How Carthage College aims to embed anti-racism on its campus

Carthage Colleges works to raise retention and graduation rates its growing number of Black and Hispanic students
By: | January 4, 2021
Carthage College is asking faculty to consider requiring students to take at least one course that analyzes the legacy of racism in the U.S.Carthage College is asking faculty to consider requiring students to take at least one course that analyzes the legacy of racism in the U.S.

Carthage College shifted its existing anti-racism initiatives into high gear this summer after the killing of George Floyd, says John Swallow, president of the small institution south of Milwaukee.

At the center of Carthage’s equity efforts are raising retention and graduation rates for the college’s growing number of Black and Hispanic students, Swallow said.

“An anti-racism plan has to affect the deep work that you do, and in our case, that’s educating and graduating students,” he tells University Business. “If we are part of a system that has systemic inequalities, we have to affect how we participate in the system so we close gaps and remove obstacles for all students.”

Carthage has joined the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Milwaukee Area Technical College in the national Moon Shot for Equity to collaborate on new, equitable student success strategies.


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The four colleges will adopt initiatives that have proven to remove systemic barriers to student success at other institutions, and all faculty and staff will be trained in equity-mindedness.

The institutions will work with local high schools and community organizations to guide more underserved students toward college.

New equity ideas

The mix of schools in the moonshot—two regional universities, a community college and a private school—should provide for powerful collaboration as leaders take unique approaches to anti-racism and equity, Swallow says.

Moon Shot team members

Here’s how two other schools in the initiative are approaching their moon shots:

Leaders at each Moon Shot school can also hold each other accountable.

“I’m a big believer that when we look or ideas, we need to look everywhere,” he says. “If we only look at institutions like ourselves, we’re going to get the same ideas. Not talking with colleagues with other schools that are just down the road is how inequity gets perpetuated.”

Swallow has asked Carthage faculty to consider requiring students to take at least one course that analyzes the legacy of racism in the U.S., and embed anti-racism across the curriculum.

For instance, economics classes could study redlining policies in the Milwaukee area.

“When I think about my own education there was a lot I learned that wasn’t true, like why the Civil War happened, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Swallow says.

No typical students

Carthage administrators will also look at operations, such as how the college is communicating with students. For instance, in the past, student accounts might send only emails to students.

But those communications will likely expand to text, phone calls and other modes to accommodate students who might be working multiple jobs or have other responsibilities beyond their academic pursuits.

Administrators also will consider reconfiguring course schedules to give students more flexibility.

“We’re going to rebalance all the things we’re doing in light of the fact that there is no one typical student,” Swallow says. “It’s that idea of one typical student that holds us back over and over.”


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Another important concept at Carthage is depolarization to help students connect across political and cultural divides.

“That needs to be part of our ongoing anti-racism work because people are not in the same place and don’t seem to understand each other very well right now,” Swallow says.

Wisconsin’s Moon Shot schools will be guided by national mentors Houston GPS and Georgia State University, both of which have done pioneering work in closing equity gaps.

The four institutions will also work with the education firm, EAB, to track data, implement technology and develop new solutions.