Speaker Spotlight: Dr. Shaun Harper

The 8th annual NPEA conference is only days away (and nearly 375 people have already registered)! Leading up to next week’s event, we’ll be posting spotlights on each of the three keynote speakers. Today’s spotlight is on Dr. Shaun Harper, Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania


“I begin with a plea to the nation: please stop mischaracterizing young men of color as hopeless thugs who care nothing about their education, communities, and futures.”

So begins Succeeding in the City: A Report from the New York City Black and Latino Male High School Achievement Study, the comprehensive report on Dr. Shaun Harper’s New York City Black and Latino Male High School Achievement Study.

A few years ago, Harper noticed that there was often a singular narrative surrounding young black and Latino men growing up in urban areas: that because of their environs, “their futures are hopeless. All but a few will remain trapped in generational cycles of poverty and crime-infested neighborhoods. Their lazy, drug-addicted, government dependent single parents care little about their schooling.” He noted that even well-meaning education professionals spoke about the status of young men of color using this depressing, oversimplified narrative.

Along with colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity and Education (which he founded), Harper felt it made sense to explore the factors that allowed young black and Latino men in urban environments to succeed, as opposed to focusing on the factors that led to failure. His team interviewed 325 boys at 40 different New York high schools who had high grade point averages, who participated in extracurricular activities, and who planned to attend college after high school.

The interviews showed many of these young men were goal-oriented and driven, seeing education as a way out of the circumstances into which they had been born.

There were some surprises – for example, although many of the interviewees grew up in crime-ridden neighborhoods, their commitment to academics led to their being left alone by gang members. One young man whose brother was a former gang member who was shot and killed recalled that, “one of [the gangs] tried to get me to join, but someone who knew my brother told them to leave me alone, that I’m gonna be somebody successful. They told me that I should stay focused on school.”

Through studying the content of their interviews, Harper and his team came up with recommendations for parents, high school teachers administrators, and policymakers to help young men of color succeed by changing their mindsets and by providing them with resources and support.

This was just one of Harper’s many studies that focused on increasing academic success for young men of color. A nationally renowned expert on race and higher education, he has published over 100 peer-reviewed studies on subjects including racial climates on college campuses, Black and Latino male student success in high school and higher education, and college student engagement. Among his other achievements:

  • Appointed by President Barack Obama to the Advisory Council of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, which aims to “make the American Dream available to all boys and young men of color by eliminating gaps in their opportunities and outcomes.” Other council members include Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin.
  • Recognized in Education Week as one of the 12 most influential professors in the field of education in 2016.
  • Has received over $12 million in research grants, published 13 books, and been quoted in more than 11,000 newspapers.

Dr. Harper will deliver the keynote address at NPEA’s conference, “Connecting the Dots: Engaging Communities to Support Educational Access and Success,” on April 28.

For more information about Dr. Harper’s work, click here.

For more information about NPEA, visit http://www.educational-access.org/.