#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?

Bio

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
https://theconversation.com/black-student-activists-face-penalty-in-college-admissions-101009#republish

#DiversityinHigherEd – We need more African American teachers, and to retain them

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. The post this month focuses on K-12 education and is borrowed from the Scholar Strategy Network.

Why America Needs More African American Teachers – And How to Retain Them

By Michèle Foster

Calls to increase the number of teachers of color, specifically African American teachers, have intensified over the past decade. Educators and their organizations, school administrators, and policymakers increasingly agree that a lack of diversity among teachers hurts U.S. students. But this is not the first time this problem has been highlighted, so we must learn from past mistakes to do a better job of recruiting teachers of color in the future.

America’s Lack of Diverse Educators

Serious appeals to increase the number of African American teachers were first issued back in the 1980s. The shortfall was, ironically, spurred decades earlier by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision, Brown vs Board Education that declared the racial segregation of U.S. public schools unconstitutional. After this decision, many all-black schools were closed in southern states (and in border states such as Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and West Virginia). Because newly desegregated districts did not need as many teachers, they laid off teachers and principals in large numbers. By the late 1960s, when courts and policy makers finally noticed, upwards of 35,000 African American teachers had lost their jobs.

In northern cities where de facto segregation prevailed, the number of African American teachers was always considerably smaller. As the number of black teachers in southern and border states dwindled, courts demanded that northern school districts hire greater numbers of African American teachers. For example, in Boston (where I taught before court-ordered desegregation in 1974) the public school system scrambled to hire African Americans. During this period, however, teacher testing and certification took root – and African American teachers passed the certification tests at lower rates than their white counterparts.

By the 1990s across the United States, the typical teacher candidate was a white, middle class suburban or rural woman, a trend that continues today. Yet in the same era, the public-school population was becoming more diverse. To address the mismatch between teachers and their students, schools and colleges of education modified their curricula – in most cases to address teachers’ beliefs and behavior on matters of diversity. Efforts to recruit, train, and retain teachers of color were, ironically, sidelined. By now, schools and programs that create and train America’s teachers stress “educating” prospective teachers mainly on providing new teachers with information to counter stereotypical thinking, racial and cultural biases, and a sense of white racial privilege. These efforts do not actually diversify educational workforces.

Even more troubling – when small numbers of teachers of color are hired, they are often assigned to the most challenging schools that have the fewest resources and the highest rates of poverty. They are expected to be disciplinarians charged with handling the most intractable students. Stress and burnout lead many to quit teaching.

Why It Matters

Research has shown for some time that African American pupils benefit in a variety of ways when they have African American teachers. Black students with such teachers are less likely to be expelled or suspended, are more likely to graduate, and are more likely to be recommended for participation in “gifted and talented” programs. Black students with black teachers are also less likely to be mistakenly referred to special education programs for those with “behavioral disorders.”

African American students are not the only ones who benefit when classrooms have more black teachers. Students of every background benefit from encountering and interacting with African Americans in the educational system and among authority figures. Unfortunately, many Americans do not fully understand the benefits that accrue to students of all backgrounds when they are taught by a diverse group of educators.

What Can be Done to Create a More Diverse Teaching Force

If policymakers, principals, teacher educators, and state legislators are serious about increasing the number of African American teachers, they need to consider the following steps:

  • Hiring more African American educators for faculty positions at universities – especially in colleges of education.
  • Creating pathways for African Americans to enter teaching – by developing programs with community colleges to recruit and prepare underrepresented teachers, establishing programs that encourage teacher aides to pursue the education required to become certified teachers, and identifying excellent public schools that could serve professional development sites for underrepresented teachers.
  • Modifying the curriculum and teaching tactics. Coursework should build on student and community strengths. Teacher candidates should receive training on how to draw on the resources actually available to specific sets of students’ and their local communities – a tactic that has been shown to create positive learning outcomes students.
  • Developing and funding programs that provide forgivable loans to teachers who work for a specified period in minority or high-poverty schools.
  • Ending the practices that isolate African American teachers and treat them as tokens of diversity. Teachers from underrepresented backgrounds should be encouraged with good assignments and extra resources, not given the most difficult teaching assignments, assigned the least prestigious courses, and sent to the least-resourced classrooms and schools.

Current research offers ample evidence that African American teachers are one critical component of improving the learning outcomes for all of America’s students, including students of color. Given all that scholars and practitioners have learned, we know that the value of recruiting and retaining African American teachers goes beyond the simple idea that such teachers are good role models. Their greater presence offers many advantages to students, schools, and communities. They are vital contributors to effective and democratic schools.

Bio

Michèle Foster is Professor & Henry Heuser Endowed Chair in Urban Partnerships, University of Louisville. Her areas of expertise include: Race and ethnicity; Inequality and the middle class; Education; and K-12 education. You can follow her on twitter @ulou_urban_ed

 

This post originally appeared as a Scholars Strategy Network, Key Findings brief on April 5, 2018.
https://scholars.org/brief/why-america-needs-more-african-american-teachers-and-how-recruit-and-retain-them

#DiversityinHigherEd – Confronting Microaggressions in the Classroom

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 (second Thursday this month). This post is borrowed from Conditionally Accepted.

3 Approaches for Confronting Microaggressions

By Tyrone Fleurizard

Phil Goodman — a pseudonym — has been teaching the psychology of prejudice for almost a decade. He has every lecture memorized and every punch line down. Throughout the semester, students explore the many ways prejudice manifests, interrogate prejudice research and, at the conclusion of the semester, develop ways to reduce prejudice in their own lives.

