diversity

Appeals court revives suit on dismissal of anti-gay psychology student

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U.S. appeals court orders trial in case that pits religious rights against discipline's standards. Ruling concerns advocates for student press by citing controversial Supreme Court decision.

Texas Makes Slight Change in Rules for Immigrant Tuition

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has voted to require public colleges to tell all undocumented students receiving in-state tuition that they are required to seek legal status to reside in the United States, the Associated Press reported. The requirement does not change the fundamental willingness of Texas to provide these students with in-state tuition rates. But the new regulation follows the unsuccessful campaign by Governor Rick Perry for the Republican presidential nomination -- a campaign in which he was attacked by many conservatives for the Texas tuition policy for these students.

 

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Muslim Students Angry Over Ad in Ohio State Paper

Many Muslim students at Ohio State University are furious at The Lantern, the student newspaper there, for running an ad they view as anti-Muslim, The Columbus Dispatch reported. The ad lists terror suspects under the headline "Former Leaders of the Muslim Student Association (MSA): Where Are They Now?" The ad also promotes a booklet called "Muslim Hate Groups on Campus." That booklet is published by the David Horowitz Freedom Center, which also bought the ad. The center is led by the conservative activist who has been at the center of many campus disputes. He told the Dispatch that the Lantern was among the first publications to which he sent the ad, and that he was pleased with the debate.

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Review of Genny Beemyn and Susan Rankin, "The Lives of Transgender People"

The adventurous reader browsing a newsstand in the 1940s could sometimes find a periodical called Sexology.  This was not, in spite of its title, a specialized medical journal, but rather a mass-market title in the empire of Hugo Gernsback. The publisher had invented science fiction -- or at least the expression “scientifiction,” which eventually fissured into something easier to pronounce. Sexology was, like Gernsbeck’s Amazing Stories, a pulp magazine. For that matter, it was also full of amazing stories, many of them sent in by readers.

Not that it was Penthouse Letters, avant là lettre. Anxiety was the dominant tone, not arousal. People who wrote in to Sexology tended to be perplexed by what their libidos were doing (or wanted to do, in any case) and they were looking for advice. And among the regular authors dispensing it was one D.O. Cauldwell, M.D. -- a general practitioner who had served as a military doctor and picked up a smattering of Freudian and Jungian ideas along the way.

I became aware of Cauldwell’s psychosexual journalism while studying the Midwestern publishing house of E. Haldeman-Julius, which had roots in the old Appeal to Reason, an extremely popular Socialist Party newspaper during the first two decades of the 20th century. By the late 1940s, it derived more revenue from reprints of literary and philosophical works than it did from socialist pamphlets. But what really kept the press afloat were the booklets (more than a hundred of them) reprinting Cauldwell’s work. There was Female Homosexuals -- Lesbians -- Tell Their Stories and The Intimate Embrace and The Diary of a Sexologist. None of this sat well with J. Edgar Hoover, and the fact that Cauldwell’s oeuvre contained at least half a dozen volumes on transvestism cannot have helped.

Cauldwell documented the range, intensity, and terrific flexibility of the American libido at least as well as Alfred Kinsey, but without leaving a comparable trace in the historical record – although he is now recognized as the first person writing in the English language to use the expression “transsexual” which appeared in one of his Sexology articles in 1949. (The neologism already existed in German medical literature, and it is possible he picked it up.) The pamphlets on transsexuality are now among the rarest items by Cauldwell. In 2001, the peer-reviewed International Journal of Transgenderism devoted a special issue to Cauldwell, reprinting some of his work and otherwise treating him as a pioneer: “a popular writer disseminating information and helping to create a climate in which such things could be discussed in a more open and liberal way.”

The good doctor is absent from the pages of Genny Beemyn and Susan Rankin’s The Lives of Transgender People (Columbia University Press), and in a way that is understandable. Cauldwell was not what anyone would call a careful researcher or deep thinker, and his work veers oddly between the sensible and the sensationalistic. Beemyn and Rankin, by contrast, have gathered an enormous amount of data, much of it statistical, and they exhibit all the probity that being vetted by an institutional review board would demand. They are contributing to an established and developing body of knowledge. (Beemyn is the director of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts. Rankin is an associate professor of education at Penn State.)

