diversity

Questions about efficacy of college prep programs as White House vows evidence-based cuts

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White House promises proposed cuts to college-prep programs will be guided by evidence. But past attempts to evaluate the programs have been beset by controversy.

China Bars Professor From Returning to Australia

China has barred one of its citizens, a professor at an Australian university, from leaving the country. State officials suspect him of being a threat to national security, The New York Times reported.

The professor, Feng Chongyi, teaches at the University of Technology Sydney and often speaks out critically about Beijing’s response to political dissenters. Feng has been researching Chinese human rights lawyers, many of whom have been detained in recent years.

Feng was stopped by immigration officials while trying to board a flight back to Australia. Since then, he’s been in the southern city of Guangzhou, where he’s been questioned several times by Chinese national security officers.

The Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, was in Australia over the weekend for a visit regarding the countries’ trade relations.

Feng is a permanent resident of Australia, but not a citizen. That distinction, Australian officials said, prevents the country from assisting Feng in his release. The Embracing Australian Values Alliance, which promotes free speech and the independence of ethnic Chinese living in Australia, has called for the Australian government to get involved in Feng’s case.

The university where Feng teaches has also been alerted to the issue and is helping the professor’s family.

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A professor explores why his students self-segregate (essay)

I teach -- what is on paper, at least -- a mundane course required of all majors in my department. Few students are excited about being there. I acknowledge that in my opening comments each semester and make it my goal to surpass students’ expectations. My favorite evaluation comment, which I get in some form nearly every term: “I was expecting this class to suck, but it was actually interesting.”

One way that I try to make the class interesting -- or, at least, not suck -- is to allow students to select the topic and partners for their group project. That way, my thinking goes, they are more likely to be engaged with their topic and have a positive group experience.

Of course, the choose-your-own-partner philosophy has its downsides. Friends pick one another rather than going outside their comfort zones. There’s inevitably a please-don’t-let-me-be-the-last-pick-in-PE-class moment when the students who don’t know anyone else scramble to find partners. And once students have formed groups, the room can look like a middle-school dance: women on one side, men on the other. I encourage students to form mixed-gender groups and to select group partners based on shared interests rather than personal preferences, but the pull of familiarity is strong.

I’ve long considered the positive outcomes of open group selection to outweigh such drawbacks. But last semester, I reconsidered for a different reason: racial self-segregation.

On the day when students divided into work groups, I immediately noticed that with a few exceptions, white students were in groups with one another, and black students were in their own groups, as well. Groups formed so quickly that I couldn’t tell which students found each other first and which joined forces out of necessity, given the few remaining openings.

In past semesters these divisions haven’t been so glaring -- perhaps because it’s common for my classes to have so few black students that forming a group of three isn’t even possible. But there I was, on the second day of class, unexpectedly faced with a decision about whether to use this as a teachable moment or to let it pass without comment.

A few facts for context: I am a white man. My university is located in a region with considerable racial tension. Our campus, like many others, has been the site of student protests over lack of diversity and the administration’s handling of race relations. Addressing self-segregation in the classroom -- even in a class like mine that isn’t explicitly about race -- wouldn’t seem out of place at a time when such discussions are encouraged. Pausing to point out group dynamics would, to use a higher education cliché, contribute to a campuswide conversation about race.

On the other hand, drawing attention to group self-segregation could have detrimental effects. Who wants to start off the semester by noting students’ inherent biases? It’s hard to have this conversation without seemingly pointing a finger. Even if students became more aware of their decisions -- a positive outcome, to be sure -- what exactly did I want them to do about it? Re-sort into new, mixed-race groups? Acknowledge the problem and then carry on with their existing groups? After all, I’d just finished telling them to pick whomever they wanted as group partners. Perhaps students, as usual, just picked their friends, who happened to be of the same race (a problem in its own right).

Self-segregation in roommate selection and at cafeteria tables is unfortunately common, but I would never think to intervene in those cases. My decision about whether to do so in this instance came down to this question: Since this happened on my watch, in a classroom setting, did I have a moral obligation to say something?

