Community Conversations: Jill Dunlap and Alexa Wesley on Racial Justice Statements and Campus Equity Efforts [video]

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John O'Brien, EDUCAUSE CEO and President, talks with Jill Dunlap and Alexa Wesley, research directors from NASPA, about their findings from a content analysis of racial justice statements made in the spring and summer of 2020.

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Jill Dunlap
Senior Director of Research, Policy, and Civic Engagement

John O'Brien
President and CEO

Alexa Wesley
Director of Research and Strategy

John O'Brien: Welcome to another EDUCAUSE, community conversation. I'm excited today to be joined by two NASPA professionals. Alexa Wesley, the director of research and strategy at NASPA, and Jill Dunlap, the senior director of policy and civic engagement. I'm excited to dig into this report, moving from words to action, the influence of racial justice statements on campus equity efforts. So this is a deep dive into the racial justice statements that were made by campuses in 2020. Really looking at key findings from those statements, looking at the kinds of follow-up actions and changes that followed the statements, let's get started. So I think this is a really important report, given the work done literally by all of our associations, organizations, colleges, and universities, literally around the world. What was the inspiration for this research?

Alexa Wesley: So what we saw was that there was a flurry of public statements made by college and university presidents following the murder of George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery shortly before him. And while making those statements on racial justice is not a new practice. The widespread response that we saw by students and other communities last year, paired with the backdrop of a global pandemic disproportionately affecting black and brown communities, really seemed to present a new context in which, to better understand the decision making process behind making those meaningful statements and ways institutions may or may not be falling out those commitments with action.

Jill Dunlap: I thought it was really interesting to see, especially how higher education specifically responded to the events of May 2020, given that institutions have a history of issuing statements during times of national crisis. So it's not the first time that institutions have weighed in on this subject, but I think it's important to note that this time around, I think part of what our research found is that many students, faculty, and staff, now really see these statements as the first step in a process, rather than the only thing that institutions should be doing. So these stakeholders are saying to campus leadership that they appreciate that they recognize the problem, but that they also want campus leaders to recognize how those institutions are part of the same problem, especially with regard to systemic racism and that those campus leaders have the power to address it.

John O'Brien: What would you say are some of the top findings that you'd highlight most of all from this report?

Alexa Wesley: Sure. So I can start by giving a little review of the methodology for context, and then I'll turn it over to Jill to dive more into that. So we first conducted a content analysis of statements from 230 institutions, and we took the perspective that there is not necessarily a perfect formula for how to make a statement, but that there are certain elements that can make a statement seem stronger than others. So we incorporated some of these elements into our analysis to see how frequently they came up. And some of those elements included with our statements, explicitly named George Floyd, or the issue of institutional racism, whether they not only express solidarity, but they also articulated and communicated plans for actions that the institution was going to take. So we built upon these findings to inform a national survey, that in partnership with National Association of Diversity Officers, to gather both Vice-presidents for Student Affairs, and Chief Diversity Officer's perspectives about statement making and the timing, and the range of actions that have been taken.

Jill Dunlap: And I might just add to the, you know, part of the findings that we had, we were really careful to, and this is, I think entirely due to Alexis' insight, but that we were really careful to ask about action statements that followed our action efforts that followed the statements that institutions issued. But we asked about the timing of them, because we didn't want to come in and do a survey, and say, oh, you know, everything that you're working on with regard to racial justice on your campus must be as a result of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. Institutions have long been working on racial justice efforts. And so we wanted to recognize that some of the things that we asked about, and the 45 different action items that we asked institutions to assess, whether they were tackling or not, were in response to the incidents and national crisis that followed the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, or whether or not they were sort of ongoing. And then also we realized that, you know, our survey came out in May of 2021. A lot of these things may not have been completed yet. So we wanted to give respondents to the survey an opportunity to say, yeah, we started this, but it's not done yet because some of the work that we're talking about, right? Is not sort of a one and done kind of thing. It involves lots of long-term assessment, and work by multiple stakeholders on campus. So I think, you know, some of the findings that we found really interesting were that most efforts prior to May 2020, that institutions were involved with, involved education and training for students, and faculty, and staff. New initiatives related to DEI and hiring additional staff for DEI offices, were things that were sort of shorter term. So they happened between May 2020, so the murder of George Floyd, and the statements that were issued, and when we did the survey analysis. And then, you know, some of the things that the survey respondents indicated were underway, but not yet completed where longer-term things like looking at curriculum changes, increasing the diversity of BIPOC faculty and staff, as well as campus leaderships. So some of the things that we asked about were things like how diverse, you know, or are you trying to diversify your senior leadership on campus, or your Board of Regents? In addition to faculty and staff. And so those are some of the things that survey respondents indicated were underway, if not yet complete, by the time they answered the survey.

John O'Brien: For those who want to read the full report, where can they download it?

Alexa Wesley: Sure, so they can go to our website at and it should be under publications and resources.