"No one gets to the corner office by sitting on the side, not at the table," said Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg in her widely viewed TED talk, "and no one gets the promotion if they don't think they deserve their success, or they don't even understand their own success." In her new book, Lean In, Sandberg promises to expand on these ideas — and people are taking issue even before it’s hit the bookstores. She’s "tone-deaf to the problems average women face," argues Maureen Dowd. Other commentators have suggested that the skills Sandberg wants women to practice — including self- advocacy and negotiation — are the tools of "elites."
We don’t think so. Self-advocacy and negotiation skills, among others, are essential for developing young women as leaders. At Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges, the oldest and the largest all-women’s college in the United States, respectively, 20 percent of students are not "elites" but are the first in their families to attend college – and this reflects a national trend. About 30 percent of the young people attending college (a majority of whom are women) are "first-generation." We realize, based on Annette Lareau’s now often-cited research, that self-advocacy, asking questions of authority figures, and acting as the impetus for change are practices more familiar to individuals growing up in upper-middle-class families — because these skills are often modeled and encouraged. Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles published a study in 2009 showing that first-generation college students were less likely to participate during class, e-mail faculty members and attend office hours, or assist faculty with research for credit — yet these skills are associated with success at college and beyond.
It is with these students in mind that we teach the skills Sandberg recommends. When students learn to construct and voice their opinions — offering a new or conflicting view in class, sharing criticism effectively, or approaching a professor confidently — we believe they will become graduates who believe they’re entitled to speak up and ask for a fair share.
Yes, we said entitled. While the "e" word may call to mind college students who expect a decent grade just for attending class, or entry-level millennials who balk at the idea of working their way up, we see another dimension of entitlement: the recognition that you deserve a voice and a place at the table.
Let’s not forget that women make up less than 5 percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and 25 percent of elected officials (even after a big election year for women), and they make 77 cents or less for every dollar a man makes. We are encouraged that all over the country, small movements teach women to feel entitled to push past real but often invisible barriers that keep them from influential positions. The OpEd Project has set a goal of increasing the number of women opinion makers — and that’s starting to happen. The number of women’s voices on the nation’s opinion pages has increased 6 percent in the last six years, because when more women submit their writing, more women’s voices are published. Project 2012 aimed to increase the number of female political leaders by encouraging more women to run — and it’s working. The number of women in public office increased during the last election to 20 women senators, because, when more women run, more are elected. Women need to feel entitled to throw their hats in the ring because when more women compete, more win. It’s that simple.
Sandberg’s advice isn’t just for elite women. It’s for real women, for young women, and especially for first-generation women and women of color.
Smith and Mount Holyoke Colleges are both committed to guiding women — who often come from modest backgrounds — to "sit at the table." A Latina student who worked her way from a community college to Smith is now a finalist for a prestigious fellowship; a first-generation college student at Mount Holyoke published an article with her adviser. These pathways start from encouraging students to raise a hand, to apply, to put themselves out there.
Our leadership centers offer training in speaking up in class and speaking up in the media. This year we asked the OpEd Project to talk to our students, and we offered workshops to hone drafts. Last year, we brought an expert to teach a workshop, "Ask For It," to more than 100 students, and we continue to offer workshops on negotiation. Other campuses are expanding their leadership programming. At Texas Tech University, the Women and Leadership program offers female college students opportunities to hone their leadership skills including public speaking and community organizing. At Seattle Central Community College, they offer a range of women’s leadership programs, including one focused on political organizing around women’s rights. From Portland State University to the University of Virginia, women’s leadership programs emphasize confidence through skill-building.
We understand that teaching women from a range of backgrounds to feel entitled to speak up in class won’t change mind-boggling social policies that leave the United States trailing other countries. Showing students why and how to ask for more money in their first jobs won’t change laws that leave working families struggling when a new baby arrives, or when a child is sick.
But when women college students develop the skills that Sandberg argues are most important, they are gaining the capacity to change the world, as decision-makers and opinion leaders. As community members, teachers, parents and friends, we can encourage women in our lives to feel entitled to speak up, to ask for more, to run for office, to shape the media’s message. "Leaning in" is not just a good idea for elite women — it’s a good idea for all women.
Becky Wai-Ling Packard is director of the Weissman Center for Leadership at Mount Holyoke College. Jessica Bacal is director of the Wurtele Center for Work & Life at Smith College.