In that moment, I didn’t have time to process all of these conflicting thoughts. It was noticeable to me and uncomfortable to witness, but did anyone else in that classroom feel the same way? It was hard to tell. I never asked anyone on that day -- or at any other time during the semester. No one brought it up in person, in email or in anonymous course evaluations.

Several months later, I still feel conflicted about what I should have done in that moment. Part of me wishes I had intervened, although I don’t beat myself up too much over my choice: it’s always easier to craft the perfect response in hindsight.

As I will soon prepare for another semester, I’m curious not only what my students thought but also what my colleagues think. How would you handle -- or have you handled -- this in your classroom? What would constitute an appropriate response?

I’d like to know, because I’m sure this won’t be the last time I face this situation. And next time, I want to have thought through my response.

The author is a tenure-track assistant professor at a four-year college.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Princeton Theological Seminary revokes honor for controversial speaker, but will let his talk go on

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If an institution prepares women and gay people (and others as well) for the ministry, is it wrong to honor or invite to speak someone who opposes the ordination of women or gay people?

Suit alleges Ohio U sat on complaints of professor's sexual misconduct for a decade

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Grad students’ lawsuit against Ohio U says it failed to act on complaints of an English professor’s sexual misconduct for a decade, allowing him to continue harassing young women. A former department chair is named as a co-defendant.

Anti-Semitic Fliers at U of Illinois Chicago

At least 100 anti-Semitic fliers were distributed across the University of Illinois at Chicago campus last week, according to The Chicago Sun-Times, adding to the litany of anti-Semitic incidents that have occurred on college campuses in recent months.

The fliers suggested that Jews control a disproportionate amount of wealth in the country -- it says Jews make up 2 percent of the population, but that 44 percent of them are among the top 1 percent of Americans.

The creators of the flier appear to be citing two Pew Research Center studies, with links provided at the bottom of the page, but the numbers used do not match the data on Pew’s website.

In large font, the flier also says, “Ending White Privilege Starts With Ending Jewish Privilege.”

Eva Zeltser, a UIC student and president of a Jewish organization on campus, said she found about 100 fliers strewn throughout the library and student centers.

She posted a picture of one of the fliers to her Facebook page, and as of Sunday, it had been shared over 4,000 times.

“My heart is broken,” she wrote in the post. “These are acts of pure hatred and intolerance.”

The university also released a statement condemning the fliers.

“Such actions do not reflect the values we hold as a community,” the statement said. “As we investigate this recent event, we strongly encourage all members of our university to exercise their right to free speech in a manner that recognizes these principles and avoids prejudice or stereotypes.”

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Student Body President Under Scrutiny for Tweets

The student body president at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota is under scrutiny for anti-Semitic tweets he posted almost three years ago, The Star-Tribune reported.

The student, Mayzer Muhammad, who is Muslim, has apologized for the language he used on Twitter in 2014 and said he regrets having been so careless.

The tweets were unearthed about a year ago by Canary Mission, a website that keeps a record of any individuals or groups it says use hateful rhetoric about the United States, Israel and Jews. Muhammad has a full profile on the site with several screenshots from his social media accounts, which he deactivated in response to angry comments.

The president of St. Thomas, a private, Catholic liberal arts college in St. Paul, rejected Muhammad’s anti-Semitic comments in a statement last week and said the university would not tolerate hate speech.

“It is deeply disappointing that the president of our student government or any other member of the St. Thomas community would be accused of anti-Semitic discourse,” President Julie Sullivan said.

Among the comments posted on Muhammad’s Canary Mission profile is one tweet that says, “If you support Israel in any way, shape or form, please unfollow me right now ’cause those people are the scum of the earth.”

Another reads, “The yahood [Jews] will get what [sic] coming for them Insha’Allah.”

“I am absolutely sorry and regret that I chose my words so poorly,” Muhammad told The Star-Tribune. “What these organizations are portraying me to be is an anti-Semite, and that is something that I am not.”

Muhammad remains in his post as president of the undergraduate student body. He has made efforts to repair his relationship with the Jewish community, including by meeting with the university’s rabbi in residence last week.

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Minority Students at Greater Risk of Sexual Assault

Not only are racial, sexual and gender minority groups more likely to be victims of sexual assault, students who consider their colleges inclusive and tolerant are less likely to be victims, two new complementary studies found.

