Yale professor Nicholas Christakis said at this week’s New York Times Higher Ed Leaders Forum that institutions today are “struggling with what it means to have a sort of pluralism at our institutions” — a struggle they will have to reconcile as the U.S. population becomes increasingly more diverse and institutions are charged with educating all of the nation’s students.
Today’s students, said Annette Gordon-Reed, Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History at the Harvard Law School, “really want to be a part of things,” demanding the entire culture of the institution be transformed.
- Oberlin University President Marvin Krislov said faculty have to be trained and given “capacity to deal with these kinds of challenges,” adding that “as institutions, we need to invest in the kind of people who can conduct that process in a very productive and safe way.”
2015 will likely be remembered as the year of protest in higher education, and there is no indication the trend towards student protests will ease up any time soon. More than just a seat at the table, today’s students are demanding total inclusion and representation in the campus culture.
But many on campus continue to debate the role of the administration to facilitate this inclusion and representation vs. the role of the student to act on his/her own behalf. “I think we have to be careful not to conflate the responsibility of the institution with the responsibility of their peers,” Christakis said. “Other than articulating what our expectations and values are … I don’t want to be in the position of guaranteeing that their roommate or the person down the hall won’t be rude.”
Still, administrators set the tone for what is acceptable behavior on campus. Whether sexual assault, racial tolerance or acceptance of one’s sexual or gender identity, administrators have a responsibility to respond quickly and investigate thoroughly any threats to the well-being of any students on campus. If they do not, they set a tone that violent or threatening behavior is acceptable. And if recent activity is any indication, jobs and livelihoods will be directly tied administrators’ ability to protect all of the students in their care.