Systemic Racism and the Grading of AP Exams

exam image

Just weeks ago in Salt Lake City the national grading/reading of the Advanced Placement World History Exam became something of a playground for deeply rooted anti-Asian racism thinly veiled as “light-hearted” humor. Did you hear about this? Bet you didn’t. Because barely anybody did. A brave handful of graders who were there protested, but MANY more (graders and non-graders) pushed back with abusive online bullying and what’s-the-big-deal-this-isn’t-even-racist rhetoric. So far only Angry Asian Man and Hyphen Magazine picked up the story. No major networks found it interesting. ETS and the College Board eventually issued a half apology. And then, silence. Crickets chirp. The nation waves away yet another heinous incident of Asian oppression as irritating ambient noise while presumably the glowing promise of a “model minority symphony” continues to ring loud, clear, and deafeningly across the land.

Advanced Placement Program

Advanced Placement (AP) is a program in the U.S. and Canada, created by the College Board (which also owns and publishes the SAT), offering college-level curricula and exams to high school students. The rigorous curricula for a wide variety of AP subjects is designed by a College Board panel of experts and college-level educators in each field of study. Standardized tests on this material are offered every May. In 2013, over 2 million students took almost 4 million of these exams (pdf). Those who perform well can receive course credit and/or advanced standing at thousands of universities worldwide. Exams are also written by The College Board but the proctoring, administering, and grading is farmed out externally to Educational Testing Service (ETS). AP tests contain a multiple-choice section scored by computer and a free-response section evaluated by an ETS employed team of some college professors and grad students but mostly high school AP teachers. In June this lineup of educated folk gather for a week to score student essays at what are known as AP Readings. AP Exam Readers are led by a Chief Reader, a college professor who has the responsibility of ensuring that students receive scores that accurately reflect college-level achievement.

What HAPPENED?

The 2014 document-based AP World History question (pdf) using 9 related/given documents, was to “…analyze the relationship between Chinese peasants and the Chinese Communist Party between circa 1925 and circa 1950.” According to Phil Yu of Angry Asian Man  who heard from several attendees at this year’s AP World History Reading, this essay question “…apparently became an excuse for organizers to run wild with a week filled with all sorts of culturally insensitive jokes and anti-Asian imagery.” Yu further describes the Chief Reader allegedly, “made jokes about the Tianamen Square Massacre “Tank Man”  (“You don’t want to be that guy.”) while wearing a Red Guard cap of the Cultural Revolution” and was “reportedly one of many people wearing such a cap that week.” And of course every Asian/Am-identifying person is flinching right now because we know all too well what it means to be the punchline.

 

Tank Man

 

(Image source)

This is “Tank Man”; one of the iconic images from the Tianamen Square Protests of 1989 which just saw their 25th anniversary  mid-April through early-June (literally days before the AP World History Reading). Okay moving on. Unfortunately it doesn’t get better. The AP World History Reading also annually offers for purchase a commemorative T-shirt loosely based on the same document-based essay question. According to Hannah Kim over at Hyphen Magazine  a preview of the back of this year’s T-shirt was shown the first day. It featured appropriated Chinese communist imagery captioned with a “chop suey” font. Some attendees were offended and complained immediately. But despite assurances from ETS that the design would be reworked, the shirts were distributed end of the week unchanged. And lo and behold, on the front was yet another fun surprise; yellowface cartoon caricatures of the Chinese Communist “Party”:

 

AP World History

T-shirt sold to commemorate the grading/reading of the 2014 AP World History Exam
(Image Source) 

 

Kim relays sadly many AP World History teachers and academics present “were not put off by this racist imagery,” that “hundreds of educators purchased this shirt and wore it on the last day” [emphasis mine], and confirms Yu’s report that this was “just one of many instances of cultural insensitivity directed at Asian Americans during the week-long grading.”

