Where Do We Go from Here?: Reflections on Building Institutional Diversity for Lasting Change

by Yoon Pak, Christopher Span, James D. Anderson & William Trent - 2018

This article illustrates how the departments of Educational Policy Studies (EPS) and Education Policy, Organization and Leadership (EPOL) in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign built institutional diversity for lasting change. It relies on statistical data from the university, college, and department, and an interview conducted with Dr. James D. Anderson, former department head of the two units, and Dr. William T. Trent, a longstanding faculty member of EPS and EPOL, to document the remarkable diversity success developed over the past 30thirty years. The testimonies and data used offer profound considerations of how higher education can and must diversify itself to truly establish the progressive change needed to remedy the grand challenges impacting the world and to educate the next America upon us.


This article takes its title from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last published book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1968) as he reflected in deep solitude about the future of the United States, its troubled racialized past, and the role of poverty and its effects on American society. As a civil rights leader, so central to the movement, and one who had every reason to cast doubt on the future of racial and human progress in the country and worldwide, King’s message still resonates as one of hope and change. In the final pages of his book, he called for a genuine revolution of values where appreciation of and for humanity reigned. “This call for a worldwide fellowship,” King exclaimed, “that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, and class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men….Love is the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality” (p.  201). The reverend’s remarks invoke the pan-religious love of neighbor through faith, commitment, and action, but they also highlight the biggest challenge that lay within. To love one another would require and necessitate that we know one another. It is that sense of unknowingness of each other that results in the continuous harmful effects rooted in deep ignorance, which in turn perpetuate structural inequalities. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication, we were also reminded of the kinds of lasting commitments needed within institutions of higher education to weave diversity into the fabric of its very existence to ensure that “worldwide fellowship” truly becomes a reality. As we engaged in this intergenerational conversation, as a way to learn from our elders, we focused on those dynamic elements required to foster not just institutional diversity but a renewed attention to participatory democracy. This is especially important as we are witnessing a historical moment where concepts that espouse the value of diversity, inclusion, and democracy are being challenged and eroded, and where the violent acts of white supremacists are placed on the same plane as those on the progressive left. This is a grave injustice in and of itself and signals the need to learn more from our wisest of elders. In the context of our conversation with renowned Professors James D. Anderson and William T. Trent, we were predictably surprised by their overarching message, emphasizing how institutional change requires knowing each other through our histories and experiences, and how the depth of ignorance, so entrenched in our society, must be dismantled and eradicated.


The authors of this chapter have had the privilege of working alongside Anderson and Trent for nearly 20 years and were familiar with their international prowess as well as their influence within the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Illinois) in developing campus programs, initiatives, and policies for sustained progress in diversity, equity, and inclusion. As institutional leaders who traversed the political tide at Illinois for a combined eight decades, and as individuals who touched the lives of countless students of all stripes (ever remaining humble in the process), we knew there was much to learn from what they had to say. The recent article in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (Span, 2016) is the first published acknowledgment of their activist leadership. It also serves as a call to action for this and future generations to carry the torch and responsibilities for institutional change. Few have done more to enhance diversity in higher education than James D. Anderson and William T. Trent. Both have dedicated their lives and careers to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion.

James D. Anderson is the Dean of the College of Education and the Edward William and Jane Marr Gutgsell Professor of Education. He is considered the foremost historian on the African American educational experience, as his seminal publication, Education of Blacks in the South, 1865–1935 (1988), remains the standard interpretation in the field. Prior to his appointment as Dean of Education in 2016, he served as a department head for more than 20 years. In 1994, he became the department head of Educational Policy Studies (EPS), and thereafter, in 2011, the head of a three-department merger reorganized into the Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership (EPOL).

Anderson is nearing his 52nd year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He obtained his baccalaureate at Stillman College, a historically black college in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and started graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1966. After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, Anderson, as a doctoral student, was a member of the campus leadership team that envisioned and implemented Project 500 (Williamson, 2003), a campus initiative that led to the recruitment and enrollment of nearly 700 African American undergraduates at the University of Illinois. He traveled throughout the nation recruiting African Americans students to undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. Few knew then that his efforts, as a graduate student, would turn out to be a continuous longstanding contribution to diversity initiatives at the university, specifically, and higher education, in general. Case in point, for the past 25 years, he has either chaired or served on 70-plus dissertation committees for African Americans and nearly 15 dissertation committees for Latinx students. In the last 25 years, Dr. Anderson has either sat on or chaired over 125 dissertation committees.

William T. Trent, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Education in Small Urban Communities (CESUC), came to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1983. In 1966, he earned his baccalaureate degree at Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky. Thereafter, he obtained his doctorate at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Trent is beginning his 35th year on the faculty. Between 1994 and 1999, he was an Associate Chancellor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, responsible for campus diversity and inclusion issues. For the past 25 years, Trent has either chaired or served on over 60 dissertation committees for African Americans and nearly 15 dissertation committees for Latinx students. Also data from the Graduate College at Illinois reveal that for the past 25 years, Trent has either chaired or been a member of more than 120 dissertation committees.

