#DiversityinHigherEd – Trans*-Affirmative Classrooms

As diversity in higher education becomes more of a focal point and a means to reflect on our own institutions and practices as academics, we will be re-posting material related to these issues on the first Thursday of every month. This post is borrowed from Conditionally Accepted.

Strategies for Creating More Trans*-Affirmative Classrooms

By Z Nicolazzo

The beginnings of academic years are exciting times full of possibility and potential for educators. Despite how often I feel as if summers slip by too quickly, something about the start of a new academic year makes me smile with anticipation. But as a trans* academic, I am also aware of the shadow side of new academic years: the feelings of trepidation that I and my fellow trans* faculty, administrators and students feel.

Whether it be not having our proper names and genders recognized, the challenges of navigating trans*-exclusive health care, or having to meet new people who may not see us as fully — or even marginally — human, the excitement of a new year can stoke anxiety, fear and concern.

As I discuss in my book, Trans* In College, colleges are steeped in transgender oppression, or the cultural ideology that poses trans* people as inherently less than human. As a result, trans* people face a web of interrelated negative experiences throughout campus settings. For example, participants in my study described hearing transphobic comments made in classes (that were not checked by faculty), experienced intense scrutiny of their gender expressions and rarely saw themselves reflected in the faculty and staff members on campuses. Indeed, attending college can pose a series of obstacles for trans* people.

And yet trans* students continue to thrive. As the participants and I discussed during our work together, they continued to cultivate practices of resilience, or strategies to navigate what they already knew to be college campuses that were not constructed with them in mind. Those strategies were wide-ranging and included things like not walking through certain areas of campus they knew to be unsafe for them, texting and calling friends to let them know where they were going, sticking together in groups, and moving off campus — including going online — to cultivate community. In many respects, the participants and I discussed not needing to wait for others to create safer spaces for them — they could develop their own strategies for success.

That doesn’t mean nontrans* people should not be active in making change. Rather, whole trans* students want, need and are already working toward structural change. They are also developing their own strategies for navigating the campus climates they know to be laced with transgender oppression.

That said, it remains important for academics to take an active role in creating trans*-affirming educational experiences. Moreover, we need to do this before trans* students show up in our classrooms; we have the power to invite and/or foreclose opportunities for trans* students just by the ways we approach our teaching.

Thus, I created the following list of strategies for educators to create trans*-affirming classrooms:

  • Don’t call roll. Administrative, legal and economic barriers often keep trans* people — including trans* youth — from being able to change their birth names. Faculty members should allow students to name themselves. If they find discrepancies between the names a student shares and the official roll, they should defer to the student. After all, we let students use different versions of their birth names all the time (e.g., Mike instead of Michael), so why would that be any different for trans* students?
  • Use your position to demand trans*-inclusive facilities. If you teach in higher education, demand to do so only in buildings with trans*-inclusive restrooms. If you teach in K-12 settings, make sure your administration has created access to restrooms for trans* youth (and not just when trans* students come forward to seek them). If you cannot make immediate change, don’t give up; movements toward justice can be slow, but persistence is crucial. Also, those who teach in higher education can always list the closest trans*-inclusive restrooms to the classroom on the syllabus.
  • Share name and pronoun policies. If students can change their names and pronouns administratively, let students know. If not, let students know they can use the names and pronouns they feel most comfortable using in your class, and if they change throughout the course/year, they can talk with you about how to share those changes with their peers.
  • Highlight trans* knowledge. Trans* people are in every industry and field. Highlight trans* people and knowledge through your lessons, readings and classroom discussions. Even if your class is not focused on gender, it’s still important to draw on diverse knowledge bases, which includes trans* communities.
  • Do your own learning. Don’t expect trans* students to teach you about all things trans*. In my research, trans* students discussed the exhaustion and tokenization they experienced having to teach peers and teachers about trans* lives. Educators can mitigate this exhaustion by taking advantage of the wealth of publicly accessible knowledge, media, art and writing to learn more about trans* populations.
  • Don’t out trans* students. Being out is not always the safest or best option for them. Be careful about trans* students’ safety and privacy in your teaching, especially when talking with other educators and/or family members. That means not pointing out, focusing on or talking about a student being trans* — even if they have shared this with you.
  • Interrupt transphobia. Trans* students continually share stories with me of hearing transphobic statements in class and their teachers doing nothing. A student once told me her teacher even laughed along while a nontrans* peer “joked” about wanting all trans* people to die. Educators need to create classrooms where those sorts of violent statements are not tolerated.
  • Remember trans* students are more than their trans*ness. Trans* people have a multitude of identities, interests and experiences. Remember not to flatten us to our gender, as this becomes exhausting and limits our possibilities.
  • Own your missteps. If you mess up, own it. Unlearning gender socialization takes time, and you are bound to make mistakes. Owning those mistakes and then not making them again is essential.
  • Commit to gender-aware education. We all have been socialized to view gender as a binary. Learning and implementing gender-aware practices takes time. Be patient with yourself, but make an ongoing commitment to create more trans*-affirming classrooms.

