diversity

AAC&U Seeks Middle Ground on Campus Speech

Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, weighed in on the ongoing debate over campus free speech Tuesday in a statement called “Free Expression, Liberal Education and Inclusive Excellence.” While other statements on the issue have admonished student protesters who would limit free -- if controversial -- speech in the interest of diversity and inclusion, Pasquerella was more considerate of such students’ concerns.

“Like those who blocked recruiters from campuses during the Vietnam War, these protesters regard their actions as justified on the grounds of necessity and attempts to stop them as further silencing those representing the most vulnerable members of society,” she said. Noting that AAC&U has long supported academic freedom but also has expanded its mission to “recognize the inextricable link between equity and quality in liberal education,” Pasquerella asserted that “a commitment to inclusivity, as well as respect for others and free inquiry, must be paramount in maintaining an environment in which the free exchange of ideas can thrive and in guiding the determination of whether speech is protected under academic freedom.”

Institutions of higher learning have different missions but are all united by “the shared goals of educating students and advancing knowledge,” and there are “circumstances under which the achievement of both objectives entails restrictions on free expression,” the statements says. Too often, it continues, free speech and academic freedom are conflated in debates surrounding campus speech. “While all views have equal standing in the public square under the First Amendment, this is not the case in the classroom,” and professors at public and private college and universities “can mandate respectful dialogue by proscribing certain types of language and other forms of expression and can stipulate rules for being recognized in a discussion.”

Pasquerella said liberal education “is designed to develop students’ capacities to think critically and to make themselves vulnerable to criticism by welcoming dissenting voices.” And in preparing students for the future, she added, “faculty members should offer curricula that include a diversity of intellectual perspectives appropriate to their disciplines, and they must also be aware of the extent to which their positionality, framing of issues and syllabi, together with written policies, campus cultures and comments by other members of the community, can serve as inhibitors of speech.”

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Controversy on Deal to Repeal NC Anti-Trans Law

North Carolina's Republican legislative leaders and Democratic governor have reached a deal to repeal HB2, the law requiring public agencies, including public colleges and universities, to bar transgender people from using bathrooms other than those associated with their legal gender assigned at birth. The deal is timed to avoid a deadline from the National Collegiate Athletic Association on repealing the law or losing eligibility to host championship events for several years. Some provisions in the repeal legislation -- expected to be adopted today -- are being opposed by gay rights groups, and it is unclear if the NCAA and other organizations boycotting North Carolina will decide that the repeal has gone far enough.

A draft of the repeal legislation published by The Charlotte Observer includes these provisions:

  • Only the General Assembly may regulate access to bathrooms of public agencies, and the boards of the University of North Carolina and the North Carolina Community College System are specifically barred from doing so without legislative approval.
  • No local government may pass legislation to assure equal access to bathrooms.
  • No local government may pass legislation on private employment practices.

These provisions are designed to prevent public colleges or local governments from affirming the right of transgender people to use the bathrooms of their choice. Further, the local-ordinance ban would block North Carolina cities or counties from banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

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Colleges need a language shift, but not the one you think (essay)

Several months later, I hesitate to offer yet another election postmortem for higher education. Like many of you readers, I have read countless such essays from within and beyond the academy. Some people have argued that the rise of white supremacists (they prefer to be called the “alt-right”) was only to be expected given the proliferation of identity politics in higher education. According those observers, by providing limited space and resources on campuses for the acknowledgment and celebration of various social identity groups that are underrepresented in colleges and universities, as well as marginalized across society, it was only a matter of time before white students would want to assert themselves as well.

The only trouble with that view, as was brilliantly enunciated by Cheryl Harris in 1993 in her discourse on whiteness as property, is that the very idea of whiteness and the racialization of white people over and against all others is the invention of propertied, Protestant Christian, Western European settlers in the Americas. Whiteness was the means of preserving their wealth and status within an ideologically theocratical capitalist system. This argument is disingenuous and ahistorical.

Other commentators, such as Mikki Kendall recently, have noted higher education’s failure to educate its students about race and racism. In that argument, white students are rightfully presented as being allowed to believe in their own merits while at the same time denying the meritorious potential of anyone unlike them -- particularly those who are members of racially minoritized groups. Despite first-year orientation diversity sessions and general-education requirements including a plethora of options to expose students to diverse perspectives (but few which present a challenge to normative worldviews), most students leave college with the same assumptions with which they entered: that the dominance and overrepresentation of certain people in college, in leadership and among the ranks of the wealthy and envied is natural and optimal. Most students -- not even just white students, necessarily -- believe that advancement and opportunity is exclusively a function of merit, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, as noted by legal and educational scholar Lani Guinier.

What I have not yet seen in these electoral postmortems seeking to diagnose how working-class white people in the United States seemingly voted against their own economic interests leading to the election of Donald J. Trump is: 1) an acknowledgment by higher education scholars that it was as much the vote of college-educated, middle-class white men and women that informed this presidential election’s outcomes (see here), and 2) that reality is a result of the decision of historically white colleges and universities to engage a politics of appeasement instead of a true liberal education.

Kendall’s prescient observations reflect the effects of this politics of appeasement, except those who are being appeased are not who some pundits, decrying the excessive political liberalism of the academy, have led us to believe. The greatest strength of an institution lies in its ability to persevere over time, with its most fundamental modus operandi challenged but unchanged. That has never been more true of the institution of American higher education as engendered and still practiced by historically white institutions (HWIs).

