Tag Archives: Diversity and Inclusiveness

The Problem With How Higher Education Treats Diversity

Via The Atlantic: http://ift.tt/2eCFB2X


Shortly after moving to New York two years ago, I began volunteering as a writing mentor at Minds Matter, a large, multi-city nonprofit that helps prepare underserved high-school students for college. Just a few months earlier, I’d graduated from a liberal-arts college I’d attended after participating in a similar program, and I felt both obliged to pay my good fortune forward and uniquely qualified to do so. If my experience had taught me anything, it was the power of a compelling personal narrative.

By the time I’d decided, mid-way through high school, that I wanted to attend college—and not just any college, but a competitive one, filled with Gothic Revival buildings and storied histories—I had to contend with a spotty transcript, virtually no extracurriculars, and an SAT math score inferior to that of many middle schoolers. Then I heard about QuestBridge, a nonprofit that connects low-income youth with top schools.

“Students from low-income backgrounds may not realize that they have a unique perspective to present to admissions officers,” the organization’s website explains. “If your identity has been shaped by financial difficulties and other obstacles, consider writing about these challenges in your essays so that admissions officers understand the full context of your successes and academic accomplishments.” It provides a bullet-point list of potential topics, such as: English is not your first language; You’ve been homeless; You commute a long distance to attend a better school. If I were to succeed, I would need to leverage precisely the circumstances that had, conceivably, held me back. My personal statement portrayed a poor girl from a large Arkansas family, raised in a fringe religion and eager to explore the big world beyond. It wasn’t untrue, exactly, but it felt like a lie by omission, or perhaps oversimplification. My life was more than a tale of woe.

If I felt guilty about exploiting my background to appeal to colleges looking to build a well-rounded class, I also felt grateful for the opportunity. I still do; it’s unlikely I would have gotten the education I did if I hadn’t. But as I help my Minds Matter mentees, now seniors, apply to colleges this fall—and in some cases, complete the same QuestBridge application I did when I was their age—it has become harder to maintain this ambivalence. I don’t want my students to reduce their own lives to stories of hardship—or, at least, I don’t want them to feel that they need to in order to earn a berth at the college they choose.

Still, the pressure for students—particularly underrepresented nonwhite and low-income applicants—to package themselves like this is acute at a time when “diversity” remains the only rationale for affirmative action that the Supreme Court has consistently upheld, most recently in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas. It routinely cites the importance of diversity in the global marketplace, where companies praise it as a catalyst for creativity and link it with greater financial returns. (“We know intuitively that diversity matters,” declared a recent report from McKinsey.) Yet for something so widely desired, what diversity means and why people want it remain unclear. My boss at a magazine where I once worked asked me to find images of a youth choir that—she paused, unsure how to proceed—“showed its diversity.” I nodded furtively and, a few minutes later, produced several photos with white and brown faces floating above identical purple blouses.

The cover of Natasha Warikioo's "The Diversity Bargain"
The University of Chicago Press

Such are the paradoxes that Natasha Warikoo examines in her new book The Diversity Bargain: And Other Dilemmas of Race, Admissions, and Meritocracy Elite Universities. Inspired by her own experience as an Indian American student in the 1990s and, later, as a visiting professor at the University of London, Warikoo, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, set out to understand how students of various backgrounds at Brown, Harvard, and Oxford conceive of diversity and merit in the college-admission process. Particularly in the U.S., where universities emphasize their “holistic” evaluations of applicants and, studies show, calibrate SAT scores depending on a variety of factors including race, legacy status, and athletic recruitment, she was curious how students justified the practice. Reasoning that elite colleges tend to espouse relatively progressive views and that their students—having gained entree to the world’s most prized institutions—would presumably have little reason to resent affirmative action, she decided this sample would provide insights into “the best-case scenario in terms of support for racial inclusion.”

What Warikoo finds at Brown and Harvard is a mixed bag: Students praise diversity and support affirmative action, but mostly by striking what she coins the “diversity bargain”: Rather than accepting it as a means of amelioration for systemic inequality, they support it on the assumption that it increases the student body’s collective merit, enriching the college experience for all. Time and again, she comes across students like Stephanie, a white history major at Harvard, who says “race needs to be considered” because an “ethnically diverse community is beneficial to everyone and is such an integral part of the Harvard education.” This view, Warikoo deftly demonstrates, is held by a majority of students of all racial identifications, and it aligns strongly with that of their schools. “We will consider how your unique talents, accomplishments, energy, curiosity, perspective, and identity might weave into the ever-changing tapestry that is Brown University,” reads the mission statement on its admissions webpage.

