I've been researching Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) and the issues pertaining to their students for over 20 years. I have a new book out - Educating a Diverse Nation - co-authored with Clif Conrad - that urges everyone in higher education to deeply consider our country's changing demographics and our need to re-evaluate the way we think about teaching and learning. In our book, we encourage all colleges and universities to look to Minority Serving Institutions for lessons as these institutions often have a long history of successfully educating a diverse student body.
With the release of the Republican and Democratic Party platforms, one of my friends - David Wilson - who happens to be the president of historically Black Morgan State University - pointed out that the term Minority Serving Institution was used, for the first time, in a party platform. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), one type of MSIs, have been included in the past but not MSIs as a whole.
On p. 31, under the heading "Supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions," the Democratic Party made it clear that it recognizes MSIs and that they have value. Specifically, it stated: "We will strengthen our nation's public and private Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Predominantly Black Institutions, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions, Native American-Serving Nontribal Institutions, and minority-serving institutions. Many of these schools educate disproportionate percentages of growing populations of Americans: students who are racial and ethnic minorities, low-income students, and first-generation students." The party understands the unique role that MSIs play.
However, more than that, the Democratic Party recognizes that we can all learn from MSIs, especially as our nation becomes more and more diverse in every way, stating "As the nation is grappling with how to expand educational access and increase success, especially for communities of color and low-income students and families, there is evidence that the nation's HBCUs and Minority Serving Institutions have honed promising models for educating these students to prepare them for high- and critical-need positions while containing costs."
For years, many of us have been asking the federal government and others to provide more support to those institutions that do the lion's share of the work with low-income, first generation, students of color. The Democratic Party platform is explicit in asserting, "We will create a robust and historic dedicated fund to keep costs down, provide quality education, and ensure dedicated support to improve student outcomes and completion rates. We will provide further assistance to students at these schools, as well as other students across the country, by restoring year-round Pell funding so that low- and middle-income students from all backgrounds can get the support they need to make progress toward a college degree throughout the year."
Of course, these promises are part of a campaign, but the important point is that MSIs are being noticed and acknowledged. I cannot make this statement about the Republican Party platform. In the Republican world, MSIs do not exist. There is no mention of MSIs or any individual type of MSI in the platform, dismissing their value and the diversity of our nation. In fact, there is no mention of racial and ethnic minorities in the Republican Party platform at all with one exception - when the party is talking about religious minorities in the Middle East.
The only time the word 'race' appears in the Republican Party platform is when it refers to the U.S. Constitution (although interpreted with a conservative bent). The Party platform says, "We denounce bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism, ethnic prejudice, and religious intolerance. Therefore, we oppose discrimination based on race, sex, religion, creed, disability, or national origin and support statutes to end such discrimination. As the Party of Abraham Lincoln, we must continue to foster solutions to America's difficult challenges when it comes to race relations today. We continue to encourage equality for all citizens and access to the American Dream. Merit and hard work should determine advancement in our society, so we reject unfair preferences, quotas, and set-asides as forms (p.9).
Although the Republican Party platform denounces racism and other prejudices, it offers no strategies to change the systemic racism that regularly and perpetually hurts racial and ethnic minorities. Instead, it tells them to work hard and they too can take part in the American dream. Rather than discussing the underlying problems that have a disproportionate impact on racial and ethnic minorities, the Republican Party platform merely points a finger at their failures, taking no responsibility (p. 4).
The words equity and equality are not in the Republican vocabulary and until we bring the issues that racial and ethnic minorities face to the forefront, dismantle the systems that reinforce inequity, and pay homage and dollars to the institutions that are working diligently to make fundamental change, we will be held back as a nation and fail to uplift and serve all of our children and citizens.
If you care about low-income students, first generation students, students of color, equity, and Minority Serving Institutions, make sure you vote this November for the political party that willingly uses the vocabulary of our future rather than the exclusionary rhetoric of our past.