The term “transgender,” they explain, subsumes those undergoing or considering sex-reassignment surgery, but is “a general term for all individuals whose gender histories cannot be described as simply female or male, even if they now identify or express themselves as strictly female or male.” Such is the common usage now. But it only serves to underscore the originality of Cauldwell's work, since he meant "transsexual" in roughly the same sense and regarded it and cross-dressing as just part of the continuum of human behavior.

In any case, Beemyn and Rankin are far more methodical than their somewhat erratic predecessor. In 2005 and '06, they conducted a large-scale survey of transgender people by preparing a detailed questionnaire that they circulated online via appropriate listservs, support groups, and the like. Not quite 3,500 individuals completed the survey, of whom 400 agreed to detailed follow-up interviews by phone or  e-mail, or in person. Interview subjects were asked to review the transcripts “to make sure their responses were presented accurately and in their own words.”

The questionnaire and interview protocol cover some fairly generic demographic categories -- age, race, citizenship status, sexual orientation, etc. -- but most questions are transgender-specific: “At what age did you begin to feel ‘different’ from others? … How did you experience this ‘difference’? … At what age did you first understand that there were [sic] a group of people whose gender identity or expression did not coincide with their birth sex?” Quite a few questions focus on the difficulties, and in some cases dangers, of being openly transsexual, including how comfortable subjects feel in their interaction with family members, co-workers, and strangers.

And while the very term “transgender” serves to challenge the sexual binary as a way of categorizing people, the range of options for designating gender identity has proliferated wildly. Among those surveyed who had been designated female at birth, the authors note, “45 percent refer to themselves today as male, 36 percent as transgender, and 13 percent as ‘other,’ ” while about half of those in the survey carrying a Y chromosome “now describe themselves as female, 35 percent as transgender, and 6 percent as ‘other.’ ”

Complicating things further is the researchers’ finding that “6 percent of the female-assigned and 12 percent of the male-assigned individuals continue to identify with their birth gender” but “still consider themselves to be transgender because they cross-dress, present part-time as a different gender, or otherwise challenge gender norms.”

The variety of information gathered by the researchers -- and the range of identity and experience subsumed under the heading of “transgender” -- make it difficult to generalize about Beemyn and Rankin’s fine-grained statistical and qualitative analysis of trans life in recent years. Some things do stand out, though.

A majority of respondents in whatever category reported that they “sometimes or often hid their transgender identity.” The psychological benefits of openness seem to be matched by a corresponding degree of risk. Forty percent of those “who reported that they were out to all of their friends were the most likely to state that they had experienced anti-transgender harassment with the last year” (with comparable experiences reported by those who were open about their status “to their nuclear families, extended families, and colleagues”) while only 10 percent of those who concealed their transgender identity indicated they had been harassed.

“Fewer than 10 percent of respondents confronted the harasser at the time (or sometime later),” Beemyn and Rankin note, “and only 6 percent lodged a complaint with the appropriate authority.” A reluctance to involve the police is understandable: other researchers have found that fear of being harassed by the police is common among transgender people. (See, for example, the recent video of a transgender woman being stunned with a taser gun by rangers while she stood with hands in the air.)

The situation on college and university campuses is sometimes better, but it should not be overstated. Of the students, faculty members, and administrators surveyed by Rankin in an earlier national study, 92 percent of transgender respondents “reported that they were the targets of harassment because of their gender identity.” While a growing number of educational institutions have incorporated “gender identity and expression” into their nondiscrimination policies, the authors say that more than 90 percent of two- and four-year colleges have taken no steps at all “and remain completely inaccessible and inhospitable to transgender students.”

The indicators of just how much of an uphill battle trans people still face -- as if things hadn’t changed that much since the days when Sexology magazine was around -- colored my initial reading of the book, and made it seem kind of depressing. I wrote to the authors to ask if they thought otherwise.