If an “ever-changing tapestry” sounds delightfully chic, it also reflects an understanding of egalitarianism as an aesthetic instead of a social ideal. The Diversity Bargain illuminates just how much diversity has been commodified particularly among the elite, for whom good taste entails an eclectic palate. This wasn’t always so: Warikoo cites research from the sociologists Richard Peterson and Roger Kern, who nearly 20 years ago identified a shift in cosmopolitan sensibilities from favoring narrowly defined “high” forms of culture (Western classical music, abstract art) to what they termed “cultural omnivorousness.” Warikoo’s interviews with students reveal this appetite extends to “interpersonal familiarity” with students of various aptitudes, affinities, and identifications. Diversity exists to be consumed by the student body to achieve a balanced diet of multiculturalism.    

Still, there is great reluctance, even discomfort, on the part of admissions offices to acknowledge race as a consideration in their evaluation process. Neither Brown nor Harvard explicitly does so, instead using words like “perspective” and “identity” to describe admissions considerations. Williams College, my own alma mater, doesn’t either, although on its website this fall, the percentage of students of color and those who are the first generation in their families to attend college is enlarged to about twice the size of the other demographic statistics. This allusiveness seems an inevitable result of the incoherence Warikoo highlights between k-12 education, which teaches children color-blindness, and the academy, where difference is extolled. It also likely reflects an increasingly mainstream understanding of race as a construct and identity as fluid. In this context, anxiety, particularly for whites, comes in the form of a question: How do you recognize a current reality (race) whose meaning isn’t fixed without institutionalizing it? The decision many make is not to name the reality at all.

Warikoo is slightly more narrow in assessing this cognitive dissonance, highlighting research (including her own) that reveals the paranoia of many white Americans who are “primed to see reverse discrimination in the future,” even if they have never experienced it themselves. Yet even if well-intentioned, the result is a quasi-colorblind, need-blind approach that places the onus on students to make their own experiences outside of the white middle-class legible to admissions committees if they wish admission criteria to be calibrated according to the opportunities they have—or have not—been afforded. “Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it,” reads The Common Application’s most popular prompt. “If this sounds like you, then please share your story.” It’s an appealingly capacious invitation, but it also subtly casts applicants’ “backgrounds” or “identities” in the same terms as an “interest” or “talent,” and it’s perhaps unsurprising that many of the students Warikoo interviewed do the same, recontextualizing the consideration of race and income in admissions with comparisons that avoid questions of inequality altogether. When asked “whether diversity creates problems for the university,” a student named Elliot, like many of his peers, spoke about athletic recruits:   

Before I applied, I didn’t like [the fact that] it’s really easy for … recruited athletes … I’ve had issues with that. Now that I’m here, I don’t have those issues. Because I see, like I love going to the foot-ball games. It’s fun. It’s part of the student life … I used to think that … having athletes who are quote/unquote “less qualified”—I no longer view them as less qualified. I view them as qualified in a different way.

This reasoning may seem benign, but its implications become disturbing when you replace “athletes” with “poor” or “minority” students: What if they are no fun? What if they add no discernibly “unique” perspective of black culture or rural poverty or the immigrant experience to student life? Do they still deserve an education and all of the benefits—and joys—it can confer?     

Warikoo’s research may be limited in scope, but it offers a particularly focused lens through which to view the cultural moment. Support for diversity is at a fever pitch, complete with hashtags (#OscarsSoWhite) and trendy merchandise emblazoned with the all-caps imperative to READ FEWER WHITE DUDES—an unintentionally parodic illustration of diversity’s commodification writ large. Yet as Warikoo shows, when calls for diversity aren’t accompanied by material efforts to equalize opportunity, an idealized image of equality threatens to replace the pursuit of the thing itself.

Last year, the author Claire Vaye Watkins addressed students at Tin House Writers’ Workshop with a lecture, “On Pandering,” in which she described the revelation that, for much of her career, she had been writing for a white male literary establishment. She deemed her debut collection of short stories an exercise in projection: What would the Philip Roths of the world think of her work? What about the Jonathan Franzens? She encouraged the workshop to “embrace a do-it-yourself canon, wherein we each make our own canon filled with what we love to read, what speaks to us and challenges us and opens us up, wherein we can each determine our artistic lineages for ourselves, with curiosity and vigor, rather than trying to shoehorn ourselves into a canon ready made and gifted us.” Her words went viral among a certain literary set as a minor cause celebre: We need more women writers! More queer writers! More writers of color!