Published recently in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence and Prevention Science, the studies reveal how populations with intersecting minority identities may be at greater risk of sexual assault, emphasizing the need for more sexual assault research and prevention and treatment programs that address specific marginalized groups.

One study, led by a team from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, was based on surveys from over 70,000 undergraduate students attending 120 higher education institutions between 2011 and 2013.

The team found that women were 150 percent more likely than men to be sexually assaulted, but that transgender people were at much greater risk -- 300 percent more likely than cisgender men to be sexually assaulted.

Gay, bisexual and black men all had higher odds of being sexually assaulted than heterosexual and white men. Black women were more likely than white women to be sexually assaulted, but Asian and Latina women were less likely.

Black transgender people were more likely than white transgender people to be assaulted as well.

The lead author of both studies said this is the first research of its kind to identify ways that intersecting marginalized populations are at greater risk of being sexually assaulted.

In the second study, the team analyzed surveys from 2,000 undergraduate students across all 50 states who identify as part of a sexual or gender minority population. The students who felt that their campus was inclusive and welcoming were found to be 27 percent less likely to be sexually assaulted.

Based on these results, the researchers suggested that such inclusive campus environments might encourage students to speak up and stop a sexual assault if they see one happening or to be more cautious in certain high-risk environments, like events that include drugs and alcohol.

"If sexual assault prevention efforts solely focus on heterosexual violence, they may invalidate sexual- and gender-minority people's assault experiences and be ineffective for them," said Robert Coulter, lead author of the two studies and a doctoral candidate in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences. "To overcome this, existing programs could be augmented to explicitly address homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and racism. And new interventions could be created specifically for sexual, gender, racial and ethnic minorities."

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Princeton Sues Over FOIA of Admissions Documents

Princeton University filed a lawsuit against the Education Department on Friday in an effort to stop the release of hundreds of pages of documents that would reveal some of the university’s private admissions procedures, Politico reported.

The documents were obtained by the Education Department as part of a seven-year civil rights investigation into whether Princeton was discriminating against Asian and Asian-American applicants.

The investigation was closed in 2015 after the department found insufficient evidence to support the claims of racial discrimination, but a group called the Students for Fair Admissions has been trying to access the Princeton documents under a Freedom of Information Act request.

Princeton’s lawsuit seeks to halt the release of those documents on the grounds that they contain sensitive and confidential demographic data, university policies and admissions practices that “would cause substantial competitive harm to the university if disclosed.”

The university has already attempted to stop the FOIA request from being granted once before. Earlier this month, the Education Department rejected Princeton’s request for FOIA exemption, explaining that such an exemption is not appropriate given the nature of the materials the university handed over during the department’s investigation.

In the rejection letter to Princeton, officials from the Education Department wrote that, should the documents be released, they would redact any identifiable information about individual applicants.

The department released 868 documents related to Students for Fair Admissions’ FOIA request earlier this year. The remaining set includes 861 documents.

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Howard Investigates Alleged Mock Slave Auction

Howard University is investigating an alleged incident in which a white professor asked his class to engage in a mock slave auction. News of the exercise was first reported by the Caged Bird blog, which did not name the professor or his department. The instructor reportedly was teaching Frederick Douglass’s slave narrative earlier this month and asked one of two black men in the class to stand up and be examined because he looked “healthy,” according to the blog.

“He asked me to show my butt to the class so that he could get a better sense of my worth and had the audacity to say that it was uncomfortable for him, too, because he’s a white man,” the unnamed student reportedly told Caged Bird. “He started propping my body up as if we were on a slave auction block.” The student said the professor told him he could stop participating when he felt uncomfortable but that he stood up “because I didn’t expect him to do or say the things he said and did. I didn’t sit down sooner because I was so shocked.”

Other students allegedly asked the professor to stop, and the entire class objected to the buttocks remark, according to Caged Bird. The blog did not name the professor because it does not want him to be fired, but does want him to stop teaching that particular lesson, according to an editor’s note.

A spokesperson for Howard said the university is aware of the report and is currently investigating.

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