How Universities, Students Can Advance Equity for Women of Color



For every dollar men are paid for working a full-time job, women are paid 80 cents. And it’s worse for young women of color — they experience poverty at nearly twice the rate of young white women.

While this may be news to some, it certainly isn’t to minority women. They endure these inequalities first-hand.

And for young women of color who are struggling to pay for their college degrees, these facts are a sobering reminder that even with hard work, success and a documented education, they likely won’t earn as much as their white male counterparts.

It’s clear that change is necessary.

Fortunately, members from The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) are leading the charge to achieve equity.

In a new brief titled “Systems of Power and Young Women of Color,” CLASP authors highlight and offer solutions to the inequities experienced by young women of color.

They convey that the systems of power that reinforce white supremacy, patriarchy and heteronormativity were constructed and reinforced throughout history — through colonization, slavery, immigration and genocide.

“Only by understanding and naming the roots and the ground that produce outcomes for young women of color can we begin to dismantle these barriers and challenges and avoid replicating inequity,” the authors wrote.

The authors stress that dethroning these systems of power and granting equity to young women of color will require significant investment and bold policy proposals

What can be done on college campuses?

Along with many other institutions and individuals, the authors claim that universities, colleges and students can help bring about meaningful change.

“We are encouraging stakeholders and partners to think about next steps for creating change in two main categories: bringing visibility to these issues and partnering with young women of color to identify solutions,” said Nia West-Bey, a senior policy analyst with CLASP’s youth team.

“Colleges and universities are well positioned to do both,” she continued.

West-Bey encourages university leaders to ask themselves if they are aware of the experiences of young women of color on their campuses; if they are doing anything to bring attention to the systems of power and structural barriers present in the activities of their school; and most importantly, if they are effectively utilizing the institution’s resources to help address these issues.

An effective way for colleges and universities to demonstrate their commitment to achieving equity is by partnering with campus groups and organizations that are led by young women of color, West-Bey explained.

West-Bey also advises colleges and universities to align their policies with the Civil Rights Principles for Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which CLASP and many other organizations are already signed on to.

“These principles identify key policy issues, including affordability, barriers to enrollment, persistence and completion, data collection and safe and inclusive campus cultures,” West-Bey said. “Addressing these issues is critical to supporting educational equity for young women of color.”

Students also have a role to play.

West-Bey encourages students to educate themselves and start a conversation about how structural barriers are affecting themselves and/or their peers.  

“Students often have tremendous organizing ability and access to platforms to share information widely, shape programming (i.e., guest speakers, celebrations, class discussions), and choose research and project topics to learn more about these issues,” West-Bey said.

Collaboration and empathy are key. When more people are on the same page, making significant structural change is much easier.

“Students should think about ways to partner with young women of color, both at the institution and in the community, to identify opportunities to support efforts to dismantle these barriers,” West-Bey said.

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