This is true. And yet the ideal Watkins expressed was not merely that these demographics write, but that they do so without inhibition, accessing their own particular sensibilities and imaginations—in short, to treat their own experiences as ends in themselves. It’s an exhilarating prospect, and it runs entirely counter to the task of writing what one might call the adversity narrative, which requires its author to instrumentalize her consciousness rather than explore it. This is precisely why, when my mentees fill my inbox with drafts of their essays, I want to help them resist the temptation. It’s also why Warikoo’s argument for a much more “robust, ongoing affirmative-action policy by calibrating admissions decisions according to a student’s opportunities” is doubly convincing: She attacks the premise of collective merit because it makes the inclusion of the less advantaged contingent on the benefits that will accrue to the rest. But it also requires the less powerful to pander to visions of powerlessness, so that sharing one’s own story becomes a compulsion rather than a privilege. It should be neither, but a gift, given freely.

How the LSAT Destroys Socioeconomic Diversity

Via The Atlantic: http://ift.tt/2eO7yWk


As soon as I told my friends and family about my plans to take the LSAT, the standardized law-school admissions test, people started warning me about one particular set of questions. Analytical Reasoning, or “Logic Games,” is a section that tests your ability to order and group information. The questions are written to seem accessible and unintimidating—they ask you to analyze combinations of ice-cream flavors or animals in a zoo—but, every year, they stop tens of thousands of applicants from attending top law schools.

To get into one of the best law schools in the United States (known as the “Top 14”), you generally need an LSAT score of 165 or higher, out of 180. The first time I took a practice Logic Games section, with no preparation, I only got one of the 24 questions right. That meant that, before I even started any of the other sections, I had a 160. That score wasn’t going to get me into a top school.

Luckily, most people who study for the LSAT get a lot better at Logic Games. Every LSAT tutor I interviewed agreed that the Logic Games section is the most teachable part of the test. But in order to improve your score, you need tools—and those tools can be expensive. The average LSAT in-person prep class costs $1,300.

While law schools are steadily becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, they remain overwhelmingly upper-middle class. Only 5 percent of students at elite law schools come from families that fall in the bottom half of the socioeconomic spectrum—a number that has hardly changed since the 1960s. The Logic Games section contributes to this lack of socioeconomic diversity. If you can’t afford to adequately prepare, it’s a lot harder to earn the LSAT score you need to get into a Top 14 school. The vast majority—180—of the 200 accredited U.S. law schools can’t find jobs for 80 percent of their graduates. That means that a low score on Logic Games might stop you from becoming a lawyer.

The Logic Games section is different from all other sections on the most popular standardized tests—the MCAT, GRE, GMAT, and SAT—because it’s unlike anything students learn in high school or college. The section relies heavily on formal logic, a concept rarely taught outside of high-level college mathematics or philosophy courses.

“Students have this terrifying realization that every rule they read on the Logic Games section can be turned into an equation with variables,” said David Drew, an LSAT tutor and founder of the test-prep company, Zen LSAT. “People are scared by that concept because they’ve never learned it before.”

Most students who apply to law school were social-science or humanities majors in college. Many aren’t comfortable with numbers. But even math and science majors struggle with Logic Games.

“I was a finance major. In college, I took three calculus classes, two physics classes, and six chemistry classes,” said Laurel Kandianis, a first-year law student at Temple Law School. “And still, when I got to the Logic Games section on the test, I completely blanked. I guessed on 11 of the questions and canceled my score.”

LSAT test developers include the Logic Games section to test a student’s analytical reasoning skills—the ability to understand and organize a group of conditions and rules, and make deductions based on that information. In the most recent examination of LSAT content by the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), evaluators concluded that these kinds of skills are crucial to determining how successful a student will be in law school.

“The reasoning skills assessed in the [Logic Games] section parallel those involved in the kind of legal reasoning that is used in law school. Law school curriculum is designed to inculcate those skills that are essential to the profession of law. Therefore, we have good reason to believe these critical reasoning skills are important to the practice of law,” said Lily Knezevich, the senior director of test development at LSAC, in an email.

