Do They Really Care About US: The Civil Right Act 1964, Diversity, and Equity

Faculty, African American Outreach Initiative Lead Liaison, Los Angeles Community College District

One can argue that policy making does not always lead to sustainable progress for African American students. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was intended to reconcile the egregious, abhorrent enslavement of African Americans. Oppositely, it made racism less visible, fertilized discrimination, and stagnated African American students even more. The number of African American students entering four-year colleges and universities have mostly remained the same since 1976 (Harper, 2012).

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made structural racism visible because the policy failed to examine human behavior. 

Today, 56 years after Jim Crow laws were abolished, postsecondary education is still separate and unequal despite the Brown vs. the Board of Education mandate. According to the National Center on Education Statistics (NCES) in 2017, approximately 80% of U.S. community college students from disproportionately low- and moderate-income brackets wanted to obtain a bachelor’s degree.  According to U.S. census data, 26.6% of African Americans (ages 25 and older) in California have earned a bachelor’s degree (or higher), while 30% have attended college but have not earned a degree. Although laws have been passed very little progress has been made.

In most cases, African American students report having external obligations that impact their ability to commit to school full time. The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office MIS Data Mart reported an overwhelming majority of African American students (77%) attend community college part time (fewer than 12 units in a term), which could be due to employment, family, and other commitments that are required to sustain a livable lifestyle.

In the past, most research suggested that African American students were not capable of excelling at two- and four-year colleges and universities due to poor study habits and lack of rigor in college preparatory courses. However, the reality is African Americans encounter basic needs insecurities, environmental pressures—work, family, financial, stressful life events, racial microaggressions, racially-hostile campus climates, deficit perspectives because the civil rights act failed to address racism. The majority of African Americans attend a community college and yet, community colleges are underfunded, compared to the CSU and UC systems. For African Americans, community colleges are ostensibly accessible, but sadly structural racism and being underfunded have played a pivotal role in their lower completion rates.

With the emergence of new research and data, policymakers, educators, and practitioners decided to shift their approach to strength-based learning and an anti-deficit framework and begin lobbying for diversity and equity to be embedded in student success programs and academic programs as a way to improve completion rates for minoritized students (Harper, 2012). Scholars began to conduct research on the advantages of embedding diversity and equity into all college programs (Wells, Fox, and Cordova-Cobo, 2016; Gurin et al., 2002). Despite the growing understanding amongst policymakers, educators, and practitioners, opportunities for African American students have been less than moderately responsive to legislative mandates. 

In order to understand this unfortunate phenomenon, it is important to dichotomize diversity and equity. In 1996, the state of California abolished the Affirmative Action policy in governmental institutions. In restitution, the state enacted the construct of diversity.

Diversity vs. Equity

Diversity became the mandate and the means to comply with the law and the status quo throughout the state. Diversity became the enemy of equity. Diversity allowed the state to appear to be inclusive in variety, while perpetuating the blindness to conditions institutionalized by Jim Crow laws. Diversity did not address nor reconcile the hundreds of years of legislation that disabled students’ of color success.

Instead, diversity gave birth to racial inequity, displaying white privilege, which was once ambiguous but now unmistakable, and exemplifying how our bureaucratic systems were founded.

Goals and outcomes are important when developing a student equity plan, but racial equity is equally important to ensure those goals and outcomes are sustainable. To reduce the achievement gap, institutional responsiveness to student groups that are continuously being indexed as disproportionately impacted (DI) groups on every matrix requires a student equity plan that addresses race. In most cases African Americans, are commonly classified as a DI student group, and yet according to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office MIS Data Mart in 2018-2019, there was approximately one African American tenured faculty for every 131 African American students, and approximately one white tenured faculty for every 55 white students. African American students at community colleges have little to no connection to the curriculum and limited institutional support. Community colleges lack African American role models for student success, and culturally relevant, responsive, and sustaining pedagogy has a direct impact on enrollment, retention, and student success. The success of African American students is dependent on the elements such as engagement in frequently and educationally purposeful activities in student organizations and in campus activities, supportive relationship with campus mentors, faculty, and meaningful interactions with diverse peers (Flowers, 2003).

Action Will Show They Really Care About US

The root of the problem is the lack of awareness of the structural and systemic racism embedded into the fabric of U.S culture. Reducing inequities in educational attainment by race and ethnicity will require intention and definitive effort (Witham, Malcolm-Piquex, Dowd, & Bensimon, 2015). Additionally, there is abuse of policy and implantation in the form using equity and diversity interchangeably to avoid tackling and challenging racial inequities.

Viewing this through an equitable and social justice lens, policy implementation and evaluation is being designed based on historically predominantly white culture of colleges rather than implementing based on the new reality: that African American students are being looked over in our educational system. Failure to have mentors that can adequately guide African American students through the institutional barriers, challenges, and opportunities in higher education is not conducive to student success, campus success, and enrollment. A racial equity framework must be the top priority.

The absence of racial equity in higher education will have a devastating impact on the aspirations of our future leaders who rarely see leaders who resemble them or know their life experiences.

While, higher education is the single greatest hope for intellectual and national progress in this country (Teague, 2015). For African Americans, education has created a national dilemma rather than the solution because the approach was not intended to improve educational attainment, decrease poverty, nor support generational wealth. Unfortunately, the sad reality is human behavior cannot be legislated and policy makers, educators, and practitioners need to show that they really care about us by admitting The Civil Rights act of 1964 did not address structural racism and anti-black practices, diversity paved the way for everyone but African Americans. When developing, designing, implementing, and evaluating programs, race and white privilege should be factored into the program design.  Deliberate and intentional racial equity practices and programs, specifically for African American students will be the beginning of rectifying the misfortunes of the past.


Bensimon E, M., (2018). The Equity Imperative: “two nations, Separate and Unequal” Reclaiming Racial Justice in Equity Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning Volume 50, 2018-Issue 3-4 pages 95-98. 

California Community Colleges Chancellors Office MIS Data Mart Analysis based on AY 2018-2019

California Legislative Information website (

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Harper, S., (2012). Race without Racism; How Higher Education Researcher minimize Racist Institutional Norms. The Review of Higher Education Fall 2012, Volume 36, No.1 Supplement, pp 9-29 Copyright 2012Association for the Study of Higher Education All rights reserved (ISSN0162-57480).

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Mcintosh, P., (1989). White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack Peace and Freedom Magazine July/August 1989, pp. 10-12, a publication of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Philadelphia, PA.

Teague, L., (2015). Higher Education Plays Critical Role in Society: More Women Leaders can Make A Difference. Oxford Round Table. 406 West Florida Avenue, Urbana, IL 61801. 

Wells, A., Fox, L., & Cordova-Cobo, D., (2016). How Racially Diverse Schools and Classrooms Can Benefit All Students. New York: The Century Foundation.

Witham, K., Malcolm- Piqueux, L.E., Dowd, A.C., & Bensimon, E. M., (2015). America’s Unmet Promise: The Imperative for Equity in Higher Education. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.