Obama WH looks to protect social justice efforts from Trump

The U.S. Secretary of Education wants colleges to go even further in pursuit of social justice, suggesting “implicit bias” trainings, safe spaces, and additional resources for “underrepresented communities.”

In a “Dear Colleague” letter sent Friday, Secretary of Education John King, Jr. begins by praising the diversity efforts already being undertaken in academia, but asserts that “we have far more work left to do—beyond supporting diversity through admissions and enrollment alone—to ensure that our campuses are safe, inclusive, and supportive environments.”

To assist college and university administrators with the task, King includes a link to a new report on Advancing Diversity & Inclusion in Higher Education, saying it is intended not only to “celebrate the Obama Administration’s efforts to advance diversity and inclusion,” but also as a blueprint for additional steps that can be taken in pursuit of those goals.

[RELATED: Wisconsin to create Black Cultural Center ‘safe space’]

Of particular concern to King is the “not uncommon” problem of racial bias and discrimination, which he says “affects underrepresented students’ sense of belonging and may cause them to drop out before they finish their educations,” and which schools are legally required to remedy in a prompt and effective manner.

At the same time, though, he also concedes that public institutions of higher learning have a concurrent obligation to protect free speech rights on campus, and suggests that more schools emulate the practice of establishing safe spaces and free speech zones so that students can “come together for open dialogue on issues of diversity and inclusion, while also creating spaces for students to demonstrate and express their opposition.”

[RELATED: You won’t find safe spaces here, UC dean tells freshmen]

Along with safe spaces to control free speech, King also suggests training programs for students, faculty, and staff to teach them how to “support diverse student populations” while also addressing the “implicit biases that we all carry with us.”

Inside Higher Ed reports that King’s letter and the accompanying Department of Education report coincided with a White House education summit at which current administration officials urged academic leaders to continue advancing existing policy priorities after “the elephant in the room” takes office in January.

[RELATED: UC profs disavow dean’s free speech letter, endorse safe spaces]

Theodore Shaw, director of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Center for Civil Rights, argued that “some tough times are coming,” implying that educators will need to take a stand against the policies of the next administration.

“We’ve got to stand up on behalf of our students who are most vulnerable,” King said. “We’ve got to stand up for our students of color and insist on safe environments for them. We’ve got to stand up for female students and insist on environments free of sexism. We’ve got to stand up for students in religious minority groups who may be persecuted. We’ve got to stand up for students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. We’ve got to stand up for students regardless of immigration status.”

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