administrators

Grambling President Quits After Less Than Year in Office

Willie Larkin resigned Thursday as president of Grambling State University after less than a year in office, The News Star reported. Larkin resigned after an executive session of the University of Louisiana Board of Supervisors, where he had been evaluated. While he did not indicate why he was leaving, Larkin's tenure has been controversial. The Faculty Senate in February voted no confidence in his leadership.

Ad keywords: 

Study: How Athletes Identify Influences GPA

College athletes who identify more strongly with an athletic, rather than academic, identity have lower grade point averages, according to a new study published this month in Social Science Quarterly.

The researchers, from the University of Texas at Dallas, examined data from the National Collegiate Athletic Association's GOALS survey, in which 21,000 athletes across all three NCAA divisions were surveyed in 2006. They found that students who see themselves more as athletes than academics had lower GPAs than those who saw themselves as students or academics first. GPAs are "directly influenced by their athletic versus academic identity, the athletic context including the coach's influence, and the seriousness with which they view academics," the researchers wrote.

Athletes who reported that their coaches discouraged them from certain majors had lower grade point averages. Division I athletes were more likely to focus more on athletics than their counterparts in the less competitive Divisions II and III.

Ad keywords: 

Rape Survivor Meets Ex-Coach of Alleged Attackers

A woman who said she was gang-raped by Oregon State University football players met with the players' former coach on Thursday, 18 years after the assault. Mike Riley, now the head football coach at the University of Nebraska, had invited Brenda Tracy to discuss the rape with his team. "I don't feel like there's any type of unfinished business between me and Coach Riley at all," Tracy told ESPN. "I feel like he is a friend and an ally now."

Tracy didn't always feel this way. After Riley only suspended the players for one game each and said that they had made "a bad choice," Tracy said she "hated this man more than my rapists." She went public with her story in 2014 in an article published in The Oregonian. Since then, Tracy has helped Oregon State University lobby the Pac-12 Conference to adopt new rules barring teams from recruiting athletes who have been dismissed from other teams for violent behavior. Earlier this month, her son created a petition urging the National Collegiate Athletic Association to adopt similar rules.

"I think that every university should bring a survivor to speak to their team," Tracy said. "We have a unique viewpoint and a lot to offer on this problem. Who knows better how to fix this than someone who has been through it?"

Ad keywords: 

Essay on challenges facing the guided-pathways model for restructuring two-year colleges

A much-discussed, comprehensive reform plan for improving community colleges and their low rates of student persistence and completion is the “guided pathways” model put forth by Thomas Bailey, Shanna Smith Jaggars and Davis Jenkins in their book, Redesigning America’s Community Colleges​. Published last year, the book condenses and focuses years of research -- a fair amount of which comes out of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College, which Bailey directs.

I support the reforms laid out in the book. But I also have some concerns -- maybe “cautions” is a better word -- about the social and political dynamics of establishing the guided-pathways model, and about the complex nature of the typical community college student population.

In the book, Bailey and his co-authors locate the fundamental problem with the community college in the structure of its curriculum and the institutional assumptions that undergird that structure. In its attempt to serve all members of an area, the typical community college has allowed to proliferate a wide range of academic, occupational, general interest and service courses and programs. Though some type of orientation, counseling and advising is typically available, quality and effectiveness vary, and counselors’ caseloads -- 1,000 students per counselor is not uncommon -- work against any substantial contact. Many students don’t use these services at all.

The authors label this arrangement the cafeteria-style, self-service model. Students, many of whom are the first in their families to go to college, might enroll without a clear goal, get inadequate or incomplete advising, and take courses that don’t lead to a specified outcome, are out of sequence or that they’ve already taken.

As a remedy, the authors suggest a basic redesign, arguing that community colleges “need to engage faculty and student services professionals in creating more clearly structured, educationally coherent program pathways that lead to students’ end goals, and in rethinking instruction and student support services in ways that facilitate students’ learning and success as they progress along these paths.”

