diversity

Anger Over Okla. State Students' 'Trail of Tears' Sign

Oklahoma State University students created a sign for their institution's football game against Florida State University (team name "Seminoles") that read in part "Send 'Em 'Home #Trail of Tears," The Tulsa World reported. The sign went viral online, infuriating many for apparently mocking the Trail of Tears, which refers to the expulsion of many Indian tribes from their lands in the Southeast. The Oklahoma State official account originally made a tweet with the sign a favorite, but later apologized and asked that the sign be taken down.

One of the students who was involved published an apology in which he said: "Though we did not set out to hurt or offend anyone when we made our banner, I see that it did just that. Referencing the Trail of Tears in such a flippant and disrespectful manner was insensitive and wrong, and I make no defense for our having had such a lapse in judgment. I apologize for our mistake. I am truly sorry."

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New approaches to attacking the racial/economic achievement gap (essay)

As affirmative action continues to backslide, support for economic equality is growing. Could these narratives be combined to fuel new ideas that take advantage of this common ground?

Much is known about the racial achievement gap in higher education. Large, persistent gaps in degree attainment rates between Asian students and white students on one hand, and black, Latino, and Native American students on the other, help explain how the U.S.’s overall attainment rate fell from first in the world to 11th. Yet only recently has the economic achievement gap – a present-tense manifestation of what President Obama has called a “relentless, decades-long trend” of growing inequality – entered the public consciousness.

Research demonstrates that the wealthiest 25 percent of Americans are filling nearly 75 percent of the seats at the 193 most selective U.S. universities – which operate as informal gateways to America’s leadership class – while the poorest 25 percent of Americans fill only 5 percent of these seats. Indeed, the gap in test scores between wealthy students and poor students is almost twice what it is between black and white students. In other words, the opportunity gap in America today may be more about class than it is about race.

At the same time, support for the most direct approach to closing the racial achievement gap in higher education – affirmative action – remains on the decline. Twelve states, where roughly 30 percent of the entire U.S. high school population resides, have outlawed affirmative action over the past two decades.

This creep toward colorblindness seemed incremental and sporadic until last summer, when a near-unanimous U.S. Supreme Court tightened the vise on affirmative action by introducing a new legal framework in Fisher v. University of Texas. Though the only lower court to interpret this new framework held that affirmative action at universities in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi is still permissible, it remains to be seen how other courts will interpret the high court’s exacting new rules.

We believe that there is considerable opportunity to be mined from the crisis surrounding affirmative action, as populations that benefit from racial preferences also stand to benefit from socioeconomic preferences. Indeed, America’s twin achievement gaps could be squarely addressed by a number of “two for one” policies that are creatively tailored to take advantage of this common ground. Such an approach is not new: the federal TRIO programs – 50 years old this month – used first-generation and low-income status along with academic need in order to determine eligibility.

So, what can we do now? We should start by measuring the economic and racial achievement gaps as they exist today. One way to do that is to focus on the share of undergraduate students who receive federal Pell Grants, which go to low-income students. In Virginia, the disparities in this measure of diversity are striking: less than 20 percent of students at William and Mary, the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and four other public four-year colleges receive Pell Grants; at Virginia State and Norfolk State, two-thirds of students receive these grants. Since many people who work outside higher education would not associate Pell Grants with low-income status, universities could be required to report the economic make-up of their student bodies to the U.S. Department of Education, as they already do with race. Colleges and universities currently disclose their net prices within income bands, and also have net price calculators available on their websites, but the extent to which this information is used by prospective students and families is unclear.

Once we know the extent of these economic achievement gaps, universities could take steps to close them by enrolling a more economically diverse student body. Indeed, some colleges and universities are taking steps to close the gaps both in admissions and in completion. Others should follow their lead.  This would require that the institution adopt an admissions system that assesses applicants for their economic and racial diversity. Then, a university could implement an admissions formula that values economic and racial diversity, putting the new measurements to work.

