By William A. Darity Jr.Malachi Hacohen and Adam Hollowell

December 2, 2020

Many Americans imagine higher education as a place of social mobility — an egalitarian pathway for reducing the gap between rich and poor. This viewpoint has been under public attack recently, with high-profile authors, including Michael Sandel and Daniel Markovits, decrying stratification in higher education access and economic mobility.

Yet much of the recent critique has focused on inequality in higher education admissions or, to a lesser extent, higher education as a workplace. Much less is being written about the place of the study of social inequality in higher education curricula.

Indeed, the study of social inequality is more urgent than ever, especially if higher education is to fulfill its mission as a promoter of expanded opportunity and well-being. Students, professors and administrators need a deeper understanding of how human disparities have developed, why they persist and how they continue to evolve over time. They also need to understand how the forces of social inequality inform the habits and practices of colleges and universities today. To understand inequality is to understand the modern world and the forces that created it. More to the point, understanding inequality is precondition to overcoming it: that is, to healing the wounds of the past, generating social solidarity and rebuilding a more just society.

Duke University has created a new path for focused study of inequality in the undergraduate curriculum. We are excited to announce a new minor in inequality studies, a program of study that constitutes a collaboration between the department of history and the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity. The program, which the university will launch officially during the spring 2021 semester, is believed to be just the second of its kind in higher education in the United States.