“In my mind,” responded Beemyn, “the study shows dramatically different experiences by age. While it may have been largely depressing for people in previous generations, it is often much less so today. Younger trans people in general are not going through prolonged periods of denial, self-repression, and uncertainty; have connections with other trans people from a young age; have role models and mentors; and are able to find friends and partners who support their gender identity.”

Rankin seconded that point. And fair enough: the authors report that 90 percent of their respondents, of whatever age, “realized that they did not fit in with others of their assigned gender by the end of their teen years” -- with large majorities having already felt that way before adolescence, and about one in five experiencing gender dissonance from early childhood on. Most subjects in their 30s and older indicated that they had tried to hide or repress such feelings for long periods, and “more than half of the older participants did not meet another transgender person until they were at least forty years old.”

The contrast with the experience of younger participants in the study couldn’t be more stark. “Among the twenty-one interviewees who were between eighteen and twenty-one years old,” write the authors, “only four indicated that they repressed their sense of gender difference throughout childhood and adolescence,” while “more than two thirds … had already met other transgender people by the time they began to identify" that way.

The formidable array of data presented by Beemyn and Rankin shows that discrimination, humiliation and assault remain facts of transgender life. But at least some of the interview subjects may have more energy to fight them, since they won't be at war with themselves. In time, they will probably take self-respect for granted. If so they ought to go read one of Cauldwell's pamphlets. Even that much information and sympathy, inadequate though it now seems, was once incredibly hard to find.   

Pepperdine Rejects, for Fourth Time, a Gay-Straight Alliance

Pepperdine University has, for the fourth time, rejected a request from a gay-straight student alliance to be recognized. A petition, signed by nearly 4,000 people as of Tuesday morning, said that the university needed to accept the organization. "Pepperdine students often struggle to be honest about their sexual orientation because they fear rejection from their peers as well as the risk of losing their scholarships and leadership opportunities," the petition says. "Moreover, professors do not feel comfortable speaking on the issue, worrying that they will be denied tenure or research grants. Until now, the university’s policies have created an atmosphere of silence and anxiety that alienates not only the LGBT student population but also anyone concerned for their well-being." The petition states that the group, Reach OUT, does not endorse sexual activity, but that organizers were unwilling to abide by an administrator's request that it "explicitly condemn sexual activity." A university spokesman told the Associated Press that the group was not aligned with Pepperdine's religious views on sexual morality. Pepperdine is a Churches of Christ institution.

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Amid Board Conflicts, Bethune-Cookman President to Retire

Trudie Kibbe Reed is stepping down as president of Bethune-Cookman University, amid apparent board disagreements over whether her resignation should be accepted. The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported her departure, confirmed by the board chair. The Orlando Sentinel, while also confirming her resignation, quoted a trustee as saying Reed had not resigned, and that the board had taken no action on her departure. (Reed did not respond to an e-mail message from Inside Higher Ed seeking clarification.) Reed has been praised for promoting growth at the historically black college. But the institution has seen controversies as well. An investigation by the American Association of University Professors found that the university violated the due process of faculty members who were fired after they were accused of sexual harassment. University officials disputed the AAUP's findings. Last year, the News-Journal reported that Bethune-Cookman was facing 12 lawsuits from ex-employees who say that they were fired inappropriately.

Essay on the experience of teaching a student with intellectual disabilities

To protect the student’s privacy, the author of this piece has chosen to remain anonymous and has changed all potentially identifying details.

Almost daily I am reminded of the truth in Oppenheimer’s observation: The best way to learn is to teach. Whether the lesson is academic or ethical, there is no other activity that so clarifies one's thoughts. Through questions, misunderstandings, and occasional challenges, students reacquaint us with uncertainty and doubt. They force us to reconsider what we believe ourselves to know and reckon with what we do not. I am most acutely aware of this when the only thing I can say with certainty is, "I don’t know."

