At NASFAA’s 2023 National Conference, Dr. Ronald W. Whitaker, II called on financial aid administrators to call out racism, homophobia, transphobia, and other inequities at their institutions in order to promote diversity.
Whitaker, the culturally responsive pedagogy assistant professor of education and the director of the Center for Urban Education, Equity, and Improvement (CUEEI) at Cabrini University, spoke with attendees on the principles to become a strategic diversity leader. Whitaker referenced the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other activists throughout his keynote address for NASFAA’s pre-conference diversity event.
During his session, he urged aid administrators to call out inequities in higher education for students, families, and their peers, adding that “we don’t have time for cowardice” and that it’s necessary to stand by your convictions.
“Colleagues, what I’m saying is this,” Whitaker said. “Sometimes we have to call it out. Whatever it is — if it’s racism, call it out. If it’s transphobia, call it out. Homophobia, call it out. We have to call it out.”
Whitaker laid out several principles to center diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as, “It’s not about popularity, it’s about purpose.”
“I’m telling you, when you decide to have a correct analysis, when you decide not to be a coward or complicit with cowardice — when you decide to call things out — you’re not always going to be the most popular individual,” he said.
As the session continued, Whitaker touched on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision barring institutions from using race-conscious admission policies. He urged that Thursday’s decision should make us discuss what intersectionality looks like, noting the work of civil rights activist and Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term which describes how various categorizations like race, gender, and socioeconomic status overlap.
“Here's what Malcolm X would say,” Whitaker said. “Malcolm X would say that the most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman and the most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”
Other key principles Whitaker outlined were that “all humans have dignity,” noting that in higher education, people of color are often “othered” away from enrolling and participating. He added that self care is an important step in working to be a strategic diversity leader, and stressed the importance of centering our work in love.
When Whitaker was later asked by an attendee how aid administrators can center their work in love amid chaos and separation, he said doing the work of affirming students and giving them a sense of belonging “sounds like love.”
In terms of self care, Derek Kindle, NASFAA’s diversity officer, asked Whitaker how aid administrators can take care of themselves and their teams in light of the significant Supreme Court rulings on higher education this year — Thursday’s decision on race-conscious admission policies, and the impending ruling on student debt cancellation. Whitaker encouraged attendees to enjoy San Diego and encouraged members to lean on each other.
“As it relates to how we're leading our individual departments, or teams, once we get back home, I do think that sometimes we have to set the context,” Whitaker said. “We're not just colleagues, right? We hopefully worked at establishing friendships and value for one another. So before we're just going into these hard action items that we need to do, let's make sure that we're creating a gracious space where we're listening to one another.”
Publication Date: 6/30/2023