Episode 24: Supreme Court Protects DACA, LGBTQ Workers; Prioritizing DEI During COVID-19


Aired June 29, 2020

Hosts Jon Fansmith and Lorelle Espinosa discuss two recent Supreme Court decisions: one that protects individuals with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, and another that protects the civil rights of LGBTQ workers, both of which will impact colleges and universities and students. They are later joined by Lori White, incoming president of DePauw University, who talks about taking on a new job during the pandemic; the need to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion this fall; and what it means to be a Black woman leading a major institution.

Episode Notes

Here are some of the links and references from this week’s show:

Hosts and Guests

 Read this episode's transcript

Jon Fansmith: Hello and welcome to dotEDU, the higher education podcast from the American Council on Education. I'm your host, Jon Fansmith, director of government relations here at ACE and I'm joined, as I usually am, by my co-host Lorelle Espinosa, vice president for research here at ACE. Hi, Lorelle.

Lorelle Espinosa: Hi, Jon. How's it going?

Jon Fansmith: It's going well. We're going to be joined just a little bit later by Dr. Lori White, the president-elect of DePauw University and we're going to have, I think, a really fascinating conversation, particularly with a president who's stepping into that role as a first-time president amidst everything that's happening in the world, that's happening right now. But, speaking of all of the things that have been happening in the world right now, we had a really interesting week last week as we record this, with two big Supreme Court decisions. And I think the one certainly most people in higher education have been following very closely was the Supreme Court decision, the Department of Homeland Security vs. The Regents of the University of California, the DACA case, as it's better known.

Lorelle Espinosa: Yeah, that was a big win, big win for-

Jon Fansmith: Huge win.

Lorelle Espinosa: ... and for the country, We saw another big win last week on Monday when the court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from discrimination based on sex, so that also was a huge win honestly for higher ed and the nation and a really interesting opinion too. I would recommend if you haven't read Supreme Court opinions before, this is a great one to start with really good.

Jon Fansmith: And I want people to realize just how subtly Lorelle is working in the fact that she has read both decisions in the cases, so that's-

Lorelle Espinosa: I have.

Jon Fansmith: ... a little humble brag on your part there, Lorelle.

Lorelle Espinosa: Well, the DACA one, I have to say it was a bit over my head. It was highly technical in nature given that the decision was really about essentially the defendants not having the right arguments to dismantle, so there's a lot of technicalities there.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. It was an interesting decision and I think it actually is ... The decision was great. It was a surprise, but I have a lot of thought about what's going forward and I think people might've taken the takeaway from it that "Hurray, DACA is restored. They have been protected by the court." And that's not really what happened. The court said the way the Trump administration rescinded the program was improper. It violated the Administrative Procedures Act. They didn't say they don't have the authority to do it. They just said they did it in the wrong way. The president came out and said about a day later, two days later that he's going to "refile" the decision.

Lorelle Espinosa: Yeah. I guess.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. I don't know exactly where you file that, but certainly he's expressed his intent. We're in some ways back in the position we before. Obviously this is a welcome reprieve, but there is no longterm legal protection for these people, so many of whom are on college and university campuses. It's one of those odd ones because there's tons of bipartisan support for doing something for Dreamers. Every poll after poll of the American people shows bipartisan support, Republicans, Democrats want to do something for Dreamers. I think their most recent one I saw was about 80% of Americans in a poll supported protecting them, which in these days getting 80% agreement on anything, it's pretty amazing. It's not just that these are people who are important to campus or ,Lorelle, they're particularly important to our society at this moment.