Logic Games are teachable because of their novelty. Law-school applicants typically have a lot of experience with the kinds of questions included on the other two sections of the LSAT. Reading Comprehension and Logical Reasoning rely on skills that humanities majors have been using throughout college: analyzing text and breaking down arguments. By the time they get through undergrad, most law-school applicants have in theory already developed these skills—they’re either good at those things, or they’re not. As a result, even after months of studying, scores on these sections rarely go up more than a couple of points. But the Logic Games section requires a completely new set of skills. And if an applicant can learn those skills, she can master the section.

Wealthy applicants have an easier time mastering Logic Games for two reasons. First, they can pay for tutors and classes. Before they did anything else to prepare for the LSAT, most of the half-dozen students I interviewed bought a book from a big test-prep company like Kaplan. Books like this generally aren’t too much of a financial burden—they typically cost under $60. But after a few weeks with a Kaplan book, every student I spoke with who used one started looking for LSAT help in other places.

“For most of the students I tutor, I’m their second or last stop,” Drew said. “Lots of them have taken some kind of free introductory course somewhere else, or they come in with a stack of books from the larger test-prep companies.”

The Logic Games section is extremely visual. To answer a set of questions successfully, you need to draw diagrams and charts. It’s difficult to master those techniques by reading about them in a book. It’s easier to watch someone actually draw the questions out and coach you as you work through them.

You can get that kind of individual attention either from a class or a tutor. The most popular online and in-person courses from the largest LSAT test-prep companies—Kaplan, Princeton Review, BluePrint, PowerScore, and Testmasters—cost between around $950 and $1,600 for approximately 80 hours of class time. Many private LSAT tutors charge between $150 and $250 an hour.

Law-school applicants from affluent backgrounds also have an easier time with Logic Games because they’re more likely to have time to study. I spoke with multiple people who either quit their jobs or took several months off to study for the LSAT. For that period of time, their parents supported them financially.

About a decade ago, the longtime LSAT tutor JY Ping founded PreProBono, a nonprofit that offers free LSAT prep and law-school counseling to low-income and minority students. Working with these students, Ping quickly realized how much they struggled to make time for the LSAT.   

“We give students involved in PreProBono the resources to prepare for the test, but they just don’t have time to study. They actually need to earn money and pay bills. What would be really great is if we could just give them a bunch of money so that they could have time,” Ping said.

The good news is that the internet is starting to provide more affordable pathways to a high score on the LSAT. In the last few years, a series of new LSAT prep companies that offer exclusively online resources have started to challenge the existing market. These companies offer access to their own online curriculum, taught through hundreds of hours of short videos. For a fraction of the price of a formal class or private tutor, students can watch a teacher work through Logic Games on paper, then pause the video and try it themselves.

7Sage, a company that Ping founded after PreProBono, is one of the largest of these new, video-based LSAT prep companies. Its most popular package costs $179, barely an eighth of the price of the standard Kaplan course. Founded in 2012, the company is known for posting free video explanations for all past Logic Games online. Ping wanted to lower the cost of preparing for the LSAT and recognized that the Logic Games section was, for most people, the biggest hurdle. If students could watch him solve every Logic Game ever created, he thought, they should be able to do well on the section.

This idea is similar to the one behind Khan Academy, a nonprofit dedicated to offering free online classes on virtually every subject. Like 7Sage and many other exclusively online LSAT prep companies, Khan Academy posts lectures as short YouTube videos. In this way, the organization strives to break the monopoly that expensive institutions have on higher education.

“The traditional LSAT prep companies play this game where they lock up their information. They have the information you need to solve the Logic Games, so what are you going to do about it? But with the internet, information is laid wide open for everyone to see. Their game doesn’t work anymore,” Ping said.

While many students still take full-price classes from traditional prep companies, more and more are discovering the increasingly wide range of online options.

“I immediately realized that I did not have an extra two grand laying around to hire a tutor, so I started searching for resources online,” said Kandianis. She found LSAT Blog, a video-based LSAT prep website run by Steve Schwartz, a Columbia Law School graduate. Using a study schedule designed by LSAT Blog, Kandianis worked through 200 hours of material.

As these online, video-based companies grow and become more visible, their presence on the LSAT test-prep scene will make Logic Games less of an obstacle for low-income students. The problem of time, however, remains. Because the Logic Games section is so different from anything most students learn in school, to score well, you need to spend a lot of time studying. Students who can afford to spare that time will always have an enormous advantage.