This semester I have said those three words more often than I did during my first year of teaching. For the last 14 weeks I have been struggling with some variation of the question: What should I do about Jacob?

Jacob is failing my course on the memoir. Well past the withdrawal date and just days away from the final, his average is 39. Out of eight writing assignments, he has received credit for one, and this was partial. On exams, he scores something just better than statistical chance.  

By itself, this would be a concern, but would not keep me awake at night. There are other students — 3 out of 57, to be precise -- who are also failing the class. After more than a decade of teaching at a commuter campus where many students are not only the first in their families to attend college but the first to earn a high school diploma, I've come to accept that a good 5 percent of those enrolled in my lower division courses will not pass. And so it is not Jacob's performance that worries me, but what I know about the reasons behind it.

Depending on which of the counselors in the disabilities office I am speaking with, Jacob is either "intellectually disabled" or "cognitively impaired." In the words of my generation and the ones still used by those without special training, he is "slow" or "mentally handicapped."

We were just a week into the term when I began to suspect that Jacob was having trouble. I was in my office going through the in-class writings I’d collected that morning. Since it was the first written work I’d assigned, I’d kept the requirements simple: provide a brief summary — four or five sentences — of the first three chapters of Girl, Interrupted. More than anything it was a reminder to complete the day's reading before class and a chance to provide students with a gentle introduction to my expectations and grading policies.

Taken as a whole, the stack of 60-odd papers atop my desk reflected the wide range of skills and capacities — of comprehension, expression, and prevarication — I’ve come expect. The majority satisfied the requirements without being remarkable. A few, for better and worse, stood apart and furnished the left- and right-hand tails of the normal distribution. But Jacob's submission did not fit. 

His penmanship was not exactly neat, but it was precise and with it he'd filled nearly half the page. What he'd written, though, was more connected to the title than the book itself: There was a girl. A girl wrote this. A girl says what she did. The girl was stupid. Building whole paragraphs around the title isn’t a novel strategy and I’ve seen it used, with varying degrees of creativity, by those who haven’t cracked the book. Jacob’s paper, however, didn’t seem to belong to the same category. 

At a loss, I wrote what I had on the other papers that had not met even the minimum standard for passing: No credit. I do not find evidence that you read the chapters. If you are having trouble with the material, or do not understand the instructions for assignments, please come see me during my office hours — 2-4 Monday and Wednesday.

But Jacob did not come to my office or contact me. After writing the same grade and message on his next two papers — the only modifications being a change of the word "please" to "you need to" — I knew that something extra needed to be done. I just didn’t know what, exactly, that should be.

From the first day of classes I'd known that Jacob was registered with the Office for Students with Disabilities. Before I'd even handed out the syllabus, he'd given me the familiar cream-colored envelope that contained a summary of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, his counselor’s contact information, and the special provisions and supplementary resources she'd recommended for him.

The list of accommodations to which he was entitled was extensive: designated volunteer note-taker to be secured by instructor, extended time — up to double — for exams and in-class assignments, ability to complete tests and written work in a distraction-reduced separate location, transcriptions of all audio and video and materials, alternatives to oral presentations, preferential seating near the front of the room, permission to record lectures, and tardiness leniency.

Nothing in the packet I had been given offered any indication of why he needed these things. Information about a student's disability is confidential. Specifics about the nature of the limitation or illness are shared only on a "need to know" basis. And in the rare event that an instructor is deemed in need of knowing, it is unlikely that she will become privy to the exact nature or extent of the condition. For instructors it is, then, a kind of binary category — a student is either designated as disabled or he is not. By law and the university policies that derive from it, in making the necessary accommodations, I had already done all that I was obliged to do. The onus was on Jacob to seek additional help if he needed it, to accept or decline my invitations to discuss his performance, and, most of all, to determine for himself whether he was able to meet the requirements of the course. 