Lorelle Espinosa: They really are. I mean, we see DACA recipients in some of our healthcare-related fields in really high numbers. 13% of DACA college students are pursuing majors in these fields, which of course couldn't be more essential in this moment of a global pandemic, working in essential roles. Over 200,000 DACA recipients are in this current moment working in these essential roles. So yeah, I could see why there's such broad support, but like you said, that broad support has only grown over time and we need a permanent solution.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. This is not an issue area that I work directly on. I have some wonderful colleagues here at ACE who are directly involved in this, but I think everyone shares this frustration that there's seemingly universal understanding that it's not just morally the right thing to do, but as you pointed out, it's practically the right thing to do. And yet, how many years now have we been dealing with this issue with no real progress? And frankly, it's not likely to move forward this year either because we're in an election year, a presidential election year. Immigration legislation is always very difficult under the best of circumstances and an election year magnifies the intensity of those debates. Those aren't the best circumstances. The few times we've seen proposals around the Dreamers, they're oftentimes a lot of other immigration policies that frankly are very problematic. So I think the importance of getting that solution, that's really frustrated us, it's really magnified. The Supreme Court's decision is a reprieve for Dreamers. It's not a solution. There's a real urgency to get something done and I think whether you are within higher education or not, making your voice heard on this issue is really important. And ACE has been working with a lot of our colleague associations and institutions. There's a website that is available. It's linked through our webpage, www.rememberthedreamers.org. There's a lot of information as well as opportunities to take direct action, which you can find on that website at www.rememberthedreamers.org/take-action so you can make your voice heard. I think obviously the Supreme Court's decision helps raise the profile of these Dreamers, but it shouldn't lead anyone to complacency. They still need additional support.

Lorelle Espinosa: That's right. I'm really glad that we have that resource for folks. There's also some great resources on there to make the case. There's a really nice quick video that I've been circulating on social media that everyone loves just to make the case. We have to keep making it to your point, can't slow down now.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. Absolutely. And perhaps DACA and other issues of equity and inclusion will be covered after the break when we return with Dr. Lori White.

Lorelle Espinosa: And we're back and I am so thrilled to have Dr. Lori White with us, president-elect of DePauw University, starting July 1st. And just coming out of your role as vice chancellor for student affairs at Washington University in St. Louis, among other many prestigious and exciting roles that you've had in your career, welcome to dotEDU, Dr. White.

Lori White: Thank you, Dr. Espinosa. It's great to see you and it's great to be part of this conversation.

Lorelle Espinosa: So, this is an interesting time to be a part of this conversation. I know, too, this is your first presidency at DePauw. Congratulations again.

Lori White: Thank you.

Lorelle Espinosa: And, like I said a moment ago, you've traveled a really interesting path through student affairs largely, and I'd love to just start the conversation with you around what has prepared you for this role and this path that you've traveled, unique tools, perspectives on what you're going into this presidency and at a moment that is a really challenging one for higher education.

Lori White: I certainly never imagined that I would become a college president. And last fall, I was at a women's leadership conference and I was on a panel with two other women who happened to be college presidents, Mary Marcy, who's president of Dominican University in California and Jo Anne Rooney who's president of Loyola University in Chicago. A question from the audience was posed to me, asking me if I'd ever considered being a college president and I said, "Well, you know, I don't know. I'm not sure." When people have asked me in retrospect why I responded that way, I think oftentimes women and people of color, we don't see ourselves in these most important roles and/or we think we have to have every single thing that we believe is required before we'll even put ourselves out there. And a few weeks later, the call for nominations for the DePauw presidency came out and it was Mary Marcy who remembered me from that panel who nominated me for the position. Obviously I applied and, as I went through the process and I had conversations with many of my mentors and advisors, I realized that the role of a vice president for student affairs actually, particularly in this time period, is outstanding preparation for being a college president. As vice presidents of student affairs, we manage complex organizations, both in terms of people, in terms of budget. We are called upon often by the university to respond to critical incidents on campus. We have to develop great relationships, of course, with students, as well as others across the university and we are often the people in times of challenge at the institution, particularly involving students, who the university asks to be the spokesperson related to talking to the media and to others. And so once I realized that and gained my self-confidence by going through the interview process, ultimately I obviously received the offer and I said, "Yes." So on July 1st, I will be the 21st president of DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana.

Lorelle Espinosa: That's so exciting. And I should, in full disclosure, say that you and I worked together maybe 20 years ago. I've known you a long time. I fully expected you to land here, to the contrary. You've long been a role model for me and a mentor and advisor and I'm just really thrilled, really thrilled about this.

Lori White: Thank you so much. And I'm really excited for you, Lorelle, because I know that you also going on to take on an awesome new job and so I'm quite proud of you and it's great that we've remained connected over the years.

Lorelle Espinosa: Yeah, it does say something about the role of maintaining your connections, right? Your network and leaning on-

Lori White: Absolutely.

Lorelle Espinosa: ... leaning on other people as, as you go. You can't do this stuff alone.

Jon Fansmith: And I've benefited from this exchange by learning your childhood nickname, Lorelle, which when you're no longer at ACE, I'm going to reveal on the podcast to everyone.

