What issues most prominently impact student’s pathways to higher education? How are these inequalities perpetuated in the transition process to post secondary institutions? In what ways can educators collaborate to overcome these inequities and advocate for a future education workforce that is diverse and representative of the student bodies they teach? These are the questions that prompted the dialogue of the Higher Education panel of the Fourth Annual Color of Education Summit, featuring speakers Dr. Dionne McLaughlin, Dr. Leslie Locklear, Dr. Angela Davis, and Ms. Patricia Harris, moderated by Dr. Marjorie Ringler, the Chair of Education at East Carolina University.
The panel began with a discussion concerning how K-12 education negatively impacts the pathway to higher education. Dr. McLaughlin, the Executive Director on the Race and Equity Initiative at NC Central University, pointed to the “underrepresentation of students of color” in college placement pathways, honors courses, and similar advanced academic opportunities. Dr. Locklear, the Student Success Coordinator at UNC Pembroke University, weighed in by giving an example of inequality in practice, informing the panel that “89% of indigenous information within today’s curricula discusses events that occurred before the 20th century.” Dr. Locklear said that “incoming teachers are unprepared” to meet students’ desires to dive deeper into the histories behind their cultural identities.
Dr. Ringler asked the panel to discuss the boundaries that currently exist between K-12 education and higher education in recruitment and onboarding processes. Ms. Harris, the Director of Recruitment at the School of Education at UNC Chapel Hill, believes that K-12 and post-secondary institutions should be “treated as interconnected entities” and that institutions should seek to build diverse teaching staffs and faculty. Increasing educator diversity has been proven to “positively impact a school’s college attainment rates, high school graduation rates, and more.” Additionally, Dr. Davis, the Vice President Chief Talent and Equity Officer of Durham Technical Community College, suggested that educators should infuse the importance of “lived experiences” into their classrooms. Teachers must “own their own identities” in order to create safe spaces for their students to learn and feel included.
In order for teachers in both of these spheres to collaborate in taking proactive action against inequity, Dr. Locklear believes that educators need to work towards “building their own cultural competence.” By understanding their personal identities, educators can better identify systemic failures and begin taking steps to improve the future of education. For educators interested in beginning this process, Dr. Davis suggests reading Becoming a Student-Ready College by Tia McNair, which describes the steps needed for educators to begin building “new infrastructure for student success.”
To address the recent backlash of shifts towards racially equitable curricula, i.e. the teaching of critical race theory and implementation of North Carolina House Bill 324, Dr. McLaughlin urges educators to “demystify these issues” and “use intentionality” when talking to concerned parents, colleagues, friends, and family. For educators interested in providing resources for students to learn about these topics, Dr. McLaughlin suggests advocating for school systems to create elective courses, i.e. “Critical Reflections on Racial Issues in America,” and to adopt the 1619 Project curriculum.
When looking at the future of education in North Carolina, all panelists agreed that steps need to be taken to advocate for legislation that sets up education as a career field that’s easily accessible and more desirable. Dr. Locklear suggests decreasing the barriers of education prep programs, such as “application fees and needs assessments.” Dr. Davis suggests implementing practices to “build diverse candidate pools and require bias training for recruiters.” Ms. Harris suggests increasing access to “scholarship funding and mentorship,” modeled after the DREAM Initiative at UNC Chapel Hill. All panelists agreed that, through dedication, collaboration, and ingenuity, educators can advocate for a future North Carolina education system that’s racially equitable and just.