New research featured in "The Future of Affirmative Action," from Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, demonstrates that an admissions plan that measures and then values socioeconomic status, place (geographic diversity), and race will produce both higher economic diversity and higher racial diversity than either race alone (affirmative action) or class alone. Thus, an admissions plan that measures and then values these three variables together works best at closing the economic and racial achievement gaps simultaneously.

An even more nuanced approach to evaluating applicants has been developed by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC-Berkeley. Under the institute’s Opportunity Enrollment Model, each applicant is given an “opportunity score” that is informed, in part, by the applicant’s neighborhood, including the neighborhood’s poverty rate, job growth rate, and proximity to employment, health care, and public parks, among many other factors.

Because the Opportunity Enrollment Model is technically race-neutral – it reflects the racial makeup of the applicant’s neighborhood, not the race of the individual applicant – universities could likely rely on opportunity scores to identify economically and racially diverse students in states where affirmative action has been outlawed. In order to help these ideas along, universities and nonprofits could forge partnerships with mission-aligned members of the tech community, who may be able to develop software and databases that help implement such models.

Government has a role to play, too. State governments could reward universities that adopt admissions models geared toward closing the achievement gaps, and could tie state subsidies to a university’s economic and racial diversity rates. The proposed federal college ratings system could reward universities in much the same way: if the ratings system’s “access” measurement (one-third of its “access, affordability, and outcomes” variables) is defined to include economic and racial diversity, then the greater the relative value placed on the “access” prong, the greater the incentive for universities to help close the achievement gaps.

A less circuitous option for using public dollars to close the achievement gaps may involve state and federal governments increasing their direct investments in minority-serving institutions, which educate a disproportionate number of both low-income students and students of color.

Altogether, in a field rife with opportunities for policy reform, the economic and racial achievement gaps rarely command the narrative attention they deserve. But as demand for economic equality rises – and support for affirmative action falls – a new narrative is quickly taking shape. Let’s greet it with new, efficient ideas that kill two birds with one stone.

David Bergeron is vice president for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress and former acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education at the U.S. Department of Education. Scott Greytak is of counsel with Campinha Bacote LLC in Washington.
 

Sociology Association Picks Gender Categories

The American Sociological Association has approved a new set of gender categories by which members can classify themselves for organizational purposes. After some debate, the association decided on the following:

  • Male
  • Female
  • Transgender Male/Transgender Man
  • Transgender Female/Transgender Woman
  • Genderqueer/Gender Non-conforming
  • Preferred Identity (in addition to or not listed above) _____________
  • Prefer not to state

Members will select “all that apply.” John Curtis, director of research for the association, said the categories were recommended by a committee tasked with coming up with terminology that satisfied its members, and that the ACA Council recently approved those recommendations. Last year, some sociologists said that the association’s existing group of terms -- female, male and prefer not to answer -- weren’t inclusive enough. But there was disagreement as to which new terms were best, particularly over one proposal to adopt the term “other,” as some sociologists thought that was marginalizing. The categories will be in effect by the 2016 membership year.

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Colorado Rejects Tribal Spellings for Building Names

The University of Colorado at Boulder has rejected a plan to use spellings consistent with the Arapaho tribe for the names of two dormitories, The Daily Camera reported. Supporters wanted to use the language of the tribe to name the buildings Nowoo3 Hall and Houusoo Hall. A spokesman for the university said: "While some faculty members expressed their preference to use the Arapaho language, the CU-Boulder administration has remained committed to the original proposal of using the English spellings. We believe these names will be more easily recognized and referenced to by students, visitors and emergency responders."

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Mills Adopts New Approach on Transgender Admissions

Mills College is adopting a new, more open approach on admissions for transgender students. To date, most women's colleges have rejected applicants who were born men and may still legally be men, but who identify as women. Mills will now accept them as well as applicants who do not identify as male or female, but who were designated as female at birth, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. Mills also said it would not accept undergraduate applicants who were born female, but who legally have become male. Like many women's colleges, Mills will continue to educate students admitted under its policies but whose gender identity changes after enrollment.