The authors acknowledge the laudable reforms attempted recently, such as improving the curriculum for remedial courses and streamlining them or creating programs at the front end of college to better orient and guide new students. But these reforms have had limited impact on completion, the authors claim, because the large macrostructure of the cafeteria model remained in place.

To realize the guided-pathways model, faculty and staff would create sequences of courses that lead to clearly defined outcomes. And this major restructuring of the curriculum would provide direction for other significant institutional reforms that will aid in retention and completion. Faculty members who work within a particular pathway will together define the skills, concepts and habits of mind they want students to develop through the pathway “and map out how students will build those learning outcomes across courses.” At the front end, increased effort will go to helping students clarify goals and choose a major or “metamajor,” which would reflect broad areas of interest. Orientation to college will be beefed up, and students will be enrolled in courses that provide ongoing information and guidance about college life. Through the increased integration of technology into advising, students will receive timely feedback on their progress, and instructors and counselors will be alerted when something goes awry -- when a student drops a course, for example.

In addition, the authors adopt various promising reforms to remedial education, such as sequences featuring fewer, more intensive courses, and the use of additional instruction and tutoring. Their assumption is that improved remedial courses will function more effectively as part of a pathways model, resulting in greater numbers of students moving into a college-level course of study.

Enacting the Model

The pathways idea is a good one. I have known so many students who would have benefited tremendously from it -- who would have taken fewer courses that were extraneous to their goals, used up less financial aid money, moved more quickly toward completion of a certificate or degree or toward transfer to a four-year school. And the suggested reforms that follow, especially related to orientation and advising, are long overdue. I raise similar suggestions in my 2012 book, Back to School. As for rethinking remediation, I’ve been on that boat for more than 35 years.

To achieve this restructuring will require collaborative engagement on the part of faculty and staff, both within departments and across them. The authors realize the challenges of effecting such engagement and devote a chapter to the topic. They wisely begin the chapter by noting some of the difficulties, including the possible lack of trust among administrators and faculty and staff members, the divide between faculty and student services, and the disruptive role played by dissenters.

The book then suggests strategies to work through these problems. For example, its authors suggest including dissenters in program planning, creating planning teams that combine faculty with student services personnel, the use of data to question current practices and so on. Though this is a legitimate way to structure such a chapter, the structure implies that the barriers to change listed at the beginning of the chapter can be overcome with the management and group facilitation techniques presented in the remainder of the chapter -- an impression reinforced by the lack of any examples or discussion of what to do when the techniques fail.

The authors have a wealth of experience studying two- and four-year colleges, so they surely know how messy and unpredictable the process of reform can be. Perhaps they (or their editor) decided that it was best to present their model and a process to achieve it, and not to overly complicate things with extended discussion of potential pitfalls and blunders. Fair enough. And perhaps the authors’ disciplinary backgrounds in economics, public policy and quantitative methodologies limit their treatment of politics, ideology and the tangled day-to-day dynamics of status, power and turf -- which, depending on the institution, can include everything from budgets to racial tensions to contentious personal histories.

To limit treatment of all this is a legitimate choice, but should be stated and underscored, for my worry is that individual colleges attempting the reforms suggested by Bailey, Jaggars and Jenkins will encounter more of a mess than anticipated and possibly scrap or significantly weaken the implementation of ideas that have real merit.

The organizational compartmentalizing and the administrative hierarchies that exist in the community college are not only structural features; they are electric with power and status. The various methods suggested by the authors to bring people together to work through these dynamics toward the common goal of creating guided pathways are good ones, tried and true in the tool kit of management consultants. But they also can be foiled by genuine ideological differences about the purpose of a particular area of study or of education in general. They can also be foiled by turf protection, administrative power struggles and pure and simple personal animosity.

To be sure, change happens. I’ve witnessed several successful programs take shape over the past few years as a core of energetic and creative faculty are given the resources to run with their ideas. But during that same time I’ve also seen such groups -- inspired, seemingly tireless people -- be stonewalled or shut down by larger groups of faculty within their subject area, by their department heads or by middle managers.