As Span (2016) notes in his article on the remarkable accomplishments of Anderson and Trent, “the Graduate College database, where I obtained the doctoral committees that Anderson and Trent have served on, do not go back further than 1995.” Notwithstanding, Span declares:

I know at least 10 additional African American and Latino/a doctorates that earned their degrees because of Professors Anderson and Trent prior to 1995. These scholars who have earned their doctorates at the University of Illinois under the[ir] direction or mentorship…have gone on to become provosts, deans, associate deans, professors, vice chancellors, directors of programs, entrepreneurs, principals, superintendents, and leading educators and researchers in their respective fields of teaching, research, discovery, and innovation. Some have founded schools, started not-for-profit organizations, worked for NGOs, and have influenced education policy at the state and federal levels. Some have joined the faculty at their respective institutions and continue the legacy of these two pioneers in identifying, recruiting, mentoring, and graduating outstanding students of color to their colleges, departments, and doctoral programs. (para. 11)

In working to create a successful pipeline of underrepresented and diverse doctorates, the authors of this chapter have each also served on hundreds of examination committees—early research, qualifying exams, preliminary exams, and doctoral—during their time at Illinois. These are teaching and service elements that often go underappreciated or unacknowledged, yet are vital to the sustainability of the department and the diversification of higher education: a “diversity burden” that will be explained further.


The department built by Anderson and Trent is arguably the most diverse department in the history of highly selective predominantly white universities. Without question, it is the most diverse department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When Anderson became head of Educational Policy Studies (EPS) in 1994, there were only 8 tenure-system faculty members in the department. Today, there are 30 tenure-system faculty and the department is extremely diverse. Of the 30 tenure-system faculty, 18 are women, all but 4 of whom are tenured or full (8 associate professors and 6 full professors); 12 faculty are African American, all of whom are tenured or full (5 associate professors and 7 full professors); 1 is Latina (full professor); 6 faculty are Asian or Asian American, two thirds of whom are tenured (4 associate professors); and 14 of the 23 tenure-system faculty (60%) from these underrepresented and diverse backgrounds (African American, Asian American, Native American, and Latinx) have held a leadership position at the department, college, or university level. Nearly every faculty member in the department who has gone up for tenure under Anderson’s leadership has been promoted. Both Anderson and Trent have worked collaboratively with African American Studies, Asian American Studies, Gender & Women’s Studies, Latina/o Studies, Native American Studies, and the Provost’s and Chancellor’s offices to bring in expert faculty of color across campus. Equally important, both have unofficially mentored countless faculty and administrators as they have navigated their professional spaces on campus. They are selfless individuals and truly believe in the transformative democratizing power of diversity and inclusion.

The history of the department, and its belief that diversity is more than just a concept but a way of life, germinated prior to Anderson becoming department head. In the mid-1980s under the leadership of Clarence Karier and Paul Violas, two (white male) historians of education in Educational Policy Studies, the department purposefully began diversifying itself, emphasizing diversity as a value and core to the business and mission of the department, college, and university. According to Trent, Karier wanted to increase the diversity of the faculty and students by 85 percent. As a result, faculty of color were recruited and hired—Trent was one of the faculty of color hired during these initial efforts at achieving diversity—and EPS faculty and graduate students visited Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the hopes of recruiting talented students from these institutions to the department’s graduate programs. Initiatives to hire faculty from underrepresented backgrounds fared much better than initiatives aimed at recruiting underrepresented students. The lack of initial success in recruiting students of color, while stymieing, did not upend efforts. Anderson and Trent spoke about how these “failures” served as “a way to recalibrate, and from those efforts, we’ve stopped recruiting 20 years ago and there’s always been a plethora of applications from high caliber underrepresented minority students” (J. Anderson, personal communication, June 9, 2017), primarily through word of mouth of alumni who continually serve as the most effective recruitment source.

Table 1. Percentage and Number of On-Campus Graduate Students by Underrepresented Status and Gender in EPS and EPOL, 1989–2017

Academic Year

Percent of Underrepresented Students

Number of Underrepresented Students

Percent of Women

Total Number of On-Campus Graduate Students




































Source(s): Campus Profile for Department of Educational Policy Studies, 1989–1999, 1999–2009 and the Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, 2007–2017 (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Division of Management Information, n.d.).

The “failures” were short-lived, however. The vision, values, practices, and policies under Karier worked, and were evident when Anderson assumed his leadership role. For example, in 1989–1990 under Karier’s leadership, there were only 6 graduate students from underrepresented backgrounds (African American, Latinx, or Native American) in the department. They represented 16.3% of the total number of graduate students in EPS. In 1994–1995, the first year of Anderson’s tenure as department head, there were 33 underrepresented graduate students in the department, and they constituted 48.6% of all graduate students in EPS (see Table 1). The continued efforts advanced the goals of diversifying the student body.

Still, the developments implemented under Karier had their greatest outgrowth and success during Anderson’s leadership. In Fall 2009, before the merger of three departments: Educational Policy Studies (EPS), Education, Organization, and Leadership (EOL), and Human Resource Education (HRE) into Education Policy, Organization and Leadership (EPOL), university data illustrate that there were 149 students in EPS. Almost 62% of the graduate students enrolled in the department were African American, Latinx, or Native American, and 64% of the student body were female. Of these graduate students, 53 were African American, 33 were Latinx, 6 were Native American, 8 were Asian American, and 18 were international. Despite the fact that after the merger, the percentage of on-campus graduate students from underrepresented backgrounds decreased, the number of on-campus graduate students from underrepresented backgrounds continued to remain steady or increase, demonstrating how systemic and institutionalized diversity had become under Anderson’s leadership (see Table 1). The primary reason for the percentage decrease was the fact that there were far fewer graduate students from underrepresented backgrounds in the other two departments. In Fall 2009, HRE had a total of 78 on-campus graduate students and roughly 14% (11 students—10 African American and 1 Latino) were from underrepresented backgrounds. There were 155 on-campus graduate students in EOL in Fall 2009, and only 16.1% (19 African American and 6 Latina) were from underrepresented backgrounds (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Division of Management Information, n.d.).