Some time between now and the end of June, the U.S. Supreme Court will issue its ruling in a major case challenging affirmative action policies in higher education, Fisher v. University of Texas. Many legal observers believe a conservative court will significantly curtail or even eliminate the ability of universities to use race in admissions, but according to a recent Inside Higher Ed poll, college presidents are much more confident that the decision’s impact will be minor.
Which group is most likely to be correct?
In the case, Abigail Fisher, a white student, sued the University of Texas at Austin for using race in admissions decisions to boost the proportion of black and Latino students, contending it is a violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. UT argues that its use of race is permitted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling supporting affirmative action at the University of Michigan Law School, Grutter v. Bollinger.
According to the Inside Higher Ed poll, by 77 percent to 23 percent, college presidents believe the U.S. Supreme Court will stop short of imposing "major limits on the consideration of race in the admissions process.” Some 51 percent of presidents suggest the court will impose only “modest limits” and 26 percent expect the justices to “uphold current policies.”
On one level, the confidence is understandable. In the earlier Supreme Court challenges – the 1978 Bakke case and the 2003 Grutter litigation – supporters of affirmative action managed to dodge the bullet. Despite dire predictions at the time, the Court ended up allowing universities to continue to employ race in admissions. Despite the unpopularity of affirmative action programs among the broader American public, the nation’s military, business and educational establishments managed to sway a narrow majority of justices in 2003, and more than three-quarters of university presidents expect the same thing to happen again in the Fisher litigation.
But this time around, the result may well be different for two reasons: the make-up of the U.S. Supreme Court has changed, and the on-the-ground experience with alternatives to affirmative action is more fully developed.
A decade ago, when the Supreme Court ruled in the Grutter case, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor cast the decisive fifth in favor of allowing universities to employ race in admissions. She has since been replaced by the much more conservative justice, Samuel Alito; Justice Anthony Kennedy, who dissented in Grutter, is the new swing justice.
One of Kennedy’s major objections to the Grutter decision involved Justice O’Connor’s handling of the rule that universities seek “race-neutral” ways of achieving racial and ethnic diversity prior to employing explicit racial preferences. This judicial requirement has long been in place under the theory that because the Constitution disfavors categorizing individuals by race, if universities can achieve racial diversity in another way (by, for example, favoring low-income students of all races), they should do so.
O’Connor’s Grutter opinion irked Kennedy because she said of the University of Michigan: “We take the Law School at its word that it would ‘like nothing better to find a race-neutral admissions formula’ and will terminate its race-conscious admissions program as soon as practicable.” In dissent, Kennedy replied: “Were the courts to apply a searching standard to race-based admissions schemes, that would force educational institutions to seriously explore race-neutral alternatives. The Court, by contrast, is willing to be satisfied by the Law School's profession of its own good faith.”
Kennedy’s key concern is related to the second new development: evidence from a number of universities that race-neutral approaches can produce as much racial and ethnic diversity as using race per se. At the University of Texas, a lower court decision in 1996 banned the university from using race, so it adopted two race-neutral alternatives: a plan to admit students in the top 10 percent of their high school class (irrespective of test scores) and affirmative action for economically disadvantaged students of all races. These two plans produced a class that was 4.5 percent African American and 16.9 percent Latino in 2004, compared with a class that was 4.1 percent African American and 14.5 percent Latino in 1996, when race was last used. For Kennedy, Texas’s subsequent reintroduction of race in admissions is likely to be seen as unnecessary and therefore illegal.
More broadly, in an analysis of leading public universities where the use of race was dropped, my colleague Halley Potter and I found that in 7 of 10 cases, the use of race-neutral alternatives such as class-based affirmative action produced as much black and Latino representation as had the previous use of race.
Looking forward, the U.S. Supreme Court could take one of three paths: (1) keep Grutter in place and support the continued use of race; (2) overturn Grutter and declare the use of race illegal across the board, or (3) strictly enforce Grutter’s requirement that universities try race-neutral alternatives and only use race as a very last resort.
My expectation, based on Kennedy’s pivotal role, is that the court will go for option 3. On the surface, this might look like a “minor” limitation, applying only to universities that have Texas-type race-neutral alternatives already in place. But that is a mistaken interpretation. The principle requiring universities to vigorously pursue alternatives to racial preferences before using race would apply across the board. And in practice, such a rule would revolutionize the way universities admit students.