Lorelle Espinosa: Oh, okay.

Jon Fansmith: So that's a little tease for down the road. Save a little something in reserve. Dr. White, you mentioned the skills and experiences you bring to the presidency and particularly in this time and I thought that was a really interesting comment because we are not in normal times. There's widespread unrest. We are looking at a global pandemic and economic recession. Most of higher education right now is focused on fall, what schools are going to do, how they're going to deal with multiple challenges, but I think first and foremost, what their campus is going to look like in the fall. Have you had those conversations at DePauw? Do you have a plan in place? And if you do, how did you get there? Are there any things you could share with the people who are listening about the process you undertook to get to that point?

Lori White: We certainly have a plan for the fall and I will say like all of us across higher education that plan probably changes a little bit every single day based on the information that we have available to us each day. I read a statistic this morning, it may have been in the Chronicle of Higher Education or Inside Higher Ed, I'll check that, but it said 68% of colleges and universities right now are planning to reopen in some way in the fall and DePauw is one of those of the 68%. We plan, like many others, to open in a hybrid fashion. We will be both residential as well as offer courses online. We are going to have our complete 14-week semester, but it will start a week earlier than we typically start and we'll end by Thanksgiving and then we won't restart again until February. And so the reason for that was we wanted to make sure, obviously we got in all of our required days of instruction and wanted to end by Thanksgiving so that everyone could go home, be home for quite a while and then that gives us an opportunity to reevaluate the start of our spring semester, if we need to.

Jon Fansmith: Obviously there's factors, safety of students and other things, but what were some of the influences, the feedback you're getting from the campus that helped you derive that model?

Lori White: Certainly the health and safety of all of the members of our campus community, as well as the community of Greencastle had to be our number one priority. We are, like all of the other universities across the country, putting into place a number of safety measures from making sure that we test everyone, to making sure that we've got enough isolation spaces, to making sure that we have effective social distancing for the courses that we do offer in person, so we are working on all of those things. And, as we considered how to open in the fall or whether to open in the fall, we actually surveyed our students to ask them what percentage of them would be interested in coming back to DePauw if we were to allow that in the fall, a residential experience. Over 80% of our students indicated at that point in time that they wanted to resume coming back to campus for a wonderful liberal arts residential experience. We will do another survey this week to circle back around with our students and ask them now to tell us definitively whether they're planning to come and to be in residence or whether they're planning to learn remotely, so that will give us a sense of what percentage of students will be on campus this fall.

Jon Fansmith: And with opening physical campus, bringing students back onto the campus., I think people have seen the videos online of college students gathering at bars or parties or vacation destinations. On a scale of one to 10 exactly how terrified are you of putting all these students back on a residential campus and are there any measures you're taking to mitigate those fears especially in your first presidency? I could imagine that's a little bit of a daunting challenge.

Lori White: Absolutely. So I will say this, we are very clear in our communications with students that there will be a whole new set of expectations for them. We are mandating that everybody wear masks. We will talk with them about the importance of social distancing. We will talk with them about our expectations for their social interactions and we want to work in partnership with our students to talk about how we can work together, to hold all of us, including our students, accountable to the expectations that we set. Now in saying all of that, I understand that we're working with young people and all of us, not only young people, want to get back to what we remember as our normal lives and so certainly we have some concern about what the evenings and weekends may look like in terms of social life for our students and so all I can say is that I hope that we can continue to have really good, direct, and honest conversations with our community about the risks that we will be exposing, not only our students in terms of one another, but also more vulnerable members of our community, our faculty and staff, and vulnerable members of the community in the city of Greencastle.

Lorelle Espinosa: Speaking of the coming fall, Lori, of course we've talked on this podcast about the double pandemic that we're in: the global pandemic COVID-19, but also the racial crisis that the nation is in the midst of. And this is something else that you'll be coming back to in the fall and in a different place again and on a different campus, again, in your first presidency. And I'm really curious to hear your thoughts on the current racial crisis and how you expect to come back and what you're expecting from the community, what you're preparing for with your cabinet when it comes to students coming back fatigued, but also really will likely be protesting and seeking action, not just acknowledgement of what's been going on, but real action by the campus community. I think we'll see this across higher education, but where do you sit on those issues as you look ahead?

