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Dialogues on Race & Class in America

With the support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, AEA has hosted a series of Dialogues, the purpose of which has been to illuminate the complex issues of race and class within institutional structures and social patterns that allow negative effects to remain, while few condone the practices and outcomes we observe.
Today’s discussion of program evaluation and its role in supporting societal learning is focused on what program evaluators must know about race and class in America, if their professional practice is to fulfill the mandate of assisting society in learning about itself. The problem which prompts this action is persistent, deeply rooted, and structurally intertwined racial, ethnic, and class disparities in our society. These disparities arise from both historical and ongoing systemic racism (structural and personal biases against racial, ethnic, and class minorities in our society). Despite commentary about how racism has changed over the past 50 years, examining whether the problem has gotten “better,” there can be no real argument disputing that daily events and surveys have made clear the need to do more, and to find ways to do it now. How is it that a society which claims to abhor racial discrimination and hatred, witnesses so much of it on a regular basis? How can a society that espouses the notion that all are created equal, condone, and amplify the greatest levels of inequality found in the developed world? What is it that society must learn about itself to fully grasp these issues, and can program evaluation truly assist? This plenary session is built upon a year-long demonstration project that has explored how program evaluation and the evaluators who helm its work, can be meaningfully involved in a large-scale learning to action project around the realities of race and class in America.