Pushback, Paralysis, & I Don’t Get It

What was originally a smaller protest became a little larger and louder. But substantial pushback rose to the occasion with stop-being-so-sensitive-can’t-you-take-a-joke (and of course now every Asian/Am-identifying person is shaking their head sadly because we know all too well the experience of being told to calm down). The pushback morphed into widespread sometimes aggressive invalidation by others who really didn’t see what the problem was accompanied by total paralysis on the part of ETS HR (and by association the College Board).

Let’s be very clear here because really, it’s not that difficult. As sociologist Joe Feagin, Ph.D., writes in his 2010 book The White Racial Frame:

“Whites view Asians and Asian Americans as available targets for racial stereotyping, imagining, and hostility. Over the last century and more, Chinese, Japanese and other Asian Americans have been imaged and labeled in many areas of society as ‘the pollutant, the coolie, the deviant, the yellow peril, the model minority, and the gook…” [emphasis added] (Feagin 2010, p.113).

When the Chief Reader used serious political references to Chinese people/events in a mocking way while simultaneously alluding to oppressive tropes that have been used to discriminate against Asians in America for decades/centuries (i.e. model vs deviant behaviors + marks of foreignness “you don’t want to be that guy”), whether intentional or not he racialized his joking. He leveraged his position of power to microaggressively marginalize nonwhite peoples. Racialized joking is extremely problematic because it is a particular way people of color in this nation continue to experience discrimination and be demeaned, and therefore a key perpetrator in keeping racism alive today.

Similar scenario for the T-shirt’s Asian cartoon parody, which many also are still struggling to understand as anything other than innocuous, silly, or even benign. Again, it’s not that difficult. “Stereotypes, omissions, and distortions,” writes Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D., in her well-known book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? , “All contribute to the development of prejudice” (Tatum 1997, p.5).

 

AmericanBornChinese-48

 

“Cousin Chin-Kee,” artwork copyright 2007 Gene Luen Yang

(Image source)

Like all race stories, America has a long, long history of anti-Asian propaganda that has promulgated itself through the use of degrading caricatures. If you don’t believe me, Google anti-Asian propaganda.  Perhaps no one has said it better than Asian American graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang in describing his choice to strategically employ offensive Asian stereotyping for character Chin-Kee in American Born Chinese:


Cousin Chin-Kee isn’t meant to be funny. He’s meant to come off the page and slap you in the face. If you’re laughing at him, I want you to do so with a knot in your stomach and a dry throat…You see, Cousin Chin-Kee is no more my creation than the Monkey King. I yanked him, every last detail about him, straight out of American pop culture…Cousin Chin-Kee just keeps coming back to visit. In the 80′s, he showed up as Long Duk Dong in
Sixteen Candles. More recently, he reared his ugly head in movie critic Rex Reed’s review of the Korean film Old Boy. When the American public caught a glimps of him in William Hung’s American Idol performance, Hung was promptly made the most recognizable Asian-American male in the world. Every time Asian America thinks it’s finally time to breathe easy, the doorbell rings and we find Cousin Chin-Kee on the doorstep with a piece of take-out box luggage in each hand. America simply isn’t sensitive to modern slurs against Asian Americans.” Gene Luen Yang 

 

What’s Really Going On

What’s really going on here is something that has been going on for generations and which perseveres in adaptively replicating itself across time. ETS and the College Board have since published a statement and apology condemning the incidents. In it they come clean about what happened using powerful words to describe the events: “unacceptable,” “inappropriate,” “offensive” and “toxic.” I applaud this move. BUT if you read the statement a few more times, in, under, and over the lines, you might notice another thread: “Neither ETS nor the College Board has any involvement,” “College Board officials were notified of these incidents after the AP World History Reading was over,” “the College Board has asked ETS to discipline any responsible individuals” [emphasis mine], and then over on Twitter, “We didn’t sponsor, create, or distribute the offensive materials, which we find truly appalling.” This duck-and-cover-not-our-fault subtext deflects blame onto a pathologized individual (or few individuals) and completely avoids institutional accountability. “Equating racism with pathology,” writes Derald Wing Sue, Ph.D., in his also well-known work Microaggressions in Everyday Life “Diminishes its widespread nature by fostering an illusion that good, normal, moral, and decent human beings do not harbor racist attitudes and beliefs” (Sue 2010, p.146).

