Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Reparations - healing for all

The issue of reparations to correct the wrongs of previous systemic and governmentally supported discrimination has been advocated for decades. However, Evanston, Illinois, is the first official U.SA. entity to actually take action. The documentary "The Big Payback" is an insightful documentary of the journey Evanston took toward approval of a reparations package for Black citizens who can document having been impacted by previous policies that restricted their ability to purchase homes. Alderman Simmons is profiled in the documentary for her courage and persistence in moving the Evanston reparations strategy forward.

I've blogged before about the systemic predecessors that have brought various entities to consider their complicity in racism. U.S.A. colonialist domination, and the reinforcement of colonial bias in higher education, have long perpetuated an unquestioning view of American history. This domination relied on creating a caste system to perpetuate class through elitist institutions and the networks that emerge from within them. The gross inequalities among institutions has ballooned to a level that 1% of U.S.A. institutions hoard 54% of the wealth invested in endowments. The top 3% hold 80% of the total wealth.

Although I have not read it, a brief review of Desmond's Poverty by America asserts that '... high poverty rates in the U.S. are the consequence of a set of active choices made by the affluent." The contributors to poverty are numerous and complicated but the lack of taxation of wealthy higher education institutions in supporting local communities as well as their endowments are two quick examples. The knowledge of application and financial aid processes by privileged students is a glaring systemic difference originating from who and what you know.

The difficult conversations that are unfolding now include examining what colleges and universities should do to atone for systemic racism and classism. Many higher education institutions are sited on lands that belonged to Indigenous peoples or count among their founders and supporters/donors over the years those whose wealth was built on the spoils of slavery. The existence of systemic injustice is dramatically confirmed by the fact that Historical Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) receive 178 times less in donations than Ivy League institutions! Because higher education is so entrenched, the lesson of Evanston, Illinois - that insistence on some perfect solution will result in no action at all - is compelling. Communities, including colleges and universities, have to start someplace and have to accept less than satisfactory strategies and build from there.

If systemic racism and classism is to ever be substantively addressed in higher education, there must be a recognition that everyone is impacted by these systems, no matter what background or color. Whether held down by the system or holding guilt deep within one's soul for having been unfairly lifted up by the system, the wounds require healing. The conversations will be difficult but must start with facing unvarnished history, assessing all students' sense of belonging, regularly examining concerns, and connecting with the surrounding community.

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