Racial Justice at Bentley: From Rhetoric to Reality
Task Force releases discovery document outlining obstacles, opportunities for creating equitable campus community
When the Racial Justice Task Force met for the first time last July, its 114 members embarked on a collaborative change process to identify and investigate practices at Bentley that sustain systemic racism. Eight months later, following numerous educational and listening sessions, group deliberations and discussions, and reflective dialogue experiences, the Task Force has released its findings in a 32-page discovery document.
In “Framing for the Future: Committing to Racial Equity at Bentley,” the Task Force describes its journey, which began with restoration and education. This critical step helped members of the campus community acknowledge and process the pain of racial injustice, providing “time to heal those who had been traumatized and to educate those who did not understand race and racism and how they operate in our society and at Bentley.”
Thus grounded, the Task Force moved on to identify four distinct cultural barriers to equity. It also recognized three strategic priority areas where students, faculty, staff and alumni can individually and collectively take action to ensure a more racially just and equitable university.
Task Force co-chair Katie Lampley ’96, the university’s first chief diversity and inclusion officer, acknowledges that, while the group’s mandate may have been clearly defined, the process of uncovering racist practices at Bentley proved far more ambiguous.
“At the beginning, there was an idealized view that the Task Force would be able to easily and readily identify every change needed to eradicate racism,” she explains. “We had to fight the urge to jump to conclusions, and instead take the time necessary to fully understand the nature of the problem. This allowed us to understand how systems operate at Bentley, and acknowledge the ways that we, as individuals, participate in and perpetuate those systems.”
By emphasizing what Lampley calls “thoughtful, brave and deliberate reflection,” the Task Force uncovered four distinct Cultural Barriers to Transformation — entrenched patterns of behavior that prevent Bentley from “achieving a more holistic view of racial equity and justice.” These are:
Status Quo over Awareness
Bentley is a historically and predominantly white institution (HWI/PWI), and the culture reflects that truth. The lack of representation across all levels of the university creates blind spots that prevent people from questioning assumptions or cultural norms. Consequently, there is little value placed on learning about race and racism because there is little awareness that these phenomena exist in the community. Where awareness exists, there is a lack of support to address the root causes.
Appearance over Substance
The culture at Bentley rewards those who preserve the appearance of perfection, not those who reveal challenges or concerns. There is a low tolerance for discomfort and difficult conversations are avoided, especially when race or racial injustice is involved. Individuals who raise a concern are often blamed rather than encouraged to question the status quo. This results in defensiveness and a lack of transparency and accountability because issues are not identified or are hidden.
Content over Process
A sense of urgency drives the culture at Bentley, allowing little room for discovery and long-term thinking. Priority is placed on achieving more, faster, and only outcomes that can be measured are valued. Short-term impact takes precedence, limiting the ability to understand the true, long-term cost of decisions. There is a false confidence in objectivity and meritocracy, with little regard for systemic inequality resulting in policies and practices that favor those in the majority.
Isolation over Collaboration
Power and decision making are concentrated in silos at Bentley. Access to information and data is controlled, limiting the potential for inclusive and informed decision-making. There is no effort made to solicit different viewpoints or perspectives, as those in power assume they can make the best decision for everyone. Decisions are made for, not with, those most impacted, resulting in unintended consequences.
Although these cultural norms are not unique to Bentley, the Task Force found that their cumulative effect has resulted in a campus community “that believes in the value of diversity and inclusion, but that has not fully embraced the necessity of racial equity and justice.”
To ensure that the university’s anti-racism ambitions move beyond rhetoric to become reality, the Task Force identified three key areas for investment, or Strategic Priorities. Each is accompanied by an aspiration statement envisioning what a truly just and equitable future would look like at Bentley:
Invest in Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) Communities
Aspiration Statement: A community and a culture that truly values, respects and empowers BIPOC voices and contributions, and understands that for the university to thrive it must actively work to uncover and remove structural barriers preventing the full, equitable and authentic engagement and sense of belonging of BIPOC individuals.
Invest in Intentional Anti-Racist Knowledge and Skill Development
Aspiration Statement: A community where everyone is expected to participate in comprehensive curricular and professional development opportunities designed to increase individual racial consciousness, enhance capacity to engage in cross-racial interactions, and create a culture where authentic and brave conversations about race and racism are the cultural norm.
Invest in the Institutionalization of Systems and Practices that Ensure Racial Justice and Equity
Aspiration Statement: A community that ensures racial equity and justice through non-hierarchical decision-making processes, robust data collection and reporting requirements, and transparent accountability mechanisms that enable more data-driven and equity-minded decision making to promote more inclusive practices and policies.
To assist the campus community with these strategic priorities, the Task Force created two new anti-racism resources: An Inclusive Excellence Dashboard, an interactive tool providing demographic information, as well as data regarding academic outcomes and institutional support; and a Racial Equity Tool Kit, a guide offices, departments and student organizations can use to inform and support their own racial justice efforts. The discovery document also contains a list of suggested action steps that individuals or groups can take to promote and sustain an anti-racist culture.
Lampley hopes that all members of the campus community will take time to explore and reflect upon the Task Force’s discovery document and identify subsequent actions they can take in their own areas of influence. “Achieving racial equity and justice is not a destination, but a practice. It’s a goal that’s shaped as much by small interactions and individual challenges to the system as it is by public events and community-wide messages.
“We all have a role to play,” she continues, “and we believe that the discoveries and priorities identified here, as well as the resources that accompany it, will encourage and equip everyone to do their part.”