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“This is the story of a people, of hopes and dreams, of challenge and change. It is an American story. This story and struggle that started many centuries ago, continues today – with you.”

— A Culture of Resistance exhibit, National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN

In today’s political climate, where those charged with protecting and advancing opportunity and achievement for our most vulnerable students are making move after move to the contrary, it’s useful for our OASIS partners, who devote their lives to serving historically underrepresented college students, to be reminded that their work is part of an indispensable American story and connected to a long legacy.

That’s what happened last week, as members of the OASIS Network, a cohort of administrative leaders from minority-serving higher education institutions, met in Memphis to exchange successful practices for shrinking achievement gaps and improving graduation rates for low-income students and students of color.

“This is civil rights work,” Ed Trust President and CEO John B. King Jr. told them. “It’s about ensuring that America fulfills the promise of equality under the law, and that the circumstances of your birth do not define the prospects of your life.”

Terri Lee Freeman, president of the National Civil Rights Museum, echoed King’s stance, addressing OASIS attendees at a reception at the historic museum. She encouraged them to view their work as she does hers — an extension of the sacrifices and successes of past champions of civil rights. Freeman remains conscious of the influence of history on the continuing fight for justice at hand, reminding the crowd that she and her staff view their museum not only as a “house of history” that showcases America’s tumultuous relationship with civil rights, but also as a catalyst for positive social change.

“Tonight, you’re going to see hundreds of faces of ordinary people who did extraordinary things. I hope that you will be inspired to continue to do extraordinary things for your students and your communities,” Freeman said.

With panels on effective practices for transfer students and a special presentation on the University of Memphis’ Finish Line Program for adult learners, the two-day meeting, the network’s fifth convening since its inception in 2016, was a chance to expand upon OASIS leaders’ past work to ensure equity in higher education.

In addition to attending network meetings, which emphasize proactivity and collaboration through expert panels, presentations on best practices, and solutions-based breakout sessions, OASIS members continue their efforts beyond convenings by hosting campus visits, sharing their data with network organizers, and participating in conference calls and webinars. This added work is designed to ensure that the policies and practices shared at network meetings are being implemented on their campuses, demonstrating a commitment to accountability — not only to their fellow OASIS institutions, but also, and most importantly, to their students.

It’s heartening to know that the tireless work of the OASIS Network, with its emphasis on proactivity and accountability, honors the legacy of the civil rights movement, acting in alignment with the personal philosophy of the movement’s most iconic leader, Martin Luther King, Jr.: “the time is always right to do what is right.”

The fight for equity in higher education didn’t begin in Memphis, and it won’t end in Memphis. But the partners of the OASIS Network know there’s no better place than Memphis, where the story of civil rights lives, and no better time than now to come together to do what is right for America’s students.

Beau Dealy, a student at Georgetown University, is a communications intern for Ed Trust.

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