 

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Kent State Charged With Housing Discrimination

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Tuesday announced that it is charging Kent State University with violating federal law by denying a student with panic disorder permission to keep a therapy dog in a university apartment, The Plain Dealer reported. A statement from HUD said: "Many people with disabilities rely on therapy animals to enhance their quality of life. The Fair Housing Act protects their right to a service animal and HUD is committed to taking action whenever the nation's fair housing laws are violated." A university statement said that Kent State would respond at "an appropriate time," and that it was committed to helping students succeed.

 

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Alabama Sorority Sister Kicked Out for Social Media Post

The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa has been celebrating a sorority rush that included black women (something that hasn't historically been the case). But the celebration was interrupted Tuesday by word that a sister of one sorority, Chi Omega, had posted a racist photo on social media, in which three white women were seen using a slur to boast that they had not pledged any black women, AL.com reported. In fact, the sorority had pledged two black women and kicked out the woman who posted the photo.

 

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Essay by anonymous faculty member about being gay at a Christian college as institutions seek exemptions from civil rights laws

If you are gay, like me, or an ally, and work, like me, at a member institution of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), you may have wondered this summer if the bad news about Christian colleges was ever going to end. In June, Eastern Mennonite University’s board announced that it was going to delay a decision whether to change the university’s current hiring practice, which does not permit employees to be in “covenanted same-sex relationships”; however, the board also stated that the current policy is suspended, creating a certain Kafkaesque situation. If a gay person in a “covenanted same-sex relationship” is hired during the suspension, or comes out, and the board decides to not change its current policy, what then?

CCCU member institutions (George Fox University, Simpson University, and Spring Arbor University) asked for and received religious exemptions from the Department of Education’s regulation that transgender students cannot be treated differently under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. A California state judge upheld California Baptist University’s decision to expel a transgender student.

But two letters submitted to President Obama requesting that a religious exemption be included in his then-pending executive order that federal contractors could not discriminate against LGBT employees provoked the most controversy. The first letter, dated June 25, 2014, and organized by the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, had 158 signatures, among them 25 presidents of CCCU member institutions. The second letter was submitted on July 1, 2014, signed by 14, among them Michael Lindsay, president of Gordon College, a CCCU college.

On July 21, President Obama signed the executive order that added sexual orientation and gender identity to those categories protected by Executive Orders 11478 and 11246. The order does not include the requested religious exemption — only time will tell what litigation this omission will spark. I suspect the Alliance Defending Freedom is ready and waiting for the first CCCU college to knock on its door for legal help to keep LGBT persons at bay.

Others have written about the legal issues raised by this executive order for CCCU colleges. And the stream of books about biblical and theological perspectives is unending. I, for one, have probably read my last book providing a theological and biblical defense of same-sex relationships. Yes, there are some, e.g., Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships, by James V. Brownson. As one supportive friend expressed it, “This conversation ended for me several years ago.”

Usually I can ignore the clamor about LGBT persons at Christian colleges — I am out to a small circle of friends where I teach and have other close friends who support me. I walk into my classroom and remember how much I enjoy talking about ideas. And teaching permits me to read books and discuss them. But reading the two letters submitted to President Obama requesting a religious exemption reminded me how many think that my presence threatens the moral health of their institutions even though I am a co-religionist. If an out, gay professor at a Christian college were teaching the Krebs Cycle in Biology 101 or explaining the origins of World War I in History 370, does the content then suddenly become inaccurate? Or will s/he "have a gay agenda"?

Do some CCCU institutions think having out, gay, married faculty/staff would be interpreted as an official endorsement of same-sex marriage? I have colleagues who are divorced — does their presence mean the institution "endorses" divorce? No, it does not. I have married colleagues who have chosen not to have children. Does this mean the university "endorses" that choice? No, it does not. The university simply recognizes the freedom to decide for ourselves what is best and makes for fulfilled lives.