Lori White: I think it's important for us to remember that change in our society usually does not occur because a person wakes up one day and says, "Something's wrong and I want to change that." Many people have to wake up every morning to articulate that something's wrong and collectively we want to change that. Higher ed historically has been one of the places that has pushed society to change. When you think about the 1960s, the Free Speech Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Movement, when you think about the 1980s Anti-Apartheid Movement in the United States, all of those movements in many ways have had their advocacy moved forward because of students. I fully expect our students to come back to our campus in the fall ready to carry on that long tradition that we have seen in higher education. And quite honestly, I embrace that, because I want our young people to be passionate. That's what we train them to do. We train them to be leaders in our community. We train them to push for change and so I am fully ready to embrace that and want to work with our students to figure out not only how it is that they can be advocates for change in the society at large, but how we can work together with our students and the other members of our community to identify what kinds of changes we need to make at DePauw in response to Black Lives Matter, in response to DACA, in response to making sure that folks who have been historically underserved in higher education, that we do a much better job toward equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Lorelle Espinosa: I know that you stay up with your student affairs colleagues and you have played many leadership roles in that community. What are you hearing from those colleagues in this moment that you will apply when you get to DePauw next week when you arrive and into the fall?

Lori White: ACE has spent a lot of time talking about balancing freedom of expression and diversity, two values that we hold really sacrosanct in higher education, freedom of expression, the ability to let all ideas flow and to seek truth in our research, in our teaching, and our scholarship. And at the same time, we want our institutions to be fully reflective of the diversity of our community writ large. We know that those two values should not be in competition with one another, but sometimes we know on college campuses in particular and really in our society in general, they rub up against each other. And so I think that is really going to be our challenge as we bring our students back to campus. And we've also got an election coming up. How do we allow the freedom of expression? And oftentimes people will say or do things that many of us find offensive that are not necessarily against the law and how do we support the ability for people to express themselves and at the same time reinforce our really important value of diversity? I think that is really going to be the toughest work that we were all going to have to do this fall.

Lorelle Espinosa: Yeah. And that's work that you've been doing, as you said, you have been involved with ACE on the intersection of speech and inclusion as we've done that work over the last few years. I think we would be remiss to not recognize that you are a woman of color. You are a black woman going into the presidency at a time when just 5% of college presidents are women of color. I'd love to hear your thoughts on where you sit in that way, too. Both for the statistic I just cited, but also you are a person of color in this world right now, as I am, in the midst of a racial crisis and in the midst of really being drawn to want to see change. You and I have both worked on the issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, you longer than I, and I've learned a lot from you there, but I wonder if you could reflect on a personal note with us for a moment.

Lori White: Sure. I have an interesting story to tell related to the statistic that you just shared. One of the questions that was posed to me when I was going through the interview process to become the president of DePauw, and the question was, "Why do you want to be a college president?" And I paused for a moment and I said, "80% of college presidents are white men." And I said, "And that is not going to change unless somebody like me is willing to step forward and become a college president if asked and invited." And so when the invitation came to me to accept the presidency of DePauw one of the board members reminded me of what it was that I had said in response to that question. In fact, it was a Latina member of the board, and she said, "Lori, if you accept our offer to become the president of DePauw, you will become the first female president of DePaul, the first African-American president of DePauw and you will be the only African-American president in the entire state of Indiana." And so I thought to myself, "This is not about me." This is really, I hope, about me creating opportunities for others, so that younger women, people of color will one day see my picture hanging in the gallery of the past presidents of DePauw, where the number one through number 20 don't look anything like me, and then see my picture and think to themselves, "I too can aspire to do this." Ultimately that's one of the reasons that I ended up saying, "Yes," and of course I fell in love with the institution and I very much am committed to the liberal arts tradition. To the other point of your question as to what will it be like to be an African-American college president in this moment. I just got off a call yesterday with other African-American presidents and provosts and to a one, we said, "We have this awesome responsibility to be leading our universities during these times and we also personally feel hurt, both discouraged and uplifted, violated, mad, angry about what happened to George Floyd and we have to work to reconcile these double masks that we must wear to be able to effectively lead all constituents for our institutions and at the same time, not let go of the fact that we are first and foremost our identities."

Lorelle Espinosa: Thank you for that. Are there things that you expect of your peer group in this moment, other presidents?