Bailey and his co-authors suggest arriving at shared values as a starting place for examining current practices and changing them. For example, the authors write, “In our experience, faculty and staff choose to work at community colleges because they believe in the open-access mission and are passionate about improving students’ lives.” This is generally true in my experience as well, but with two qualifications -- which illustrate how arriving at shared values can be more complicated than it seems.

First, regarding the embrace of the open-access mission of the community college, a percentage of faculty at most institutions believe some of the students they teach should not be in college, and certainly not in their classrooms. These faculty align themselves with the universities that educated them, want to teach students who have some affinity with their discipline and are not at all trained to work with students who are academically underprepared. In some cases, they are younger and work at the community college because that was the only position available in a tight job market. In other cases, these are older faculty who have been at the college for decades and lived through a significant shift in student demographics. They look back at a golden age -- one that most likely did not exist as they remember it.

Furthermore, faculty can have quite different beliefs about concepts like “improving students’ lives.” And some of these differing beliefs can present resilient barriers to change. One faculty member believes that to change methods of instruction will compromise standards and lead to subpar education. Another believes that students -- particularly those with poor academic backgrounds -- need to have positive experiences in school, so avoids challenging them intellectually. And yet another operates with racial, class or gender biases that limit what he or she thinks is realistic for some students in school or career.

Another assumption in the book is that when faced with data about student, instructor or program performance, faculty and staff with guidance will engage in reflection and behavioral change. Some people will respond thus -- and thank goodness for them. But other responses are also possible. People don’t believe the data -- especially in institutions where there is a high level of distrust between faculty and administrators. People question the way the data were obtained. People blame the students. This last response is a big one where test data or pass/fail rates are concerned. When faced with data demonstrating the low pass rates in remedial English or math, some faculty respond by stating that those students don’t belong here. As one community college staff member said to me, “It’s hard to admit we’ve been doing something wrong.”

For all its merits, the book’s implementation plan is sometimes thin on the political and social dynamics of institutional change. To work amid a complex human landscape, the plan might well need to be combined with savvy, perhaps even Machiavellian leadership, with horse trading, with both symbolic and financial incentives, with the strategic use of personal relationships, and, unfortunately, at times, with reassignment or marginalization of obstructionist personnel.

Pathways and Students’ Lives

The structural fix Bailey and his co-authors offer makes sense given the evidence that the status quo creates a host of barriers to student success. Still, like all structural remedies, this one runs the risk of reducing nuanced and layered human dilemmas to a technical problem, and thus being unresponsive to or missing entirely the particular life circumstances of students. So, yes, make the college curriculum more coherent, but realize that other human and material resources also will be needed to meet the needs of many students, and, as well, build into your structural changes the flexibility needed to honor the range of life circumstances your students bring to college. Otherwise, the fix may create unintended negative consequences.

A significant number of people who go to community college are adults with family and other responsibilities. They can only go part time. They can’t go every semester. They sometimes quit in midsemester because of family emergencies or changes in employment. They go to two or three different institutions. A guided-pathways model could help them in some ways -- at the least lend coherence to their course selection -- but not necessarily speed up their progress through college. For them, evening or weekend classes, good online courses, legitimate competency-based options, and counseling and advising in off hours, weekends or online also would be necessary.

A different kind of problem lies at the other end of the college age continuum. We don’t have in our country many avenues to help young people develop after high school. We don’t, for example, have a robust system of occupational apprenticeships or of national service. Young people who are not on the academic fast track and do not have a clear college goal have few options: entry-level, low-skilled, low-paying work or the military. Or they can enroll in the local community college hoping some career path will reveal itself. Many such students don’t stay long, but those who do typically change their areas of study several times, shift between full-time and part-time attendance, start classes they don’t complete, stop out, and return to school. Eventually some find their way. A guided-pathways model could help these students by more clearly delineating curricular and career options at a critical stage of early-adult development.

