The Qualifier of Access
I have been part of a community of practice this semester hosted by Marisol Morales, the executive director of Campus Compact. In preparation for our last session, we watched the TEDTalk by Jodi-Ann Burey, “Why you should not bring your authentic self to work.” Burey shares her experiences in being invited into workplaces for her difference – in race, in gender, and in perspectives – but then being asked by those who hired her to be more like the rest of her colleagues, and not be so different because it creates tension and discomfort for others. In the post-viewing discussion, the members of the community of practice who identified as black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), unanimously agreed that they had all experienced a similar expectation of others that they would adapt to better “fit in” to their places of work.
If this doesn’t give you pause, it should.
There is a tremendous amount of talk about access in higher education, but what does access really mean? Does it mean that we are widening the doorway to enter universities? Or does it mean that we are encouraging people to enter college who haven’t always had access, IF they are willing to adapt themselves to fit through the same, small doorway?
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, writes,
You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.
I would suggest that higher education has created a very worthy goal of access, but is only addressing the systems that allow for that in a superficial way. What aren’t be addressed at the depth needed are the systems of how we’ve defined what is “academic.” What the writing, speaking, and outputs look like that we can label as academic. Because until those outputs reflect the diversity of our students, faculty and staff, we will never reach the goal of true access. We will instead have simply allowed those who are willing to assimilate to a system that was not made for or by black, indigenous or people of color to enter.
The majority of people who end up as professors in universities are those who did well in education – they are good readers, writers, and thinkers. In an interview in 2018, Minouche Shafik, Director of the London School of Economics, when asked what kind of education will prepare students for the unknown world of tomorrow, answered:
Being able to synthesize information, analyze it, and be critical about it, will be very important. In the past jobs were about muscles, now they’re about brains, but in future they’ll be about the heart. The caring and creative professions have high levels of emotional intelligence, the skills that robots can’t do will be required in the future… Working in teams and with other people across disciplines is an important skill.
We cannot prepare students for an unknown world of tomorrow that is about the heart if we aren’t creating workplaces that allow for authenticity from those diverse backgrounds and perspectives that we’ve encouraged to pursue higher education. The two simply cannot coexist.
The outputs of higher education are protected and revered. The peer-reviewed journal articles that only others in our specific field typically read are still the stamp of approval within the academy. It will be absolutely essential to identify what excellence looks like for those groups that didn’t shape what academia looks like today.
Are we willing to truly open the door and allow for excellence in academia to be defined by all that want to contribute to it?
Burey, J. (2020, December). Why you should not bring your authentic self to work [Video]. TED Conferences. Why you
Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits. Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
Elkann, A. (2018, April 1). Minouche Shafik: ‘A moment of transition.’ https://www.alainelkanninterviews.com/minouche-