While this list captures some suggestions for creating more trans*-affirming classrooms, there are certainly more (e.g., use language like “people,” “folks” or “y’all” instead of “boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen”). While we know it won’t happen overnight, trans* people need change to occur. Educators have a crucial role to play in the movement toward trans* justice, and classrooms are a great place to start.


Z Nicolazzo is assistant professor of trans* studies in education at the University of Arizona. You can follow Z on Twitter at @trans_killjoy as well as on hir website (www.znicolazzo.weebly.com)

This post originally appeared in Conditionally Accepted on October 12, 2018

#DiversityinHigherEd – Limited by Publications

As diversity in higher education becomes more of a focal point and a means to reflect on our own institutions and practices as academics, we will be re-posting material related to these issues on the first Thursday of every month. This post is borrowed from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

How Much Does Publishing in Top Journals Boost Tenure Prospects? In Economics, a Lot

By Audrey Williams June

For academics on the tenure track, the pressure to publish at all costs and in the top journals in their field is immense. That’s because meeting that professional standard matters — a lot.

How much does it matter for academic economists? A new working paper by James J. Heckman, a Nobel laureate and economist, and Sidharth Moktan, a predoctoral fellow, provides a look. Both are at the University of Chicago.

They analyzed job and publication data of tenure-track faculty members hired by the top 35 economics departments in the nation and found that publishing in a top-five journal is a “powerful determinant of tenure in academia” and an “important predictor of professional success.” In short, the more top-five publications, the better. The outsize influence of The American Economic Review, Econometrica, the Journal of Political Economy, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, and The Review of Economic Studies is referred to in the paper’s subtitle as “The Tyranny of the Top Five.”

Here are four takeaways from the paper:

1) Junior professors are hyperaware of the top five’s ability to make or break careers.

Heckman and Moktan also surveyed more than 308 assistant and associate professors in the top 50 economics departments in the nation and asked them which of eight different areas of performance they believed most influenced tenure and promotion. The number of publications in top-five journals received the highest mean, with external letters — that often highlight the number of top-five articles published or in the works — coming in second. At the bottom, across the board: chapters and books.

Young economists also believe, on average, that at least 89 out of 100 tenure committees will award tenure to a candidate who has top-five publications over an identical candidate who has the same quantity and quality of publications in journals outside the top five.

2) The top five journals are shaping junior faculty members’ research agendas — and not for the better.

Ideally, young economists pursue topics with the goal of generating knowledge in the field. But Heckman notes, in the paper, that over the years he’s talked to many graduate students, postdocs, and assistant professors about interesting research projects only to be told “that is a great idea, but it will not lead to a top-five” publication. Data-intensive empirical projects don’t fit into the top-five mold, which gives junior faculty members little motivation to pursue them.

The top-five system, the paper says, “incentivizes careerism rather than creative scholarship.” Old habits die hard, the researchers note. Some senior economists are chasing the top five too, since their reward system — promotion, recognition, and salaries — is linked to them, the paper says.

3) Landing in a top-five journal is harder than ever.

