder progress towards sustainable racial equity, promote practices synonymous with whiteness, and marginalize underrepresented groups.
Synthesizing lessons from CERS’ work, Law provides a seven-point guide for antiracist change at higher education institutions and calls on schools to re-examine their role and responsibilities in increasingly multiracial societies. Real change can come through upholding antiracism as an institutional norm, whether through staff professionalism, the standard by which students conduct themselves, and how the institution engages with the community. Although institutional and intellectual change may be slow, the work remains urgent within higher education institutions.
Methods and Findings
To begin building an antiracist university, Law suggests that higher education institutions:
- Restore antiracism as a foundational leadership project.
- A crucial first step in building an antiracist university is recognizing and reckoning with the role of universities in the production of racialized knowledge. This requires an intersectional approach to leadership informed by political, institutional, and intellectual guidance.
- Widen the debate on antiracism.
- Too much of the discussion around racism and higher education focuses on employment and student access. Although important, these issues may have a narrow impact compared to other areas, such as research and teaching practices.
- Promote antiracism as an institutional practice model.
- Universities should challenge racism, whiteness, and Eurocentrism in all of their functions and operations.
- Keep focus on antiracism.
- Much of the conversation in academic and other sectors is focused on broadening equality and participation, rather than on affirmative action, racial justice, and the transformation of racialized institutions.
- Learn from other sectors.
- It is important for universities to understand how other sectors have implemented change and confronted the legacies of slavery and racial discrimination. Doing so provides opportunities to learn implementation strategies and avoid mistakes.
- Learn from institutions abroad.
- It is vital for universities to seek out, or establish, international networks of institutions committed to antiracism in higher education.
- Provide adequate resources for antiracist initiatives.
- This work must be given authority and resources, such as newly-funded professorships, programs of study, research, and professional development aimed at addressing racism in higher education.
The Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies has been a leading force in naming and dismantling whiteness and racism in the UK’s higher education sector. For more than twenty years, CERS has pushed the envelope on how higher education practitioners can understand race and racism in their institutions and how they can approach undoing harm. The Centre’s work is both a case study for antiracism within universities and a source of lessons and guidance.
Thank you for visiting RRAPP
Please help us improve the site by answering three short questions.