The Cost of Being First

Via The Atlantic: http://ift.tt/2ekj5d4


When Chris was accepted into the Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, he didn’t think of himself as a first-generation college student. Acknowledging his first-generation identity and how it influenced his path came years later, but the label assigned by his college is only a part of Chris’s individual story.

His parents, both Vietnamese refugees who had not gone to college, raised him in south Florida. Chris, who did not want to use his last name, knew he’d earned a golden admission ticket, but he didn’t know that getting in was only half the struggle. He hadn’t considered how his parents’ lack of higher education might influence his own college studies. “I did homework with my classmates for the first time and I found myself getting defensive about what little knowledge of college I had coming in,” Chris said, describing the anxiety and distress he experienced studying, taking tests, and meeting classmates. “I was playing pretend the moment I had my first meaningful conversation with someone, and I consequently felt lost the next year and a half.”

More schools are focusing on supporting students like Chris. But in their goal to increase access to higher education, schools label young people in ways that isolate rather than include them—particularly where colleges and the support systems they develop for these students automatically equate being first generation with being low income, as many studies suggest.

As a sociologist, Celine-Marie Pascale, a professor and the associate dean for undergraduate studies at American University, where I also teach, is concerned with the language and attitudes that develop around culture, knowledge, and power. When Pascale was a first-generation graduate student, 17 years after earning her undergraduate degree, she was awarded a scholarship and asked to visit donors. “I was incredibly grateful, of course; I could not have gone to school without it. But I became weary of going to events and representing the poor student they were saving. It felt demeaning,” she said.

The labels aren’t always intentional, and they aren’t always bad. Colleges anticipate and define student categories—like low-income, first-generation, and minority—mostly based on voluntary Common Application data provided before a student ever arrives on campus. While students aren’t required to disclose their parents’ educational backgrounds—and many don’t—self-identified first-generation students are often linked to or assumed to have economic disadvantage. Students may also choose not to disclose their first-generation status; professors and classmates won’t know unless they claim the label. But labels that assume first-generation always correlates with low-income may get in the way of the more important conversation of how individuals relate to their college community and larger culture and foster feelings of resentment.

Does it matter if first-generation students are also low-income? What about a first-generation student of color who comes from a family of means? How many labels are necessary to understand first-generation students’ needs? Labeling theory has been well established in multiple disciplines, and when applied to the classroom, teacher expectations may influence student performance. If a teacher lowers standards because he assumes a student needs the accommodation, the student’s true potential won’t be measured. A label may unintentionally shape a teacher’s reaction, meaning she may assume a certain behavior results from the label rather than the individual. At a critical juncture in a college student’s cognitive development, the combination of labels may hinder more than help.

Ben Galina, a teaching fellow at Vanderbilt University, argued in an essay that some first-generation students may resist the first-generation label, especially if it’s associated with being low-income. “Negative stereotypes about socially marginalized groups hold that any lack of socioeconomic success may be attributed to internal deficits rather than social, historical, or situational injustices,” he wrote. Focusing on achievement may lead to segregation from their families. Many unconsciously underachieve to remedy the isolation. Even if first-generation students overcome the “stereotype threat,” they may experience imposter syndrome when they arrive on campus and choose to downplay the difficult path to admission in order to blend with students who are not the first in their families to go to college. Often, first-generation students arrive on campus with doubts about their ability to achieve, even when their test scores, grades, and backgrounds don’t support their worries. But the anxiety of failing may feed the cycle. Believing they don’t belong and can’t fit in with their peers may morph the fear into a reality.

Yet there’s a danger in abandoning the concept of a first-generation student altogether. The label can be both empowering and unifying, as many of these students experience similar challenges and need similar resilience to face them. Labeling students allows schools to identify and deliver targeted resources. Schools that anticipate what this population shares and understand how to support first-generation students may increase retention rates, but only if they can reach the students where they are and persuade them to accept the help.  Regardless of where first-generation students arrive, and regardless of the scholarship money they may have received for their education, they often leave because they aren’t prepared, feel isolated from their peers, aren’t aware of available resources, or move back home to support their families.

Like their peers, many first-generation students want to make their parents and communities proud, but leaving for college can often seem like a rejection of their family’s own path. “When students and faculty pick up the label of being first -generation, they often worry about disloyalty to their families—that somehow going to college means they’re saying their parents’ lives were inadequate,” Pascale said. Like myself, Pascale is a first-generation student turned first-generation faculty member. “We become complicit with a larger cultural narrative. When you add a low-income piece, it hits even harder,” she said.

