Changing for good: embedding antiracist changes in educational institutions

Reviewed by Leonardo da Silveira

An actionable conceptual framework embedding antiracist institutional changes in education.


As a result of the authors’ perception that educational institutions’ current efforts to promote racial justice are simply platitudes, the authors use this study to advocate for organizational changes within educational institutions to promote racial equity. The authors note that shifting individual behaviors does not yield institutional progression in regards to racial equity. Antiracism must be embedded within the institution and underscored by equity-driven ideologies. Hence, this study focuses on application. The study establishes a conceptual framework, which draws upon literature from the fields of change management and antiracist education, to assist educational institutions in implementing and advancing a racial justice agenda. 

This study is co-authored by three researchers: Dr. Anjalé D. Welton, Department Chair and Rupple-Bascom Professor of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Welton’s research seeks  to understand how educational leaders address race and racism in their respective institutions. She holds a PhD degree in Educational Administration from the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Devean R. Owens holds a PhD in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership from the University  of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is an expert in race and gender issues. She designs and executes data-driven interventions to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. Dr. Owens writes extensively on DEI in education. Dr. Eboni M. Zamani-Gallaher holds a PhD in Higher Education Administration with a specialization in Community College Leadership and Educational Evaluation from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is a Professor of Higher Education and Community College Leadership at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Zamani-Gallaher’s research focuses on marginalized student populations in marginalized institutional contexts. 

Methods and Findings: 

To create their framework, the authors conducted a literature focused on two topic areas: (1) antiracism within the field of education and (2) organizational change.

Antiracism within the field of education 

With the first literature review, the researchers’ analysis reveals that educational institutions play essential roles in halting pervasive exclusionary cycles. The analysis also illustrates antiracist pedagogy and some instruments of individual learning, like restructuring the teacher leadership development programs, increases educators’ capacity to hold environments where critical racial discussions can be pursued by their students. Antiracist pedagogy may help overcome resistance of ingrained “whiteness” behaviors that hinder antiracism. Lastly, the findings show that systemic commitments are crucial for addressing racism at an institutional level, which extends beyond traditional individual education. 

Organizational change

In the second literature review, the authors shift to interrogating  organizational change to better understand the practical components of instituting change. Their analysis began by defining “change” within an organizational context. The analysis reinforced the importance of intentionality in resetting the organizational direction when embarking upon institutional change. Next, the literature review highlighted the importance of making considerations regarding the  context and conditions that may affect the proposed change plans, the focus of change, the scale of change, and the degree of intended changes.   Lastly, the literature review highlighted the importance of leadership to ensure that a necessary  cultural shift accompanies the goals set throughout the change process.

This study develops a conceptual framework for leaders of educational institutions (both in PK-12 and higher education contexts) to facilitate real systemic antiracist change. They provide two applied examples to showcase their framework: (1)  a potential action plan to combat the overrepresentation of Black students for discipline referrals within a PK-12 educational setting and (2);   the implementation of a strategy for diversifying the undergraduate and graduate student populations within higher education institutions. The following table summarizes the researchers’ conceptual framework that emphasizes how institutional change and antiracist ideology should converge to drive an antiracist agenda within educational contexts. 

Conceptual Framework for Antracist Change 

Change Level: Context and Conditions 

  • Antiracism Pedagogy, Individual Learning and Resistance: Assess Teachers’ Belief Systems 
  • Antiracism Systemic Level Commitment: Examine Current Disciplinary Data 

Change Level: Focus (Structural, Process, Attitude) 

  • Antiracism Pedagogy, Individual Learning and Resistance: Use Institutional Feedback and Teacher Assessments 
  • Antiracism Systemic Level Commitment: Review School Level Policies for Discipline 

Change Level: Scale and Degree

  • Antiracism Pedagogy, Individual Learning and Resistance: Change how teachers talk about Black students 
  • Antiracism Systemic Level Commitment: Change District-wide Institutional Scripts 

Change Level: Leadership

  • Antiracism Pedagogy, Individual Learning and Resistance: Help Individual Educators and Staff Take Responsibility for racial inequities experienced by students of color
  • Antiracism Systemic Level Commitment: Host District and School Level Meetings to Relay Vision Regarding Antiracism 

Change Level: Continuous Improvement 

  • Antiracism Pedagogy, Individual Learning and Resistance: Continuous Implicit Bias Training and Racial Dialogues 
  • Antiracism Systemic Level Commitment: Continuous Implicit Bias Training and Racial Dialogues 

*All aforementioned antiracism activities are examples. 


In spite of the institutionalized effects of racism in our society, institutions have failed to address racial injustices thoughtfully and critically, which ultimately has led to perpetual, pervasive cycles of racism.  The authors use America’s educational system as a reflection of this dynamic.

Therefore, the authors urge educators to acquire equity-based skills that enable them to respond to circumstances where White superiority arises within educational institutions. Institutions must challenge whiteness and re-center their organizational culture to address the inequities that are accentuated by the educational system. 

Through the researchers’ framework, they attempt to provide readers with action-oriented pathways focused on antiracism that can yield equitable outcomes across diverse groups of learners. Their framework also promotes an organic and dynamic concept: antiracism work is complex, continuous, and challenging, which means that antiracism represents a task for all educators and leaders.


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