Disparities in academic advising

A look into alleged discrimination against students of color in advising

BY SEAN WALULIK, staff writer

This piece was originally published with a photo from xavier.edu of an academic advisor that was not a subject of the article.

Amidst nationwide calls for justice, minority students at Xavier have begun to speak out, bringing attention to instances of discrimination within academic advising. 

Discrimination in academic advising takes the form of advisors, consciously or unconsciously, allowing beliefs about a particular race, gender, socioeconomic status or any other group, to alter the recommendations that they make to students. 

These preconceived notions may result in minority groups disproportionately facing problems with academic advisors suggesting that they take an easier course load, implying doubt regarding their ability to be successful. 

Senior Cameron Lakes, among others, described his experiences with advisors at the Speak Up XU protest  on Sept. 23, explaining the challenges that he has had in changing his major. 

In his change to a criminal justice major, Lakes was able to find his passion, which led to tremendous success in his new coursework. However, despite this success, he was still encouraged to postpone his official major change.  

“It’s been a frustrating process,” explained Lakes. “Obviously not to the extent of some of these other students of color that have been going through this same thing, it’s not to the same extent in which they’re being told ‘Oh, you know what, maybe you should just drop out’ or ‘Oh, you know what, maybe we should look at another career option for you.’”

Lakes elaborated, “I mean that’s how I felt, that’s what I felt like they were saying like ‘Oh, you know what maybe this isn’t for you so just in case let’s hold off allowing you to switch your major.’”

Other Black students at the Speak Up XU protest described experiences of alleged bias by advisors from the College of Nursing and the College of Professional Sciences. 

Students of color are not the only ones who feel their advising is affected by bias.

“I had someone come up to me the other day who wasn’t a student of color, who is a low income student, who comes from a low income household, being told, ‘You know what, maybe this isn’t for you, you should just drop out,’ even though they were excelling in their classes,” said Lakes. 

These experiences run in direct contrast to the policy explained in the Xavier Faculty Handbook. 

The handbook directly states in its Ethics Statement that “professors demonstrate respect for students as individuals and adhere to their proper roles as intellectual guides and counselors.” The statement continues on to explain that “[faculty] avoid any exploitation, harassment or discriminatory treatment of students.”

Jennifer Droege, Assistant Dean of The College of Arts and Sciences, explained what students should do if they encounter this type of discrimination in the realm of advising. 

“What we have in place is a series of student complaint procedures for students to follow, so it is important for us as a university to know when something isn’t working right from a student’s perspective, and we try to provide them with different avenues to share those concerns,” said Droege. 

Droege explained that students are always encouraged to first address the issue with the faculty member, if feasible. Recognizing that this likely would not be realistic in this situation, students are then advised to contact the chair of their department. 

If the problem still cannot be resolved using these steps, or if a student feels uncomfortable taking this action, Droege explains that there are also anonymous reporting options for students. Students can file these complaints through the Bias Advisory and Response Team (BART), or through EthicsPoint — Xavier’s anonymous, web-based ethics reporting system. EthicsPoint is most quickly accessed by searching “EthicsPoint” on Xavier’s website. 

These are important resources for all Xavier students to be aware of, so as to ensure that appropriate reporting of these incidents occurs. 

Lakes emphasized the importance and universality of this issue by saying,  “This isn’t just a black and white thing, this is something that could affect all students, just disproportionately it affects students of color.”  

Any students who have experiences of discrimination at Xavier are strongly encouraged by the university to report the incidents for the continual improvement of Xavier’s advising system and to ensure that all students receive appropriate advising.