But there are some powerful developmental dynamics going on here that lie beyond a structural fix in the curriculum. In interviewing such students, I’m taken by the simple but powerful fact that this process of discovery takes time. A lot of growing up happens: cutting back on partying and frivolous entertainments, changing one’s understanding of the purpose of school, bringing one’s fantasies in line with one’s abilities, learning how to manage time and to study. In some cases, students arrive at the big questions: Who am I? What kind of work do I want to do? What is meaningful work for me? Why am I on this Earth? It certainly could be argued that the community college is not the place to work all this out, but if our society provides limited transitional institutions or spaces, young people are left with few other options.

Then there is the issue of the burdens students carry. I am continually struck by the hardship experienced by so many community college students. To be sure, middle-class students from stable and secure backgrounds attend community college, but, depending on the location of the college, many students come from low-income to destitute families; have to work 30 or more hours a week; live in cramped housing, some of which is substandard; are food insecure; and have health problems that are inadequately treated. For some, there are worries about immigration. Some must contend with prior involvement in the criminal justice system while others struggle with addiction.

In the book After Admission, sociologist James Rosenbaum and his colleagues make the critical point that a structural analysis of the problem with community college student success takes us “beyond individual blame” and focuses our attention on institutional factors that create barriers to academic progress. Bailey and his co-authors offer a corrective to these problematic structural features. I do not intend to refocus blame on students, but I think it would be a mistake to not attend to the details of their lives while conducting this structural analysis. Otherwise the structural remedy might promise more than it can deliver -- thus threatening its longevity -- and also inadvertently contribute to the barriers students face by diverting attention from other remedies they need.

I do not want the issues raised here to be used as an excuse for maintaining the status quo. But even with the most coherent and streamlined curricular pathways, there will still be a number of students who enroll in one course at a time, who stop out, who take years to find their academic or occupational path, whose past blunders and transgressions continue to exact a material and psychological price, whose personal history of neglect and even trauma can cripple their performance. All this and more require institutional responses beyond guided pathways (though the model could enhance these responses) as well as extra-institutional social services. The needs of the community college population require a range of programs and accommodations to make “the people’s college” more fully the uniquely American institution it, at its best, can be.

Mike Rose is a research professor at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of Back to School: Why Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education and The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker.

Public University Group Backs Risk-Based Accreditation

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities on Wednesday said it backed an approach to the accreditation process where the agencies focus more time and energy on colleges that have problems than on those that don't. The U.S. Department of Education also recently has said it supports risk-based accreditation.

“Institutions with weaker outcomes often need a more careful review than schools with stronger track records that end up almost always being reaccredited to no one’s surprise,” said Peter McPherson, the group's president, in a written statement. “A risk-based accreditation process would ensure all schools are subject to a review, but that schools with a strong track record do not need to go through the same extensive and expensive review process as those with weak programs and poor student outcomes.”

Big 12 Seeks 'Full Accounting' of Sex Assaults at Baylor

The Big 12 Conference's Board of Directors on Wednesday requested "a full accounting of the circumstances surrounding the sexual assaults" at Baylor University.

Last month, Baylor's Board of Regents forced the university's president to resign and fired its head football coach over allegations that they had continuously mishandled -- and sought to suppress public discourse about -- sexual assaults committed by its football players and other students. Pepper Hamilton, a law firm the university hired to investigate how it has handled allegations of sexual assault, presented a lengthy oral report to the board in May, and the report placed blame on the university’s president, athletics director and football coaching staff, noting that the staff covered up assaults involving players.

"Because many of the incidents at Baylor reportedly involve student-athletes, the conference is appropriately concerned with discovery of the facts," the Big 12 Board of Directors said in a statement. "The Big 12 is primarily configured to facilitate fair competition among its members and compliance to the rules of both the conference and NCAA. To that end, full disclosure is vital to assess the impact on the Big 12."