Arguably, one of the greatest strengths of EPS and EPOL under Anderson and Trent’s leadership is their ability to effectively recruit, mentor, and retain high-quality students from underrepresented backgrounds. In the interview, Anderson estimated that at one point during the 1990s, “EPS alone graduated 10 percent of the nation’s African American doctorates,” an outstanding accomplishment for a department only 10 years into diversifying itself (J. Anderson, personal communication, June 9, 2017). Recent data only complement his estimate from the 1990s. Between 2004 and 2009, of the 165 graduate students awarded postbaccalaureate degrees in EPS, 42 were African American, 29 were Latinx, 3 were Native American, 11 were Asian American, and 112 were women. In 2015, 14 African Americans (9 females and 5 males), and five Latinx (3 Latinas and 2 Latinos) earned their doctorates in EPOL. In 2016, “a total of 21 African Americans and 11 Latino/a students earned their doctorate in the college, all but six were in EPOL” (Span, 2016). By comparison, the rest of campus had a total of 41 earned doctorates by underrepresented students in 2016, “31 in 2015, and 21 in 2014” (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Division of Management Information, n.d.; Wurth, 2016, para. 9). In the past half-decade, nearly 75% of all doctorates conferred by EPOL were earned by a person from an underrepresented or diverse background.


How does one explain this remarkable success? Anderson and Trent argue that it begins with one’s ability and willingness to act on the belief that diversity is a core value and core business in higher education. When first asked about what came to their minds when we talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and building that into a sustainable institution, their following remarks were very telling. Trent first noted that it was a hard question to address, as it is much about tapping into early personal and professional experiences. When he entered spaces like Illinois, he could not help but compare it to his own undergraduate experiences, transitioning from an all-black to an all-white context. “The ignorance was substantial,” Trent noted, “just to those people who had no way of knowing about me because of segregation in our society; the effects of segregation gave the sense that I was an exception” (W. Trent, personal communication, June 9, 2017). This was completely anathema to his experiences growing up in segregated spaces where he always lived amongst intellectually gifted peers, all of whom looked like him and lived together. It was more the norm of his reality, rather than the exception. And constantly being made aware of his “abnormality” in predominantly white institutions (PWI) served as a catalyst to seek change. Trent remarked, “Having that understanding of exceptional people and experiencing that exception, with people all of whom looked like me, just gave me a different sense of what an equivalent space like this could/should look like” (W. Trent, personal communication, June 9, 2017).

Trent was reminded of that kind of experience at George Washington University (GWU), when he directed a program working with talented underrepresented youth. A recent email from one of the members of the first cohort he directed, now a urologist, made him ponder more about the types of institutional leadership that could have been had at institutions like GWU and Illinois if these forms of segregation and deficit mindsets did not exist. He lamented at how “having a fundamental lack of understanding of the type of talent available in these communities of color” was a loss for everyone (W. Trent, personal communication, June 9, 2017). Trent remains convinced that the talent is out there for every institution of higher education to diversify its ranks with high-achieving students and faculty from underrepresented backgrounds. As leaders and educators in a nation who need to enhance and embrace diversity better, the persistent challenge remains. This challenge requires us to break away from our own ignorance and bias, to move beyond notions of exceptionalism, and develop plans and strategies adapted to finding talented faculty, staff, and students from underrepresented backgrounds. “When asked why I keep working at a place like this,” Trent concluded, “it’s because I know we can break through the ignorance….There’s talent, I know it’s there. I was never at the top of the class, and there were people who ran rings around me, so when people exceptionalize me, it’s not the reality. If I didn’t believe we could break through the ignorance, because it undergirds so much of what is there, I wouldn’t be doing it” (W. Trent, personal communication, June 9, 2017).

Anderson reiterated the importance of checking one’s own bias when serving on key departmental and campus committees, particularly when concepts such as merit and qualifications are gauged. He commented on how one campus diversity committee he served on was required to read and reflect upon recent research emphasizing implicit bias and gender stereotypes in the hopes of not repeating the mistakes the readings identified. One of the articles the committee read illustrated how both male and female committee members tended to judge female candidates’ curriculum vitaes (CVs) with greater scrutiny than those of their male counterparts, even though all elements of the CVs were based on equal qualifications. Anderson iterated how the article deduced that implicit bias determines opportunities and outcomes and is perpetuated not only by individuals outside the member group/identity being evaluated, but from those inside as well. If left unchecked, notions of exceptionalism, deficit thinking, and implicit bias adversely impact our ability to meet diversity and inclusion goals and continue to cast successful individuals from underrepresented backgrounds as exceptions to the norm, rather than as exceptional normal people. In his recollection, Anderson demonstrated a deep appreciation for the mindfulness exercises the committee went through to better understand and diminish implicit bias. The goal of every university must be to create opportunities for faculty, students, administrators, and staff to develop intentional mindfulness practices and policies to limit or remove implicit bias, ignorance, or notions of exceptionalism and ensure diversity and inclusion efforts, at all levels, are thoroughly afforded. To Anderson and Trent, exceptionalist thinking or applying an ahistorical perspective about the ability of others, or about who has merit or is qualified, diminishes when diversity, equity, and inclusion are foreordained values and are structural and accountable parts of university business and life.