Some signers of these letters have not acquitted themselves well once negative reaction set in. President Lindsay of Gordon has now said he “never would have signed the letter if he had known it would become public.” So much for the courage of his convictions.

Friends at another CCCU institution told me that there was general confusion when the president, having signed the letter, insisted that his institution did not, in fact, discriminate against LGBT persons. This despite language in the faculty and student handbooks which has prevented out, gay, partnered faculty from being hired for decades.

One of the more disappointing statements was made by William Robinson, interim president of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, who stated, “The issue is not homosexuality. It’s religious freedom.” How can the issue not be homosexuality when faculty handbooks and institutional statements at CCCU institutions contain language that bars hiring gay people?

From Biola University’s Standard of Conduct for faculty: “members of the Biola community are not to engage in activities that Scripture forbids.  Such activities include, but are not limited to, dishonesty, thievery, fornication, adultery, homosexual practice...."

From Bethel University’s “Covenant for Life Together”: “The Bible also identifies character qualities and actions that should not be present in the lives of believers. For example: destructive anger, malice, rage, sexual immorality, impurity, adultery, evil desires, greed, idolatry, slander, profanity, lying, homosexual behavior, drunkenness, thievery, and dishonesty.” 

“The issue is not homosexuality. It’s religious freedom.” Please.

But for the issue of homosexuality, letters requesting a religious exemption from the president’s executive order would never have been written.  Robinson’s statement is sadly reminiscent of language used by Bob Jones III, president of Bob Jones University, in a 2000 interview with Larry King on CNN. Jones responded this way to a question about the university’s ban on interracial dating: “Well, being a Bible believing institution, Larry, we try to base things on Bible principle [sic]. The problem we have today is that our principle is so greatly misunderstood. People think we don't let them date because we are racist, in other words to be racist you have to treat people differently. We don't. We don't let them date, because we were trying, as an example, to enforce something, a principle that is much greater than this. We stand against the one-world government.... The Bible is very clear about this.... There is a religious freedom issue, that's all we ever fought for.”

CCCU presidents who signed a letter to Obama to ensure religious freedom should encourage their respective institutions to make truth-in-advertising a hallmark of information for prospective students. I would suggest the following statement:

If you are a student who is wrestling with your sexual and/or gender identity, then [name of institution] is probably not the place for you. It is not that we don’t recognize the reality of your struggle (in fact, we have a student organization where you can find support — depending on the institutional policy), but our religious liberty comes first. If you are gay and do enroll, you should know that the moment you graduate your status changes. Should you find someone to love and share life with and marry, we will not hire you.

A member of the Gordon College community wrote an eloquent essay on the controversy titled, “How long O Lord?” posted at an anonymous blog for members of the Gordon community “who want to share their thoughts yet don’t feel they can.”  The author identifies himself/herself as “Anonymous Staff/Professor” and writes:

“How long O Lord? Scripture often uses this phrase as a sign of lament.... For my community at Gordon I ask, How long O Lord?.... How long until we have real conversation about the image of God and the possibility that maybe we’ve been interpreting scripture wrong on this issue for centuries? .... How long O Lord till we repent for dividing your community? I pray that it will not be too late when we do. This I lament.”

Amen and amen.


 

The author is a faculty member at a Christian college where publishing this piece with the author's name would result in dismissal.

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Study raises questions about why women are less likely than men to earn tenure at research universities

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Study raises questions about why women are less likely than men to earn tenure at research universities. Hint: It's not research output.

21 Black Women Accept Bids From Alabama Sororities

A year after the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa faced national criticism when the student newspaper reported on the longstanding exclusion of black women from the sorority system, the university is reporting progress in diversifying the chapters. AL.com reported that all 21 black women who registered for sorority rush accepted bids on Saturday. The 2,054 new sorority women who have now accepted bids included, in addition to the black women, 190 other minority women.

 

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