Nationally Recognized Racial Justice Expert Addresses Higher Education Diversity Challenges

America’s colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to transform themselves into pockets of racial democracy and justice because they are institutions of knowledge and experimentation, said Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, a renowned sociologist and author who visited the University of Virginia on Wednesday, Sept. 28, for a combined lecture and guided conversation on the topic of “The Diversity Blues: Reframing the Diversity Agenda at HWCUs” (Historically White Colleges and Universities).

Bonilla-Silva’s presentation was part of UVA School of Engineering and Applied Science’s year-long Excellence Through Diversity Distinguished Learning Series, and his appearance was presented in partnership with the School of Nursing, the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the McIntire School of Commerce.

His talk addressed the issue that after decades of diversity efforts at colleges and universities, many institutions of higher education struggle to achieve racial diversity among faculty and staff, and in many colleges, among students.

Watch a video of his presentation here.

To deeply address diversity, Bonilla-Silva said, colleges and universities “must appreciate that the majority of racism at HWCUs is systemic, rather than a matter of a few prejudiced individuals.” Therefore, universities must work diligently to change practices and traditions that perpetuate a lack of diversity.

Bonilla-Silva is professor and chair of the Sociology Department at Duke University. He gained visibility in the social sciences with his 1997 American Sociological Review article, “Rethinking Racism: Toward a Structural Interpretation,” where he challenged social analysts to analyze racial matters from a structural perspective rather than from the sterile prejudice perspective.

UVA Engineering’s Excellence Through Diversity Distinguished Learning Series is among the first major initiatives for UVA Engineering’s new associate dean for diversity and engagement, John Fitzgerald Gates. Engineering Dean Craig Benson appointed Gates earlier this year to lead the school in pursuing excellence by attracting and supporting the success of more students and faculty members from populations that are underrepresented in engineering, such as women, African Americans and Latinos.

Diversity of representation and thought in engineering is crucial to solving the global technological challenges of the future, Benson has said.

Gates is working with faculty, staff and students to redefine diversity as “excellence expressing itself through the intersection of perspectives and lived experiences,” rather than traditional definitions focused on proportional representation of minorities and women in engineering.

“We will harness the strategic value of diversity and inclusion in UVA Engineering’s research program and cultivate an environment in which everyone is optimally valued and supported,” Gates said.

Gates envisions the 2016-2017 Excellence through Diversity Distinguished Learning Series as a contribution to the University’s efforts for a long-lasting dialogue and broader understanding among UVA faculty, staff, students, alumni and members of the public who attend the various events.

Astronaut and physician Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, launched the series earlier this month.

Other presentations are planned to include:

  • Thomas Page McBee, a transgender author whose writing on gender issues has appeared in The New York Times, Playboy,, Glamour, Salon, Pacific Standard, the Rumpus and Buzzfeed;
  • Pan-University town hall meetings focused on national race relations issues and their impact and intersection with UVA life and its community;
  • Joy DeGruy, an internationally recognized researcher, educator, author and presenter who provides insight into various cultural and ethnic groups that form the basis of contemporary American society;
  • Daniel Beaty, an award-winning performer from New York whose works highlight people’s ability to understand each other and their possibilities; and
  • Claude Steele, author of “Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do.”

Event details, including dates, times and registration information, will be available throughout the year at

Bonilla-Silva’s research has appeared in journals such as Sociological InquiryRacial and Ethnic StudiesRace and SocietyDiscourse and SocietyAmerican Sociological ReviewJournal of Latin American StudiesContemporary SociologyCritical SociologyResearch in Politics and Society, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science and Political Power and Social Theory, among others. To date he has published five books, namely: White Supremacy and Racism in the Post-Civil Rights Era (co-winner of the 2002 Oliver Cox Award given by the American Sociological Association); Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States (2004 Choice Award) (this book appeared in 2006 in second expanded and revised edition and, again, in 2009 with a long chapter examining the Obama phenomenon); White Out: The Continuing Significance of Racism(with Ashley Doane), in 2008; White Logic, White Methods: Racism and Social Science (with Tukufu Zuberi and also the co-winner of the 2009 Oliver Cox Award); and in 2011 State of White Supremacy: Racism, Governance, and the United States (with Moon Kie Jung and João H. Costa Vargas).

Bonilla-Silva has received multiple awards, most notably the 2007 Lewis Coser Award given by the Theory Section of the American Sociological Association for theoretical-agenda setting, and in 2011, the Cox-Johnson-Frazier Award given by the American Sociological Association “to an individual or individuals for their work in the intellectual traditions of the work of these three African American scholars.”

Excellence through Diversity Distinguished Learning Series Features Dr. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva

Dr. Bonilla-Silva's talk, "The Diversity Blues: Reframing the Diversity Agenda at HWCUs (Historically White Colleges and Universities)," addressed the problem of structural racism in higher education in the United States.