Tenure-track economists are heeding the message that tenure-and-promotion committees are sending about publishing in key journals, but in reality the odds are against them. Space in the top five journals hasn’t grown much since 1990; meanwhile, submissions to them have increased, the paper says. The acceptance rates at leading journals dropped from 15 percent in 1980 to 6 percent in 2012. And many academics “do not practice what they preach,” the researchers write. They read and cite papers from journals outside of the top five and then turn around and use top journals as a filter to screen prospective candidates.

4) The discipline needs to find a better way to measure scholarly potential.

One way to do that, the authors say, is to add a few more influential journals to the top-five mix. But that doesn’t keep academics from judging potential “based on a track record of publications in a handful of select journals.” If departments did close reads on published and unpublished papers, that would “signal that they both acknowledge and adequately account for the greater risk associated with serious scholars working at the frontiers of the discipline,” the paper says. The researchers also propose a “more radical” shift to an open-source system that would allow new ideas to be tested and get online real-time peer review. Doing nothing, however, is a bad move: “Academic economics risks becoming (or remaining) a group of top-five plodders putting one foot in front of the other,” the authors write.


Audrey Williams June is a senior reporter who writes about the academic workplace, faculty pay, and work-life balance in academe. Contact her at audrey.june@chronicle.com, or follow her on Twitter @chronaudrey.

This post originally appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education on October 1, 2018 https://www.chronicle.com/article/How-Much-Does-Publishing-in/244694

#DiversityinHigherEd – Penalty in college admissions

As diversity in higher education becomes more of a focal point and a means to reflect on our own institutions and practices as academics, we will be re-posting material related to these issues on the first Thursday of every month. This post is borrowed from The Conversation.

Black student activists face penalty in college admissions

By Ted Thornhill

Back when I taught at a predominantly white, selective liberal arts college, I came across a book called “Acting White? Rethinking Race in ‘Post-Racial’ America.”

In the book, legal scholars Devon Carbado and Mitu Gulati argue that in the “post-racial” era, white-controlled organizations prefer to hire “‘good blacks’ who will think of themselves as people first and black people second.”

“They will neither ‘play the race card’ nor generate racial antagonism or tensions in the workplace,” the book contends. “They will not let white people feel guilty about being white; and they will work hard to assimilate themselves into the firm’s culture.”

This lets an employer realize the benefits of diversity without having to deal with issues of race, Carbado and Gulati argue.

Their critique made me wonder: Do America’s colleges and universities act the same way toward black students in the admissions process?

Based on a recent nationwide study that I conducted, the answer is: yes.

What I found is that historically and predominantly white institutions are more likely to embrace black students who don’t profess interest in racial justice.

Preferences at play

In other words, similar to how the authors of “Acting White” argue that white employers like black employees who see themselves as people first, and black people second, my study found that white colleges like black students who see themselves as students first, and black students maybe second or third or fourth, if at all.

Why does this matter?

It matters because this is a time when issues of race and racism on campus – and student-led efforts to fight racism – continue to command considerable attention. Black students are demanding that white colleges hire more faculty of color, remove racist iconography, such as Confederate soldier statues and rename buildings that pay homage to slave owners.

My research suggests that black students who state that they plan to fight for these kinds of things might never get the chance to set foot on campus of the college of their choice.

Racial hostility on campus

It also matters because this is a time when black students are facing hostile environments on campus. At Yale, for instance, earlier this year a white student called police on a black student who was napping in a common area. I would argue this is a time when America’s college campuses need more students eager to fight racism, not just acquiesce.

It’s not that white colleges don’t want black students – many do. A 2014 report showed that nearly all enrollment leaders at hundreds of public and private historically and predominantly white institutions indicated a goal to enroll “diverse students.” Research shows this often means black students.

However, what my study shows is that these institutions are more likely to screen out black students who vocalize opposition to racism.

I refer to this expectation of a public, post-racial posture and politics as the color-blind imperative. Deviating from it can result in negative consequences, especially for blacks, as such individuals are often seen among many whites as divisive, racial rabble-rousers, as I myself have been.