Goodman’s favorite lecture is on stereotypes. His reading for this particular lecture includes an experimental study from Stanford University social psychologist and 2014 MacArthur “Genius” fellow Jennifer Eberhardt and her colleagues. They sought to determine how stereotypic associations influence visual processing and attention. To do that, participants were primed with either black faces, white faces or no faces and then shown images on a computer screen of crime and noncrime objects that started fuzzy and became progressively clearer.

The researchers were testing reaction time, so participants were instructed to press a key as soon as they could make out the object. What they found was astonishing: participants took less time to identify a crime-relevant object when primed with black faces than with white faces. When primed with white faces, participants took longer to recognize dangerous objects — so much so that if in a real situation, they could have been in fatal danger. During the class discussion, one student eager to contribute began reciting the study’s methodology. When they described the primed faces, however, they referred to the white faces as “white” but the black faces as “colored.” After they finished, there was a long pause. Microaggressions like these happen all time.

Microaggressions are subtle, discriminatory actions and comments toward people of color that may be racist, sexist or ableist. The late Chester Pierce, emeritus professor at Harvard Medical School, first coined the term in the 1970s as “subtle, stunning, often automatic and nonverbal exchanges which are ‘put downs’” by offenders. These seemingly trivial slights have been shown to be related to negative health and academic outcomes for black students.

In a landmark paper, Derald Wing Sue and his colleagues at Columbia University described microaggressions as taking three forms: microassaults, microinsults and microinvalidations. Microassaults are explicit verbal or nonverbal attacks meant to hurt someone, such as using racial epithets. Microinsults are verbal and nonverbal insults that often carry hidden meaning, including, “You’re pretty for a black woman” — the implication being that black women are not attractive. And microinvalidations invalidate the experiences and existence of the victim, such as, “I don’t see color. I see people for who they are.” While microassaults are typically conscious, microinsults and microinvalidations are often unconscious. That doesn’t excuse their use. It means we are not immune.

A challenge for education practitioners is how to effectively address such microaggressions in the classroom. While recognizing this is a delicate issue with no absolutely correct answer, I have three suggestions to attempt to address and reduce classroom microaggressions.

Use the syllabus to create the classroom culture. Faculty members and university regulations can often overlook the syllabus as a powerful tool for classroom socialization. Beyond outlining guidelines and policies à la carte, it’s an opportunity for professors to communicate to students the classroom culture in a meaningful way.

Specifically, language plays a critical role in syllabus design. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University found that a syllabus’s language influences students’ perceptions of the professor, including how approachable and motivated to teach they believed the professor to be. Design a syllabus that lets students, especially those from marginalized backgrounds, know that they are supported and that their existence, experiences and opinions are valid.

For example, a possible statement might be “I am committed to affirming the identities, realities and voices of all students, especially those from historically marginalized or underrepresented backgrounds. This course values the use of person-centered language and preferred gender pronouns, and respect for the experiences of others.”

Use microaffirmations. According to Mary Rowe, adjunct professor of negotiation and conflict management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, microaffirmations are “small acts, which are often ephemeral and hard-to-see, events that are public and private, often unconscious but very effective, which occur wherever people wish to help others to succeed.” She originated the term in 2008 when she was tasked with figuring out ways to improve the workplace for underrepresented MIT students, faculty members and staff members. She saw that the “little issues,” what she called microinequalities, could have destructive, long-term effects on an organization. She hypothesized that if microinequalities can have negative effects, then microaffirmations could have positive ones. She was right.

These small affirmations can be done by giving nonverbal cues, such as head nodding when students are speaking, giving credit to students by name, asking for students’ valued opinion and endorsing students’ ideas, among others. The effects of microaffirmations can be manifold. Not only do they affirm the identities of marginalized students, but, if used consistently, they may also be effective in reinforcing the classroom culture.

Address microaggressions when they happen. This is what Goodman did. After the student finished, he chose to address the microaggression by saying, “Before we leave, I want to point out what just happened. I don’t think you’re aware of what you said. What you said is an inappropriate term to refer to black people. I just want to make sure that you know that it’s not OK, and it’s hurtful. In the future, use person-centered language.” This can be the most challenging way to address microaggressions in the classroom, as doing so involves risk and responsibility. But, regardless of potential conflict, direct but empathetic discussion may be most effective in dealing with microaggressions.

The alternative — being passive — may communicate a lack of empathy and concern for the well-being of targets of microaggressions, in addition to communicating that denigration is normal. In one study, professors and students were given vignettes describing incidents of microaggression and asked whether a direct response to the microaggression was more effective than being passive. The researchers hypothesized that teachers would perceive direct responses as more effective than would students. But that isn’t what happened. While both teachers and students perceived direct responses as more effective, students did so at a higher rate than professors, suggesting that students may want their professors to confront microaggressions as they happen.

To support the most marginalized students, practitioners should make an effort to address the barriers associated with marginal identity. It’s hard to contribute and thrive in the classroom when your existence is invalidated and you are made to feel like a bit player. Acknowledgment that microaggressions aren’t so micro is key to creating an inclusive learning environment for all students.

Bio

Tyrone Fleurizard is a doctoral student in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. He is broadly interested in racial disparities in education. You can follow him on Twitter at @tyrone_af.

 

 

This post originally appeared in Conditionally Accepted, a column of Inside Higher Ed, on July 20, 2018.
https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2018/07/20/how-deal-microaggressions-class-opinion