Lori White: I believe a college president has a moral obligation to call out things that are wrong, whether that's racism, whether that's sexism, whether that's homophobia, whatever it is that might be. I believe that we have a platform and a voice that is important for us to use if we truly believe in diversity, equity, inclusion and we want our institutions to be reflective of those values. Then when we see those values are being compromised, either on our campuses or in our communities writ large, then I believe we have an obligation to stand up and say something about it. So I'm challenging all of my colleagues across the country to use our voices, to be able to talk about those really critical issues, particularly in this moment in time.

Lorelle Espinosa: Thank you. I'll send anyone your way with that, right? If they're on the fence I'm going to say, "See Dr. White, let me show you the way to DePauw." Thank you so much.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. I think that's a great way to sort of wrap up this conversation with that statement because it does ... Our audience is college and university leaders and that's a great message to go out to them and obviously wonderful to have you in particular on at this time to share your perspective. We want to thank you very much for being here and just wanted to give you the chance before we signed off, was there anything else you'd like to add? Anything you'd like to announce? I know you start your presidency in a couple of days. Is there any messages you want to put out there before you become a president? Your last chance.

Lori White: As I think about starting my very first college presidency, I certainly have lots of hopes and I also quite honestly have some fears. The job that I accepted and will start is quite different than the job that I applied for and the job that I was offered and the job that I'm going to start on July 1st, because of all the things that we've already talked about. COVID became a US health concern really unmasked about a week after I was announced as the DePauw president. Of course, George Floyd sadly was murdered this summer. We always anticipated there was going to be an election this fall. It was probably going to be contentious anyway. It's going to be even more contentious now. And so when I think about all of the regular things that a college president needs to do, now we've got this overlay of all of the other things that a college president is going to have to contend with and manage, not to mention the catastrophic, enormous budget issues for all of higher ed as a result of COVID-19. So while I have great hope because I think education is going to always be one of the institutions that all of us depend on, particularly in times of strife and trouble, people want to go back to those institutions, education, churches on which they have always depended to give them hope in troubled times. Yet, at the same time, we've got enormous challenges across the industry of higher ed and so that does scare me a bit being a first-time college president.

Lorelle Espinosa: Well, I think they're in great hands.

Lori White: Thank you, Lorelle.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, absolutely. And I just want to thank you so much for joining us and sharing your thoughts. It was great having you on. It was again, great learning Lorelle's childhood nickname and we really appreciate it. I'm sure our listeners really appreciate having you on, so thanks once again for coming.

Lori White: Thank you so much. Thank you so much for the invitation. Good luck, Lorelle, in your new position. I know that you and I will continue to stay in contact.

Lorelle Espinosa: Thank you.

Jon Fansmith: And as you've already heard several times unfortunately for me personally, for ACE as an organization, Lorelle will be leaving us very soon, far too soon for my liking, and not surprisingly with all your talents and your abilities somebody else has come and snatched you away from us, but there is no truth to the rumor that Lorelle left simply to get away from this podcast. That's totally untrue. It's mostly just to get away from me personally.

Lori White: If it's any consolation, Jon, She left me once too.

Jon Fansmith: We'll talk about after-

Lorelle Espinosa: It's true.

Jon Fansmith: ... call each other. Well, it really has been a pleasure doing this podcast with you, but also just working with you and all our time together at ACE and you will be sorely missed and I speak on behalf of a lot of people here.

Lorelle Espinosa: Thanks Jon. I will miss everyone. I will miss DC. I've been here for 10 years, which is kind of hard to believe. Going on to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation at the end of July. It will be a great new professional adventure for me, but I will miss ACE and I will miss you, Jon Fansmith, and this podcast. I've really enjoyed it.

Jon Fansmith: Well, we will have you back on as a guest, right? You're obligated to come back on at least once as a guest.

Lorelle Espinosa: Right.

Jon Fansmith: For those of you listening, some of the materials that have been referenced during the podcast, you can find them on the podcast website, which is at www.acenet.edu/podcast. You can subscribe to the podcast on Stitcher, Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcasts. Once again, we want to thank you for listening. We always welcome thoughts, suggestions, feedback, which can be sent to us at podcast@acenet.edu. Thanks for listening and have a great week.

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​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major issue impacting college campuses and students across the country. Hosts from ACE are joined by guest experts to lead you through thought-provoking conversations on topics such as campus free speech, diversity in admissions, college costs and affordability, and more. Find all episodes of the podcast at the dotEDU page.

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