Seeking to avoid litigation or a legal threat, many postsecondary institutions are responding to a legal and policy environment that seeks to end the consideration of race in education policies by adopting race-neutral policies and practices in admissions, even when not explicitly required to do so by law. Meanwhile, institutions have remained publicly committed to racial and ethnic diversity and to promoting inclusive learning environments. Guided by a bottom-up policy implementation framework, this study draws from semi-structured interviews of 13 administrators charged with implementing diversity policy at a public flagship institution to investigate how this legal and policy climate has shaped racial diversity work in areas outside admissions. Our findings illustrate how a colorblind approach in policy-making takes hold through seemingly innocuous practices and responses that are called race-neutral. These practices, which start in admissions, spill over into other areas of university policy, and shift the nature of diversity-work. Findings point to the importance of intentional efforts to implement diversity policy through a race- and racism-conscious lens, develop narratives that counter distorted narratives about racial discrimination, and address legal terms and definitions that do not reflect a realistic understanding of inequality or discrimination.
Liliana M. Garces is an associate professor at The University of Texas at Austin and affiliate faculty at The University of Texas School of Law. She teaches courses on higher education law, equity and diversity in higher education, race, law, and education. Her scholarship, focused on the dynamics of law and educational policy, examines access, diversity, and equity policies for underserved populations in higher education and the use and influence of research in law. Her work employs quantitative, qualitative, and legal research methods and draws from frameworks in economics, sociology, and political science, engaging in interdisciplinary research to more effectively tackle the complex nature of racial and ethnic inequality in K-12 and higher education. Previously, Garces worked as a civil rights lawyer and a judicial law clerk in federal district court. She holds a doctorate in education from Harvard University, a juris doctor from the University of Southern California School of Law, and a bachelor of arts from Brown University.