A Forum for Race Dialogue in American Higher Education

The following is a guest post by Dr. James Pappas. Dr. Pappas serves as Vice President for University Outreach, Dean of the College of Liberal Studies, and Professor at the Departments of Educational Psychology and Liberal Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

From May 29–June 2, 2012 in New York City, the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) is  hosting national experts, professors, students and other academic professionals to assess past progress and to identify new directions in the understanding of race and ethnicity in American higher education.

Key discussions at the conference will focus on the changing nature of minorities in the aftermath of the Obama presidency, particularly the trend for minorities to claim multiple communities of identification, and on new racial coalitions that are forming and how they are impacting education and the work force.

A key question in this discussion will be how to define a minority student. Many students no longer see themselves as belonging to one group and define themselves as multiracial. Educational programming for their multiracial/multiethnic identities is becoming an important challenge, and multiracialism will enter the national discussion more in the future. Furthermore, many Latino and Black students, despite progress over the past several years, still are not involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) areas.

Defining immigrant minorities is also becoming increasingly difficult. Some exist in enclaves, as with students from India who often come to the United States with advanced educations and many Muslim students who come to the United States from upper socio-economic families, but others from South Africa and Latin America, more diverse in terms of their class identification and educational background, present different challenges.

Another issue being discussed at NCORE is the changing nature of the national debate on race and ethnicity. NCORE itself was launched in 1988 by the University of Oklahoma Outreach to address a resurgence of racist incidents occurring on campuses across the United States. Affirmative action and equal opportunity were vitally important issues in American higher education at the time, and the University of Oklahoma Outreach set out to develop a conference that would help increase inclusion of minority populations in colleges and universities and promote dialogue and the exchange of ideas for campuses responding to the relatively new challenges of diversity.

In the current climate, however, NCORE discussions will be less facilitation of national debate and more a search to find new directions in a changing world. There is now a greater urgency to connect communities and to identify national trends that can clarify goals and facilitate progress.

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