In her research, Pascale agrees with Galina about the risks of the label: “Until we have honest conversations about class, and take responsibility for the inequality that our economy systematically generates, the label of ‘first generation’ is going to be fraught.” Research in labeling theory suggests that damage to a student’s potential occurs when the label becomes the limited lens. Labels may shape attitudes and reveal a narrower view of the individual. Sometimes simply labeling a student by her race or income or class may alter her actual achievement. If classification within the classroom lowers teacher expectations, student performance may actually decrease.  

In an op-ed published in Inside Higher Ed earlier this year, Byron P. White, the chief diversity officer at Cleveland State University, wrote, “As long as being a person of color or of modest economic means, or the child of parents who did not go to college, is deemed to be, first and foremost, an indicator of potential failure, the integrity of our proclaimed expectation of success is undermined.” The “deficit-laden labels,” as he called them, limit deeper conversations about the assets—like persistence, independence, and resilience—that first-generation students bring to campus. But can a mere shifting of words create a ripple effect throughout higher education?

Whether the label helps or hurts, students benefit from authentic conversations about class in and out of classrooms that may not offer easy answers. Perhaps the questions matter more than any resolution. “Any label cuts both ways,” Pascale said. “There’s a process of identification that can be empowering; it also can be marginalizing.” Honest and open talks about economic justice may serve students more than labels. It’s possible that both can exist and in the same place.

And even if a student proudly claims to be first-generation, low-income, the label may provide a useful signal but it isn’t a complete story. “We live in a society that makes us uncomfortable if we can’t easily identify labels for the person we are speaking to, especially with gender and race. We’re always sorting,” Pascale said. “With class, the system works by erasure. You can’t always tell someone’s socioeconomic status when you meet them. It disarms our normal way of operating and enables us to personalize, minimize, or deny economic inequality.”

While assuming that first-generation students are low-income can foster negative stereotypes and lead to disillusionment among students, it is still true that many first-generation students are low-income and can benefit from financial and other assistance.

In his experience as a scholarship student, Chris said, “I don’t think ‘first-generation’ should necessarily be linked with ‘low-income,’ since within both there are so many different communities, and we can’t expect all of those subgroups to overlap.” But he does see that from a practical perspective, a campus office supporting one need might be just as equipped to meet another. A comprehensive approach to course scheduling, financial aid, career development, and social adjustment streamlines support and may help eliminate frustration and failure before it builds.

In “Moving Beyond Access: College Success for Low-Income, First-Generation Students,” senior scholars at the Pell Institute found that after six years of enrolling in college, only 11 percent of low-income, first-generation students nationwide had earned bachelor’s degrees; the rate was 55 percent for their more advantaged peers. With 4.5 million low-income, first-generation students enrolling in higher education, hopes are high but disparities in outcomes are growing. Students in this “doubly disadvantaged population” are more than four times more likely to leave college after the first year. They take with them significant debt that burdens themselves and their families with little to show for it.

Without scholarships, first-generation, low-income students like Chris and Pascale wouldn’t be able to attend prestigious schools. But without programs that consider the entire college experience, rather than just the financial need, they may not have made it to the graduation stage at all.  

Chris, for instance, might not have succeeded if not for the Georgetown Scholarship Program. Since its founding in 2004, the donor-funded initiative has served over 1,000 students, 70 percent of them the first in their families to go to college. The program provides recipients with mentoring, alumni networking, and resume building, but it also provides basic necessities like bedding, professional clothing, and funding for students to travel home. When a student’s background as well as emotional, social, and physical well being is considered, rather than just her college application, the path toward graduation becomes more likely. Upon acceptance, students like Chris are labeled “scholars” and welcomed among the ranks for their potential.

Chris wasn’t satisfied just accepting the support, though; he wanted to do more to reach other communities of students like his own. He became co-founder of AL1GN, the Alliance for Low-Income First-Generation Narrative, through which he’s sought to create a “network of networks” among students, faculty, staff, researchers, and allies. The goal of the group is to share not just resources but stories, too.

Policymakers and institutions, too, are starting to not only recognize the unique challenges of first-generation students but also support and uplift their path. First in the Family, for example, is a resource hub that intervenes at the high-school level to prepare college-bound students and their families for higher education; it gives them access to multimedia, workshops, and first-generation allies.

