Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 10, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 10,
Number 2
(2007)

Download our print issue (PDF)
Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity and Learning: “A Defining Moment”
Institutional Diversity in a New Nation: Lessons Lived, Lessons Learned
The Pedagogy of Sentipensante: Recasting Institutional Core Agreements
Transforming Our Institutions for the Twenty-first Century: The Role of the Chief Diversity Officer
Creating Institutional Transformation Using the Equity Scorecard
Curricular Transformation
Service Learning, Multicultural Education, and the Core Curriculum:
A Model for Institutional Change
Drop It Like It’s Hot! Hip-Hop in the Twenty-First-Century Classroom
A Sustainable Campus-Wide Program for Diversity Curriculum Infusion
Campus-Community Involvement
El Camino Real: Where Culture and Academia Meet
Faculty Involvement
Advancing Diversity through a Framework of Intersectionality: Inclusion of LGBT Issues in Higher Education
Transitioning on Campus: Creating a Welcoming Climate for Transgender People
Complicating Diversity Categories: Jewish Identity in the Classroom
Student Experience
Dealing with Student Resistance: Sources and Strategies
Beyond Tourism: Race, Space, and National Identity in London
Research
Graduate and Professional Degree Attainment for Students of Color
Affordability of Postsecondary Education for Students of Color
Resources
Diversity and Learning Resources

Institutional Diversity in a New Nation: Lessons Lived, Lessons Learned

Based on John Hope Franklin’s address, “Defining Moments: A Historical Perspective on Higher Education’s Engagement with Diversity,” 2006 AAC&U Diversity and Learning conference

John Franklin

John Franklin

As he opened the 2006 Diversity and Learning conference, John Hope Franklin, James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History at Duke University, reflected on a past when diversity was absent from the U.S. educational system “because this country from its founding rejected the notion” that such a thing was possible. Considering the ranges of age, gender, race, and economic background represented in the audience, the struggle for equality might seem a distant memory. Yet, as Franklin reminded the audience, institutions only too recently began enrolling students of diverse backgrounds. As the history of racial diversity in American education illustrates, the long journey toward true equity is far from complete.

As Franklin recalled, racism in U.S. education can be traced back to the words of our founding fathers. When Thomas Jefferson wrote his Notes on the State of Virginia, he cast into print an ideology of race that was long used to justify barring black Americans from education of any kind. Although some black children were educated in northern regions, slave states (fearing that their workers would revolt upon becoming enlightened) conceived of attempts to educate blacks as criminal acts. Runaways who had “learned about freedom,” Franklin noted, “were followed to the end of the earth.”

Within this context, a few brave institutions hoping to “accomplish something that was greater than themselves” arose to challenge popular practices. Shortly before the Civil War, schools for blacks began to appear in small numbers across the country. Soon these institutions opened to welcome all students regardless of race. Franklin stressed that these “historically black colleges,” too often viewed as relics of segregation, have always promoted diversity; they were, in fact, pioneers in instituting the inclusive policies we strive for today.

Despite these courageous early efforts, when the Civil War began, education for all was neither a prevalent nor an accepted practice. Franklin’s words about that time remain relevant today: “What kind of democracy was that? What kind of republic was that, that felt that education was a special favor offered to a few people?” It was, apparently, a democracy and republic whose legacy persisted (and persists). When, after the Civil War, black colleges proliferated, whites supported their efforts often only because a policy of separatism would prevent them from having to diversify their own institutions. Thus many states funded black colleges in an attempt to sustain segregation in higher education, and the practice of segregation remained standard.

Decades passed, and race relations in the U.S. very slowly shifted; people were persecuted on the basis of invisible bloodlines, and despite an early twentieth-century push for “diversity,” little progress was made until the movement to equalize educational opportunities took hold. Not until Lyman Johnson applied for admission to graduate school in 1948 at the University of Kentucky was school segregation challenged in court. When Johnson appealed to the NAACP, Thurgood Marshall enlisted John Hope Franklin to investigate the libraries, curricula, and personnel of Kentucky State College of Negroes to show that indeed, the two state schools were separate—but not equivalent. Brown v. Board of Education followed Johnson’s case; it was notable, as Franklin said, not for what it accomplished, but for how much it failed to do. The immediate aftermath of Brown exposed weaknesses in the Supreme Court’s authority; it illustrated that the Court would quietly retreat when pressed.

Concluding his summary of the history of racial diversity in American education, Franklin stressed the need to revisit lessons learned. As the case of Brown v. Board of Education illustrates, diversity educators must keep a “constant vigil” to be sure that equitable laws are made and upheld. Diversity “can mean many things”; “it can mean the opening of all doors and becoming truly diverse, but it can also mean covering discrimination with the cloak of diversity.” Institutional leaders have made many advances in removing that “cloak.” Nevertheless, many doors remain to be opened on the journey toward true equity.

To listen to a podcast of John Hope Franklin’s address, “Defining Moments: A Historical Perspective on Higher Education’s Engagement with Diversity,” please visit www.aacu.org/Podcast/DL06_podcasts.cfm.

Questions, comments, and suggested resources should be directed to campbell@aacu.org.
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