Key Policy Letters Signed by the Education Secretary or Deputy Secretary
Archived Information

November 18, 2016

Dear Colleagues:

I know that many of you share my belief that our educational institutions best serve their students, as well as their missions in our larger society, when they proactively promote diversity on campus. I applaud the long-standing commitments that so many of you have had to creating diverse campus communities that attract, admit, and welcome diverse students from all across our country to your campuses.[  1  ] But I also believe we have far more work left to do – beyond supporting diversity through admissions and enrollment alone – to ensure that our campuses are safe, inclusive, and supportive environments that encourage student success and college completion.

This work is particularly vital and relevant because we are ever mindful of the painful history around issues of race in this country. I call upon you as higher education leaders to renew your commitment to diversity, to take swift and specific action to eliminate harassment and discrimination, and to ensure a positive environment on campus for all students. I also write to share a new resource with you, a report entitled “Advancing Diversity & Inclusion in Higher Education,” which we are releasing today in conjunction with the White House to celebrate the Obama Administration’s efforts to advance diversity and inclusion and explore the ways in which we may continue to further those efforts together.

Leaders of postsecondary institutions have an obligation, as well as the authority needed, to remove barriers and enhance supports to ensure all students succeed and are safe and welcome on campus. We know that this problem is not uncommon, and the implications are serious.  Many students report on-campus hate crimes motivated by racial bias.[  2  ] Research has also established that discrimination negatively affects underrepresented students’ sense of belonging and may cause them to drop out before they finish their educations.[  3  ] When institutions become aware of any form of discriminatory harassment that creates a hostile environment, they are legally obligated to promptly and effectively address the harassment, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent harassment from recurring, and remedy its effects.[  4  ] Institutions should also make clear and widely publicize the ways that students can file complaints of harassment and discrimination.

Institutions must eliminate hostile environments where they exist while also protecting students' free speech rights. Some institutions have, for example, set aside time and created spaces for students to come together for open dialogue on issues of diversity and inclusion, while also creating spaces for students to demonstrate and express their opposition.[  5  ]

But there is more institutions can do to support all students in succeeding and to ensure that students from different backgrounds are well positioned to learn together and from one another. Institutions can proactively support student success and college completion by:

  • Training students, faculty, staff, and leadership on how to support diverse student populations and address the implicit biases we all carry with us;
  • Allocating resources to provide academic, social, and emotional supports for students from underrepresented communities;
  • Creating venues for safe and open dialogue on issues of race and discrimination among students, faculty, staff, and leadership of different backgrounds while at the same time respecting the right to free speech; and
  • Making it a priority to build a diverse staff and ensure that a diverse range of voices is given the opportunity, and a supportive environment, to contribute perspectives on important decisions being made on campus.

I know these are topics that you are already grappling with every day, and I also know that these steps are but a few examples of ways to address these issues. Working together, however, I know that we can continue to make even greater progress. It is our responsibility – for this generation and those in the future – to continue to improve in our efforts to support diverse and inclusive environments. To aid you in these efforts, in addition to the report being released today, there are a number of other federal resources available that I hope you will take advantage of to build a diverse, inclusive, and supportive campus climate and prevent and address harassment where it occurs.[  6  ]

Thank you for your partnership in working to make our nation’s campuses safer, more inclusive, and stronger.

With great hope,

John B. King, Jr.


  1. The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice have previously issued joint guidance documents regarding the voluntary use of race in admissions to achieve student body diversity. These guidance documents make clear that colleges and universities may pursue strategies to attract and retain a racially diverse student body through their admissions policies, and also in their pipeline, recruitment, outreach, mentoring, tutoring, retention, support, and financial aid programs.  The guidance documents are available at[ Return to text ]

  2. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education, Campus Safety and Security Reporting System, 2009 through 2012. (This table was prepared November 2014.)[ Return to text ]

  3. Chang, M.J., Eagan, M.K., Lin, M.H., & Hurtado, S. (2011). Considering the impact of racial stigmas and science identity: Persistence among biomedical and behavioral science aspirants. Journal of Higher Education, 82 (5), 564-596; Hurtado, S. & Carter. D.F. (1997). Effects of college transition and perceptions of campus racial climate on Latinos’ sense of belonging. Sociology of Education, 70(4), 324-345; Locks, A.M., Hurtado, S., Bowman, N., & Oseguera, L. (2008). Extending notions of campus climate and diversity to students’ transition to college. Review of Higher Education, 31(3), 257-285.[ Return to text ]

  4. On October 26, 2010, the Department sent a letter explaining schools’ legal obligations under federal civil rights laws to protect students from bullying and harassment on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, and disability. That letter is available at:[ Return to text ]

  5. Caravana, Sam, Madison Dudley, and Emma Mazurek. "Third Annual DePauw Dialogue - The DePauw." The DePauw. n.p., 30 Sept. 2016. Web. 30 Sept. 2016.[ Return to text ]

  6. On December 31, 2015, the Department sent a letter discussing similar issues and listing a host of federal resources in the Addendum. That letter and Addendum are available at:[ Return to text ]

Last Modified: 02/16/2017