This is what we mean when we talk about systemic racism. A historically-rooted pervasive set of beliefs, actions, and inactions by individuals and institutions that all together continue to keep the racial order in place. There were many people involved here either intentionally or unintentionally, through force of will or willful ignorance, denial and complicity. ETS and the College Board completely disassociate themselves from supposed guilty individual(s) but offer no discussion around how they were the ones who hired said person(s) into positions of power to begin with. What is their hiring and training process? Do they fold in anti-bias practices? How did the T-shirt (which ETS and the College Board claim “one person” made though that seems highly unlikely) ever make it out the gates? “There was ample opportunity to prevent this from happening,” wrote a Twitter user, “It should have never been sold in the first place.” Once out the gates, why did hundreds of high school teachers and college professors buy the T-shirt and wear it? Then when word of this entire debacle did finally get round — something affecting not only our nation’s educational system, but children and families, our FUTURE — why do so few seem to care? And how do we just know the fact that it was Asians who were targeted in an academic setting is significant when we consider the anemic aftermath and overall lack of visibility?

These are tough and deeply uncomfortable questions. They hurt. They suck. They make me tired, overwhelmed and completely exhausted. Given these feelings and the particular climate around this incident I suspect far more people are putting in earplugs, slipping on blinders and singing “LA LA LA” really loudly than anything else right now. Nevertheless. I know some of us are still engaged. I hope more of us can become so. If we keep asking, keep challenging, keep demanding accountability and creatively seeking solutions, I really do believe we can do better by ourselves and our children.

 

There are fewer than 100 black professors in Britain – why?

It is a shocking statistic that there were just 85 black professors in UK universities in 2011-12. In stark terms, this means that there are more higher education institutions than there are black British, African and Caribbean professors actually teaching in them. The latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency put the number of UK academic staff from a known ethnic minority at 12.8%.

Black Professor

In contrast, black and minority ethnic students are well represented. In some institutions, such as City University, they make up nearly 50% of the student population. Yet even in these universities black academics are a rarity, particularly those in senior positions.

It is hard to think of an arena of UK public life where the people are so poorly represented and served on the basis of their race. Yet this scandalous state of affairs generates little by way of investigation, censure or legal scrutiny under the 2010 Equality Act.

The Metropolitan Police has come under intense scrutiny for a number of years for its lack of diversity. It was famously labelled as institutionally racist by the 1998 Macpherson report for its failure to be representative and adequately serve the black community under its jurisdiction. In statistical terms, UK universities are as unrepresentative as the Metropolitan police. Somehow, they have managed to escape intense scrutiny of their attitudes, practices and procedures relating to the black populations that they have a duty to educate and serve.

It is also evident that there is a staggering absence of black people in other leadership positions within the UK higher education system. This includes vice chancellors, registrars and other administrators who make the key strategic decisions concerning ethos, priorities and direction of their institutions.

No Black British studies

Another stark feature of UK academia is the absence of any degree courses that systematically explore the experiences of black people in Britain. In the US, African American Studies are part and parcel of the academic environment. Many academic institutions house departments and academic leaders dedicated to the discipline.

But in Britain there is not a single institution that has a degree programme in Black British studies. If one thinks about the plethora of degree programmes that are offered by UK institutions, it is remarkable that not one of them offers a programme of teaching and research into the experiences of communities that have been so important to the shaping of the United Kingdom.

However, black communities are often the objects of detailed academic scrutiny by UK academics. In sociology, psychology, politics, history, theology, and numerous other disciplines, black communities are analysed, assessed, examined, evaluated and commented upon.

