Speaking Truth and Acting w/ Integrity: Confronting Challenges of Campus Racial Climate

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Author(s): American Council on Education

  • Adrianna Kezar
  • Sharon Fries-Britt

Published: Nov. 13, 2018

Report Intro/Brief:
“The resurgence of overt forms of racism in society means that race-related incidents are manifesting more frequently on college campuses. Over the past several years, campuses have seen an increase in hate incidents, including displays of racist symbols and verbal and physical assaults. These incidents can impact the overall racial climate on a campus; in some instances they may rise to the level of a racial crisis, often marked by extreme tension and instability. Every campus leader must be prepared to lead and respond effectively to such incidents, especially during a crisis.

A campus racial crisis is a time of significant scrutiny for institutional leadership. In these moments, the campus community, whether they be students, faculty, staff, or alumni, are looking to their leaders to see whether and how they model competence, empathy, and stability for the campus. Developing effective strategies for navigating a racial incident is difficult. The way in which leaders rebuild and provide direction to restore a commitment to diversity and inclusion matters. Rebuilding the campus community requires commitment, significant organizational and leadership effectiveness, and strategies to restore trust and stability.

The University of Missouri–Columbia (MU) and the University of Missouri System (UM System) serve as the case site for this report, having experienced a highly visible racial crisis in the 2015–16 academic year. The university’s openness to being studied provides a unique opportunity for the nation to learn important lessons about the recovery process on college campuses following a racial crisis. Thus, we sought three key outcomes from this work: first, to understand what led up to the crisis, second, to understand perceptions of leadership during the crisis in 2015, and third, to understand what it has taken for the University of Missouri to move forward after the crisis. The lessons and insights that we have learned from the initial stages of this case study are the focus of this report.”

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