Race and ethnicity

Ed Dept. ratings framework ignites new questions over adjusting student outcomes

The Education Department's ratings framework embraces the concept of adjusting outcomes for student demographics -- an approach that would be unusual for the federal government but that isn't without its critics.

Community colleges pop up on TV, in film and in new novels

Satirical fiction is targeting community colleges, which may be sign of the sector's deepening societal relevance.

California debate over ethnic studies requirement continues

California State University will require students to take ethnic studies, but the faculty and system remain divided over how to put the new requirement into place.

Excelencia Certifies 5 Colleges for Latinx Student Success

Five institutions were recognized Thursday for their efforts to support Latinx student success.

Excelencia in Education, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group with a membership network that aims to support Latinx people in higher education, presented the awardees of the Seal of Excelencia certification for 2020.

Long Beach City College, California State University at Sacramento, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Illinois at Chicago are the second cohort of institutions to receive the seal. Nine institutions earned the seal in 2019.

Excelencia gives the seal to colleges and universities that can demonstrate the effectiveness of practices serving Latinx students, show positive momentum for Latinx students using data, commit to transforming their institution to help Latinx students thrive and use strategic leadership to articulate a focus on Latinx student success.

The seal is a certification that stems from an independent verification process. It's meant to help Excelencia achieve its goals, which include closing the education equity gap and increasing the number of Latinx students attaining degrees.

“Accelerating Latino student success requires institutions go beyond enrollment and show intentionality and impact in serving students,” Deborah Santiago, co-founder and CEO of Excelencia, said in a news release. “These certified institutions set the pace for much needed institutional transformation and are confronting structural barriers and inequities of long standing.”

The newly certified institutions demonstrated their support of Latinx success in various ways. For example, the University of Illinois at Chicago is working to increase Latinx faculty representation by creating a pipeline program and leadership program, as well as using a cluster hiring strategy. The University of Texas at San Antonio is increasing access by recruiting in areas with large Latinx populations and using pipeline programs. Long Beach City College is engaging faculty to redesign their course content through a Latinx lens, confirm expectations on assignments and provide feedback in supportive ways. The success rate for Latinx students in these courses increased at double the rate of Latinx students in courses led by faculty who weren't trained in this way.

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Cal State Approves Ethnic Studies Requirement

The California State University system's governing board on Wednesday approved the inclusion of a course on ethnic studies and social justice as a general education requirement. The one-course requirement will go into effect in 2023 and can be fulfilled by a wide range of course offerings on historical, current and emerging ethnic studies and social justice issues, the system said in a news release. It was the first significant change to Cal State's general education requirements in 40 years.

“Our goal is for CSU students, from every major and in every workplace, to be leaders in creating a more just and equitable society,” Timothy P. White, the system's chancellor, said in statement. “This action, by the CSU and for the CSU, lifts Ethnic Studies to a place of prominence in our curriculum, connects it with the voices and perspectives of other historically oppressed groups and advances the field by applying the lens of social justice.”

The California Faculty Association criticized the move, saying the requirement was diluted and created without consultation with the CSU Council of Ethnic Studies.

"How the board can look at anyone with a straight face and say that an Ethnic Studies requirement can be fulfilled without ever having to take a course in Ethnic Studies is beyond believable," said Charles Toombs, the association's president. "Given how oppressive the CSU’s resolution is, no one will be surprised to hear that the CSU refused to consult with the CSU Council of Ethnic Studies."

(Note: This article has been updated from a previous version, which included an erroneous assertion by the California Faculty Association about Cal State's consultation with the CSU Academic Senate.)

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Ethnic studies courses at colleges and universities are more vital today than ever (opinion)

Over the past several months, there have been numerous discussions surrounding the issue of race in America and COVID-19. Both topics have been at the forefront of public discourse. Notably, despite all the attention given to online teaching, potential teaching loads, budget restrictions, free speech and the issue of race itself as it relates to higher education, not as much discussion has been devoted to the impact of ethnic studies within the current academic environment.

Ethnic studies courses have often been at the fringes of academe. Indeed, some colleges and universities teach precious few, if any, courses covering African American studies, Latino/a American studies, Asian studies, women's and gender studies, LGBTQ studies, and similar disciplines. Since the late 1960s, when San Francisco State University established the first ethnic studies department after months of student protests, the past half century has witnessed the ebb and flow of such departments and programs, largely depending on the contemporary political, social and cultural climate dominating society.