This analysis of black life, conducted primarily by white academics, often portrays black communities as dehumanised. Black people are used to illustrate problems as diverse as educational underachievement, health inequality, and religious extremism.

In doing this, universities contribute to an unflattering, stereotypical and false image of black communities in Britain. The rich complexity and diversity of the black British experience gets buried under an avalanche of supposedly detailed and well-established research findings. Equally damaging is that the communities who are the objects of this research are so rarely empowered by these findings.

Black communities still experience exclusion, under-representation and marginalisation when it comes to the UK’s major institutions. While academics benefit from research income and a raised profile because of their knowledge of black communities, the communities themselves remain on the margins of academic life.

Call to action

In order to move black people into the mainstream of British academic life, fundamental cultural and procedural shifts are required. It needs to be acknowledged that the British higher education system has institutional inadequacies. Universities need to take pro-active measures to ensure that institutions genuinely reflect the diversity of the wider society, both in terms of personnel at all levels and in relation to curricula and research.

The introduction of Black British studies courses in British university campuses could be one positive step on the journey towards a more inclusive higher education system. But rigorous scrutiny, analysis and action is also needed to tackle the institutionalised discrimination that is a stain on the reputation of Britain’s liberal university culture.

The Conversation

~ This post was written by William Ackah, Birkbeck, University of London. William Ackah does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This post was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original here.

Why isn’t College for Learning About Mixed-Race Identities?

Learning

There are some incredible opportunities out there right now to get certificates, higher ed and even advanced degrees specializing in the experience of Americans of color. Want a degree in Asian American Studies? Sure. How about African American, Native or American Indian, Latin American, Mexican American or Chicano studies? Absolutely. Google all of these and you’ll find brilliant choices to be credentialed in these heritage experiences at very fine colleges and universities.

But what if you ID as mixed-race multicultural across any of these racial lines? Is there a degree for that?

“Not that I’m aware of,” writes Steven F. Riley of MixedRaceStudies.org (46), “The vast majority of courses on mixed-race studies are within the disciplines of Sociology, Psychology, History and Literature, etc.” Despite the fact that the crop of students moving through college today is the largest group of self-identified mixed-race people ever to come of age in the U.S., “In traditional Ethnic Studies,” writes University of California, Berkeley: Center for Race and Gender, “Mixed race scholarship has often been marginalized, misappropriated, tokenized or simply left out.”

Indeed it has only been in recent history that an arena for multi-race discourse has even forcibly begun construction mostly due to multiracials themselves. In the US this is because we have (a) not only a history of denying mixed race which persists but (b) a habit of continuing to operate under the assumption that race can be easily identified and filed away. Anyone who can’t be instantly categorized by visual scanning either gets shoved into something that kinda sorta fits, shows up as a mere blip on the cognitive-radar screen or flies under it completely. Case in point, whether by choice or lack of choice, some of the more visible mixed-race Asian scholars/authors right now are embedded in other departments at their campuses: Laura Kina (Art, Media, & Design, DePaul University), Leilani Nishime (Dept of Communication, University of Washington), Stephen Shigematsu-Murphy (Asian American Studies, Stanford University), Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain (Sociology, University of Ireland).

I woke up one morning and had this great idea to write a post on multiracial studies, classes and programs in higher ed. The first day I sat in front of the screen I naively believed I could come up with some sort of beginner, working list through a neat Google Search. Within 15 minutes I had searched about five or six variations of “mixed race studies,” found shockingly little, threw up my hands, and was so irritated I gave up. In fact after that quarter hour I was pretty sure I didn’t want to write this post at all. I supposed stuff was out there but felt confounded to find it without launching an epic dissertation-level exhaustive research project.

