The REASON Project
Across the country, students of color are disproportionately excluded from ever receiving a college diploma due to several barriers impacting access, retention, and college completion. State flagship universities, in particular, have struggled to allocate sufficient resources and pass equitable policies to help close these gaps and address the long-standing problems with accessing higher education. The failure to ensure equitable access and opportunity at state flagships not only harms those students of color excluded, but also deprives all students of the tremendous social and academic benefits of student diversity.
To combat this issue, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, in partnership with the Joyce Foundation, has launched the REASON Project. REASON stands for Recruitment, Equity-in-Practice, Accountability, Social-Inclusion, Opportunity Culture, and Networks.
The REASON Project will convene a multi-sector group of civil rights, education, and advocacy organizations that will engage higher education leaders, policy experts, civil rights allies, student-organizers, and more over the next two years to create new, comprehensive strategies for increasing racial equity and advancing access to equal educational opportunity at flagship universities in Illinois and Ohio.
The REASON Project has five main goals:
- Build multi-sector coalitions in Illinois and Ohio.
- Examine current policies and practices at state flagship universities.
- Raise public awareness of the critical resources available to students and families of color.
- Provide recommendations based on student and alumni feedback on how to enhance diversity and recruitment strategies.
- Secure commitments to racial equity.
State flagship universities present unique opportunities for students to climb the ladder of success in school and in life. Unfortunately, they have not always been open to all students, espeecially underserved students of color. The Lawyers’ Committee is excited to partner with an incredible, diverse coalition of key state stakeholders and work with universities to ensure the promise of educational opportunity becomes a reality for all students.
The REASON Framework
The REASON framework was designed to address the areas that most affect the ability of students of color to achieve in higher education: access, retention, and completion. In working with a multi-sector, diverse coalition of key stakeholders, the REASON project uses an equity based framework.
The core components of the REASON framework are:
- Recruitment: Identifying effective practices that increase diversity and value student achievements beyond the traditional data points;
- Equity-in-Practice: Maintaining a focus of reaching prospective students from the most marginalized and historically underrepresented communities;
- Accountability: Inviting traditionally excluded voices into the conversation to build community power and hear new ideas;
- Social-Inclusion: Building a more inclusive campus climate by highlighting the importance of diverse student, alumni, and faculty in leadership roles;
- Opportunity Culture: Equipping all students with the tools to become leaders and further themselves both socially and economically;
- Networks: Using the social and financial capital of state flagships to invest in and partner with communities in need.
Amplifying New Voices
For years, strategies to increase access to higher education for students of color have failed. They are often too generalized, exclude key voices from the conversation, and lack the necessary coordination to be successful, thereby making them ineffective and creating an endless loop with relatively little progress.
The REASON Project will bring new stakeholders into the conversation that have a genuine commitment to racial equity, including civil rights organizations, state legislators, education and advocacy organizations, student-organizers, economic groups, grassroots leaders, and more. The project will unite these stakeholders around a set of common commitments and metrics to increase racial and socioeconomic diversity. By bringing in fresh new perspectives, the project will be able to identify where past efforts have fallen short and create meaningful and substantive alternatives for improvement.
The targeted audience for the project includes individuals at the university level, community leaders, and state administrative offices and state legislative leaders. This will allow the project to identify solutions that can occur at the universities themselves, and also advocate for statewide support.
Each coalition will start by completing a deep dive of their state flagship university’s current recruitment and retention efforts, enrollment trends, and campus climate. This will be coupled with public education and outreach to mobilize communities throughout the state. Next, the coalition will develop new, comprehensive strategies that are specifically targeted at addressing the racial disparities in higher education in their state and where past efforts have fallen short. Then, they hope to engage in a dialgoue with the university to explore areas where they can potentially work together. Finally, the coalition will monitor how these strategies perform and the ways in which they improve racial diversity.
The multi-sector REASON coalition in Illinois consists of civil rights groups, local education and advocacy organizations, economic empowerment groups, student organizations, alumni organizations, state legislators, and more. Our stakeholders will be able to address the root causes and structural barriers that have contributed to decades of education inequality.