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How the past can inform the diversity, equity and inclusion discussion

Student wearing gown and academic hat raising diploma degree certificate closeup rear view from bottom. College or university graduation ceremony. Highschool education accomplishment, academy award
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Render's research focuses on colorblind admissions programs throughout history

Brandon Render is a history assistant professor at the University of Utah. He said discussions of diversity, equity and inclusion programs at universities mirror past conversations on race.

“These conversations have happened before, they just looked a little bit different," Render said.

His current book project, "Colorblind Universities: The Making and Unmaking of Race in Higher Education," focuses on how race is constructed and deconstructed at colleges and universities across the country and throughout history.

The project discusses the idea of colorblindness, focusing on its use in higher education.

“It can be something as simple as somebody saying something like, I don't see race, I just see a person. Even as a kid, I never really believed that much. Because you would hear people say things like, I don't see race, but then you would hear people also say racial slurs, even in the same sentence. But it also could be something that manifests in various levels of higher education,” he said.

Render said he’s seen how having discussions about race can be difficult.

“You typically encounter very strong arguments or very strong beliefs about how we should think about race," he said. "One of the difficult things about that is that it's not only that people hold firm to their own beliefs, but they also believe that other people should have those beliefs as well.”

But, he said, these hard conversations like those about the recent ban on diversity, equity and inclusion programs in state-funded institutions can be an opportunity to rethink how we talk about race and diversity.

“Instead of using this as an opportunity to think about how we can appease people who we might consider to be political opponents, we can also think about this as a way to re-strategize the way that we're thinking about diversity,” he said.

He’ll be speaking at Utah State University about his research into colorblind application processes and the connections between race and higher education institutions in a talk called Colorblind University: A History of Racial Inequality in Higher Education on Thursday, Feb. 29.

Anna grew up begging her mom to play music instead of public radio over the car stereo on the way to school. Now, she loves radio and the power of storytelling through sound. While she is happy to report on anything from dance concerts to laughter practice, her main focus at UPR is political reporting. She is studying Journalism and Political Science at Utah State University and wants to work in political communication after she graduates. In her free time, she spends time with her rescue dog Quigley and enjoys rock climbing.