“Well,” I thought to myself, “Why don’t I just leave it to college counselors, professors and academics who have the inside scoop.” But then I thought twice. What about the exploding number of young people such as mixed race high schoolers (one day my son) who are starting to think about college, have a blossoming awareness of their multiraciality and would like to be in an environment that supports them, even allows them to pursue degrees along those lines? For that matter, what about any number of mixed race folk wanting to pursue professional certificates or advanced degrees along those lines, or the millions of others increasingly vested in mixed race issues? Are any of these folks going to sit at a computer for hours on a fruitless wild-goose chase that dead-ends in needing to rely on others “more in the know”?

Now I’m not talking student interest clubs and groups here. Those seem to abound and admittedly, are deeply important. But such involvement may or may not be resume material and, let’s be honest, in our society extracurricular certainly doesn’t hold the weight of alphabet soup like B.A. M.A. Ph.D. etc. I also suspect such groups centrally revolve around offering social support, which is of course extremely critical, but may not offer the mixed young person academic space to round-out by learning deeply and reflecting critically upon the construction of race mixing in the US. No. What I’m talking about is also giving mixed race students the space/option to explore their history and identity in their studies, and to become credentialed experts of their own experience.

So what happens when the historically overlooked and unrecognized mixed-race person hops on Google to figure out if they can spend thousands of dollars (they probably don’t have) on an education that would enrich their existence in a racially policed/divided world? It’s not good, people. It’s not good. The average Google Search garners 92% of all its traffic on Page 1. Page 2 only sees about 5%, Page 3 about 1%, and by Page 4 – well, just forget it. In the interest of posterity, let’s take a look at the critical first page of my Google Searching for mixed race studies at college and university campuses across the US:

Search phrase: degree mixed race studies

Of 10 first page results**: The top 3 results turned up this hub, a seriously great and well-known hub of mixed race research. But a quick perusal does not immediately show a listing of places to pursue such research and as we saw earlier, Riley himself states very clearly that he knows of no specific mixed race degree program. Following the top third, 2 results turned up a fairly new endeavor spearheaded by Laura Kina (among others) out of De Paul Unviersity. It is an expanding multiracial academic community that currently includes a biannual conference and academic journal. The website certainly lists organizations and hubs but again, I didn’t see a list of schools to pursue studies.

Following this, 2 search results turned up San Francisco State University’s Master’s in Ethnic Studies which is “increasingly concerned with mixed race studies” but obviously not a mixed race degree. Of the remaining, 1 search result was a write-up of the first Critical Mixed Race Studies postgraduate symposium ever offered at the University of Leeds in May of this year, 1 search result was a graduate thesis, 1 search result was a graduate student bio and 1 search result was a listing for a design-you-own-Master’s at Southern Methodist University.

Of course we see the obvious inability to obtain a specific critical mixed-race studies degree. But also notice the heavy, heavy emphasis on graduate, postgraduate and doctoral level research. In my view this does not allow very accessible entry points into the field of multiracial studies at all. We see a possible end result – but how to even begin? And what if a person does not aspire to become a researcher? Can there be an option to learn without the pressure to contribute to a growing body of mixed-race scholarship that’s struggling to exist? Search phrases like degree multi-ethnic studies or degree multiracial studies and the outcome isn’t much better. Personally I love researching and am excited by finding any results at all. But as the mother of a mixed race child who may or may not follow in his mother’s footsteps, I always have an eye to his future and best interests too. If my 4 year old goes to college one day, I want to feel less nervous and way more comfortable that wherever he goes as a new “legal” adult and young person existing across racial lines, he will find a place to learn more about himself in a life-giving way. I think we’re headed there but we still have a long way to go. I hope to see before my son fills out his first college application (aside from maybe no racial checkboxes to deal with), at least one campus that boasts an entire Critical Mixed Race Department. Pipe dream? We’ll see…

**(Note: I recognize that Google Search results change rapidly and the first page I analyze here is only a snapshot. Subsequent searches by others may turn up different, even very different results.) See my blog, too.

College Readiness: Faulty Analogies or Faulty White Logic?

