"Despite the good work that has occurred, the focus on racial educational equity and justice needs to move from dedicated and skillful individuals and centers of excellence to a coordinated campus-wide approach that integrates racial justice and equity into all aspects of our work."
Racial justice and equity have long been at the heart of Bridgewater State University’s mission. Helping inform efforts in these areas over most of the past decade has been the Leading for Change Racial Equity and Justice Institute (REJI).
The REJI is based on lessons learned through BSU’s granted-funded work from 2008-2012 on Project Compass. Through the efforts of the faculty and staff involved in the project, as well as partners from across campus, the university’s six-year graduation rate for all students increased 3.5 percent; 13 percent for students of color. In 2013, the lessons learned by this dynamic team were presented in a two-day conference held on campus during which BSU faculty, staff and administrators shared with representatives of approximately 50 other campuses in the commonwealth data-informed equity work focused on institutional transformation.
The conference offered participants a chance to work with teams from their own campuses and begin to examine ways to advance data-informed equity. “After the conference, many of those in attendance said, ‘This work could really help transform the commonwealth,’” said Dr. Sabrina Gentlewarrior, vice president of student success and diversity.
Indeed, more needed to be done. With the blessing of the president’s office, Dr. Gentlewarrior worked with equity officers from campuses across the state to make a diversity consortium a reality, and in 2014 the Leading for Change Consortium was born. (In 2018, the consortium’s name was changed to The Leading for Change Racial Equity and Justice Institute, in recognition of the need to focus on the institutional performance gaps affecting the success of Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous and other students of color.)
The goal of the institute from the start has been to institutionalize the identification and implementation of equitable structures and practices, according to BSU President Frederick W. Clark Jr.
“Despite the good work that has occurred, the focus on racial educational equity and justice needs to move from dedicated and skillful individuals and centers of excellence to a coordinated campus-wide approach that integrates racial justice and equity into all aspects of our work,” he said.
Member institutions agree to complete institution-specific annual racial equity plans, be informed by equity-oriented institutional data for decision-making, set goals, issue progress reports, and share promising practices and policies. One of the institute’s accomplishments has been the free-access publication in 2021 of The Leading for Change Racial Equity and Justice Practitioner Handbook. A collaboration of institute members, its nearly 200 pages contain the latest practices that are showing promise in closing racial educational institutional performance gaps. Representatives from member campuses meet virtually each month to share information and continue to enhance their equity competencies needed to engage in the work of institutional transformation.
The work goes on, and Dr. Gentlewarrior said the rising tide of racial equity and justice lifts all.
“When a campus centralizes these racially equitable practices into its work, what occurs is white students succeed at higher rates than before, and Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous and other students of color get an even bigger bump in success as our institutions transform,” she said.
In short: “Racial equity is good for everybody.”