diversity

DACA continues for now, but colleges and students face uncertainties

Injunctions mean DACA will largely remain in place beyond today's deadline, but colleges will be called upon to help students who face possible lapses in work authorizations and continuing stress and uncertainty about their prospects in U.S.

The upsides and downsides of the current DNA vogue (opinion)

The heat is on again in Texas, as a special State Senate panel recently held a hearing on the issue of campus free speech. The news of that event reminded me of the Texas State University student who wrote a piece for his campus newspaper entitled “Your White DNA Is an Abomination.” An earlier article included a response from the editor in chief of the student paper that deserves even more attention: “The original intent of the column was to comment on the idea of race and racial identities. We acknowledge that the column could have been clearer in its message and that it has caused hurt within our campus community.”

Now, let us consider the essential mission of an institution of higher education: to educate. Shouldn’t more attention be given, particularly by faculty members and academic administrators, to the fact that the abominable DNA piece was like a time-travel experience back to the excesses of eugenics, albeit in reverse gear?

We have been invited mainly to wonder whether we should view the student as hurt or as hateful. Instead, we should regard this student as apparently undereducated -- a state of affairs that is best addressed by education, certainly including higher education.

It is interesting, in this context, to consider the current vogue of having one’s DNA tested to find out who one “really” is. That has a positive side, leading us to see how we are, biologically speaking, made up of many groups that we have considered ethnically distinct and helping us to stop thinking about what we call “races” as if they were biologically homogeneous and separate groups. Thus, for example: “All along I thought I was just Irish, and it turns out my genes are 21 percent Eastern European Jewish and 7 percent Ghanaian!” Some results might have an entertaining side: “So, it turns out that my husband is literally part Neanderthal?”

In terms of more serious inquiries, Henry Louis Gates Jr. surely intends his Finding Your Roots program to underline that the diversity we human beings are heir to includes some very famous figures in American history. Current DNA research is also helping to bring archaeological and linguistic evidence together to map the historic movement of human populations.

It is, however, important to consider the downside of this DNA vogue as well. For example, a television advertisement shows a woman who has just discovered, through a commercial DNA service, that she is part Native American. We see her posed beside items of beautiful Southwestern pottery, as if they actually had something to do with her own life experience.

In another ad, a man is talking about how he always thought he was of German ancestry but found out that, according to his DNA, he is more Scots-Irish instead. He says he is going to trade his lederhosen in for a kilt. Not that anyone in his neighborhood actually dresses like that.

I propose we suggest to these people, if you wish to feel a connection to Native Americans, see if you can persuade some of them to let you spend quality time in their company. If you want to experience a closeness to Scotland, why not tell us about plans for an extended visit, as opposed to the quaint sartorial desires that the ads depict? Needless to say, we expect that you are both spending a lot of time reading about these people to whom you assert a link.

As for the student who writes about “white DNA”: How about clearly separating yourself from the kind of racist reductionism and ignorance that have victimized so many people like yourself in the past? Take advantage of the fact that you are in college. Get an education.

Judith Shapiro is president of the Teagle Foundation and president emerita of Barnard College.

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The Abominable White DNA Snowman

Wesleyan switches graduation speakers amid controversy over author's comments on women

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Daniel Handler, the children's author known as Lemony Snicket, will no longer speak at Wesleyan commencement, amid furor over his comments about women.

What to do when you are an academic under attack by right-wing publications (opinion)

Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt offers strategies for when the right wing attacks.

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HBCU leaders meet, say strategy under Trump is paying off

Leaders of historically black colleges say their strategy of working closely with the White House and congressional Republicans is working.

Essay considers the film 'Black Panther,' the Florida high school killings and the limits of historical thinking

Some of the most interesting responses to Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther film come from Afrofuturists committed to imagining a world without Du Boisian double consciousness, without the burdens of history -- not fighting for liberation (because there was no slavery) but rather for infinite, yet-to-be-fantasized objectives. Charlotte M L Bailey, for example, focuses on the imagined architecture and technology featured in the film. Angela Watercutter at Wired also focuses on technology and design in the film's setting, Wakanda.

One of the best scholarly responses to the film has come from a philosopher arguing that as groundbreaking a film as Black Panther is, its weakness is its failure to imagine something better. Chris Lebron laments in Boston Review that the two “radical imaginings” offered by the film, “an immensely rich and flourishing advanced African nation that is sealed off from white colonialism and supremacy … and a few black Wakandans with a vision of global black solidarity who are determined to use Wakanda’s privilege to emancipate all black people,” cannot be reconciled without black-on-black bloodshed. Can something other than the choice between incarceration or death be imagined in Wakanda?

If humanists do one thing well, it is focus on the question “who are we?” But the more pressing question may be “what do we want?” The relationship between these two questions is more tenuous than humanists want to believe.

My questioning of the limitations of historical thinking was provoked by seeing Black Panther the same week as the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I am also struck by the leadership of the young student survivors insisting that something be done about gun violence in America. These students do not care about the past. They care about the future.