Several studies find that universities now employ very large racial preferences (for example, increasing a student’s chances of admissions by 28 percentage points) and provide virtually no preference to low-income students. If the Court instead requires universities to use race-neutral alternatives primarily, and only employ race as a very minor factor to the extent alternatives don’t work, the effect would be to flip the emphasis so that class counts a great deal and race counts very little, if at all.
Risk-averse lawyers advising admissions offices may in fact suggest that universities only employ race-neutral alternatives. That is what has happened for the most part in K-12 education, where a 2007 decision limiting the ability of school districts to use race in student assignment has seen some 80 districts shift the focus of integration programs from race to class.
In the event that the court severely restricts the ability of colleges to employ race, the Inside Higher Ed presidents’ poll suggest class-based alternatives are about three times as popular as Texas-style percentage plans (which are hard to apply to universities with national applicant pools.) If the right of colleges to employ race and ethnicity in admissions is scaled back, 11 percent of presidents agreed or strongly agreed they would drop standardized tests and 14 percent said they would adopt a policy to admit a top percentage of students from every high school in their state.
By contrast, enthusiasm for class-based affirmative action was stronger: 39 percent said they agreed or strongly agreed that they would place more consideration on applicants’ socioeconomic status; 42 percent would place more consideration on first generation status, and 43% would spend more on financial aid. Evidence from states where affirmative action has already been banned suggests the percentages of universities that switch to class will be even higher.
Interestingly, then, a conservative Supreme Court decision requiring universities to pull back on racial preferences could pave the way for a more liberal set of policies: greater consideration of class in admissions, and the financial aid to back it up.
University College London is investigating reports that an event organized by the Islamic Education and Research Academy segregated the audience by gender, The Guardian reported. Students reported being told that women had to sit in the back, while spaces were provided up front for men, or for male-female couples.
Emory University confirmed reports Monday that when a dining hall is redesigned, Chick-fil-A will no longer be part of the facility. Some students at Emory, citing the anti-gay statements and political contributions of its CEO, have been pushing for Chick-fil-A's removal. And nationally, students on many campuses have been trying to get the restaurant chain removed from campus offerings. But a statement released by Emory made no mention of the restaurant by name, and just referred to a student advisory committee having evaluated all options. A spokeswoman for the university said that the review of restaurant options predated the controversy over Chick-fil-A and was not related to Chick-fil-A's politics.
Salem College has finished its review of what policies it should have about transgender students, but the letter announcing the completion of the review is vague on what that policy is and doesn't even use the word "transgender," The Winston-Salem Journal reported. Salem is a women's college and the issue of transgender students has been sensitive for women's colleges, given their history of providing single-sex education. Word that the college was considering a policy on transgender students set off debate among students and alumnae, with some favoring an inclusive policy and some fearing that allowing transgender students to stay enrolled would open the door to the college becoming fully coeducational. A letter from the board chair says that trustees, after “lengthy discussion and due consideration,” affirmed that Salem “values its students as individuals” and that “the wellbeing of all students is of paramount importance.” The letter also says that the board "has no intention of admitting men to Salem's traditional undergraduate program or becoming a coeducational institution." A spokeswoman declined to elaborate on how the college would respond to transgender students. Asked by the Journal why the word "transgender" wasn’t used in the letter, the spokeswoman said, "Does it need to be?"
Grand Valley State University has agreed to pay $40,000 to a student who sued for the right to have a guinea pig with her on campus, The Grand Rapids Press reported. The student said she needed the animal for support to deal with depression and other health issues. The university said that it agreed to let her keep an animal in her room, but wanted her to agree not to take it to class or to food service areas. The university specified that the settlement did not indicate any admission of wrongdoing. But the university also agreed to work to develop a policy for students who may need animals to live with them in campus housing.
An in-depth study of black students in Los Angeles schools projects that, if current trends continue, only 1 in 20 African-American kindergartners will go on to graduate from high school and complete a degree at a four-year California university. The study was conducted by the Education Trust-West. Among its findings:
1 in 5 African-American middle school and high school students are proficient in Algebra I.
63 percent of black students graduate from high school in four years.
20 percent of black ninth-graders graduate in four years, having completed the courses required for admission to one of the state's public universities.