Making diversity an everyday core value and common core business of the university has always been on the mind of James D. Anderson, and he had much to reflect. Despite his constant and far-reaching efforts to increase and enhance diversity at Illinois, Anderson remains unconvinced that diversity is deemed ordinary or core to the values and business of the campus. He elaborated in detail on this concern:

One thing I think about a lot, even from the beginning, when we were trying to create a lot more diversity and inclusion in our department…and working across campus, is, if any of it were core to the university, [and] if [the university] would not allow it to go under. And I’ve never been convinced that that’s been the case. I think about some structural and institutional changes like the SROP [Summer Research Opportunity Program] program. I remember Elaine Copeland in our time putting that in place, with the CIC (Committee on Institutional Cooperation). So, there were about 15 institutions, and at the annual meeting there would be about 600 students of color there, and it was really awesome. It [SROP] had an impact on other students who were there…who had aspirations for graduate or professional school. At the same time, I’d always ask myself what if a dean at one place decided we’re not going to do this anymore? And that’s essentially what happened. They decided to really pull back, and that started to happen on this campus. At one point, we had 110 students in the [SROP] program [at Illinois] and then a dean came in and said, well, that’s too much. And the next thing you know we had 30 students and they tried building it back up. I always contrast that with the departments of electrical and computer engineering, and the department of chemistry or political science, if a department head decided to cut their enrollments or drop programs, the chancellor, and the provost, or the dean, especially of that college, would say, “whoa wait a minute you can’t do that.” That person at that department would probably lose their job, because this is so core to what we do, we cannot allow you to destroy it [enrollment in said program]. (J. Anderson, personal communication, June 9, 2017)

After this profound reflection, Anderson deduced, “almost everything in diversity can be destroyed without consequences,” because it has less value and importance. He contrasted the way campus, colleges, and departments think about freshmen enrollment and its fluctuations. “They [freshmen enrollment] go up and they go down, and then people worry about can we do this, or how do we do this program?” Still, this is not the same with regard to the diversity success EPS and EPOL have achieved. “Think of what we’ve done,” Anderson stated,

what we’ve accomplished. If we stopped doing it tomorrow, it’d be a while before the campus even realized it was stopped. And once they’ve realized it was stopped, no heads would roll, no department head, no dean, would lose his or her job over diversity. And yet, when it comes to the core of the university, our academic programs, our students, even our international students…if you tried to redirect that or drastically cut that, you’d get called to the rug and asked, “what are you doing? This is the mission of the university, this is who we are, you can’t tamper with that.” And yet on issues of diversity, they never have the same standing at the institution. (J. Anderson, personal communication, June 9, 2017)

To Anderson, this was proof positive that diversity was not common or ordinary core business of the university, or, as he articulated, “profoundly institutionalized.” Diversity, equity, and inclusion “exist on the periphery and can easily fluctuate in one direction” without penalty or consequence to the mission or future of the university. Anderson ascertained that it is only when institutions or units experience embarrassment over its diversity efforts (such as a sharp decline in the freshmen enrollment of African American or Latinx students), and concerns are raised publicly by prominent alumni or a state representative, do universities monitor the situation and ask for accountability. If the university responded to diversity and inclusion efforts beyond the embarrassing moments, the same it would for any other university matter, that would demonstrate to Anderson the transition of diversity moving from periphery concerns to everyday core business.

Anderson continued this logic and questioning of whether diversity was core business with an excellent comparison of the way university administrators monitor and account for its people, resources, and outcomes. “There’s a lot of aspects to whether it’s institutionalized and people at a high-level care about it,” he expressed.

That [includes] monitoring accountability and monitoring the university, [and] monitoring the enrollment. We monitor budgets, for instance, or even at the individual level, ICR (Indirect Cost Recovery) budgets and grants. We’re constantly monitoring, and if people are going over, we say, “wait a minute, how are you going to resolve this deficit?” (J. Anderson, personal communication, June 9, 2017)

Anderson added that this same monitoring happens at the programmatic level as well. The size of graduate programs, doctoral students, number of tuition and fee waivers allotted, are all monitored and seen as core business. “There’s constant monitoring, and if a department or segment of the college goes too far,” he expounded, “we say, ‘wait a minute, we need accountability here. We need to pull you back in’” (J. Anderson, personal communication, June 9, 2017).

On the other hand, Anderson and Trent have rarely observed this same concern for diversity initiatives. Anderson maintains that “in terms of diversity, there’s no monitoring in the first place, and if there is some monitoring, there’s never an accountability. No one ever says to a department your numbers are way too low [regarding diversity], or you need to do something about that, whether it’s faculty, or staff, or students” (J. Anderson, personal communication, June 9, 2017). Both he and Trent are confident that instead of viewing diversity as ordinary, core practice and business, it is oftentimes viewed and treated as a social infringement, and as Anderson reasoned, “you don’t hold people accountable for social infringements…[or] for something that we unconsciously don’t see as a core to the business that we do.” He elaborated on this insightful observation, and how universities, in general, have both consciously and unconsciously structured a system of values and rewards noninclusive of efforts to increase or enhance diversity and inclusion:

The other side is that everything that we value in this university we compensate and give awards for. You know, if you’re an outstanding scholar, you’d be at the CAS [Center for Advanced Study], be a University Scholar, you’d be a named Chair, there’s so many ways you’d be awarded for that which we care about. Teaching awards, there’s all these annual awards for teaching. . .we award what we care about. When it comes to diversity, there’s a few diversity recognitions, but it doesn’t factor in promotion and tenure, as all these other things that we do like research and teaching. People often think that this should not be recognized, that this is the soft stuff, this is the social stuff. This is not the hard-core business of the university. So, this is a double whammy [when it comes to diversity]. There’s no monitoring and accountability, and if you go and actually do wonderful things, great things, things that no one else expected you to do [related to diversity and inclusion], the institution doesn’t know how to say, here’s the recognition for this, here’s the award for this. (J. Anderson, personal communication, June 9, 2017)

