diversity

Hundreds Protest Against Racism at American U

Hundreds of students at American University held a protest Monday to demand suspensions of white students they believe are involved with recent incidents targeting black women, The Washington Post reported. In one incident, a black female student says, someone threw a banana at her. In another, someone left a rotten banana outside the dormitory room of another black female student. Those protesting also say there have been other racial incidents, but those involving bananas prompted the protest, with many carrying signs saying "Racism at AU Is Bananas."

American University President Cornelius M. Kerwin released a statement in which he called the banana incident and another “explicit racist incident” in a residence hall “unacceptable student behavior … that left our African-American students and others shaken, upset and even feeling unsafe.” The incident involving the thrown banana has been investigated and those responsible “have been held accountable through the student conduct process,” the statement said.

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How to encourage foreign students to participate in class (essay)

Andy Molinsky offers four tips for encouraging foreign students to participate in class.

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Howard, Penn Cheerleaders Join Protest Movement

Members of the cheerleading squad at Howard University dropped to their knees during the playing of the national anthem before a football game this weekend, according to numerous photographs on social media and ESPN. Howard's press office did not respond to requests for comment.

At the University of Pennsylvania's football game this weekend, two cheerleaders made fists during the national anthem, and one of them dropped to her knee. A Penn spokesman said that the university was not commenting. (The photo at right is by Thomas Munson of The Daily Pennsylvanian.)

In recent weekends, athletes at several universities have joined the protest started by Colin Kaepernick of the National Football League, in which athletes do not stand for the national anthem, seeking to draw attention to racial injustice in American society.

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Many elements beyond financial aid are needed to help underrepresented students succeed (essay)

There is a common expression -- “just throw money at the problem” and it will be fixed. But providing adequate financial support plays only a small part in supporting college students from particular sectors -- underrepresented minorities, those who are first in their families to attend college and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds -- to successfully complete an undergraduate degree.

For such students to succeed, universities need to make a consistent and sustainable institutional commitment toward that goal. They must examine their internal organizational structures and processes to determine those that may need to be rethought or reworked. Senior administrators as well as faculty and staff members should develop what the University of Southern California’s Center for Urban Education calls “equity-mindedness.” That broad institutional approach accepts responsibility and accountability for student success, as opposed to viewing any student challenges through a lens of student deficiency, ill preparedness, or “the student’s fault.”

This is what the University of La Verne -- a federally designated Hispanic-serving institution with more than 3,600 Latino students, a near majority of first-generation students and more than 1,400 students on Pell Grants -- is doing. It is also what other universities like Stanford University; the University of California, Berkeley; and the University of California, Santa Barbara, have modeled. This past spring, we were all featured in an Excelencia in Education report that described the tactics that our institutions are using to enroll, retain and graduate more Latino/a students, in particular.

Far beyond only financial assistance, our universities have maintained organizational structures, cocurricular support opportunities and academic curricula that create an environment that helps not only Latino/a students but, in fact, all students to exceed expectations. And all our institutions are in it for the long haul; we introduce many of our initiatives when students are still in high school, provide continuing programs throughout their college years and also offer some initiatives for career and life success after graduation.

Some of the key areas we focus on include:

Recruiting. Support must begin before students apply to college. At the University of La Verne’s annual Latino Education Access and Development conference, high school students and their families meet and engage with Latino professionals, faculty members, alumni and current students -- building rapport and encouraging a sense of belonging among first-generation applicants. Similarly, UC Santa Barbara’s LA2SB program and UC Berkeley’s RAZA Day attempt to demystify the college experience by bringing high school students to their campuses for admissions presentations, tours and meetings with professors. Such programs help all high school students, but they are particularly effective for first-generation students and their entire families, as those students begin to picture themselves as college graduates for the first time.

Retention. It is often assumed that first-generation minority students enter college with the same hopes and expectations as their classmates. Yet they generally arrive with fewer of the skills needed for college success as well as far less familiarity with a higher education environment. It can be daunting for every student to navigate a complex university environment, build college-appropriate study habits, actively seek meaningful advice and counsel, engage in cocurricular activities, and connect with student peers and faculty members. But first-generation, low-income and minority students often face additional challenges. For example, employment obligations are paramount for lower-income students, many of whom are returning to school and are older than the traditional undergraduate age of 18 to 23 years old. Many of these students may also be caring for elderly relatives, siblings or their own children.