A closer look

To investigate whether white admissions counselors were screening black high school students who don’t adhere to the color-blind imperative, I conducted a nationwide audit study. I began by generating and testing a list of distinctly black names, such as Lakisha Lewis and Keshawn Grant, that would signal to white admissions counselors that the students who were emailing them were black. I then created an email account for each name.

Next, I created four email templates that represented black students interested in 1) math and English, 2) environmental sustainability, 3) African-American history and culture, and 4) anti-racism. In each one the fictitious student asked if he or she would be a good “fit” for the school based on their interests and activities.

I sent a random sample of 500-plus white admissions counselors at the same number of private, historically and predominantly white colleges across the United States, two of the four emails from two fictitious black high school students approximately one month apart. I selected small or medium-sized colleges and universities from U.S. News & World Report’s 2013 list of best colleges.

To identify white admissions counselors, a research assistant and I used profile pictures from college websites or websites such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Only those counselors who both of us independently agreed appeared white were classified as white.

My findings revealed that white admissions counselors were, on average, 26 percent less likely to respond to the emails of black students whose interests and involvements focused on anti-racism and racial justice. The gender of the counselor and the student also mattered. White male counselors were 37 percent less likely to respond to anti-racist black students. And when black women students committed to anti-racism were emailing white male counselors, they were 50 percent less likely to receive a response.

The most extreme finding was the difference in the response rate for white male counselors responding to black women. Black women interested in environmental sustainability got a response rate of 74 percent, while those who presented the anti-racist narrative got a response rate of 37 percent. Stated differently, white male admissions counselors were twice as likely to respond to black women if they were committed to fighting environmental degradation instead of white racism. This indicates that it was not activism that depressed the response rate of anti-racist black students, but rather the focus of their activism.

Degrees of race consciousness

Noteworthy, too, is the finding that white admissions counselors were just as responsive to moderately race conscious black students who participated in culturally resonant activities, such as a jazz band and gospel choir and who mentioned the phrase “cross-cultural understanding,” as they were to black students who revealed no interest in racialized involvements. This suggests, in other words, that it was not simply race consciousness, but a critical race consciousness – one that unequivocally challenges the validity of color-blind ideology – that seemed to be unappealing to some white admissions counselors.

Importantly, the screening pattern I uncovered doesn’t necessarily show that admissions counselors are purposefully discriminating against anti-racist black students, but it doesn’t preclude it, either. Whatever the case may be, there are clear, concrete and immediate steps that administrators can take to curtail this racially discriminatory practice.

Policy solutions

Some may think the solution is for black students who actively fight racism to masquerade as something that they are not. One problem with that approach is it’s difficult, if not impossible, to be vocal against racism and not leave evidence of one’s anti-racist activism in their digital footprint. For that reason, I focus my solutions on what institutions can do, not how black students should comport themselves to fit into a white environment.

First, chief admissions administrators should familiarize themselves and their staff with the research on intra-racial discrimination.

Second, schools should institute policies requiring admissions counselors to respond to all inquiry emails. Currently, the National Association for College Admission Counseling doesn’t have any best practices for email or inquiry response, according to an association official I spoke with for this article.

Third, the chief admissions administrator should develop a system whereby all admissions staff emails are randomly audited for responsiveness, content and tone.

Fourth, and most importantly, as with employment discrimination, there must be appropriate sanctions and consistent enforcement to maximize compliance. Such a system would incentivize admissions counselors to act in a non-discriminatory manner toward not only black students but all students committed to fighting against white racism and white supremacy.

Might this intervention come at a financial cost to colleges and universities? Perhaps. But it should not be a prohibitive one. Either way it is necessary. If some white admissions counselors don’t even respond to an inquiry email due to a black student’s commitment to racial justice, how can they be trusted to treat these students fairly at the application stage?


thornhillTed Thornhill is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Florida Gulf Coast University. This post reflects his recent work in Sociology of Race & Ethnicity, “We Want Black Students, Just Not You: How White Admissions Counselors Screen Black Prospective Students.”


This post originally appeared in The Conversation on September 5, 2018