The statement “I don’t see color, because everyone is equal to me” is often heard in discussions regarding diversity and inclusion in education. Although this statement is often made with the best intentions, it is in fact not acknowledging a person’s ethnic and cultural identity. This colorblind perspective, meant to emphasize the importance of equality, centralizes equal rights for everyone. In this reasoning, it is considered unethical or unjust to treat each other differently. Interestingly, exactly statements like this have become more widely contested since the global surge of protests against institutional racism.
In this blog I want to highlight an alternative approach to centralizing equity in education, by introducing a color brave approach instead of a color-blind approach. I refer to equity instead of equality. Equality, the focus on equal rights, is a means to achieve equity, providing equal opportunities. In the context of (higher) education, ECHO, Center for Diversity Policy, works with different stakeholders to contribute to equity and inclusion by increasing opportunities, participation and sense of belonging for all students, with a specific focus on students of color.
Because not everyone has the same opportunities given their upbringing or background. Not everyone has the same level of support, nor the required social capital. Also, not everyone automatically feels a sense of belonging in educational contexts.
In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, people of color globally spoke up about institutional racism and shared their experiences and reflections. In many western and European countries, communities of color are still and have been historically and systematically marginalized due to unequal distributions of power, resources and therefore opportunities in society. The persistent inequities of that system, a system which benefits white people and widely excludes people of color, is still a reality. We see a lack of representation of the diversity of society in institutions like politics, the media and also in education. Communities of color are structurally ignored, excluded or discriminated in policies from the police and governments. It is embedded within systems like the labor market, housing markets, justice systems and educational systems. It is exactly this that distinguish institutional racism from individual racism.
Due to this reality, fostering equal rights in society is not enough. In relation to education, just providing access is not enough. Curricula, educational practices and facilities are (mostly) not inclusive enough for all students.
Because of that, it is necessary to develop projects and programs with an intentional focus and aim that foster access through support. Support systems that are built from the acknowledgement of the specific barriers that these students are facing.
For example, specific programs for students of color that provide the support that resonates to their needs. Because of institutional racism. Because of that, an emphasis on creating truly equal opportunities is needed to acknowledge the reality of structural and institutional inequities and the diversity of contexts. We have to acknowledge and know the unique challenges for specific groups of students, because context matters. This is what we mean with a color brave approach.
From the #Multinclude analysis of over 70 educational cases from all over the world, we learned that there are very interesting good examples of color brave programs to learn from. The color brave approach is one of the 4 identified approaches that foster inclusion and enhance success in education. Examples of color brave approaches in programs that support students in education are: Office of Diversity & Inclusion Faculty Fellows (US), Realizing the inclusive international, intercultural classroom (NL), WORKplace Inclusive Pedagogy and Didactics (NL), Cafelatte (IT), Try Again Sam (IT), Studium+M, studying with a migration background (DE), Accelerate to Graduate (US), Chronicle Conversations: Social Blogging (JA). Two programs that deserve to be mentioned separately are great examples of student- initiated and -led projects: College Café (NL) and the Academic Diversity Program (NL). Both programs aim to empower students by working closely together on the one hand, as well as acknowledge and celebrate their unique backgrounds on the other hand.
All these mentioned initiatives are developed to support students and pupils of color in education in very unique and different ways. All of these programs are adjusted to the context and realities of their students. All of these projects are implemented with the intention to acknowledge students’ identity and context and to support them to grow and successfully persist in education. If you want to learn more about these specific cases, have a look at the #Multinclude database or download the #Multinclude report Rethinking Pathways towards Inclusion in Education. Because as the Black Lives Matter movement has emphasized, having equal rights is just not enough to avoid and advocate against racism in our societies.
by Josefien van Marlen
This story is part of Multinclude Inclusion Stories about how equity is implemented in different educational environments across the globe. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Author works as a program manager at ECHO, Center for Diversity Policy (NL).