The board is asking that Baylor provide "written materials as well as any information that has been conveyed orally to university leadership or to its Board of Regents including, but not limited to, the unedited written or verbal information from Pepper Hamilton, omitting only the names of any involved students." Kenneth Starr, the former president, and Art Briles, the former head football coach, have also called on the Board of Regents to release a full report detailing Pepper Hamilton's findings against them.

Baylor officials say no written report was ever created, and in an interview with Inside Higher Ed earlier this month, the university's executive vice president said that there are no plans to release any other documents related to the investigation.

Ad keywords: 

Kentucky AG Moves to Stop Louisville Board Overhaul

The University of Louisville’s leadership situation became even more unsettled Wednesday with Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear legally challenging Governor Matt Bevin’s ability to replace the troubled institution’s Board of Trustees.

Beshear, a Democrat, announced he was filing an intervening complaint in Franklin Circuit Court challenging the Republican Bevin’s authority to carry out executive orders issued last week. Bevin on Friday dissolved Louisville’s board and moved to replace it with a new, smaller group of trustees. He also reconstituted the Kentucky Retirement Systems Board of Trustees.

Kentucky’s Constitution and statutes do not give the governor the authority to carry out those actions, Beshear said in an afternoon press conference. The governor is not reorganizing boards to make them more efficient, Beshear said. Instead, Bevin has established a pattern of reorganizing boards just before those boards have to vote on major decisions, said Beshear, who went on to call the pattern an apparent attempt to control those decisions.

Louisville trustees face decisions on how to handle cuts to Kentucky higher education, proposals to raise tuition and the retirement or resignation of President James Ramsey, Beshear said. He criticized the broader implications of the governor dismissing trustees under those conditions.

“Teachers and students rightfully argue that if the governor can take the action he’s taken, he can remove that board any time he disagrees with a decision,” Beshear said. “That not only makes him the de facto president and de facto board of U of L, it makes him the de facto president and board of every public university.”

Bevin’s office issued a statement calling Beshear’s challenge “purely political.”

“Sadly, this courtroom circus act is what the people of Kentucky have come to expect from [Beshear],” said the statement from Communications Director Jessica Ditto. “Governor Bevin’s executive orders stand on solid legal ground.”

The fight over Louisville’s board comes as Ramsey prepares to step down from the institution’s presidency following a series of controversies and scandals. Ramsey offered to resign or retire under the legal formation of a new Board of Trustees, prompting some speculation he would seek a way to keep his job. But he said Tuesday he has no intention to serve beyond the upcoming academic year, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Beshear’s office was requesting an immediate hearing and a temporary restraining order preventing Bevin’s overhauls from taking effect. The attorney general’s legal challenge is technically an attempt to join a lawsuit filed by retirement system trustees -- to unite in court disputes over the two board overhauls. A group of Louisville faculty members have also urged trustees of the disbanded board to try to legally block Bevin’s reorganization.

New presidents or provosts: Aurora Bemidji Capilano Converse Fisher Metro State Umpqua Wayland

Smart Title: 
  • Virginia Arthur, provost at Metropolitan State University, in Minnesota, has been selected as president there.
  • Frank M. Buscher, vice president of academics and student life at Christian Brothers University, in Tennessee, has been chosen as vice president for academic affairs at Aurora University, in Illinois.

The Tragic Story of a Former College Athlete

In November 2014, a body of a missing Ohio State University football player was found in a dumpster in Columbus. The football player, Kosta Karageorge, had shot himself. Before his death, Karageorge texted friends and family, apologizing for being "an embarrassment" and saying that concussions had left his "head all fucked up." At the time, his mother said that Karageorge had suffered several concussions as a football player and wrestler, prompting speculation that the athlete's suicide was a result of his head injuries.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that a neurologist who examined Karageorge's brain discovered a protein associated with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease found in many former football players who have experienced head injuries. Karageorge, according to the Times, had suffered 15 concussions in his lifetime.

