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.