UW Impact

Recap: Beyond Economic Mobility

Screengrab from the legislative preview

Clockwise from top left: Dr. Crystal Hall, Senator Emily Randall, Rickey Hall, Ben Franz-Knight, Representative Chris Corry and Victoria Jackson

On January 7, 2021, UW Impact held its 7th annual Legislative Preview event, Beyond Economic Mobility: Can Higher Education Advance Racial Equity? Held online, the panel explored whether economic mobility was a comprehensive way to measure higher education’s role in advancing racial equity, and what other ways higher education could provide for BIPOC students beyond just degrees and jobs.

The event was moderated by Assistant Professor Dr. Crystal Hall from the UW Evans School. Dr. Hall brought her background in social psychology with a focus on poverty and inequality as they relate to public policies to the evening’s conversations.

On the heels of the insurrection at our nation’s Capitol building just days prior, Dr. Hall grounded attendees with the acknowledgement of “hard truths” to be addressed around racism and equity across the nation. She specifically asked “I hope that each of us really consider the ways in which we are complicit and holding up some of these institutional patterns…” of racial equity in higher education.

The panel began with Rickey Hall, the UW Vice President of Minority Affairs and Affairs, and Victoria Jackson, a Senior Policy Analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington D.C. Jackson and Hall discussed specific racial inequities that underrepresented students in Washington State face when pursuing higher education. Jackson discussed the disparities between Black students and students of other races when it came to loan repayment and default. Jackson advocated for state and federal programs that bring down the cost of tuition and cancel debts. Hall noted that, due to a variety of factors, a higher percentage of underrepresented students graduated with debt.

The second panel featured Senator Emily Randall (D-26; Bremerton) and Representative Chris Corry (R-14; Yakima). Their discussion focused on legislative solutions to racial equity challenges in higher education. Rep. Corry discussed the importance of grants that make college more accessible, but he also emphasizes that “it’s not just the money piece, clearly, it’s also the supports and services that will allow them to be successful.” Sen. Randall provided examples of programs that train faculty, staff and administrators to be supportive advocates as well as having a diverse faculty and staff, which would allow underrepresented students to work with people who have shared experiences with them.

During the Q&A Sen. Randall discussed the need for a legislative equity tool that would introduce a formal, systematic approach to providing an equity analysis for various bills. In the meantime, she suggested using guiding questions through a racial equity lens. In addition, (Rickey) Hall highlighted higher education’s crucial role in knowledge production and in including conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the curriculum. He stated, “part of what we’re doing is preparing our students for life after the University. We want them to be able to live and lead in an increasingly diverse world.”

Attendees heard a variety of structural issues and policies in higher education that have perpetuated racial disparities historically and continue today. However, the panel noted some evidence that higher education is playing a role in advancing racial equity. Here in Washington State the newly enacted Workforce Education Investment Act was regarded as a groundbreaking financial aid solution to help mitigate financial barriers for students. There was also a bright outlook for BIPOC students at the UW as students graduate with less debt than the median reported at the national level. So locally things appear well. However, there are still institutional, state, and national policies to be addressed. In addition to affordability, access, preparation and additional support structures are needed in higher education to help BIPOC students and to truly advance racial equity.

The event ended with UWAA president Ben Franz-Knight, encouraging attendees to join UW Impact and to be active on these issues.

Watch the event online: