Submitted by Anonymous on November 22, 2016 - 3:00am
The STEM Fields
When the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case Fisher vs. the University of Texas in July, university admissions officers cheered the affirmation of including race and ethnicity as admissions criteria when narrowly tailored to the institution’s mission. Despite the positive decision for affirmative action, however, university leaders are facing another challenge: making sure they have the right diversity practices in place to support the students they admit. Colleges and universities still have plenty of work to do to encourage students to pursue high-needs fields, like STEM and the biomedical sciences, where diversity is urgently needed.
In addition, universities continue to struggle with faculty diversity, which studies have shown is important not just for excellence in teaching and research but also for the overall campus climate. All the more reason, then, for us to redouble our efforts in researching and sharing effective practices for improving campus diversity -- and identifying ineffective practices that we should stop.
We’ve got a great base to start from. Take the many initiatives designed to ensure the success of underrepresented students -- programs designed precisely to ensure that we don’t lose them on their way to graduate school and the biomedical research work force. These efforts develop student talent along the educational and career continuum in biomedical and STEM fields, and ensure student persistence and success. Most important, some of these programs have developed successful models and gathered evaluative research to understand their success.
For example, the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County has been widely recognized for its successful development of many underrepresented students in the sciences. An evaluation of the program found that the key levers of success were financial support, identity formation as a member of the community of Meyerhoff Scholars, summer research activities and professional network development.
Another example is the Fisk-Vanderbilt Master’s-to-Ph.D. Bridge Program, which aims to address the barriers facing underrepresented students in matriculating to doctoral programs. The program has produced a number of high-profile graduates, including Fabienne Bastien, the first African-American woman to be published in Nature and the first African-American recipient of the NASA Hubble Fellowship. Half of the program’s Ph.D. graduates are female, and 83 percent are minority-community individuals.
What would yet more research on these and other programs tell us about how to support the success of all students? We need more empirical evidence to close gaps in the existing research. We also need to bring exemplary practices to scale more quickly at many more institutions. For example, based on gaps in existing research we need to:
Identify effective interventions that universities can implement to reduce stereotype threat, a phenomenon that occurs when members of a disadvantaged group perform poorly when made aware of negative stereotypes about their group;
Learn more about how underrepresented students in STEM are accessing high-impact practices, such as internships and undergraduate research, and develop strategies for increasing participation; and
Identify effective teaching and learning methods that will boost underrepresented undergraduate student performance in required gateway courses.
These three areas, ripe for action, also demonstrate the gaps in the evidence. For example, high-impact practices are supported by a robust body of research, but less is known about how well underrepresented students are accessing these experiences. This is because most high-impact practices occur beyond the classroom, and it is difficult to track students’ participation and tie their experiences to academic outcomes.
In other cases, different interventions have been tested at the institutional level but have not been evaluated across institutions or in different contexts, such as adapting undergraduate interventions for graduate students. It’s a complex problem, and the research needs to get at that complexity.
Working together, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, its Coalition of Urban-Serving Universities, and the Association of American Medical Colleges have gathered the existing evidence in a recent report that also identifies what’s missing and where we need to go next.
To address these gaps in research, we will need more partners in government, industry, philanthropy and academe to take action -- testing the available models, researching new options, reporting on their results and revising approaches based on the evidence in hand.
Improving evidence for pilot interventions will help leaders build a case for adoption of those shown to be effective at many institutions. Learning more about potential barriers to access will help university leaders improve pathways into these experiences and track student outcomes more effectively.
And at a more basic level, probing more deeply into what works and what doesn’t in our efforts to support diversity will help us with a much more fundamental problem: we’ll get a clearer picture of the “systemic unfairness” that our blind spots prevent us from seeing, as Lisa Burrell pointed out in her Harvard Business Review article “We Just Can’t Handle Diversity.” More precise research will help us avoid such phenomena as hindsight bias, which, as Burrell describes, “causes us to believe that random events are predictable and to manufacture explanations for the inevitability of our achievements.”
In its decision in the Fisher case, the Supreme Court justices called on universities to “engage in constant deliberation and continued reflection” about how diversity is achieved. We go one step farther: higher education institutions and their partners need to research as well as reflect, demonstrate as well as deliberate and put a fine point on existing findings to close the gaps in the research. Only then can we counter the challenges to our efforts to diversify the biomedical research work force and ensure that we’re doing everything we can to support the success of all students.
Jennifer C. Danek is the senior director for Urban Universities for HEALTH, a collaborative effort of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities/Coalition of Urban Serving Universities and the Association of American Medical Colleges. Marc Nivet is the former chief diversity officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Columbia University has finished its investigation into its wrestling team, some members of which have for years maintained a texting group in which racist, sexist and homophobic comments were regularly shared. The university said that the team couldn't compete while the inquiry was going on. Now that the inquiry is complete, the university has said that some team members -- those most involved -- will be suspended from the team for the rest of the 2016-17 academic year. Some other wrestlers will be suspended only until the start of the spring semester. Others, who were not involved, have been cleared to compete now.
