Edna Chun, Columbia University – Systemic Racism

Systemic racism hasn’t always been in the news.

Edna Chun, lecturer at Columbia University, explores this topic through a higher education lens.

Dr. Edna B. Chun is an award-winning author and educational thought leader with more than two decades of strategic human resource and diversity leadership experience in public higher education. Dr. Chun has co-authored eleven books and numerous journal articles in the areas of talent management, human resources, and diversity. Two of her books, Are the Walls Really Down? Behavioral and Organizational Barriers to Faculty and Staff Diversity and Bridging the Diversity Divide: Globalization and Reciprocal Empowerment in Higher Education received the prestigious Kathryn G. Hansen Publication Award from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR). The New Talent Acquisition Frontier, the first book to lay out a concrete roadmap to the integration of HR and diversity strategy, was awarded a silver medal in the 2014 Axiom Business Book Awards. Her co-authored books include Creating a Tipping Point: Strategic Human Resources in Higher Education and Leading a Diversity Culture Shift in Higher Education: Comprehensive Organizational Learning Strategies.  Her most recent books are Rethinking Diversity Frameworks in Higher Education with Joe Feagin and Conducting an Institutional Diversity Audit in Higher Education with Alvin Evans. Dr. Chun holds the Doctor of Music and Master of Music degrees with High Distinction from Indiana University, the Master of Arts from Columbia University, and the Bachelor of Arts from Oberlin College. She currently serves as Chief Learning Officer for HigherEd Talent, a national diversity and human resources consulting firm. She is a sought-after speaker on talent management and diversity strategies and serves on a number of national advisory boards.

Systemic Racism


With many nationwide demonstrations about police brutality, greater recognition of systemic racism has entered national consciousness. When Joe Feagin first introduced and developed the systemic racism framework through his research, the term was considered controversial on and off college campuses. By contrast, today systemic racism has become part of our vocabulary in a national reckoning about race.

Racial issues have always been a central campus concern. Our research indicates that women and men of color as well as white women in higher education face far more mistreatment and process-based inequality than white men. Through in-person interviews, we learned of persisting exclusionary practices in day-to-day campus situations. The racially-charged rhetoric dominating our campuses and national landscape signals an urgent need to replace understated “implicit bias” and “microaggressions” language with a more direct terminology addressing the long-term material, social, and career consequences of these damaging practices.

Within the contexts of higher education, we propose a continuum of racial and gender discrimination (macro-aggressions) that ranges from various forms of subtle mistreatment to institutionalized process-based discrimination. We suggest specific policy-based recommendations for authentic change–such as monitoring institutional processes for equitable outcomes; and investing in sustained diversity education for faculty, administrators, staff, and students.