Gary Orfield Leads Roundtable on “The Walls Around Opportunity”
Discussion on Sept. 13 explored new book by Civil Rights Project co-director on racial inequality that hinders students of color.
A hybrid roundtable discussion on, “The Walls Around Opportunity: The Failure of Colorblind Policy for Higher Education," a new book by UCLA distinguished research professor Gary Orfield, was held on Sept. 13 at the UCLA Faculty Club, presented by the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies and the Center for Social Solutions at the University of Michigan. The event explored the new publication by Orfield, featuring a panel of experts in education and equity, that was moderated by UCLA Associate Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and Professor of Education Mitchell Chang.
The roundtable included perspectives by Nancy Cantor, chancellor and distinguished Professor of Psychology, Rutgers University–Newark; Audrey Dow, senior vice president, Campaign for College Opportunity; Stella M. Flores, associate professor and director, Research and Strategy for the Education Research Center, University of Texas at Austin; Mayra Lara, associate director of educator engagement, The Education Trust–West; Earl Lewis, Thomas C. Holt Distinguished University Professor and director-founder, Center for Social Solutions, University of Michigan; President Emeritus of The Mellon Foundation; and Alison Yoshimoto-Towery, executive director, UC-CSU California Collaborative for Neurodiversity and Learning, UCLA; former chief academic officer, LAUSD.
Professor Orfield, who has appointments in the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies, UCLA School of Law, and the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, presented the goals of his new book, published recently by Princeton Press. He stated that while families of color share the dream of higher education, racial inequality hinders that dream for many from an early age, and that colorblind policies have made college inaccessible for far too many students.
With the Supreme Court ruling on affirmative education looming this October, Orfield’s book calls for race-conscious policies that can open the doors to educational opportunity for all, and sets forth ideas for deep changes that result in meaningful gains for our systems of education and all of the people they need to serve.
“This book is a reaction to a crisis in educational and civil rights equity in our country,” said Professor Orfield as he kicked off the discussion. “We have been going backwards in important ways on civil rights ever since the 1980s, and we are now, with the most hostile Supreme Court in at least a century, facing a real possibility that we will lose affirmative action in higher education. We are going through a historic demographic change without a plan, and we are throwing away a lot of tools that we invented in an earlier time that were designed to make it work out better.”
Orfield said the the civil rights era of the 1960s was instrumental in creating more equitable systems for students of color to succeed in school and achieve higher education, and called for a return to that level of commitment throughout American society and policy.
“Our students of color are concentrated in inferior schools, with less experienced teachers, more limited curriculum, much less prepared peer groups,” noted Orfield. “It’s no surprise they’re not ready for college. When we ignore that reality and we think that everyone has been given a fair chance… we’re going to just legitimate a system of inequality and perpetuate it.
“If we really want to change it, we don’t have to just preserve affirmative action. We have to think about race in general and design policies that deal with the reality of race, not the pretense that everybody has equality and opportunity in our society and hold people accountable for it. When we did that, we made big changes. When we stopped doing it, we allowed a steady drift into deep inequality.”
To view the discussion on “The Walls Around Opportunity,” visit this Box link.
Above: Gary Orfield, UCLA professor of education, law, and political science, and co-director of the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA. Photo by Paolo Cantos