Over the years I have taught a number of men and women with physical, mental, and learning differences. Until Jacob, I had not felt the need to review their performance with anyone other than the students themselves. To discuss someone enrolled in one of my classes, by name, with a third party, outside of the student's presence and without his knowledge or consent is something that seemed to me (and still seems) a violation of privacy and trust. The decision to contact Jacob’s counselor, then, was not an easy one to make. But I had other concerns that stemmed, directly, from my knowledge of his disability status. At the front of these was a dilemma about whether or not I had an additional ethical obligation to Jacob, a duty that went beyond the provision of accommodations. 

From the few interactions I'd had with Jacob and what I’d seen of his work, I had the impression that he lacked the intellectual capacity to either benefit from or pass the course. But more troubling was my sense that his limitations prevented him from fully understanding his situation. 

Students who have not been identified as having a disability can display a wide range of traits, attitudes, and abilities. When one seems to be struggling, either academically or emotionally, I do not feel automatically compelled to address the matter. I try to use my best judgment. I make the extra effort to reach out, or I don’t. I pull them aside after class, or I don’t. I write something pointed in the margins of their tests and assignments, or I don’t.  I make calls that are informed by experience, even though I know that these will be imperfect.

And I feel able to exercise this discretion because I presume that those with whom I am interacting are, for the most part, not unlike most other students I’ve encountered. Rightly or wrongly, I begin with the premise that they share some minimal level of cognitive and social functioning. Too, I proceed from the idea that whatever behaviors or ability levels I encounter are squarely owned by the individual whose name is on the class roster. I do not find myself wondering whether it might be a function of illness, chemical imbalance, learning difference, cognitive deficiency, or mental condition. While I may speculate about underlying issues, the pool of possible explanations I draw from is qualitatively different.

When I phoned Jacob’s counselor, it was with the hope that she would tell me that my impression of Jacob was wrong. Or, at the very least, provide some practical advice for working with him, while at the same time absolving me of responsibility for the outcome. And so in some ways I wish that I had not made that call. I did not want confirmation that the work I had asked him to do was beyond his abilities. I did not want to know that he was, most likely, unable to average his grades or grasp their significance. I did not want to hear that he was a senior and scheduled to graduate in December. I did not want to listen to her say ,"The only thing I can tell you is that you should hold him to the same standards as his peers." I did not want learn that both Jacob and I had been set up for failure.

Meeting Jacob has prompted me to reconsider my roles as an educator and the functions and purposes of higher education generally. His situation and, by extension, mine, raise a number of difficult questions.

But when it comes to putting them down here, in print, I find myself struggling for words. This isn't because the words don't exist or because I can’t locate the ones I want. Instead, I am afraid of using the wrong term or saying the wrong thing. I am aware of the need to tread carefully. And that is, I think, part of the trouble.

It's rare that a week goes by without my engaging in a conversation with a colleague or reading an article about the issues of student preparedness and ability. These discussions are commonplace and we have developed the necessary vocabularies and frameworks for having them. This holds even when we bring in such thorny matters as race, ethnicity, class, and gender. We can and do talk about how changes in the student body affect our experiences and policies in the classroom and how these, in turn, are reshaping postsecondary education. But we seldom mention one of the fastest-growing groups on campus: students with disabilities. 

The Americans With Disabilities Act and its amendments have allowed men and women with physical, psychological, and emotional impairments to participate in higher education in a way that previous generations could not. At the same time that this legislation has transformed the lives of millions of students, it has also transformed higher education: Roughly 11 percent of first-year college students identify as having a disability, a figure that will likely increase in the coming years, with the greatest growth expected in what is often referred to as "invisible disabilities," a category that includes learning disorders, cognitive impairments, ADD/ADHD, and other conditions that are not quite so easily diagnosed or straightforward in terms of the accommodations required by the students. Campuses that receive public funds must maintain a Section 504 compliance office, which is charged with meeting the needs of those who have documented disabilities and require support services. Instructors are required to make “reasonable accommodations” for those who qualify for them. 

It goes without saying that the developments of the last two decades have affected students, instructors, individual campuses and the institution of higher education. And so long as it goes without saying, we are kept from addressing the benefits and challenges — both practical and philosophical — these create. 

