The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Digging Deeper Into the Racial Inequity Conversation With CUPA-HR’s 21-Day Challenge

CUPA-HR members participating in the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge have reached the halfway point as we head into week three. They’ve read articles, watched videos, engaged in group discussions during town hall meetings about how systemic racism persists on and off campus.

As we wrap up the first two weeks of the challenge, here are some of the takeaways from the group discussions so far.

Redlining Continues to Affect the Applicant Pool

Laurita Thomas, president of the American Research Universities – Human Resources Institute, shared her experience with redlining living in Detroit, Michigan, and how it continues to affect members of the Black community today who are employed by universities. Thomas asked higher ed HR to think about how redlining affects institutions’ accessibility, and urged participants to consider what they know about who in their workforce is having to commute to campus, how far, and for what level of work.

Acknowledging Thomas’ remarks, Adam Pritchard, senior survey researcher at CUPA-HR, pointed to CUPA-HR data showing the higher than average representation of minority employees among staff, as well as the difference in benefits and retirement packages for non-exempt staff compared to exempt staff.

Microaggressions Change the Way We Interact With Others 

Lynne Adams, associate vice president for human resources and organizational development at Prince George’s Community College, shared in week two of the challenge several ways she’s experienced microaggressions. “Travelling with my husband and kids somewhere, where perhaps we’re the only people of color, and being stopped walking back to my room being asked if I’m the maid,” she told the group. “Or people following me around the store thinking perhaps I’m going to steal something. Or having people say, ‘You really are articulate! You’re a credit to your race.'”

Jacqueline Bichsel, director of research at CUPA-HR, went on to explain that, “Being subjected to microaggressions over time changes you as a person. It changes how you interact with others and makes you feel diminished. It can also act reciprocally to change how others perceive you. So, if you speak in a louder voice to counteract interruptions or dismissive behaviors, then you’re characterized as difficult or aggressive.”

Implicit Bias Influences Hiring Decisions and Creates Pay Disparities 

Also brought up in the week-two town hall discussion was the influence of implicit bias on hiring decisions in higher ed. Bichsel explained, “It’s pretty common for someone to say, ‘I’m looking for somebody who fits in with my team,’ and then rely on their gut when making a decision. So, somebody who fits in with your team would talk a certain way, maybe communicate in a certain manner. Think about how common it is for people to rely on their gut when making promotions or deciding who gets a merit increase. This is the reason we have pay disparities.”

Moving Forward

We encourage you to continue to challenge your own biases related to race, in both your professional and personal spheres, and to dig deep into these hard conversations and topics that we must confront in order to fuel real change on campus. The 21-day challenge provides an excellent opportunity to do just that. It’s not too late to participate in the challenge. Participation is free to CUPA-HR members, but you must register.


The CUPA-HR national office will be closed July 4 in observance of Independence Day.