UC Santa Barbara and the University of La Verne both employ tactics for continually advising students who are at risk of falling behind in their courses and intervening where necessary. As an example of the need for an intentional focus on those students, consider the first-generation student who gets a D on a biology exam. For most students that might mean, “I need to study more,” or “I need a tutor,” or “I’ll do better next time.” A first-generation student often draws an entirely different conclusion that may sound like, “I guess I really don’t belong in college,” “I am wasting time and money,” or “I cannot succeed here.” Early and active advising stops that thought pattern, boosts students’ self-confidence and helps them develop a sense of belonging. We also offer mentoring programs with a demographic-specific focus, including peer, group and staff mentoring specifically for first-generation students or men of underrepresented populations.

Establishing a sense of community on the campus is also vital. UC Berkeley and Stanford offer Chicano and Latino centers as places to help foster a feeling of belonging among Latino students. The University of La Verne provides a thriving Latino student forum, a first-generation club, a common ground club that promotes religious diversity, a multicultural center and regular programming focused on student identity. We also routinely support events such as the Latino Heritage Month Fiesta, Black History Month Celebration and National Coming Out Day.

Through our signature four-year undergraduate program, The La Verne Experience, we integrate high-impact practices throughout every student’s undergraduate years. Those practices include interdisciplinary, student-focused learning communities intended to increase academic and personal support between student peers and faculty members. Starting in the freshman year, such communities gather entering freshman and transfer students with similar interests into the same set of three linked classes -- two distinct discipline classes and a smaller writing class. Over the following years, a series of cocurricular activities supplement what students learn in the classes. In addition, we offer high-touch/high-tech tutoring and career services in person and through telepresence across the university’s multiple campuses. (Telepresence is essential for the university’s regional campuses and of great value to students over traditional age.)

The La Verne Experience also includes mandatory civic and community-engagement activities, bringing curricular theory into practice and keeping students’ interests tied to their cities and focused on the assets of both the students and their home communities. During New Student Community Engagement Day, held on the Saturday before fall classes begin, first-year and transfer students volunteer across more than 20 community organizations. They distribute water and ice cream at Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles, meet with incarcerated women and their children in Pomona, paint a mural at the Boys and Girls Club of Pomona Valley, or clean and harvest at the Huerta del Valle Community Garden in Ontario.

Students also become examples to other youth in their communities by demonstrating what is possible when they attend an institution that offers an inclusive environment and is attuned to supporting all students. One University of La Verne student who was raised in the foster care system fulfilled his academic community engagement requirement by volunteering at a group home, where he worked with children who shared his background. He found his own mission mentoring those children, and after he completed his service in his junior year, the organization hired him on its staff, where he continued to work after graduation.

Of course, in some situations throwing money at the problem -- expanding financial-aid opportunities to increase retention -- can be an important and effective strategy. The Excelencia report itemized various creative approaches in the junior and senior year of college. UC Santa Barbara awards some low-income high school graduates $120,000 scholarships to cover all four years of education, which reassures students from the outset that their financial needs will be met through graduation. At the University of La Verne, we offer additional scholarships when students might have to step out of college as a result of an increased or changing financial need. We also hold Starbucks nights at local coffee shops for students and their parents to discuss -- in Spanish, if necessary -- the financial aid that will be available at any point in their education.

Graduation. Career preparedness and workforce connections should be threaded throughout students’ experiences, beginning when they first arrive on campus. For example, The Convergence -- a partnership between our university and local health care organizations -- generates employment opportunities for our graduates in fields where diversity is highly desired. By working together, the partner organizations are more accurately forecasting workforce trends and developing educational programs and campaigns to make sure students are graduating with the knowledge and skills needed to for high-paying, meaningful careers. Just recently, the university launched a physician assistant program in response to the feedback we received about the need for the profession in the region.

We also provide extensive undergraduate research opportunities for all students. Any opportunity to bridge theory, skills and practice -- such as with research, community engagement or internships -- assists students to understand and appreciate the relevance and value of their education.

The results of these and other focused and intentional practices aimed at supporting the student body at our institution have been noticeable. Our four-year graduation rate has increased from 40 percent to nearly 50 percent in three years. The six-year graduation rate climbed from 59 percent to 64 percent in just one year.

