By Michael Vazquez, graduate assistant in the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion
Brandon Render, Marquette’s 2021-22 Mitchem Fellow, is no stranger to the complexities of race relations in our country.
Having grown up with a Black father and a white mother, Render says that he “developed a sense of race consciousness at an early age.” As a child, he had heard from people outside his family that “race does not matter,” and yet there was a disconnect between his daily lived experiences and these pervasive post-racial ideologies.
Render realized very quickly that the idea of colorblindness frames personal interactions, policies and legislation, and it really informs how we think about society.
It was these formative experiences that led him to pursue research in the history of racial inequality in educational systems. And with support from the Mitchem Dissertation Fellowship, Render is completing his dissertation titled “Colorblind University: Racial Inequity and Higher Education in the 20th Century.”
Marquette University established the Arnold L. Mitchem Dissertation Fellowship Program with the goal of supporting minoritized doctoral candidates while they complete their degree. The Mitchem Dissertation Fellowship allows for a Ph.D. candidate from another university to live at Marquette for an academic year and teach a course related to their area of study. In addition, Mitchem Fellows receive a year of financial support as they finish their dissertation.
Render’s passion for his dissertation topic also stems, in part, from his interests in history and social studies. As a child, he enjoyed competitions and debates. As he grew older, he took a slight turn in his academic interests when he decided to pursue a career in business. He began his undergraduate degree at Western Kentucky University in accounting. When he realized that it did not make him happy, he changed his major to history, aiming to become a high school social studies teacher.
“After going through the program, I decided that it would not be for me since a lot of high school history programs are structured for you and it does not give you a lot of academic freedom,” Render says. Through conversations with mentors and advisers, he decided to pursue a master’s degree at Eastern Kentucky University and a Ph.D. in history at the University of Texas at Austin, with a particular focus on higher education.
Render adds, “Higher education holds a level of prestige in American society, and so what happens when you mix these ideas of race with broader ideas of education?”
He decided to focus his research on examining the relationship between race and higher education as it has played a significant role in admission policies and curriculum design.
When Render presents his research, people usually ask, “How can individuals and/or institutions deconstruct a colorblind society?”
“My focus on race consciousness and the way Black students have historically conceptualized equity and inclusion, I always try to emphasize what students have done in the past,” Render says, suggesting that one must use the groundwork that students have laid and build upon it in the present.
As a member of the Anti-Racist and Action Committee in the History Department at the University of Texas, Render worked with a group of Black students to come up with several proposals, including one in which a graduate research assistant would focus on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) recruitment and retention. The position was modeled after a 1960s University of Texas program called “Project Info.”
Project Info was an opportunity for undergraduates to recruit students of color into their academic programs. Render and the students wanted to do the same for prospective graduate students of color. The proposal was adopted by the Graduate School and expanded to five other departments. While they saw the adoption of the proposal as a positive, Render and the students were not consulted in the expansion process.
Render believes that to adequately serve students, it is essential to include students in conversations that center on diversity, equity, and inclusion. He has been able to find ways to do so through his research.
Render says he appreciates Marquette for providing him with the support to continue his dissertation through the Mitchem Fellowship.
“The Mitchem Fellowship is one of the ways in which we can use this program to help people transition into the professorate, and it is a way for us to think about how we can find different ways in which diversity, equity, and inclusion can be included into the student experience as well,” he says.
Render says he has enjoyed being part of the program and believes that he is prepared to transition to a role as an assistant professor in the History Department at the University of Utah in fall 2022.