Trent reflected on how he and Anderson acknowledged and addressed this unconscious systemic devaluing of diversity early in their careers, especially when Anderson’s predecessor as department head, Clarence Karier, proposed and established that plan to increase departmental faculty and student diversity in the mid-1980s by 85 percent. Trent wrote a letter to the campus leadership praising Karier’s efforts, and how the department and campus needed to “seize the moment” to harness the talent available nationwide. Trent’s letter, and Karier’s efforts, went unacknowledged. Trent shared that Karier had always anticipated a nonresponse, knowing full well from his own experiences and scholarship that there was a level of threat that would come from achieving “too much diversity.” Still, the struggle continues for these efforts at increasing and enhancing diversity and inclusion to become systemically part of the core values and rewards system and structures developed at institutions of higher education. This is even more evident as universities recognize the importance of being or becoming more diverse learning environments. As diversity and inclusion is persistently articulated as core to the values and business of the university, Anderson and Trent remind us that efforts to advance and achieve these outcomes should be considered in promotion and tenure cases, leadership and professional development opportunities.


So how did EPS and EPOL become so diverse? Beyond the belief that diversity should be a fundamental value and common business to the university, how did EPS and EPOL build institutional diversity for lasting change? When interviewed by the local newspaper, The News Gazette, about the institutional diversity developed in EPS and EPOL, Anderson relayed,

it took some time, and there were setbacks, but by the end of the 1980s “we were rolling. […] We were diversifying the faculty, we were diversifying the student body, and we were recruiting very talented and high-achieving students. They were going places, and making a mark, and pretty soon we had a national reputation.” (Wurth, 2016, para. 18)

Under his leadership, Anderson used a “‘multi-pronged approach’—“making recruiting trips, bringing students to campus for visits, helping them apply for fellowship funding and, in later years, taking advantage of programs designed to increase the number of minority graduate students nationwide” (Wurth, 2016, para. 19). The initial recruiting trips familiarized talented undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds with the department, its graduate programs, and faculty. “I’ve always believed—not just for students of color—that we should not sit back and simply wait to see who shows up. We should proactively recruit the kinds of students we want,” Anderson said. He believes graduate programs need to recruit like athletics programs. “Imagine if our basketball team or football team simply waited for applications. They know they need to recruit certain talent…if they want to become champions. We have to recruit the kinds of kids who will make us champions, in terms of writing, and leadership positions…students who will make a difference” (Wurth, 2016, para. 22).

By 2000, prospective students interested in the department were in high demand and the need to recruit underrepresented students was virtually nonexistent. This was largely due to the recommendations, efforts, and work of alumni across the nation, who served as excellent ambassadors by touting the uniqueness of the department. Anderson recalled how early graduates of the department—now professors at universities across the nation—conveyed to their undergraduate students that “this is a place where graduate students can come, get support, get mentoring, and graduate and go on to very important careers” (J. Anderson, personal communication, June 9, 2017). Prospective students listening to their professors, alumni of EPS or EPOL, upon their acceptance, became the next generation of graduate students entering a department whose emphasis on diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice was now an established national brand.

The second aspect of Anderson’s “multi-pronged approach” was to bring students to campus for a visit. Campus visits afford prospective students a better understanding of the department, faculty, university, and community they will engage and learn from for the next few years. It also gives them a chance to speak with the current graduate student body. To Anderson, this is extremely important. “When students would come to visit, we’d tell them don’t talk to us. We have an obligation to sell the place. Talk to our graduate students. They have no obligation to sell, and they will tell you exactly how it is” (J. Anderson, personal communication, June 9, 2017). A private meeting with current graduate students is purposefully structured into the itinerary of prospective graduate students. Recruits are encouraged to ask “where the pitfalls are, where the potholes are.” Part of the success of recruiting high-value graduate students of color is being transparent about your program and asking current students to speak honestly and openly about their experiences. “To this day,” Anderson declared, the graduate students and “the graduates of the department continue to sell prospective students on the benefits of the experiences of the department” (J. Anderson, personal communication, June 9, 2017).

Building a continuous pipeline is another important development, and a third element in this multi-pronged approach. EPS and EPOL have been successful in recruiting large numbers of African American and Latinx students because of their ability to work closely with programs across campus such as the Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP), the McNair Scholars Programs, and the Summer Pre-Doctoral Institute (SPI), and with units like the Office of Minority Student Affairs (OMSA), the Counseling Center, and the myriad race, gender, and ethnic studies programs at the university. The SROP and McNair are designed to give research and mentoring opportunities to undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds. The programs provide them firsthand experience to write and conduct research at the graduate level. SPI allows doctoral students from underrepresented backgrounds the opportunity to enter graduate school the summer prior to their Fall admission so that they can establish an early relationship and research agenda with their faculty mentor and/or adviser. Countless graduate students from underrepresented backgrounds have entered EPS and EPOL through these programs.

The department also intentionally sought to recruit high-achieving Latinx students from California as early as the late 1990s. Faculty recruited students from California heavily in the hopes of expanding its footprint and diversity efforts. At the time, the largest concentration of Latinx undergraduate students was in California, so if the department wanted to increase its graduate enrollment from this demographic, it would have to design an attractive recruitment plan to convince Latinx students to leave California for Illinois. Trent recalled, “There were criticisms, of course, especially that the department could not reach Latino/a students because of its place in the Midwest” (W. Trent, personal communication, June 9, 2017). The evidence would prove counter as the department utilized the SROP and SPI programs to recruit and enroll Latinx students from California. Alumni who are now faculty in various institutions of higher learning in California once again served as invaluable resources in the recruiting process as they encouraged prospective students to consider EPS and EPOL as an alternative to an in-state graduate program.

