This is the final article in a four-part series related to the complex problem of institutional racism. In the first two columns (see March 2006 and April 2006), we outlined the different ways that institutional racism continues to be perpetuated in our contemporary society. The June 2006 column was designed to further extend counselors’ thinking about this problem by discussing how institutional racism is manifested in the controversial No Child Left Behind Act.

The present article describes the theoretical rationale and intervention strategies we have used to address this complex problem at the large university where we work. Our rationale and interventions are grounded in three of the multicultural counseling competencies that were developed by the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development in 1991 and formally endorsed by the American Counseling Association in 2003:

  • Multicultural Competency No. 9: Culturally competent counselors constantly seek to understand themselves as racial-cultural beings and actively strive to develop a nonracist identity.
  • Multicultural Competency No. 27: Culturally competent counselors are able to exercise institutional intervention skills on behalf of their clients.
  • Multicultural Competency No. 30: Culturally competent counselors should attend to as well as work to eliminate biases, prejudices and discriminatory practices. They should be cognizant of sociopolitical contexts in conducting evaluations and providing interventions, and should develop sensitivity to issues of oppression, sexism and racism.

Taking action at the University of Hawaii

The rationale for addressing the complex problem of institutional racism at our own university, the University of Hawaii, is grounded in two basic premises. First, as White persons ourselves, we are aware that members of the dominant racial group benefit in many ways from the manner in which various forms of institutional and cultural racism are perpetuated in our nation.

James Jones, a noted racism and prejudice theorist, defines these two terms in the following way. Institutional racism is manifested in those established laws, customs and practices that systematically reflect and produce racial inequities in American society. Cultural racism is composed of the cumulative effects of racialized worldviews, based on a belief in essential racial differences that favor the dominant racial group over others.

As individuals who continue to work at developing Multicultural Competency No. 9, we feel a moral and professional compulsion to assert a nonracist identity by addressing the complex problem of institutional racism in our work setting.

The second premise that guides our work in this area relates to the responsibility culturally competent counselors have in exercising institutional interventions designed to eliminate racial biases, prejudices and discriminatory practices (Multicultural Competencies Nos. 27 and 30). What follows is a brief description of some of the ways institutional racism is manifested at our university (and in most if not all other universities across the country), a discussion of the interventions we used to address this problem in the Department of Counselor Education and the College of Education at the University of Hawaii and the outcomes/consequences of implementing those interventions.

Interventions in the Department of Counselor Education

Beginning in 1996, we recognized two specific ways that institutional racism was manifested in our counseling department, including an underrepresentation of women and persons of color on our faculty. At the time, two of the eight faculty members were female, while six of the faculty members were White. This contrasted sharply with our student body, the majority of whom were female and non-White.

From 1996-2000, we openly discussed our perceptions of how this racial and gender disparity represented one of the ways in which our counseling department was perpetuating unintentional forms of institutional racism (and sexism). We discussed these issues many times in staff meetings, which often resulted in emotionally charged interactions with colleagues in our department. Although slow in coming, we were able to successfully advocate for the hiring of more women and persons of color to our faculty over the next several years.

Much of the success came from our willingness to implement nontraditional recruitment efforts when our department was conducting a search for new faculty members. This involved actively “getting the word out” about available faculty positions to key persons in various multicultural professional groups and organizations such as AMCD. It also included meeting with potential candidates at counseling conferences and conventions to encourage them to submit their application materials.

At the same time, we recognized that hiring persons from underrepresented racial groups was only a first step in addressing institutional racism in counseling departments. It was also important to implement strategies that would foster the professional development of persons hired from these groups. Consequently, we volunteered to implement a formal mentoring program with an African-American female faculty member hired by our department in 2001.

As noted in previous columns, it is also important for counselors to address the cultural biases that are an inherent part of the epistemological frameworks that characterize professional counseling training programs. To address these concerns, we worked with a group of students who expressed a desire for faculty members to infuse instructional strategies in their courses that would focus on the AMCD multicultural competencies. These efforts included consulting with students on how they could develop a survey to assess the degree to which the entire student body supported the idea of faculty members working more intentionally to infuse multicultural counseling competency training strategies in their courses.

The students who developed and administered this survey met with the entire faculty to report their findings. In short, 95 percent of the students in our program expressed the desire to have faculty members infuse multicultural counseling competency training in their courses.