Over the last 14 weeks I have had the chance to experience these firsthand. In the process of thinking through how best to balance my obligations to Jacob with those I have to my other students, my discipline, and my vocation, I have formulated, imprecisely and in halting language, a number of questions related to teaching students with impairments and, more broadly, the changing nature of postsecondary learning.

  • What responsibilities do we, as instructors, have to our students? Are we differently obligated to individuals based on what we know about their particular aptitudes and personal circumstances?
  • Should instructors be allowed to participate in determining what adjustments a disabled student should receive?
  • How do we define "reasonable accommodations"?
  • In cases where instructors are required to make special provisions or alterations to our courses, are we entitled to ask why these are necessary?
  • Do formal diagnostic categories and special designations facilitate or hinder our appreciation of human diversity?
  • Under what conditions is a student with an impairment accountable for his or her actions and performance and when should we excuse or overlook these as functions of the individual’s condition? How does one separate an individual from his or her disability?
  • Is it possible to hold a student to "the same expectations as his peers" while, at the same time, making substantive modifications and adjustments to grading structures and assignments?
  • How can admissions criteria and course expectations be modified so that we remove barriers to learning for those who are qualified, while simultaneously maintaining academic rigor?
  • How do we define equality of access? How is this related to equality of expectations?
  • What does it mean to say that a student is prepared — intellectually, socially, and physically — for college?  Should there be some minimum standard and, if so, what metrics will be used to determine qualification?
  • Is it realistic, or even desirable, to make the attainment of a college degree a requirement for full membership and recognition in society? How might we reimagine our standards for inclusion so that we honor the full spectrum of human potential?
  • What is the purpose of higher education, for both the individual student and for society as a whole?

Engaging with the issues raised by the increased presence and visibility of students with disabilities, no matter how messy or uncomfortable, is something that we — instructors, administrators, advisers, students, and parents — can no longer afford to avoid. And, once we get beyond our squeamishness, we may find that the dialogue surrounding these seemingly particular concerns can shed light on other issues related to equality, diversity, and the meaning of education.

I still do not know what I should have done for Jacob. I only know what I have done, what I will do, and how I explain these to myself. I have continued to mark each of his papers and exams according to the guidelines I have set for the class as a whole, though I make a point to find something positive, no matter how small, to say about his work. A few days from now, I will do the same with his final. And even though holding him to expectations I know that he cannot meet seems like a form of cruelty, I justify this, to myself, with terms like "fairness" and "honesty."

There isn’t, at least as far as I can see, a right answer. Like Jacob, I was placed in an impossible situation. And, like him, I did the best that I could with what I was given. 

Here I am reminded of another quote, this one from the lyric poet Rainer Maria Rilke: "Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions."
 

The author of this article is anonymous.

Study finds that East Asian Americans gain the most from SAT courses

Students whose families came to the U.S. from China, Japan or Korea are more likely than others to take SAT courses -- and to benefit from them with higher scores, study finds.

Allegations Against Prominent Foe of Affirmative Action

Ward Connerly, a national leader of the fight to end the consideration of race and ethnicity in college admissions, is being accused of mismanaging the group he created for this effort, The New York Times reported. The critic is Jennifer Gratz, who shares Connerly's views on affirmative action and was the named plaintiff in a suit challenging the consideration of race at the University of Michigan. After the suit, Gratz worked for Connerly. She is accusing him of misusing funds sent to advance his work, paying himself a large salary rather than devoting funds to his cause. Connerly called Gratz a "disgruntled former employee" trying to "besmirch me personally."

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Community Colleges Urged to Do More for Immigrants

Many community colleges "struggle" to "effectively meet the needs of immigrants," says a new report from the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education. The report notes that community colleges and immigrant groups vary, but suggests that certain parts of "a framework" are needed regardless of groups served or the characteristics of the college. These parts include high-level commitment to serving immigrant students, "proactive outreach" to immigrant students, a redesign of English as a second language programs, a "holistic, integrated" approach to student services and efforts to support leadership qualities in immigrant students.

 

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