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Navigating the Quicksand: How Postsecondary Administrators Understand the Influence of Affirmative Action Developments on Racial Diversity Work


by Liliana M. Garces & Darkhan Bilyalov - 2019

Background/Context: Seeking to avoid litigation or a legal threat, many postsecondary institutions are responding to a legal and policy environment that seeks to end the consideration of race in education policies by adopting race-neutral policies and practices in admissions, even when not explicitly required to do so by law. Yet, such responses may introduce new barriers and challenges for administrators seeking to promote inclusive campus environments and support students of color, not only within admissions but in other areas of campus life after students enroll. Understanding the consequences of these institutional responses is critical for those addressing the potential limitations a race-neutral approach puts on diversity-related policies and practices.

Purpose/Objective: In this study, we examine how key players charged with implementing diversity-related policies and practices understand legal developments around affirmative action and the institutional responses to these developments, in particular, how they influence their efforts to support racial and ethnic diversity. To explore the wide-ranging influence of the current race-neutral policy climate, we focus our study on a public flagship university that has opted to employ race-neutral admissions policies and practices as a matter of institutional policy—not by law.

Participants: Informed by a bottom-up policy implementation framework, we examine the influence of the legal environment from the perspective of administrators who are tasked with carrying out the institution’s mission as it relates to diversity. We particularly target administrators who are engaged in outreach and recruitment efforts and who help support students after they enroll.

Research Design: In this qualitative study, we draw from document analysis and semi-structured interviews of 13 administrators charged with implementing diversity policy at a public flagship institution to investigate how this legal and policy climate has shaped racial diversity work in areas outside admissions.

Findings: Our findings illustrate how a colorblind approach in policy-making takes hold through seemingly innocuous practices and responses that are called race neutral. These practices, which start in admissions, spill over into other areas of university policy, and shift the nature of diversity-work.

Conclusions: Findings point to the importance of intentional efforts to implement diversity policy through a race- and racism-conscious lens, develop narratives that counter distorted narratives about racial discrimination, and address legal terms and definitions that do not reflect a realistic understanding of inequality or discrimination.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 121 Number 3, 2019, p. 1-40
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22625, Date Accessed: 11/21/2019 5:56:03 AM

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About the Author
  • Liliana M. Garces
    The University of Texas at Austin
    E-mail Author
    LILIANA M. GARCES is associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin and affiliate faculty member at the University of Texas School of Law. Her research, focused on the dynamics of law and educational policy, examines access, diversity, and equity policies for underserved populations in higher education and the use and influence of research in law. She most recently published “A Strategic Racial Equity Framework” (with Cynthia Gordon da Cruz) in Peabody Journal of Education, and co-edited (with Erica Frankenberg and Megan Hopkins) School Integration Matters: Research-Based Strategies to Advance Racial Equity, published by Teachers College Press (2016).
  • Darkhan Bilyalov
    Nazarbayev University
    E-mail Author
    DARKHAN BILYALOV is assistant professor at the Graduate School of Education at Nazarbayev University. His research interests center on international higher education, with a focus on academic mobility and transnational universities. Having researched the education system in Kazakhstan for over a decade, he is interested in educational reform processes in the country, including university governance reform and improving access and equity to higher education. His recent publications include: “Institutional Performance Assessment in the Context of Transition to Corporate Governance,” in Higher School of Kazakhstan and “University Governance Reform in Kazakhstan,” in International Higher Education.
 
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