Is it possible to have too much focus on history? The immediate reaction to current events in the past few years by humanist scholars -- sociologists, historians and literary historians in particular -- has been to look to history to try to understand the present. Engaged and robust communities of historians have sprung up, notably the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS), led by a group of smart and social media-savvy young historians, led by the extraordinary Keisha Blain of the University of Pittsburgh. Consider also the scholars engaged in the #Syllabus movement of the past few years, launched by Georgetown historian Marcia Chatelain in the wake of the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

These passionate historians advocate for an educated citizenry, a historically aware citizenry, a citizenry well versed in the institutions and social structures of power that have made the world as it is. Their assumption is that knowledge of the past is critical for disrupting existing arrangements and effecting political change.

But is it working? What if historical thinking is not enough? What if an intense focus on human history is a preoccupation, keeping scholars from imagining a better future? What if more imagination is needed? More fantasy? How do we imagine a socially, politically and economically just future unfettered by past crimes of humanity?

And yet my National Humanities Center colleague Stephen G. Hall reminds me that “a significant component of Pan-Africanist thinking has been imagining better worlds. We only need look to Queen Nzingha, Yaa Asantewaa, Edward Blyden, Margaret Murray Washington, Amy Jacques Garvey, Claudia Tate, Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.” To be sure, history “done right” has much to offer if we look and look deeply. Hall notes that the female army of Wakanda is based on the Dahomey Amazons, “among the most feared warriors in Africa in the 19th century.”

But I turn from images of Wakandan women with spears to images of tearstained teenage faces in this world, protesting the fact so many people in America are armed and dangerous.

I am provoked to ask about the education system that produced the technologically savvy Shuri, an inventor, healer and design engineer who also happens to be the sister of Wakanda’s King T’Challa. How many Shuris are there in Wakanda? Who were her mentors? Where did she train?

More importantly, did Shuri go to school every day worrying about violence? Or was she able to simply focus on imagining solutions to technological challenges?

As a literary historian, my daily focus is on the past; my training and my methodologies involve finding, sifting and weighing evidence. But I am willing to acknowledge that students should be encouraged to balance historical thinking with critical imagining about the future. Listen to Sun Ra. Read Octavia Butler. Consider Future Studies. Political scientist Jim Dator’s homepage at the University of Hawaii is a good place to start.

In the meantime the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, organizing protests, marches and vigils in the coming weeks, are teaching all of us an important political lesson: change sometimes involves walking out of school, turning your back on past failures and insisting on something new.

Hollis Robbins is a 2017-2018 Tri-Delta Fellow at the National Humanities Center and a member of the humanities faculty of the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018
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‘Black Panther,’ History and the Future

Editors discuss new collection on civil rights issues raised by accountability push

Editors discuss new collection of essays about the impact of various state and federal policies on minority students -- an impact the authors see as far too often ignored.

Lawrence Krauss Accused of Harassing Women

Several talks by Lawrence Krauss, a professor of physics at Arizona State University and a well-known skeptic, were canceled after BuzzFeed reported on allegations of sexual harassment against him. Krauss, who denies the claims, will not speak at the American Physical Society’s meeting in April, it announced Friday. The society “deplores harassment in all its forms and remains committed to ensuring a respectful and safe environment at its meetings,” it said in a statement. Among other appearances, Krauss’s book talk at Massachusetts Institute of Technology next month has been canceled. The American Humanist Association, which in 2015 made Krauss its Humanist of the Year, also said it won’t ignore the allegations, and that it stands “behind the brave women who speak out against sexual misconduct.”

Arizona State said that it hasn’t received any complaints against Krauss but that it has initiated a review to “discern the facts.” Krauss is accused of groping and making inappropriate comments to students and colleagues going back to 2006, before he worked at Arizona State. He told BuzzFeed that it is “common knowledge that celebrity attracts all forms of negative attention from many different angles. There is no pattern of discontent revealed here that suggests any other explanation.”

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Going Over Time at Conferences by Gender

Research suggests that women are underrepresented as speakers at conferences, especially in certain fields. But when they are invited to speak, do they take up as much airtime as men? No, suggests a new, preliminary study of speaking times at 11 different scientific conferences from 2016-17. Men went over their allotted share of time in 47 percent of the talks studied, compared to 41 percent of the time for women. The study found that allocated time, career stage and enforcement of timekeeping were the factors most associated with how long speakers talked but that gender and conference time also mattered significantly. Male speakers were most likely to go overtime at large conferences: 73 percent of the time, compared to 49 percent of the time for women at large conference.

Co-author Johanna Hoog, an assistant professor of chemistry and molecular biology at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, said via email that while career step is still a more important determinant than speaker gender, the study still gets at “the ‘glass ceiling’ that keeps women from becoming leaders in academia.” The online reaction to the paper thus far also demonstrates how “much people hate when speakers come unprepared and go over time” in general, she added.

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Concordia Alabama, a historically black college, announces that it will shut down operations

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Concordia in Alabama, the only Lutheran HBCU, will end operations. It is second small religious college to announce closure in a week.

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