A statement explained, "We recognize that free speech is a core value both of the university community and of our nation. Our students and faculty have the right to express themselves and their views, whether through their public or private communications. However, the group text messages that have been brought to light do not meet the standard of behavior we expect from our student-athletes at Columbia. Prior to the start of each competition season, Columbia Athletics shares with its teams a code of conduct, outlining our expectations for individual and team behavior. The messages are appalling and violate team guidelines."
The American Sociological Association has written to Robert D. Manfred Jr., the commissioner of Major League Baseball, to urge him to work to have the Cleveland Indians baseball team abandon its use of their controversial "Chief Wahoo" logo. Many scholars (and others) have long objected to the use of Native American names and mascots, but the recent success of the Cleveland team has renewed attention on the logo. Manfred recently said he would discuss these concerns with the owner of the Cleveland team.
The letter from the sociology group notes that many of its members have studied the use of Native American logos in athletics, and that the studies have found that their use promotes stereotypes and causes harm to Native Americans.
Timothy P. White, chancellor of the California State University System, said Wednesday that the university will not help federal immigration authorities under the Trump administration take steps that could lead to the deportation of undocumented students, The Los Angeles Times reported. "Our police departments will not honor immigration hold requests," White said. "Our university police do not contact, detain, question or arrest individuals solely on the basis of being … a person that lacks documentation." The university does not track the number of undocumented students enrolled, but estimates that it has about 10,000 across its campuses.
White's statement reflects a growing movement by students and others to have colleges become "sanctuary campuses" where officials will not help federal authorities track or deport undocumented students. Many students rallied for this cause on Wednesday.
UPDATE: Chancellor White's office issued a statement indicating that he was not making Cal State part of the sanctuary movement.
"The chancellor’s public statement made at today’s Board of Trustees meeting reaffirms the university’s commitment to providing a safe and welcoming learning community. The CSU will continue to comply with all federal immigration laws, but the enforcement of those laws is the responsibility of the federal government, not the CSU, and absent a legal requirement the CSU will not enter into agreements with federal authorities for its University to enforce federal immigration and hold requests. The chancellor’s statements reaffirm the university’s existing approach dealing with immigration agencies and enforcement. Furthermore, the word 'sanctuary' is a confusing term that lacks a universal legal or educational definition and, as such, if used could lead to misunderstanding and misplaced reliance. As such, the university remains committed to embracing the diversity of our students, faculty and staff with a focus on inclusivity and excellence and a safe and welcoming environment.
Education Secretary John B. King Jr. urged university leaders Tuesday to be sure that students do not feel harassed or intimidated in the wake of a divisive election that has left "many of our students feeling vulnerable." He spoke in Austin Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.
King said that all students, regardless of race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation or gender identity, deserve to be treated with respect. Higher education leaders need to send "a clear message" that campuses will not tolerate harassment, that "diversity is a value" and that they will "respond aggressively to places where safety is violated," he said.
In remarks that appeared related to this year's election results, King noted that the Morrill Act, which created the land-grant system, was signed into law by President Lincoln, but had been vetoed by President Buchanan (at right) in the previous administration. Of the Buchanan veto, he said that "our democracy does not always produce leaders with the right judgment."
Columbia University has suspended wrestling competition while the university investigates offensive posts that team members have apparently shared for years, The New York Times reported. Last week, when the posts were first revealed, the university said its team would skip a weekend competition. Now, the team will skip all competitions until the investigation is complete. The posts included racist, sexist and homophobic comments.
Current events have highlighted systemic racism in America yet again, and social media feeds continue to be inundated with posts about racism and police brutality. Often, these online conversations enter the classroom, lecture hall or other communal spaces within the university. This can often leave administrators, faculty members and students to fend for themselves during conversations that are, by their very nature, heated and laden with emotional content.
To address this, many people have turned to the language of privilege to structure conversations and unpack racism for those who may be predisposed to deny its very existence. Regardless of how popular the term “privilege” has become, I have never found it particularly useful in discussions, because it is too generic and abstract.
In fact, I believe that “privilege” is a sterile word that does not grapple with the core of the problem. If you are white, you do not have “white” privilege. If you are male, you do not have “male” privilege. If you are straight, you do not have “straight” privilege. What you have is advantage. The language of advantage, I propose, is a much cleaner and more precise way to frame discussions about racism (or sexism, or most systems of oppression).
Any and all advantages one can have are based -- in part, or in whole -- on a system of oppression designed to elevate certain innocuous expressions of humanity over others (skin color, sexual preference and so on). Thus, the language of advantage begins by first enumerating one’s advantages and understanding their origins.
For example, I am advantaged as a male. That advantage affords me a higher salary on average when compared to women, regardless of talent, which in turn affords the further advantage of enabling me to build wealth. If I were white, my advantages would grow. In the academy, I am also, perplexingly, better equipped to take advantage of paternity leave. Being male also enables me to express my opinions as though they were fact -- my opinions in certain spaces are generally not questioned, or if they are, it is not assumed that I am wrong.