Enhancing financial support alone did not achieve this improvement in student outcomes. While scholarships and other forms of student aid cannot be undervalued, it is the responsibility of a university’s leadership, along with the entire campus, to build an academic environment where all students feel comfortable, connected and confident, where they access support and resources are available to them, and where they realize the institution is focused on their ultimate success. You cannot put a price on that.

Devorah Lieberman is president of the University of La Verne.

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Kansas State Denounces Racist Social Media Post

A Kansas State University student posted a photo of herself and a friend in blackface, along with a note indicating that she was enjoying being a black person, but using a common racial slur. The photo (right) circulated widely on social media.

Pat Bosco, vice president for student life and dean of students, issued a letter denouncing the posts. "This photo has students, faculty, staff and other members of the K-State family upset. It rightly should, as there is no place for racism at our university," the letter said.

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Western Kentucky Investigates Racist Note

Western Kentucky University is investigating a note left under the door of Michelle Jones, an assistant dean, The Bowling Green Daily News reported. The note criticized Jones for being black and said that she should go to Africa. Provost David Lee said the university was "determined to find the person who's responsible for this."

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Competing student groups debate the American flag and appropriate memorial for 9/11

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College Republicans plant 2,997 flags on campus. Many are removed and trashed. Another student group questions the memorial and posts fliers to honor the Iraqis killed after U.S. invasion.

Making college work for students with autism (essay)

For graduating high school seniors who are entering college this fall, it is an exciting time. Possibilities have been opened! Yet now new concerns arise: Have they chosen the right college? Will they thrive?

These are hard questions for any young adult, but for those with autism, the stakes are especially high. A 2015 Autism Speaks report found that only 30 percent of high school graduates with autism ever attend a two- or four-year college, and those that do fare poorly. Research suggests that 80 percent of them never graduate. Furthermore, only 32 percent of high school graduates with autism find paying work within two years of graduating high school. This need not be. Half of all individuals with autism have average or above-average intelligence. They can do the work. The problem is not the students. It’s the colleges.

We come to this issue from an unusual perspective. One of us, Elizabeth, studies at Pasadena City College and has autism. The other, Margaret, teaches at California State University at Los Angeles, and -- in addition to being Elizabeth’s mother -- has worked with students on and off the spectrum. Together, we have seen the many ways that colleges fail students with autism.

Federal legislation, including the Americans With Disabilities Act, mandates that colleges provide reasonable accommodations for disabled students. But common accommodations, such as providing a quiet exam setting, don’t adequately address the problems faced by many students with autism.

As autism scholars Ernst VanBergeijk, Ami Klin and Fred Volkmar note, autism is a social disability. The inherent qualities of autism -- resistance to change, sensitive sensory systems, weakness at reading social cues and a tendency to take language literally -- interfere with communication and social engagement. A quiet exam room will not help students overcome those barriers. The problems students with autism face are more insidious.

Elizabeth, for example, struggles with understanding if professors are being sarcastic or rhetorical. Uncertain, she often responds too much or too little. When one professor expressed frustration at her eager hand raising, she asked privately if he would signal her when he wasn’t being serious or didn’t require a response. “No,” he said. “I don’t need to change my teaching for you, and you need to learn sarcasm.”

It would be easy to regard Elizabeth’s experience as exceptional, the product of one unsympathetic professor. Yet research out of Australia by Ru Ying Cai and Amanda L. Richdale confirms how common such experiences are. In focus groups, autistic college students told story after story about metaphorical or abstract language leading to confusion, as well as loud, active classrooms challenging their abilities to focus on learning. For many, the frustrations became too great, leading to stress, anxiety and regrettable outcomes. However, when students felt their social needs were met -- in particular when faculty members proved willing to modify their teaching style -- students had much more positive experiences.

But American professors are not required to modify their teaching style for disabled students, and colleges are not required to think about the social, communicative needs of any students, let alone those with autism. Those things are not considered reasonable accommodations. But if autism is indeed a social disability, then denying the social needs of autistic students is inherently unreasonable.

It would help if faculty members understood how autism affects learning. But professors are busy. They juggle many demands, and professional development is often low on their to-do lists. At Margaret’s university -- which houses an outstanding center for teaching and learning development -- professional development seminars are often poorly attended, especially those focused on helping students with special needs. At one seminar on working with hearing-impaired students, Margaret was one of three instructors to show up, and if our conversations with colleagues and peers are indicative, then Margaret’s experience is a common one. Even when given the opportunity to learn more about the needs of disabled students, professors turn those choices down.

