Harvey calls for courage, justice
By Anne Bromley
In his first major public presentation since becoming the University’s first-ever vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity, William B. Harvey told a standing-room-only audience at the Harrison Institute/Small Collections Library on Feb. 2 that actions taken to improve social justice on college campuses automatically improve society.
Harvey added that, to improve our democratic society, predominantly white universities and colleges should be doing more to educate students, white and minority, about topics in history and society, including racial and ethnic groups that have been excluded or oppressed in America.
Harvey, who joined U.Va. three months ago after serving as vice president of the Center for Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Equity at the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C., said that racism — “that dreaded national disease” — seems uglier on college campuses because adults like to think young people will inherit strengths more than weaknesses. But, he observed, students bring their learned prejudices to the halls of academe, too.
He labeled as a “sad situation” the tendency for white students to stay mainly insulated in their own groups. He cited the need for more structured learning opportunities for interaction and engagement with peers from other groups.
Referring to highly publicized racial incidents at U.Va. during the fall semester, Harvey said it troubles him that no one has “had the courage” to come forward and talk about who the perpetrators are.
“Students have a responsibility to police themselves,” he said, adding that faculty also have an obligation to demonstrate that this is an environment where individuals are respected and included.
Most Americans, especially white people, have learned a selective and incomplete history of this nation: that America is the product of white people, without the contributions of non-white people.
“This has led to an exaggerated sense of importance among white students. True excellence in higher education requires the dissemination of accurate information to all students, and it shouldn’t be restricted to Black History Month,” he said.
“All concerned educators … must redouble their efforts … in working to make this a truly just and democratic nation,” said Harvey, who has worked on half a dozen college campuses during his 30 years in higher education.
The “drastic under-representation” of African Americans, as well as other minority members, on the faculties of predominantly white institutions needs to be improved and everyone involved, from teaching to recruiting, committed to the same goal.
The situation of racism will not improve if administrations say that the institution is committed to diversifying the faculty, but faculty on search committees who are responsible for recruiting and interviewing candidates are not committed to the same goal.
The presence of minority faculty on a campus serves to debunk the myth that scholarship is for this elite group of white males, noted Harvey. And although minority faculty members do serve as role models, they should be given the chance to be seen as regular people, not just “exceptional overachievers.”
He described two other myths about qualified minority Ph.D.s: that there are not enough who are from under-represented groups and that they are highly sought after. Faculty hiring at institutions around the country still operates with prejudice and inconsistency in the process, Harvey said. In a study of 200 African Americans who earned doctoral degrees, 11 percent were actively sought after by two schools, and 15 percent took the only job they were offered.
Those who got hired said that it helped to have someone emerge as their advocate or champion who had seniority, who they might have met in another network before the search began. After they were hired, that faculty member became their mentor.
It is also a myth that there is no need for Affirmative Action, he said. If Affirmative Action had been fulfilled, there would be more minority professors and students, but instead it has been continually undermined and challenged.
During a wide-ranging question-and-answer session, Harvey said that universities do have an obligation to partner effectively with K-12 in efforts to increase opportunities.
“We have a really wonderful situation, those of us who have made it to these hallowed halls of academe,” he said.
“The problem is there are a lot of people who don’t get [to college]. Unless we find some ways to make sure that there is a smoother and easier path for them, we are not fulfilling our responsibility. We have to find ways that we are connecting with young people at an earlier point.”