Those are simple examples, but they illustrate the point. Advantages can be summed up in a way that can generate a net advantage or disadvantage in certain spaces. This exercise is similar to a “privilege walk.” But it is different in that any advantages will not just net me a meaningless step forward in comparison to my peers. Thinking in this way forces me to understand what my advantages can, in fact, buy.
The distinction between “privilege” and “advantage” is important because “privilege” is not a particularly useful phrase to incite change in the minds or actions of others. No one wants to give up privileges. The entire idea of a privilege is based on possessing a special status that is somehow deserved. Privileges feel good.
Think about all of your privileges. Do you want to give them up? Does giving them up make you feel like you have somehow done someone a favor? (“Here you go … make sure you use this well.”) Or does giving up a “privilege” seem incoherent? It might, because generally privileges are given and taken by someone else. They are earned, and are seldom bad things to have.
Now try shifting your language to that of advantages. Ask yourself, “What advantages do I have over that person over there?” That question is much easier to answer and yields more nuanced responses. If I answer for myself, I can readily see that not all advantages are inherently problematic on their face. As a tall person I am advantaged in some spaces (e.g., reaching up to grab something from the high shelf in a supermarket), and disadvantaged in others (e.g., sitting in a cramped seat on an airplane). Yet if one looks under the surface, one can see that in both circumstances my (dis)advantage is predicated on design choices that are outside of my control. They are systemic. (It is also silly to say that I am tall privileged.)
What about a wealthy high school student who scored well on their SAT? They could unpack their success by understanding their advantage, for example: “Yes, my SAT scores are higher than someone else’s, but that may be because I have advantages in schooling that are predicated on the wealth of my community and/or parents. My schools are better, and I had access to tutoring. Moreover, some of that wealth is a result of oppressing people of color by historically denying them the ability to buy property in nicer areas, thus limiting their capacity to build and transmit wealth to their children. Those advantages are unearned, yet I still benefit from them. So, no, I won’t get bent out of shape if someone else with lower SAT scores is admitted into this fancy college and I’m not.”
The above example is more complex than my innocuous example about my height, but both have the same structure. They both require situating an advantage in a larger sociocultural context. While this is possible by using privilege, doing so can get clunky very quickly, and can shut down conversations before they become meaningful.
Unpacking systematically unfair systems through the language of advantage affords nuance. The poor white farmer lacks economic advantage but still possesses white advantage, and he can thus interact with law enforcement without fear. The wealthy black businessperson lacks racial advantage but can mitigate some of the negative effects of that through the strategic use of wealth. The difference? The white farmer will always be white. The black businessperson may not have always been wealthy, may lose his or her wealth, and his or her wealth can be ignored by a more powerful government.
The language of advantage also implies intersectionality, and this allows for a better understanding of one’s net advantage. For example, I am a Mexican-American man. I do not have “male privilege.” I am a man, and that affords certain unjust advantages when it comes to the salary I can earn and where I can work. However, for a person of color that salary may come with expectations for more service that, for all their merit, can be distracting and lead to less productivity.
All this leads to a certain uncomfortable truth: we are not -- and have never been -- equal when it comes to the advantages we possess. All lives do not matter equally in practice (although they should). It is time we adopt language around racism, sexism, etc., that helps move the conversation forward. Only then can we begin to measure and understand the mechanisms of inequality that lead to needless suffering.
When we shift the language to that of advantages and disadvantages, it foregrounds how unjust and arbitrary some of those advantages are -- while also allowing us to quantify relative (dis)advantage better. The language of privilege, on the other hand, obfuscates the systems of oppression it is meant to highlight. It is time we move on from using it.
Stephen J. Aguilar is a provost postdoctoral scholar for faculty diversity in informatics and digital knowledge at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. You can follow him on Twitter @stephenaguilar.
Another professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has been found guilty of sexually harassing a student in violation of institutional rules, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. A five-month investigation by Berkeley found that Nezar AlSayyad, a professor of architecture, planning and urban design, spent months becoming close to, or "grooming," a graduate student before placing his hand on her upper thigh and proposing that they travel together to Las Vegas. The Chronicle found two additional allegations of harassment against the professor. In an alleged incident that happened more than 20 years ago and was never investigated, a student complained that she felt taken advantage of after she and AlSayyad had sex; a third student accused him of sexual misconduct this spring, and an investigation is pending. He is reportedly barred from teaching next semester.
AlSayyad denied all allegations of misconduct in an interview and told the Chronicle that he'd fight any suspension from teaching. He said administrators are overreacting to his case for fear of being perceived as soft on sexual harassment. Berkeley was criticized last year for not firing a professor of astronomy found to have sexually harassed a series of graduate students over many years; he eventually resigned. Another assistant professor of South and Southeast Asian studies at Berkeley is currently suing several students for defamation and “intentional infliction of emotional distress” after they spoke publicly about a university investigation that determined he had violated Berkeley's policies against sexual harassment. That professor is on paid leave as a review of the case is pending. A former law school dean who stepped down after Berkeley found that he harassed his assistant is suing the university, saying that he was treated more harshly that white colleagues accused of harassment because he is of South Asian descent and not a U.S. citizen. The university has said it will fight the suit.