Funding and mentoring were additional key elements to the recruitment and successful persistence of students from underrepresented backgrounds. Both Anderson and Trent spoke of the need to be proactive and engaged in securing funding for doctoral students. Their efforts fit within their belief that securing funding for graduate students—underrepresented or not—was ordinary core business of what department executives and faculty do for students in a doctoral program. Anderson articulated that in the early years the department “cobbled together” resources to fund students. What this meant was that the department worked with a network of other campus units or faculty to find research, teaching, or graduate assistantships. It also served to enhance students’ abilities to “hustle” for resources, recognizing the multiple means by which financial assistance could be achieved.

Since then, the department has been extremely successful at identifying and securing funding for students. In 1986, the State of Illinois established the Illinois Consortium for Educational Opportunity Program (ICEOP) as an effort to diversify faculty in Illinois colleges and universities. The program, now called Diversifying Faculty in Illinois (DFI), offers a fellowship with a tuition and fee waiver (for up to 4 years) to recipients. Since its inception, both EPS and EPOL have been highly successful in aiding graduate students from underrepresented backgrounds in securing this fellowship. According to departmental records, between 1986 and 2016, 107 graduate students (74 African American, 74 women, 31 Latinx, 2 Asian American) have earned this highly competitive fellowship. The fellowship aided them in earning a doctorate with minimal debt, and has resulted in producing 47 faculty nationwide, with 32 holding tenured faculty positions as of 2016; 12 directors of education programs; 11 senior administrators in higher education; 6 founders of schools or educational enterprises; 4 associate deans of education; 3 deans of education; and 1 provost. There are currently 10 DFI fellows in the department as well.

Similarly, graduate students from underrepresented backgrounds have also been extremely competitive for highly coveted campus fellowships, such as the Illinois Distinguished Fellowship and the Graduate College Fellowship. These fellowships offer up to 2 years of campus funding and up to 2 years of departmental funding (2 to 4 years of total funding), and they have been historically used for recruiting purposes. Every department at the university can submit prospective student applications for these fellowships. In the last half-decade, 38 graduate students from underrepresented backgrounds (26 African American, 10 Latinx, 3 Asian American) in EPOL have successfully earned an Illinois Distinguished or Graduate College Fellowship. Also, more than a dozen underrepresented graduate students from EPOL have earned fellowships from the American Educational Research Association, the Ford Foundation, Fulbright, the Gates Foundation and Millennium Scholars Program, and the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation. Anderson correctly concluded that these combined philanthropic, campus, and state financial aid resources “created an environment that was hard to match” when it came to recruiting students from underrepresented backgrounds and helping them persist and graduate.

As important to funding is mentoring. As Anderson recalled, “the kind of mentoring, the kind of engagement, the kind of day to day relationships for our students” is beyond important. “Mentoring is crucial,” he continued, “particularly for first-generation college students. Being around students, being available for them to have discussions and express concerns….In graduate training and research, what happens outside the classroom is just as important as what happens inside” (Wurth, 2016, para. 23). Faculty and staff are encouraged to make themselves available to their students. The goal is for students to feel like the department is not only an excellent place to learn but a home away from home.

Students interviewed about their overall experiences in the department reiterated these observations. Kimberly Watson, a 2016 graduate of EPOL, had to leave Champaign amid her dissertation writing and resume teaching full-time in Chicago when life circumstances happened. She said that both Anderson and Trent “did everything they could” to make the transition easier for her. “They answered ‘a million questions’ via email, adjusted their schedules to meet with her during her trips to Champaign, and encouraged her to keep going” (Wurth, 2016, para. 24). “They were so selfless,” said Watson, and “I appreciate them tremendously, because as an educator that’s what I give to my students. I never stop working” (Wurth, 2016, para. 28).

Similarly, Chanee Anderson, “now a community engagement specialist for the Oakland, California school district,” said of Trent that she “actually call[ed] him my academic dad.” She continued, “not only was he there to help me navigate and understand my ideas around education, I also felt comfortable talking with him when personal issues were weighing heavy. He would always be there” (Wurth, 2016, para. 34). She also said seeing faculty and other graduate students who looked like her and had experiences similar to hers helped build community and camaraderie. She related how “some of the women were trying to balance graduate school and raising a family, but she and other women often babysat for graduate school moms so they had time to work” (Wurth, 2016, para. 44). Another student, Regina Carter, who earned her doctorate in 2016 and is now an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, offered an analogous assessment. “We taught each other throughout school,” she reflected. “We call it, ‘Lifting each other up on your shoulder’—making sure we stayed on target, getting our papers reviewed, writing groups, study times and just encouraging each other with texts, a phone call or a Facebook message” (Wurth, 2016, para. 43).


Additionally, Trent and Anderson also emphasized the importance of international student diversity and how at one point in the mid-1980s through the 1990s nearly one third of the department’s graduate students came from South Korea. They noted the influence of former EPS professor and philosopher Harry Brodie who aided in rebuilding South Korea’s educational system post-Korean War in the 1950s. Anderson also recalled when EPS had 10 Iranian students in the late 1970s through the 1980s, when enrollment of students from the Middle East virtually stopped thereafter. International students were central to forming global diversity and bringing additional diverse perspectives that domestic students—underrepresented or not—would not have considered otherwise. The overall character of the department was also shaped by the international students’ experiences as racialized minorities in a traditionally white campus. Therefore, having a physical space where all students were able to congregate and engage in dialogue served as another important feature of creating an infrastructure for diversity and inclusion. To establish this reality, Anderson established a room specifically for graduate students to dialogue and come to know each other. A table was purchased that could seat as many as 30 students. Graduate students call the room the “TA Room,” and have written their dissertations, babysat, helped each other, held potlucks, planned organized protests, and developed lifelong friendships from their engagements and activities in this physical space.