Online communities, like the grant-funded I’m First, created by the Center for Student Opportunity, offer students portals to find colleges, ask questions about the application process, and hear stories of first-generation successes. The message is one of empowerment. One article reports four advantages of being a first-generation student. The focus is also on preparing family members who may feel ill-equipped to support their child (or relative) in their unfamiliar college endeavor.

Ultimately, as White, the Cleveland State diversity officer, noted, the administrative conversations about modern students have to evolve. The success of young people—and the schools they attend—depends on it.

East Tennessee State shaken when Black Lives Matter event is disrupted

Via Inside Higher Ed: http://ift.tt/2drvp9T


East Tennessee State University was shaken Wednesday when a white student wearing a gorilla mask interrupted a Black Lives Matter rally and thrust a banana hanging on a string in the faces of black students who were participating in the rally.

Images of the white student — who carried a sack with a Confederate emblem — taunting the black students spread on social media and outraged many on the campus. The black students did not respond directly to the taunts — and have received praise for their calm. A university statement said, "Our campus community was outraged by the behavior of one student who confronted the participants. The actions of this one individual go against the values of our university, where people come first and all are treated with dignity and respect."

The student has been identified by campus police as Tristan Rettke. He was arrested by campus police for civil rights intimidation, based in part on his having told the campus police officers that his costume was an attempt "to provoke" the black students. Civil rights intimidation is a felony in Tennessee. Rettke posted bail and has been released from jail, but the university has placed him on interim suspension, meaning that he cannot be on campus, pending an investigation that may result in a permanent suspension or other sanction.

The fall semester has already seen numerous incidents of racism nationwide, including many personal and online attacks that mock the Black Lives Matter movement. The idea of denigrating black people as gorillas is an old racist trope. Also this year, at American University, hundreds of black students held a protest last week after two black women reported incidents involving bananas — one thrown at a woman and one left outside the door of a woman’s room. Students carried signs saying "Racism at AU Is Bananas."

At East Tennessee, the university organized an open forum Wednesday night to discuss what had happened.

Brian Noland, the president of the university, started the event by talking about how proud he was of the way the black students handled themselves when they were taunted. Noland said he was particularly upset because the event took place at a fountain that was dedicated to honor the five black students who integrated the university in the 1950s. He listed their names: Eugene Caruthers, Elizabeth Watkins Crawford, Clarence McKinney, George L. Nichol and Mary Luellen Owens Wagner. He talked about how their values were those of the university and its students.

After he spoke, many students and faculty members did as well. Many black students spoke about everyday racism they face on social media and said that even that experience did not prepare them for the shock and pain they felt on Wednesday. Faculty members spoke of being stunned by what had happened as well.

One professor said that Wednesday’s incident was "one of the ugliest things I have seen on a college campus." He asked if administrators present would talk about how they view the balance between hateful statements or acts and the First Amendment.

Joe H. Sherlin Jr., vice president for student affairs, answered by saying that the First Amendment grants "broad latitude for speech" and that "the best antidote for speech that is offensive is more speech."

But he added that when speech "becomes intimidating" or "threatening" or "inhibits someone else’s right to express their own civil rights," that may not be protected. And he said campus police officers believed that was the case at the rally.

Several people at the forum noted that another Black Lives Matter rally would take place Thursday. Only about 15 to 20 people were present on Wednesday when the student in the mask disrupted the event. On Thursday, officials estimated the crowd at 350 to 400 — and there were no disruptions.

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Shaken By Economic Change, ‘Non-Traditional’ Students Are Becoming The New Normal

Via NPR Ed : NPR: http://ift.tt/2djM0RW


September 25, 20168:35 AM ET


Asia Duncan, 32, is formerly a seller for a jewelry maker. Now, she’s attending Pasadena City College and is working to be a doctor.


Maya Sugarman for NPR

New community college student Asia Duncan makes her way to class up an outdoor stairwell on the sun-filled campus of Pasadena City College in southern California.

"I’m actually headed to an ‘Intro to College’ class," she says. "They’re teaching you about college and what’s a unit."

It’s a class about taking classes?

"Exactly," she says, "It’s telling me where on campus I can find different resources. So some of it is helpful."

The resources Duncan needs most now may not be things the school can help much with: childcare and income.

Duncan is a 30-year-old single mom with two boys: Leo, 8, and 18-month-old Ray. The father of her children, she says, is not yet paying child support.

"Now everything is kind of falling on my lap: two kids, I’ve got to kind of get my priorities in line and go back to school and do what I need to do."


