Special Features

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  • 04.20.21

Be Part of the Solution: Antiracism in Institutional Research

  • by Nic Richmond, Pima Community College
Be Part of the Solution

Have you seen the University of Southern California’s (USC) Climate Committee charge for this academic year? Unless you work at USC, you probably haven’t, but it’s well worth a look. Broadly, the committee charge is to cultivate a culture of equity, inclusivity, and respect that enhances the success of all faculty within a pluralistic context. I think we can all agree that such an environment is important. However, for the 2020-2021 academic year, they have taken this a step further to assess:

Learning/development efforts currently under way at USC that are specifically directed at anti-racist, inclusive teaching practices, gauge the current assets available to promote inclusive and anti-racist teaching practices, conduct a literature review of such practices, and develop a practical resource for faculty that we can disseminate across the campus community.

Note the focus on inclusive and antiracist approaches. As a diverse group of professionals, we all have different lived experiences. You may have experienced racism directly. You may have inadvertently perpetuated a racist practice. Perhaps you consider yourself to be a person who is not racist, and you think that is enough.

In the face of deep-rooted systemic racism and the recent tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many others, we need to take action, and USC is giving us an example to look to. As institutional research professionals, how do we commit to action, become antiracist, and use data to make a difference?

Discover what it means to be antiracist

Anneliese A. Singh provides guidance on becoming antiracist in the 2019 book, The Racial Healing Handbook: Practical Activities to Help You Challenge Privilege, Confront Systemic Racism, and Engage in Collective Healing. It is easy for us to dismiss antiracist perspectives in a society in which structural, institutional, interpersonal and individual racism are rampant. Racism is all around us and so commonplace that we may not even notice. Therefore, we must make an intentional decision to be antiracist.

At Pima Community College, our Chief Diversity Officer has led the institution through a 21-day racial equity challenge in which we have completed a daily activity to raise awareness about racism and racist practices. What steps can you take in the next 21 days as individuals, teams, and institutions to further your understanding of what it means to be antiracist? Challenge yourself and commit to action.

Choose to be a data and analytics antiracist

Recognize that in our role as institutional researchers, there are steps we can take to make a difference. As the Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy’s Centering Racial Equity Throughout Data Integration notes, “Without a deliberate effort to address structural racism, institutional racism, and unrecognized bias, data integration will inevitably reproduce and exacerbate existing harm.” We need to carefully assess the data we collect, the way we report it and the analytics we complete to ensure we are not part of the problem.

  • Start at the beginning and consider the data that you collect. Ensure you are collecting what you need and take steps if you are not. Further, reflect on the ways in which the data could be biased. Also, do not forget the basics. It is important to gather institutional climate data from your students and employees regularly. Monitor the results to determine what is, and what is not, working.

  • Look at student access, progress, and outcomes metrics across all populations at your institution and highlight the differences. Do the institutional conversations on student success focus on all students and address the differences that you observed? For example, do you work at a Hispanic-Serving Institution that primarily focuses on your Hispanic/Latinx population and there is never an institutional focus on other minoritized students? Use the data to tell the story and advocate for all of your students.

  • Initiate a study on employee diversity if that is in your purview or engage with the office that is responsible for those data. Do you see similar patterns across employee groups or are some positions, such as leadership, skewed towards certain populations? As institutional researchers, we cannot always directly address deficiencies, but we can use our data to highlight differences and support institutional reflection and action.

  • Examine your predictive analytics models and challenge yourself to uncover unintended bias. Predictive analytics is one of our most powerful tools, but it can be part of the problem if we do not construct unbiased models. Remember, the historical data we have are shaped by the cumulative impact of structural, institutional, interpersonal and individual racism. We need to make an intentional decision to leverage predictive models that do not perpetuate inequity, and we cannot do that until we have a deep understanding of the ways in which racism impacts our data.

Think beyond the data

As objective researchers, we are well placed to take an unbiased view of institutional processes. We owe it to our students to identify biased systems. Take a long, hard look at the figure below and challenge yourself to identify three policies or systems at your institution that perpetuate racism. If your role includes strategic planning or policy development, approach both as an antiracist. Check out Ontario’s anti-racism strategic plan for an example.

Cycle of Implicit Bias and Structural Racism

From Implicit Bias and Structural Racialization, by Kathleen Osta & Hugh Vasquez, National Equity Project.

It is time that we make a stand and leverage our expertise to drive change. Today, right now, take some time and identify at least three things you can do to be an antiracist institutional researcher. Neutral inaction is simply no longer enough. In reality, it never was. Take inspiration from USC and the many others who are choosing to be antiracist and start making a difference today.


If you would like to learn more about being antiracist and what that means in a data context, the following resources may be useful:

  • Being Antiracist, from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

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