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Dr. Tiffiny Hughes-Troutman
Dr. Tiffiny Hughes-Troutman

Five Ways Higher Education Institutions Can Fight the Effects of Racial Inequality

Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business recently hosted discussions on racial inequality and its impact with Dr. Tiffiny Hughes-Troutman, licensed psychologist and Director of the Center for Assessment, Referral, and Education (CARE) at Georgia Tech. The conversations focused on ways students, faculty, and staff educate themselves and act against racism, discrimination, and bias in campus communities.

Here are five of the ideas discussed as community members seek to create an environment of acceptance and ongoing, transformative change at Georgia Tech and other higher education institutions.

1. Acknowledge the psychological trauma Black community members face.

Black communities are coping with Covid-19, systemic racism, and other challenges at the same time, causing significant stress and anguish. Statistically, Black Americans are three times more likely to know someone who has died of Covid-19. “Many students are experiencing emotions similar to grief, disbelief, numbness, anger, denial, and shock,” said Hughes-Troutman.

Racial inequality coupled with the effects of the pandemic causes students to face enormous challenges. “Race-based discrimination is an undeniable stressor and African Americans suffer multiple traumas as a result of slavery, racism, and discrimination. This historical trauma can be transmitted from generation to generation and cause intergenerational trauma,” she said. Acknowledging this trauma is the first step to understanding.

2. Provide written and verbal acceptance in the classroom.

Hughes-Troutman believes that adding a statement to course syllabi that communicates that you value and respect diversity can go a long way.

“I believe it’s powerful to have a written statement of acceptance as well as a verbal acknowledgment at the beginning of class. Because Black students and other students of color may live their lives every day feeling invalidated, it’s a great release to see or hear something from their teacher that acknowledges that there are individuals in the class who have been impacted and come from different experiences.”

3. Create safe (virtual) spaces.

Faculty can create a safe and secure place for vulnerable students. It may not be immediately after class but in a virtual office setting.

“You may want to create a protected time for students to drop in for non-academic matters,” said Hughes-Troutman. She continued, “the reluctant student is reluctant for several reasons. They’re not sure how they’re going to be perceived, or they may feel that the faculty member won’t act appropriately so they’re afraid because they’ve never had the experience before. Offering a place to go can mitigate these fears.” If a student’s concerns are impacting academic performance, partner with the Dean of Students office for the next steps.

4. Provide mental health resources and de-stigmatize their use.

Historically, there has been a cultural mistrust that prevents Black Americans from seeking out formalized mental health care. Often, individuals will seek help only within their community, from friends or religious leaders. However, Hughes-Troutman says when students don't seek professional help and need it, the problem worsens and can result in a host of heightened health issues. Having a diverse mental health staff on campus, particularly psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health professionals who are well trained in multiculturalism and implicit bias, can go a long way to reduce anxiety and other concerns.

Anti-stigma campaigns can also do a lot. Students can partner with mental health experts to become student ambassadors and encourage others to seek counseling. For example, at Georgia Tech, if a Black student hears others talk affirmatively about going to CARE or to the Institute’s Counseling Center, it can make a difference in a student’s mental health plan and consequently, in their success or failure in school.

5. Prioritize and commit to dialogue and self-education.

Individuals throughout the educational community will be in different places. “Some individuals don’t have that diversity experience of being around those who are different from them and maybe that’s just where they are,” Hughes-Troutman noted.

Campuses provide unrivaled opportunities for individuals to work, attend classes, and even live with those from different backgrounds. These opportunities can lead to a transformative understanding and acceptance of others. Those who identify as non-Black may feel uncomfortable starting a dialogue for fear of saying the wrong things, but it is better to make an attempt at reaching out rather than staying silent.

In conversations, it’s important to be aware of both macro and microaggressions. Marginalized and underrepresented individuals often face microaggressions, a modern-day form of racism that is more insidious in nature and includes everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental interactions that communicate negative or hostile messages to marginalized individuals. Many times, those who inflict microaggressions aren’t aware of the impact of these comments. To combat this form of bias, Hughes-Troutman recommends implementing educational opportunities for students and employees as a start.

Most importantly, community members must continue to actively educate themselves and engage in regular introspection to create equity in higher education environments. Learn more in the article "Resources for Antiracism in Business, Leadership, and the Community".

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