Duncan studies for a modern genetics class in the backyard of her Pasadena home. Once in medical school, she’s hoping to go into dermatology.


Maya Sugarman for NPR

Fresh out of high school, Duncan went into the retail jewelry business.

She earned a gemology certificate and worked in retail and corporate jewelry sales in Washington State and Louisiana for more than a decade. "I assumed I was going to live and die in the jewelry industry and work there forever, really."

These days, free babysitting from her grandmother who lives nearby helps a lot. And federal Pell Grants make a big difference with tuition.

But it’s a struggle. She’s now looking to take out student loans -– soon.

She’s happy, though: She’s getting good grades at Pasadena City College, which she says has been welcoming and supportive.

"I didn’t really realize that I was going to like it so much. I think it’s just the excitement of where this education is taking me."

She hopes it takes her on to a four-year school and, eventually, medical school — maybe dermatology: "I think I just want a job, a position, a career where I don’t have to worry about money. I don’t have to think about that. And I also want to be able to help someone."

While colleges and universities have seen enrollment growth follow every recession since 1980, the boost in enrollment following the Great Recession was far greater than previous.

And a growing number of those students enrolling are older, working, have a family -– or all three.

Nearly half of those enrolled in higher ed today are so-called "non-traditional" students. One quarter of all students are over the age of 30.

The increase is driven mostly by tough financial realities and a changing economy.

Duncan says she felt some angst about going to college later than most. How will I relate to 19- or 20-year-olds, she thought?

Yet they’ve been supportive and helpful, she says, even though she sometimes feels a little "hungrier" for school than some of her classmates.

"When I say hungrier, I mean I have to get this done. It’s not an option for me. I can’t take another two years off from school. I can’t afford it. These younger students, they do have an opportunity to maybe postpone school and go and figure themselves out. A lot of younger students, they don’t know — and that’s OK," she says, adding "I’m coming in a little bit older and a little bit wiser and know what I want."

Chuck Sewell is another adult student taking that journey.

He grew up in a large, poor and — by his own account — dysfunctional family. He left school after the fifth grade to help care for his siblings. He eventually got a GED.

By his late teens he had found a career path — residential real estate -– and ran with it. Over the next three decades he built a successful business flipping homes, renting homes, staging properties and serving as an agent.

But when the Great Recession hit, that all came crashing down. He lost everything. For a time he was living out of his truck. "Ended up homeless. Didn’t have very much money left," he says. "It was a tough time to go through. Emotionally, psychologically – it was very difficult."

After a few years adrift — "I think I was in shock," he says — Sewell found the strength to make a change. "I knew I needed to support myself for the rest of my life. I decided to go back to school. I’d always wanted an education. I felt cheated out of my education because of my childhood and was very eager to go back. That was exciting to me," Sewell says.

Now, at 58, Sewell is getting straight A’s at Pasadena City College.

Inspired by his own financial and emotional challenges after wiping out during the recession, he wants to eventually get a master’s degree in social work. "I want to give back," he says, "I want to help people."

Duncan and Sewell are hardly alone: Almost half of all undergraduate students in higher education today can be categorized as "non-traditional." At America’s community colleges, those students are the vast majority.

Those realities underscore how outdated the term "non-traditional student" really is, says Yancey Gulley, an assistant professor at Western Carolina University. Gulley says that label sends older students a damaging message "that this place ‘is not made for me.’ We just keep ‘othering’ them and reminding them that this is a chance we’re giving them, we actually don’t think we belong here."

The terminology debate gets to a much larger issue: Gulley argues that too few four-year institutions are adequately addressing the fact that they are run on the antiquated idea they mainly serve students in the 18-to-24 range.

One example — many adult learners take courses in the evenings when campus services are closed. "What if they need tutoring help?" Gulley asks. "What if they need to drop by the admissions office to change their program of study? What if they need to meet with financial aid?"

More and more schools "are having to adapt their policies and practices around these older learners," says Deborah Seymour with the American Council on Education’s Center for Education Attainment and Innovation. "They can’t isolate themselves from what is slowly becoming more than 50 percent of the student population," she says.

The hurdles for older students, she says, are often greater: many are juggling work and family with school. Many need to catch up on basic courses. "And the pressures are greater," Seymour says, "they may have fewer years left to work. It’s a very practical challenge for people."

More colleges and universities need to become better equipped to address the needs of older students, she says. And soon. The already large adult student population is projected to grown even larger in coming years.

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