Ad keywords: 

Why a commencement speaker's Spanish words should not have drawn controversy (essay)

This academic year, a number of college campuses across the country became sites for vocal clashes between student groups, the administration and larger political movements. And just last month, our campus, California State University, Fullerton, made headlines following Univision anchor María Elena Salinas’s keynote speech at the Department of Communications’ graduation ceremony. As she addressed a graduating class of more than 800, she spoke of the role of identity in our society and the responsibility of journalists, and she made brief remarks to the crowd in Spanish. As she spoke, the crowd began to boo, at various times shouting, “Make America great again!” “English!” and “What about us?”

Almost immediately, backlash occurred on Twitter and Instagram, as users admonished the Univision anchor to speak in English. A graduate who had attended the ceremony wrote about it in the  OC Weekly, with The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and The New York Times picking up the story soon after. While many of the headlines focused on Salinas’s mention of Donald Trump, many of the student comments referred to the address as too Latino-centric, saying Salinas focused on Latinos at the expense of other groups.

This expression of hostility toward the perceived “Latino threat” is not an isolated incident.

Donald Trump began his presidential bid describing Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers, deportation has been one of his most consistent campaign promises, and he had Salinas’s co-host, Jorge Ramos, removed from a press conference last year. Trump’s rhetoric defies the conventions of political correctness and plurality.

In this case, Salinas’s speech and the resulting fallout are a synecdoche for what is at stake in the larger zeitgeist in this country. After years of championing diversity and inclusion, we now have to complete the move from relying on rhetoric to ensuring that diversity becomes a substantive practice.

Campuses are often a site of contestation, where students are negotiating the challenges of pluralism, belonging and diversity while preparing to engage in the broader society as both citizens and professionals. As faculty members, we firmly believe that the goal of a college education is to provide students with the opportunity to confront new ideas, engage with the complexity of contemporary social life and develop intellectual positions that result from careful consideration and study.

In furtherance of this goal, diversity has been championed on college campuses. This comes from the belief that campuses, in both faculty and student populations, should be representative of the people, experiences and ideas within the larger population. As the Census Bureau reports, by 2020 the more than half of the children in the United States will be part of a minority race or ethnic group. By 2060, only 36 percent of the population will be single-race, non-Hispanic white. Given the changing demography of the nation, it is encouraging that colleges and universities are taking steps to reduce the disparities in higher education achievement and aiming to have faculty and student populations that reflect our contemporary society.

As faculty members in the Department of Communications at CSUF, we are proud that our department takes an interest in serving a diverse student body that is reflective of our Southern California location. Our university has been designated a Hispanic-serving institution, ranked No. 1 in California and fifth nationally in awarding bachelor’s degrees to Hispanics. Our department is ranked first nationally in awarding communications degrees to Latinos. To broaden the professional opportunities for our students in journalism, advertising, public relations and entertainment and tourism, we recently launched the Latino Communication Initiative as a way to provide guidance and experience for students interested in the growing Latino communications industry. As part of that initiative, we have begun a Spanish-language news program, Al Día.

A Small Effort at Inclusion

It is in this context that Salinas’s speech, and the negative reaction by some to her remarks, occurred. According to the video of Salinas’s remarks, she spoke in Spanish for exactly 25 seconds, saying she was very proud of the students and their achievements and that she encouraged them to continue working and writing for their community. Switching to English, she then remarked that it is wonderful to be bilingual, because it allows to one to move between cultures. In an era where study abroad initiatives and diversity are encouraged for exactly this purpose, these comments should hardly be controversial or exclusionary.

As the events at our department’s commencement began to attract national attention, we received a number of emails from students, which led to long phone calls during which students expressed their varying perspectives on the incident. Many students saw nothing wrong with Salinas’s remarks. For example, Alana Garrett, a 25-year-old African-American graduate who does not speak Spanish, said, “It didn’t bother me. It wasn’t like she just spoke in Spanish the whole time. She said a couple of sentences. That’s what she should do -- she works for Univision. Why would that upset people?”

Similarly, graduate and Al Día reporter Alfredo Sanchez, 21, whose family is from El Salvador and for whom Spanish is his first language, said, “There should not be shame in speaking one’s language. She was just talking about Hispanic students making a difference and being able to reach the stage of commencement.”