The results of these efforts included the hiring of four new faculty members between 2001-2005, including an African-American female, a Chinese-American male and two additional females of White European descent. As another outcome of these advocacy efforts, several faculty members agreed to explicitly identify the specific multicultural counseling competencies they intended to address in all future course syllabi. One faculty member who did not support the students’ request to identify the specific multicultural competencies to be addressed cited the faculty members’ right to academic freedom. This individual indicated that she/he did not want to feel “boxed in” in terms of having to design a course syllabus in a specific way.

Counselors who consider implementing these strategies should also be aware of some of the negative outcomes we experienced in actively taking an anti-racist stand in our department. One of the most apparent negative outcomes we experienced (also reported by other researchers) is the degree to which efforts to deal with institutional racism in counseling departments can lead to fractured relationships with colleagues. Clearly, this occurred in some of our relationships with colleagues who were less interested in such advocacy.

Interventions in the College of Education

Similar factors of institutional racism manifested in our counseling department were also reflected throughout the entire College of Education, of which our department was a part. Consequently, Michael filed a formal complaint with the dean of the College of Education. He requested an investigation into the ways in which cultural-racial disparities within the ranks of the administration, faculty and students and cultural biases in the epistemological frameworks, theoretical models and research methods continued to be exhibited in courses offered in the College of Education.

It is important to note that Michael provided additional services beyond simply filing a formal complaint. These services included:

  • Developing a comprehensive organizational-cultural audit that provided a measure of the degree to which institutional racism may be manifested in higher education settings
  • Volunteering to spend more than 10 hours consulting with the dean regarding the ways institutional racism is commonly manifested in educational settings
  • Collaborating with the College Education Diversity Committee in the fall of 2000 and submitting a proposal for small intramural funding that would allow more in-depth study and interventions into this problem

The outcomes of these interventions were less positive than those that resulted from our departmental interventions. In short, the proposal for intramural funding to support future work in this area was denied. Second, the members of the Diversity Committee did not want to explore these issues further in 2000. Third, his advocacy efforts resulted in a strained relationship between Michael and the dean. In fact, the dean did not report on his findings of the formal complaint filed with his office in 2000.

During the following six years, both of us worked in other ways to address the problem of institutional racism in our department, the College of Education and the University of Hawaii in general. Our efforts in this area involved:

  • Conducting ongoing research to learn more about the complex problem of racism and the various ways it is manifested at the individual and institutional levels
  • Sharing our research findings and professional publication with students in our department and the College of Education to help them learn more about this social pathology
  • Disseminating e-mails to faculty members and administrators on a listserv in the College of Education that illuminate how racism and other forms of cultural oppression are institutionalized in higher education

In addition to these efforts, Michael also resubmitted his original formal complaint to both the dean and the Faculty Senate in the College of Education. This was done to solicit broader support to formally investigate the numerous ways institutional racism is allegedly perpetuated in the College of Education and to seek actions to ameliorate this complex problem.

Although the dean of the College of Education again failed to provide a report of his investigation to Michael (a common procedure in responding to formal complaints), the members of the Faculty Senate voted unanimously to support a resolution tasking the Diversity Committee to conduct a “discovery” of the allegations presented. This resolution includes a mandate to have the Diversity Committee provide monthly updates on the findings as well as suggestions to deal with the allegations outlined in the formal complaint.

Several outcomes/consequences ensued from these interventions. These included:

  • Garnering institutional support from the Faculty Senate to look into the allegations of institutional racism in the College of Education
  • Increasing discourse about this complex problem and the ways in which administrators and faculty members may unintentionally perpetuate various forms of institutional racism in the College of Education
  • Providing new opportunities to unveil this problem and develop new multicultural organizational strategies to address it in the College of Education at the University of Hawaii

Similar to our experiences with some colleagues in our department, we have also encountered increased tensions in our relationship with the dean, a number of other faculty members and some individuals who work as support staff in the College of Education as we continue to pursue this important form of multicultural-social justice advocacy. The negative reactions we have experienced are consistent with the findings of numerous multicultural-social justice counseling researchers and theorists who have written about the adverse consequences individuals can anticipate when participating in this form of advocacy.

We hope the ideas presented in this column stimulate your thinking about the promise and pitfalls counselors may experience when engaging in organizational development efforts designed to eradicate institutional racism in their work settings. While our experiences highlight the challenges and adversity other counselors may encounter in undertaking this sort of work, these interventions also reflect some of the ways in which Multicultural Competencies Nos. 9, 27 and 30 can be implemented in the field. By working in these ways to eradicate various forms of institutional racism in our work settings, counselors can indeed have a tremendous impact in promoting human dignity and development through diversity.