Tuesday, November 30, 2021
The RP Group
Data, Meet Culture

The RP Group is proud to announce the launch of Data, Meet Culture, a new blogging platform created to underscore and elevate what is woven throughout our organization, including our vision statement — that both culture and evidence are paramount to our purpose of helping students succeed. Read more, below.

Inevitable Truths About Race: Observations from a Mother and IRPE Practitioner

When I was first approached to write the inaugural post of the Data, Meet Culture blog, I was hesitant. First, the idea of doing an inaugural anything is a big responsibility. 

Secondly, I was asked to write about my perspectives on racism and anti-Blackness based on my experience as a researcher and member of an interracial family confronting race issues on a daily basis.

However, as a person who is not Black (I am Korean-American), I didn’t want to co-opt the movement or center myself and my experiences. 

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Simply put, there are others in our field, who are far more knowledgeable, experienced, and qualified to write about anti-Blackness and the racism deeply ingrained in our institutions. I am not an expert on the topics of race and racial equity nor do I have all the answers. However, a recent conversation I had with my husband persuaded me to write something. 

My husband is Black. As an interracial couple with mixed children, we have regular conversations about race and how racism affects our family. One of our recent conversations discussed the challenges Black children face in early education. 

In responding to a questionnaire about our daughter’s preschool experience, we became painfully aware that she was already experiencing several types of microaggressions in school. 

In one instance, the preschool’s director accused my husband and me of not engaging our daughter enough at home and hinted that our daughter was “undisciplined.” A handful of times, our daughter was singled out when there were conflicts between her and students and was assumed to be the cause. This inevitably created tension between our family and the preschool. 

We sobbed together. How could our four-year old already be experiencing racism in school? 

I left the conversation with my husband with a sense of urgency to do something, to contribute to the dialogue about racism and the racist practices that start early in education and are inevitable for students of color in experience, outcomes, or both.

So I accepted the opportunity to write this blog to begin a dialogue amongst the IRPE community on advancing racial justice work on our campuses. I want to share two important observations about our student equity planning efforts.

Observation #1: Looking Beyond the Numeric Equity Gaps — Experience Matters

As institutional researchers, many of us are tasked with disaggregating student outcomes data by racial/ethnic groups to help our colleges identify the groups that are not being well served by our institutions. We use methods like the Percentage Point Gap (PPG) and Proportionality Index (PI) to calculate the “size” of equity gaps and the number of additional students needed to close gaps. While these tools have high utility for our field, I worry that heavy reliance on these tools may detract us and our colleagues from critical conversations. 

For example, at institutions enrolling a large majority of students who are African-American/Black or Latino, the data disaggregation tools may not detect any gaps in outcomes for one or both groups. These tools also fail to detect any gaps in outcomes at colleges that enroll a small number of racially minoritized students (small “n”) and predominantly serve a White student population. 

In the examples above, the data doesn’t let us off the hook.

Even if our calculations tell us that African-American/Black, Latino/Latina, Pacific Islander, and Native American students may not be experiencing gaps in outcomes, we have to recognize that they suffer from equity gaps in their experiences because our institutions, imagined and built a long time ago, were designed to reinforce white supremacy. 

I urge us to frame the data for our colleagues in a way that looks beyond the numbers and leads to an honest (but inevitably courageous) conversation about the ways in which our programs, policies, practices, structures, and climate/culture can be improved to better serve our racially minoritized students.

Observation #2: Time for IRPE Professionals to Stand Up For Racial Justice

I have been reflecting a lot about how IRPE professionals can meaningfully contribute to the racial equity work on our campuses. The roles in equity work that are prescribed to us in our job descriptions are “data gatherer” and “data analyzer,” and once in a while “data presenter.” However, I argue that in order for our institutions to advance racial equity, we need to extend our roles to “discussion facilitator.” 

We need to lead the difficult conversations about race, racism, and racial equity on our campuses. 

We need to interject when we hear counter-arguments, distractions, or comments that steer us away from the racial equity discussions (“race is a social construct,” “income is more predictive than race,” “a small N means we can’t meaningfully measure equity for group A,” and so on). 

We need to scaffold for our colleagues how to investigate the root causes of racial equity gaps for each group that experiences them and what research questions will get at the answers. 

We need to push our colleagues to interrogate whether a proposed intervention is designed for all students or with the specific needs of a racially minoritized group in mind. 

Lastly, to continue our own equity journey, we all need to educate ourselves on our own implicit bias and understanding of race. In works, such as 'How to Be An Antiracist', we are able to get a better understanding of antiracist work, while becoming a true ally. This transformation will make us better colleagues, especially for our colleagues from Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities.

I acknowledge that I just said a lot of “we need to’s,” however these are also the ways I am committed to helping advance racial equity work at my college. Some examples include: 

  • Prioritizing professional development on equity-mindedness for the IR team
  • Creating case studies to help practitioners avoid the common racial equity data discussion pitfalls
  • Training practitioners on the equity-minded inquiry process, and
  • Writing guiding questions to help practitioners assess whether a budget or planning decision is student-focused, equity-minded, both, or neither.

I look forward to hearing about how others in the IRPE field are doing the same and what needs you may have to begin this work on your campuses. 


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