Diversity work—recruitment efforts, visits, the attention to details, care, mentoring, serving on qualifying and preliminary exams and dissertation committees, writing letters of recommendations, and preparing applications for the securing of funding, etc.—however, acts as a double-edged sword as it is both very rewarding and very time consuming. Anderson used the phrase “diversity burden” about the sacrifices often undertaken by graduate students and faculty of color to do the work in which everyone should partake. “You make sacrifices that you wouldn’t ordinarily make,” stated Anderson. He points in particular to mentoring programs such as McNair and SROP that involve 6–8 weeks of commitment over the summer months. While there was never a requirement on the faculty’s part to participate, “I knew we had to. . . even as a department head and even while on research grants” (J. Anderson, personal communication, June 9, 2017). It was important to be involved, as the kind of quality students we were able to recruit was dependent on faculty participation. In his recollection, the department consistently held the disproportionate share of faculty and student involvement across campus. Over time, that equated to talented graduate students enrolling in the department with the requisite skills necessary to succeed in a doctoral program. But as emphasized above, the work of enhancing diversity works better when shared amongst the whole faculty versus “burdened” by a few. The institutionalizing of diversity efforts, sharing them across the board so that they are not dependent on one or a handful of faculty or administrators, holds the key to replication from unit to unit or even institution to institution.

Similarly, departments seeking to increase and enhance diversity efforts must also recognize that true institutional change takes time, requires adaptability, and will not be achieved overnight. Some alumni have learned the difficult lesson of attempting to immediately replicate the diversity success of EPS and EPOL, or at least their graduate experience, in their new departmental homes as faculty. Many stop short of achieving their goal, because of the burden they carry in attempting to achieve these diversity outcomes themselves. In essence, they give up because the work became too isolating, cumbersome, unachievable, or discouraging.

Given the recent scholarship on racial battle fatigue among anti-racist activists and scholars (Smith, Hung, & Franklin, 2011), it is easy to understand how many people might become discouraged. And yet, when asked if they have ever been discouraged, Anderson was steadfast, “No, I haven’t. I see this as a fight. I don’t see this as seeking approval. I’m not at all persuaded by people who don’t see this as a value. This is a struggle. I’m not ceding to them. It’s always a challenge. More often than not it’s an adversarial relationship. You redouble your effort. You fight even harder” (J. Anderson, personal communication, June 9, 2017). Anderson recalled how he was a kid in Alabama when the Montgomery bus boycotts began and it was not until he was a junior in college that the Voting Rights Act was passed—realizing just how long it takes to see results, and that these cumulative efforts, including setbacks, are part of the long struggle. Trent agreed, adding that the “long arc of justice continues to bend forwards [and] there’s no way to stop, especially for those of us who are in those positions to do so, we can’t stop. You can’t give up just because you’re tired.” He elaborated, “It can be a hard pill to swallow, especially for graduate students of color, that some faculty who look like you may not have an interest in you” (W. Trent, personal communication, June 9, 2017). But then it becomes ever more important to find those mentors whose interests, not necessarily one’s skin color, align with enacting diversity.

Replication is possible, but it requires tremendous patience, honest assessments about past and current practices, determination, networking, partnerships, and intentionality regardless of the successes or setbacks. You should also never be content with the success you established; establish more, become better than you are today. These are the keys to institutionalizing diversity goals in higher education. There was a time when Anderson was the only graduate student of color and thereafter only faculty of color in the unit. These realities motivated his vision, strategic plans, actions, and goals. Both he and Trent reminded us that they were 9 and 10 years old when Brown vs. Board of Education was decided in 1954. One was a child in Richmond, Virginia, the other a child in Eutaw, Alabama; both were black children coming of age in a region of America determined to remain segregated. Even though Brown was the law of the land, neither attended a desegregated school until college. For Trent, it was when he left his home state of Virginia to attend a predominantly white United Methodist College in Kentucky. For Anderson, it wasn’t until he graduated from Stillman College and entered a master’s degree program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1966.

Their experiences and recollections should remind us that change takes place over generations, especially when there is resistance, explicit and implicit bias, and minimal infrastructure and resources to develop, monitor, and support the change sought. Still, the words of Anderson and Trent also remind us that change can happen, very quickly in fact, when dedicated people envision a new path, remain steadfast to their aspirations, view setbacks as opportunities for recalibration, and are willing to take on responsibilities beyond what is required, to ensure that the change sought not only happens, but is sustained. In less than a decade, EPS went from having virtually no diversity to being the most diverse department in higher education. It continues to be so three decades later. Karier, Violas, Anderson, Trent, and others in EPS and EPOL prove that institutionalized diversity is achievable. “You’ve got to keep your eyes on the prize.” Those were the final words of wisdom they offered in the interview.


Despite all the successes that EPS and EPOL have achieved over the years, there is more to be done. Faculty recruitment that aims at enhancing growth in Latinx, Native American, underrepresented Asian American, and LBGTQ+ scholarship and populations through innovative research methodologies remain a priority. Diversity in scholarship, to constantly ask if there is a new way to think about the taken-for-granted issues, is absolutely necessary as our society readies for a “New America.” It goes beyond what we think about race, gender, or difference today to asking new questions about confronting race, gender, and difference for tomorrow. It is in this sense that Anderson, in learning from past experiences, calls for deliberate approaches to find faculty, “scholars of any color” genuinely committed to diversity not only in their scholarship, but in their everyday interactions with students and colleagues. “It’s really about different groups of people coming together who think in different ways and that’s the hope that we have” (J. Anderson, personal communication, June 9, 2017). Trent reaffirms this sentiment, adding that the work we do must improve the human condition and advance human understanding. The end goal of their diversity initiatives is to continually improve human relations so we can learn from and know each other in ways commensurate with Dr. King’s call for universal brotherhood.