As I shared during a talk at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently, acknowledgment and celebration of diversity were not the primary goals of the student activists of the 1960s through the 1980s, who pushed for ethnic studies departments, student centers and increased recruitment and retention efforts focused on racially minoritized students, faculty members and staff members. No, it was through such avenues that those generations of activists hoped to inspire institutional transformation through the presence of a critical mass of people of color on campuses.

That is where the politics of appeasement comes into play. Underestimating institutional stability, HWI university leaders quieted complaints and concerns from opposing sides: on the one hand, students of color and their supporters, and on the other, trustees and nervous donors -- liberal and conservative -- who wanted their colleges and universities out of unflattering public spotlight. The same type of appeasement is happening in the current generation of student activism, whose demands sound hauntingly familiar:

  • Advance more racially minoritized faculty and staff through tenure and promotion and into senior-level roles.
  • Admit more racially minoritized students and offer more scholarships to help them afford to attend and achieve a degree.
  • Train faculty to effectively lead and deal with issues of equity in the classroom.
  • Reduce and respond to incidents of microaggressions on the campus.
  • Hire counseling center staff members who are competent to address the psychological stress of minoritized students.
  • Create safe spaces on campus where minoritized students of various identities can share, heal and organize.
  • Recognize the multiple identities of minoritized students and the intersecting oppressions they face on the campus.

In response, administrative leaders of HWIs are hiring chief diversity officers, establishing special endowments to support increased financial aid, launching cluster hires for faculty of color and investing in diversity programming, speakers and consultants. Those efforts seek to quiet the protesters, trustees and donors at the same time, all the while creating little systemic or transformative change on the campus.

Diversity and Inclusion vs. Equity and Social Justice

Such “Kool-Aid” approaches (again, check out my talk at UIUC) leave not only the institution fundamentally unchanged but also its students. Students with minoritized identities continue to face the same indignities and hostile campus climates, despite moderate increases in the compositional diversity of the campus. But until they are no longer students, they often fail to recognize that what they asked for was insufficient to change the campus culture and climate. Students for whom HWIs were designed to educate for societal leadership receive not only no challenges to their (perhaps unconscious) internalized sense of racial, ethnic, sexual, gender and social class dominance but also reinforcement of the notion that diversity and inclusion are achieved by having people with different backgrounds in the same spaces.

As I shared in my remarks at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, diversity and inclusion rhetoric asks fundamentally different questions and is concerned with fundamentally different issues than efforts seeking equity and justice.

  • Diversity asks, “Who’s in the room?” Equity responds: “Who is trying to get in the room but can’t? Whose presence in the room is under constant threat of erasure?”
  • Inclusion asks, “Has everyone’s ideas been heard?” Justice responds, “Whose ideas won’t be taken as seriously because they aren’t in the majority?”
  • Diversity asks, “How many more of [pick any minoritized identity] group do we have this year than last?” Equity responds, “What conditions have we created that maintain certain groups as the perpetual majority here?”
  • Inclusion asks, “Is this environment safe for everyone to feel like they belong?” Justice challenges, “Whose safety is being sacrificed and minimized to allow others to be comfortable maintaining dehumanizing views?”
  • Diversity asks, “Isn’t it separatist to provide funding for safe spaces and separate student centers?” Equity answers, “What are people experiencing on campus that they don’t feel safe when isolated and separated from others like themselves?”
  • Inclusion asks, “Wouldn’t it be a great program to have a panel debate Black Lives Matter? We had a Black Lives Matter activist here last semester, so this semester we should invite someone from the alt-right.” Justice answers, “Why would we allow the humanity and dignity of people or our students to be the subject of debate or the target of harassment and hate speech?”
  • Diversity celebrates increases in numbers that still reflect minoritized status on campus and incremental growth. Equity celebrates reductions in harm, revisions to abusive systems and increases in supports for people’s life chances as reported by those who have been targeted.
  • Inclusion celebrates awards for initiatives and credits itself for having a diverse candidate pool. Justice celebrates getting rid of practices and policies that were having disparate impacts on minoritized groups.

By substituting diversity and inclusion rhetoric for transformative efforts to promote equity and justice, HWIs have appeased their constituents and avoided recognizable institutional change. But it is time for historically white institutions in American higher education to pursue real change and abandon the politics of appeasement.

A truly democratic education must not be ideologically neutral; rather, it must ardently pursue the preparation of students for engaged citizenship in an ostensibly democratic society. Whether HWI leaders will gather the institutional will and the moral and ethical courage to provoke and institute real, substantive institutional transformation is unknown. The first step on that road, however, is to make equity and justice the yardstick by which leaders measure progress instead of merely diversity and inclusion.

Dafina-Lazarus Stewart uses the nonbinary gender pronouns ze, zim and zir and is a professor of higher education and student affairs at Bowling Green State University. Ze is on Twitter as @DrDLStewart.

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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Women of color in academe should not feel pressured to overcompensate (essay)

In academe, many women of color are constantly pressured to overcompensate in ways that are unhealthy for themselves, their careers and their institutions, writes Yvette Alex-Assensoh.

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Christian professors circulate letter pledging support to marginalized and vulnerable students

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Liberal campus criticisms of the Trump administration and broader political environment are a dime a dozen. So a new denunciation of promised deportations and other rhetoric from faculty members at Christian and Catholic colleges stands out.

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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