The perennial issues that routinely plague such units, such as reluctant institutional commitment, chronic lack of funding, resistant and apprehensive students, and perceptions of unhinged radicalism among the faculty and students involved in the discipline, are undeniable. As a professor who teaches ethnic studies with a focus on African American studies, I am aware of the routine criticisms associated with the field. They tend to be as follows.

The discipline lacks sufficient academic rigor. This inaccurate message has been put forth, either subtly or in no uncertain terms, by right-wing cultural critics -- and a few left-of-center faux liberal ones -- and even by some critics in academe. As any sensible person knows, such a belief is nonsensical, misguided, unfounded and wrong. Indeed, ethnic studies has been, and still is, the epitome of interdisciplinary studies and scholarship, long before the term “interdisciplinary” became a buzzword in higher education.

Scholars who teach ethnic studies are radical and angry, and they harbor an antiwhite agenda. While such charges could apply to a few professors, the vast majority of ethnic studies scholars do have not such a mind-set. In fact, many of them are very inclusive in the materials and assignments they employ in their courses and scholarship -- much more, in fact, than most other disciplines. Moreover, in all academic fields, from the humanities to the hard sciences, some faculty members pursue a personal agenda.

What can you do with a degree in ethnic studies? Many of us who are scholars in the field have heard someone (frequently another person of color but often a white person, too) question the practicality of earning a degree in ethnic studies. I even heard this argument from some of my relatives when I was an undergraduate student. Guess what? A number of years later, they can see the results. I, indeed, have a successful career with such a degree. Many other people have done well, too. Elementary and secondary education, urban planning, diversity training, consulting, politics, higher education, journalism, public relations, health care, and government work are a few of the employment possibilities available to students who major in the discipline.

I am a person of color or a member of an indigenous group and don’t need to either take courses or major in ethnic studies. Many students of color assume that because they are members of a minority population, they needn’t “waste their time” in taking such courses or majoring in a field that they believe they are an expert in. They are wrong on a multitude of levels. Being Black, a woman, gay, or nonwhite Hispanic, Native American, etc., does not make one an expert in Black, women’s, LGBTQ, Latino/a or Indigenous scholarship. This is akin to someone stating that they are an expert in agrarian economics or agriculture because they grew up in a rural area or on a farm. Not at all.

I’ve also found that faculty of color can be unwitting enablers and critics of ethnic studies. More than a decade ago, I attended an academic conference in a Midwestern city. I took part in a conversation with several other 30ish and early-40ish Black academics about our respective institutions, families, scholarship, career goals and so forth. The conversation eventually moved on to ethnic studies. Two of the academics attempted to make the same antiquated argument that the discipline was, in essence, subpar.

This set off a spirited, yet civil, debate among most of us in attendance. The vast majority were proponents of ethnic studies for practical, logical, defensible and obvious reasons. However, some of my fellow colleagues were dismissive or, at the very least, ambivalent about the discipline. While I am well aware that no group of people united by race, ethnicity or religion is monolithic, I did assume that well-educated people who, no doubt, had experienced some degree of racial or gender adversity in their lives would be more proactive and progressive in their thinking. In fact, anyone who lived in the United States of America before the mid- to late 1980s would have been exposed to some level of racial animosity on some level. The fact that these were educated academics of color made this experience even more disheartening, although not despairing or dehumanizing.

The undisputed fact is that -- despite the reduced budgets due to the COVID-19 pandemic and, supposedly, a declining student population -- students of color are projected to become the majority in many higher education institutions within the next decade or sooner. The current political, social and cultural climate calls for -- in fact, demands -- the inclusion of ethnic studies programs across disciplines and departments throughout higher education. Fierce resistance from right-wing politicians, state legislatures and a few other conservative segments of society notwithstanding, such programs and departments are, without question, more important now than ever.

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, African American studies and gender studies​ at East Tennessee State University and author of Keepin’ It Real: Essays on Race in Contemporary America (University of Chicago Press).

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Why students should be required to take ethnic studies (opinion)

Especially given the demographics, asks Alvaro Huerta, why shouldn't colleges require students to learn about others' histories, struggles and successes in this country?

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The Right to Ethnic Studies in Higher Education
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GW faculty and students want president's resignation

Vocal students and faculty members at George Washington University believe the administration's strategic plan is a step backward for diversity and will make GW "whiter and richer." They want the plan and the university president gone.

San Francisco State finds evidence that ethnic studies students do better

San Francisco State University students graduate at higher rates when they pass ethnic studies courses, but not everyone agrees on what this means.

Minority-serving colleges top peers in economic mobility, report finds

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Lower-income students who attend minority-serving colleges are more likely to move up in economic status, according to a new report, despite the fact that those colleges tend to have less money.

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