Other students expressed an understanding why some non-Spanish-speaking students would feel excluded by Salinas’s Spanish remarks. David Leos, a 42-year-old graduate born to two Mexican immigrants, said, “The two students I was sitting next to were an Arab Muslim and a white Christian, and I can tell you they both felt excluded. I appreciated Salinas’s spotlighting of Hispanics’ successes and adding Spanish dialogue, but I also felt sorry for other non-Hispanic students.”

Indeed, in articles published in the aftermath of the event, some people expressed a belief that the delivery of these remarks in Spanish was exclusionary. However, this perspective disregards the fact that many of the parents, grandparents and extended family in the audience speak Spanish more fluently than English, or do not speak English at all, and were therefore excluded from the entire remainder of the ceremony. Delivering less than 30 seconds of her remarks in Spanish was a way for Salinas to include such individuals. Arely Martin, 23, had family members in attendance who did not speak English. “She actually told me, ‘Finally we go somewhere where we understand. There is actually someone talking to us,’” Martin said of her mother, who was born in Mexico.

The question we must ask is why this small effort at inclusion resulted in such hostility from a segment of the audience.

Much of the news media coverage has emphasized that Salinas’s remarks in Spanish were met with heckling and a distinct call for “English!” That is audible on the video of the speech. The focus on the language spoken by Salinas takes for granted the very real ways in which language and race are correlated.

Specifically, complaints about the speaking of Spanish are a way in which “color-blind” racism against Latinos can rear its ugly head. As Eduardo Bonilla-Silva explains in his seminal work Racism Without Racists (Rowman and Littlefield, 2009), because it is acknowledged that racism is “bad,” people use proxies for race to express beliefs that, if stated directly, would be considered racist. Arguments favoring “English only” in public spaces have a very long, very racialized history in this region. Well into the 20th century, the Southwest was sprinkled with signs that proudly boasted, “We Serve Whites Only. No Spanish or Mexicans.” Bilingual education has been banned in California public schools since 1996 under Proposition 227, the repeal of which will be on the ballot in this November’s election. Such a long history of contestation over the use of Spanish in the United States maps onto the history of the legitimacy of Latinos’ presence in this country.

While diversity and inclusion are contentious civic terrain, for anyone hoping to enter the workforce, linguistic, ethnic and racial diversity are de facto values. The Harvard Business Review has reported on how workplace diversity increases innovation and how diversity-centric strategic goals led to IBM’s turnaround success story. A study published in PNAS found that diverse teams outperformed high-ability teams on problem-solving tasks -- suggesting that diversity of thought is more important than simply high aptitude. Most crucial for our graduates, industry journals such as Advertising Age have published articles on the need for the media industries to diversify, arguing, “This will give us the insights and the skills to evolve alongside the massive demographic, technological and social shifts that we’ll see in the coming decades.”

When Salinas spoke last month, the fact that some students and families felt excluded at times is indicative of the previously limited experiences they have had in engaging with difference. Other students and families appreciated that the remarks reflected their own experiences. These reactions are reflective of the larger political terrain, where Trumpism pits an essentialist national identity against our contemporary realities. But the fact remains that exposure and engagement with difference is necessary in order to navigate our multilingual, multiethnic, multiracial society.

What remains to be seen is if these exhortations of the value and importance of diversity will retreat to the dustbin of rhetorical canards or if we can build a sustainably diverse public life -- one that is too deeply engaged with the benefits of multiplicity and diversity to crumble under an attack on political correctness. CSUF graduate Arely Martin took hope from Salinas’s address that her generation can do the work to build a diverse society. “She said, ‘You are the generation that’s going to build bridges, not walls.’ I thought, that’s so true. How could anyone be offended by that?”

Christina M. Ceisel and Vanessa Díaz are assistant professors of communications at California State University, Fullerton. The opinions expressed in this article are their own.

Editorial Tags: 

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - administrators
Back to Top