diversity

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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A professor and two former students say why they think students are protesting at Middlebury College (essay)

During the coverage of the protests against Charles Murray’s recent visit to Middlebury College, something got lost in the scuffle: the actual students.

Commenters lumped all college students into a homogeneous group as an object to condemn. But not all college students, even at an elite place like Middlebury College, are monolithic. Before criticizing them on the grounds of privilege, perhaps we should do what no one has done and try to understand why those who protested were so angry.

It was about Murray, true, but what other factors were involved? Allison Stanger, the Middlebury professor who moderated his remarks and was injured in the ensuing fracas, suggests protesters are reacting to their anxieties of life under Trump. However, it goes even deeper, to the contradictions of being a student of color at a predominantly white college and being asked to respond civilly while having one's humanity attacked.

This situation is more complex than just being an issue of free speech or diversity of ideas. Any effective response requires taking the students seriously -- which is, after all, the primary job of educators.

Many people deride students as coddled snowflakes who use safe spaces and trigger warnings to protect themselves against the big, bad outside world teeming with microaggressions. This image, always a caricature, could not be farther from the truth at Middlebury. The protesters, primarily students of color and working-class students, are hardly coddled. Life on the campus for them is and has historically been anything but easy. Students and former students frequently confront blatant and subtle forms of racism and classism. Students of color are often assumed to be on financial aid or are told they are only here because of affirmative action. Some professors make assumptions about their intellectual abilities or single them out in class to play the spokesperson on race issues. The overwhelming culture of whiteness and wealth leaves many working-class students or students of color feeling depressed and alienated.

To suggest that they needed a visit from Murray to expose them to “controversial” ideas is laughable and offensive. They confront racism and classism every day on campus. Moreover, they talk about race and class all the time, whether they want to or not -- in personal conversations, in the many courses exploring these subjects, at town hall forums recently held on the campus to address incidents of racial insensitivity, as well as at the numerous meetings organized in the days leading up to Murray’s visit. Those discussions all took place with the high level of civility many commenters assume cannot happen.

Civil discourse on hard issues does happen here, primarily through the labor of students of color and working-class students. It is an insult to call these students sheltered. They aspire to turn the campus not into a safe space, but simply a safer one. In this context, Murray’s divisive ideas offered a sharp rebuke to all their hard-won achievements to create a campus where they, too, feel they belong.

We must not confuse divisiveness for diversity. Conservatives seek to push debates on settled topics, using free speech as a club to reopen discussions long ago resolved. The primarily white faculty members and students at Middlebury feel comfortable welcoming “all debates” because they never worry about their own humanity being called into question.

If free speech can justify a platform for Murray, it also justifies students talking back. We don’t have to agree with the protesting students’ tactics to still recognize that the nonviolent demonstrators were defending speech just as much as the people now rushing to condemn them.

Actions have consequences. People use this claim to demand punishment, but it provides an even more compelling reason for considering the type of community we want. Middlebury will not punish abstract “college students,” but actual people, many of them students of color and/or from working-class backgrounds. Currently, many find themselves the targets of widespread harassment, bullying and attacks on social media and in the national press. Punishing them for making the moral choice to protest a racist provocateur would add another injury to the initial insult.

This current fight focuses on speech, but the true war is over diversity at colleges and universities. Controversial speakers are not the key to expanding the marketplace of ideas, contrary to what many have argued. In fact, the single most robust source of a broad and varied range of ideas on a campus is a student body and faculty composed of people from many diverse backgrounds. They will do the most to upend orthodoxy and challenge comfort levels. Treating divisiveness as a proxy for diversity is, at best, naïve. At worst, it is an active step to roll back progress.

Institutions like Middlebury need to change, but not in the way many people currently demand. Such colleges and universities cannot accept students, take their tuition and use them to market their diverse campus, and then refuse to recognize their individual needs. Doing so gives the impression that institutions do not want actual diversity to enhance learning but rather just want to look good publicly and improve their bottom line.

Colleges and universities have always needed to balance the goals of speech and inclusion. In the “good old days,” when faculty members looked like the students, who all looked like one another, this largely went unnoticed. Today, however, using old standards for a more diverse community does not work. The biggest danger now is a response from Middlebury that leads to a less diverse student body, one that is whiter and richer. Let’s not let that happen.

Linus Owens is an associate professor of sociology at Middlebury College. Rebecca Flores Harper is a 2011 graduate of the college and served as chair of diversity for the student government there from 2008-11. Maya Goldberg-Safir is a 2012 graduate.

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Wisconsin Halts Gender Reassignment Coverage

The State of Wisconsin Group Health Insurance is no longer covering procedures, services or supplies related to gender reassignment as part of its uniform benefits. The University of Wisconsin System shared news of the change, which was effective last month, with employees this week via email. Steph Tai, a professor of law at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said the Committee for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer People in the University is planning a formal response to the change. A university system spokesperson referred requests for comment to state officials.

Wisconsin halted gender reassignment coverage for transgender state workers after a brief period of availability in January. The Group Insurance Board, which oversees benefits, decided in July to add coverage for transgender services this calendar year, according to guidance that the Affordable Care Act required such coverage, the Wisconsin State-Journal reported. But Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, asked the board to reconsider, via the state Department of Justice. It said that providing transgender services was based on “unlawful” rules that “improperly interpret” Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibit gender discrimination in education. A state consultant reportedly estimated that two to five people would have used the transgender services per year, at a cost of up to $250,000 annually in a $1.5 billion program that covers 250,000 employees and dependents.

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ACE panel discusses diversity and safe spaces on campus

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At American Council on Education annual meeting, three university leaders discuss freedom of expression and student demands for inclusive environments.

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