In this sense, Anderson and Trent both questioned the extent to which current graduate students understand this particular aspect of diversity. Many of them see racial composition as the end goal where diversity is reflected demographically and socially, but not necessarily intellectually. Students need to truly appreciate what new intellectual discoveries can emerge through the dialectical process of sharing and diverse coalition building. In this sense, graduate students must engage and exchange with students different from themselves, read widely and deeply across areas of interest and disciplines, so that they develop important partnerships, networks, ideas and innovations to change the world for all inhabitants.

Embracing diversity as an intellectual endeavor, and the growth that will occur from this approach and practice is a necessity for tomorrow’s future leadership. When diversity is intellectualized, it becomes complex, and it allows people to understand concepts and ideas more deeply. Affirmative action and its impact on college enrollment serves as a prime example. If viewed exclusively through a racial lens, it excludes the ways gender, socioeconomic status, language, religion, region, nationality, sexuality, ability, and zip code (and a host of other factors) all impact the lives of everyday Americans. As Anderson asserts, “America doesn’t even want to hear that. [We] need to hear things that are bothersome, inconvenient, otherwise you don’t want to hear. But knowing and engaging in that will force you to think more complexly and confront your prejudices” (J. Anderson, personal communication, June 9, 2017). Trent reinforced how he intentionally builds a diverse, talented research team of graduate students where no question about the quality of their work arises. The students’ engagement in the research process ensures high levels of intellectualism to flow. His most recent National Science Foundation (NSF) research “dream team” included the talents of Casey George Jackson (University of Louisville), Blanca Rincón (University of Las Vegas, Nevada), Montrischa Williams (American Institutes for Research), Erin Castro (University of Utah), Derek Houston (University of Oklahoma), Ifeyinwa Onyenekwu (Rutgers University), and Ishwanzya Rivers (University of Louisville). These graduates are now conducting cutting-edge interdisciplinary research with colleagues and graduate students worldwide.

Anderson and Trent agreed the future goal of the department and higher education in general is to educate for the next America. In the wake of the recent presidential election, where the voting electorate base was composed of those who wanted to harken back to an imagined nostalgia of white male dominance, Anderson spoke for the need to look ahead to the shifting demographics already taking place. “We are almost compelled to educate a population for the next America. It’s not this America” (J. Anderson, personal communication, June 9, 2017). We need to educate people—all people—for the opportunities and world being developed, and not for opportunities and a world that is outdated, parochial, or bound to fade away or fail because of indifference or fear of change.

The nation’s shifting demographics drive this demand to educate the next America. “Think about the revolution that’s about to take place,” Anderson opined. “35 percent Latino, growth in Asian population. You run but you can’t hide; you can’t control those spaces….This is a power revolution, not just a population revolution” (J. Anderson, personal communication, June 9, 2017). He and Trent noted that if our students don’t learn how to work, live, and communicate in a diverse society, we as educators have failed to prepare them for their role in helping the next America reach its highest potential. New demographics require new coalitions, new connections, new pedagogies, and new worldwide perspectives, and they agreed it becomes OUR responsibility both as faculty and a department to provide structures and opportunities to ensure that the next generation of graduates is empowered to build long-lasting progressive change. “We gotta bring them together and stress upon them the importance of togetherness. . . .It’s a consciousness raising endeavor” (J. Anderson, personal communication, June 9, 2017). Trent concurred and reckoned that “appreciating and understanding diversity and inclusion, in the broadest sense, is not necessarily about race, gender, etc. anymore.” It is “about problem-solving for the new America” upon us, and how we can help others envision and create a world better than the one we’ve inherited (W. Trent, personal communication, June 9, 2017).

The parallels between Dr. King’s remarks and what Anderson and Trent have shared are quite remarkable. While we were “expecting” to hear a more recipe-type process for improving institutional practice, what they revealed are the human conditions necessary for humanity’s transformation to take place. It does require knowing and understanding each other. It is almost the kind of dialectical model where we must constantly strive for a new synthesis of being that activists such as Grace Lee Boggs (1915–2015) had worked to live and embody. It is also a call to action for students, faculty, and administrators to be readily cognizant of their place in the world, and to consciously and deliberately chip away and dismantle the bias, ignorance, and structures that divide rather than unite and continue to create barriers rather than bridges. This moment requires all hands to be on deck. So, where do we go from here? Well, that is entirely up to us, but the foundation has been laid for faculty in EPOL, the College of Education, the University of Illinois, and our alumni to expand upon what has been built and to continue the stellar tradition and practice of institutionalizing diversity. The labor continues.


King, M. L., Jr. (1968). Where do we go from here: Chaos or community? Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Smith, W. A., Hung, M., & Franklin, J. D. (2011). Racial battle fatigue and the miseducation of Black men: Racial microaggressions, societal problems, and environmental stress. Journal of Negro Education, 80(1), 63–82.

Span, C. M. (2016, June 1). Creating the talented tenth. Retrieved from Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. https://www.jbhe.com/2016/06/creating-the-talented-tenth/

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Division of Management Information. (n.d.). Campus Profile. Retrieved from http://dmi.illinois.edu/cp/

Wurth, J. (2016, July 3). “Talented twelve.” The News-Gazette. Retrieved from http://www.newsgazette.com/news/local/2016-07-03/talented-twelve.html

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 14, 2018, p. 1-24
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22372, Date Accessed: 5/27/2022 2:32:57 AM

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