Campus Compact Statement on Higher Education’s Response to Events in Baltimore and around the United States

Campus Compact is dedicated to the proposition that colleges and universities have a special role to play in creating and sustaining the conditions for a thriving democracy. For that reason, we are compelled to respond to events in Baltimore, related protests across the country, and their antecedent conditions by providing our view of how colleges and universities can take positive action. We offer this view with a recognition that our colleges and universities are not separated from the broader society. The lives of students, faculty, and staff are directly affected by these issues, both on and off campus. We recognize also that many colleges and universities have long histories of leadership in addressing crucial public issues. We hope to call attention to the lessons learned through those histories to inspire even greater commitment across higher education.

Two inter-related conditions are increasingly undermining democratic practice in the United States: the explosion of inequality and the disappearance of space for thoughtful deliberative public discussion. As has been widely documented, economic inequality has spiked over the last four decades, and mobility has been in steep decline. There is broad agreement in the United States that differences in income and wealth are legitimate in a market economy. However, as gaps have grown and residential segregation by income has increased, we have separated ourselves into communities with vastly different access to wealth, education, and the political influence that comes with both. The persistence of historical racial inequality means that this class divide is mirrored in a racial chasm.

At the same time, myriad factors have contributed to the polarization of our political discourse and a sharp reduction of thoughtful discussion leading to shared solutions based on the common good.

When groups feel aggrieved, our legitimate political processes are supposed to provide channels for resolving those grievances. When confidence in those processes erodes and our broader community is riven by mistrust, we find ourselves without civil and productive means for achieving solutions.

Colleges and universities cannot, of course, solve these problems by themselves. At the same time, no social institution is as well positioned as higher education to have positive influence in both advancing progress toward equality and re-establishing space for meaningful democratic deliberation. Colleges and universities can take immediate steps while also beginning sustained work to effect long-term change. Campus Compact calls upon our 1100 member colleges and universities and all of higher education to act, and we commit ourselves to supporting institutions as they do. While we are prompted to issue this call by events in which race and class have taken center stage, we encourage campuses to take the opportunity for reflection on how they can advance equality along a wide range of dimensions and how they can broaden and deepen existing efforts. Here are the steps we recommend, followed by a link to resources to support implementation:

1) Make clear statements indicating that senior leaders care about the issues raised in recent protests and will work in partnership with all campus and community constituencies to support positive change to address those concerns. Senior leaders should affirm that it is essential for all members of the academic community to participate actively in discussion and debate about equality and justice in our society.

2) Offer the campus as a venue for community-generated meetings and discussions. Make the campus a safe space for the work of democracy.

3) In partnership with groups representing the diversity of students, faculty, and staff, prepare to open the fall with learning-focused campus forums in which voices from excluded communities can be heard by the broadest possible range of students. When our students are bombarded with media images of property destruction, colleges and universities have an essential role to play in helping them understand the context in which those images have been created. Campuses should be thoughtful about framing and designing these discussions so no member of the community is put in the position of representing whole social groups or is subject to hostility and abuse.

Possible foci include:
-Pathways from inequality and segregation to equality and inclusion
-Media representations of race and ethnicity
-Histories of police relationships with communities of color

4) While affirming the legitimacy of disagreement respectfully expressed, create or continue to support spaces where members of the campus community from historically marginalized groups can, if they choose, meet together to discuss shared experiences.

5) Draw on emerging teaching resources inspired by events in Ferguson, Baltimore, and elsewhere to develop new courses or augment existing syllabi.

6) Build PreK-16 partnerships including youth-serving organizations and community-based organizations to ensure that young people from low-income communities have achievable pathways to and through higher education.

7) Build ongoing city or regional platforms for communication among anchor institutions and between anchors and communities. When making decisions about matters such as purchasing, employment, and real estate acquisition and development, consider long-term community interests along with the interests of the campus.

8) Create or continue to support ongoing structures to ensure that community voices are heard consistently as the campus develops its community engagement initiatives.

9) Build experiential academic courses and co-curricular experiences that engage students, faculty, and staff in shared work with members of low-income communities and other historically marginalized communities as an element of learning about the history and the present. Whether students are members of such communities or not, there is much for them to learn from carefully designed learning experiences aimed at overcoming histories of inequality.

10) Support community-based research. Community-based research answers questions that matter to communities through work that is planned and executed equitably and can involve co-authorship by faculty, students, and community partners.

11) Establish civic learning outcomes for all students to ensure that students graduate with the capacity to listen to the perspectives of diverse others, reason with others about what should be done, and work effectively with others to achieve positive change.

These steps by colleges and universities will not immediately end the conditions that gave rise to recent protests. But if every college and university were to take these steps with commitment and seriousness of purpose, the United States would move in the direction of greater equality and stronger democracy. Campus Compact is prepared to support that work in every way we can.

Campus Compact has collected resources to help campuses implement the recommendations. Please find them here.

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