Some positive changes are underway. More than 100 colleges now offer programs for students with autism, but most of them are private, expensive, residential programs. Meanwhile, research suggests that up to 80 percent of college students with autism at one point filter through community colleges, where students, often still highly dependent on family support, can live at home. Those institutions generally offer fewer resources for students with autism. If we are to meet the needs of neurodiverse students, public community colleges will need to lead the way.

In these days when most community college disability offices are underfunded -- Elizabeth’s community college does not even provide note takers -- meeting the needs of students with autism may seem daunting. But meaningful institutional changes do not need to strain budgets. For Elizabeth, the greatest support has often come from students who have chosen to act as social interpreters. A whispered word or two is often all she needs to better and more appropriately engage with her curriculum. Colleges like California State University at Fullerton already have mentorship programs that pair neurotypical and neuroatypical classmates.

We recommend expanding such programs so that peer mentors -- perhaps those offered the coveted privilege of priority registration -- work side by side with autistic students in the classroom. Of course, that brings us back to the privacy concerns voiced earlier. Peer mentors can only work with students who are willing to self-identify in the classroom as having autism, which is why autistic students themselves must also be involved in making campuses more responsive to their needs -- and that will only happen when students with autism bring neurodiversity into conversations about campus diversity.

Until that happens, faculty can do a lot to foster feelings of safety and inclusion for all students -- both with autism and without. Elizabeth advocates for simple kindness, acceptance and the understanding that some disabilities are invisible. In Margaret’s classes, she announces on day one that students registered with the school’s disability office should feel free to talk to her about not just the accommodations they may legally require but also about other things she can do to make her courses work for them. She shares -- with Elizabeth’s permission -- the struggles Elizabeth has faced in education, and she urges students to see her as someone who really wants to help them succeed.

Work by Nicholas Gelbar, Isaac Smith and Brian Reichow offers faculty members other suggestions for helping students on the spectrum: incorporate universal design into curriculum and assignments. As much as possible, use concrete language in both lectures and the syllabus. Break tasks down into more steps, provide greater organizational support, realize that group work, public speaking and active classrooms (such popular buzzwords in today’s curricular development) may offer particular challenges for students who struggle socially and who do not thrive in environments demanding rapid transitions. In other words, when dealing with students whose disability makes flexibility extremely difficult, faculty members must be the flexible ones. They must also take responsibility for educating themselves about neurodiversity, and if that seems too hard, they can do one last thing. They can defer to autistic students who do understand their own needs, and they can give those students the support they ask for.

One thing is undeniable: without significant changes, the traditional gateway to greater community inclusion and financial security will remain closed to people with autism. And that’s a tragedy, because those with autism have a lot to offer -- not just to our colleges, but also to our nation’s economy. We all win when everyone can compete and contribute.

Elizabeth Finnegan is a student at Pasadena City College. Margaret Finnegan teaches at California State University at Los Angeles. She is the author of Selling Suffrage: Consumer Culture and Votes for Women (Columbia University Press, 1999), and her work has appeared in College Communication and Composition, American Quarterly and other publications.

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U of Oregon Removes Name of Klan Leader From Dorm

The board of the University of Oregon voted Thursday to remove the name of Frederic Dunn (right) from a dormitory that has for years honored him, The Register-Guard reported. Dunn was a professor of classics at the university in the 1920s and 1930s and was respected for his teaching and scholarship. He was also a leader -- with the title “exalted cyclops” -- of the Ku Klux Klan in the region. Black students have been pushing for his name to be removed from the dormitory. The board delayed until later in the fall a decision on a building named for Matthew Deady, one of the university's founders and one who held pro-slavery views.

Ursinus Board Chair Quits Amid Uproar Over His Tweets

Michael C. Marcon, facing criticism over his comments on Twitter, resigned Thursday as chair of the Ursinus College board. Marcon met with students and faculty members in recent days to try to reassure them, but many have said he should not remain as board chair, and one other board member already quit in protest over the tweets. Marcon, an insurance executive, has made tweets about who should and shouldn't wear yoga pants, and written that Caitlyn Jenner's speaking fees mean there is no gender wage gap.

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