Arne Duncan: 7 Steps Toward More Inclusive Campus Environments

In recent weeks, incidents at the University of Missouri and Yale University have placed in the public eye a set of issues that are familiar and painful to far too many college students.

While these campuses have been the most visible recent examples, decades of history stretch across many campuses, with the issue going beyond individual moments of racial harassment, hostility, and insensitivity. Students nationwide have expressed a deep concern about whether their schools are prepared to handle such experiences, and that a slow or tepid reaction can amount to tolerance of a racially hostile environment.

[Related: Why University of Missouri Football Team Perfectly Exemplifies the Power of Student Athletes]

The question couldn’t matter more. At issue is whether college campuses are safe and welcoming to every student, regardless of race, religion, background, and identity. To be clear, work to maintain inclusive campus communities is not about chilling free expression – it is about creating strong cultures, and dealing with attacks that violate the law. Succeeding in this effort is essential to expanding opportunity.

This is no small issue. Over my nearly seven years in office, the Office for Civil Rights has received more than 1,000 complaints of racial harassment at institutions of higher education.

This month, we convened campus leaders from around the country – presidents, faculty, legal experts, and student leaders – to tackle the issue of racial harassment on campuses and to lay out solutions to foster supportive educational environments.

Here are seven steps we heard from these leaders, upon which any college campus could act:

  • Institute a statement of values. This statement can set the tone for students on campus. The University of Mississippi adopted a creed as a means of communicating and cultivating the university’s core values. It is used to elevate and strengthen the university’s community and as a guide in addressing complaints.
  • Teach cultural competency. Cultural competency is a core message that colleges and universities should be teaching (and learning) as a foundational component of what it means to be an educated American.