In “White Logic, White Methods” several essays address the false rationality of social science that is a thin veneer for whiteness.

You can rationalize away all disparate impacts of institutional racism and sexism if you shape your theories, models and measurements just so.

I have argued vehemently, albeit academically, that higher education research is one of the whitest fields of research out there these days. Somehow econometrics brought the rational choice penchant for ignoring statistical discrimination from econ and wedded it to the efficiency logics of market enthusiasm to create a perfect storm of obfuscation and rationalized oppression.

I mostly brush it off. This is the job and I don’t know of a job where this won’t be an issue.

However, I am clear about my critical position: the rational approach to re-inscribing race, gender, and class disparities in higher education policy, particularly through federal financial aid policy, is anything but. It’s all the same benign organizational racism that it has always been.

college

So, when the debate about instituting a “college readiness” test for means-tested federal Pell grants unfolded, I did what I often do: I asked about the racial implications of such a policy.

The analogy was clear to me. Even if it wasn’t clear to others, the meat of the argument remains the same. Secondary schooling is compulsory, which requires a commitment from the State to provide access to the primary qualification for Pell — a diploma or GED. A college readiness test would come with no State obligation. The ridiculous notion that excluding poor students who aren’t college ready from Pell would magically incentivize public education to get on the ball with preparing all students is the kind fairy dust that gives us trickle down economics.

Not a single higher education researcher could explain how this was anything but an act of institutional racism.

Being afraid of talking about race doesn’t excuse serious researchers from the consequences of ignoring race. I do not care if you intend for a policy to be racialized. I am here always for asking the ways in which effects are racialized, absent of intent.

So, let me be clear about my “racist” analogy of college readiness to poll taxes and literacy tests.

Wealth drives “college readiness”.

Black wealth accumulation lags white wealth accumulation because institutional racism has made it so.

From redlining that depresses the value of the greatest asset most Americans have to K-12 school districting that reinforces the salience of wealth and home ownership to curriculum and resources, many black students are unlikely to meet some arbitrary standard of college readiness.

And have no doubt that such a measure would be arbitrary. There is no single agreement on what college readiness constitutes.

There is no moral imperative behind instituting a college readiness barrier beyond “saving money”. But it is never clearly stated whose money we are saving or for what ends. Are we saving poor students’ money? Obviously not if we are denying them a grant and forcing them to rely on student loans more than they already do.

So whose money are we saving? I suspect we mean real peoples’ money. You know, not-poor real people.

As in, the not-poor people whose college readiness is possible because kids in other schools don’t get the resources to be college ready.

There is no scenario where the effects of poverty and racism won’t be expensive. The only scenarios are for whom it will be most costly.

The idea that remediating the effects of negative wealth accumulation and poverty through increasing the cost to individual poor people, who are more likely to be black, is anything but racist paternalism has yet to be effectively argued. Mostly because those who propose college readiness tests are too afraid of being called racist to seriously consider the racist effects of their proposals.

Kind of like how we refuse to acknowledge that punishing poor people doesn’t make them less likely to be poor.

It’s all very rational.

~ Guest blogger Tressie McMillan Cotton is is a PhD candidate in the Sociology Department at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. This post originally appeared at her blog, Some of Us are Brave

An Open Letter to Those Devastated by the Jordan Davis Decision

As my friend and fellow professor Heidi Oliver-O’Gilvie says, “There is always something you can do.”  It’s been a long year for black people.  But what can we do?  First, there was the “not guilty” decision in the George Zimmerman case, which set free a white man who killed an unarmed black youth in his own neighborhood.  Then came the pseudo-conviction of Michael Dunn, who murdered a black Jordan Davis for pumping what he considered “thug music” too loudly.  All this while a white Ethan Couch drunkenly killed a family of four and was given no jail time due to “affluenza,” or excessive privilege.  It’s been a long year indeed, and I refuse to be helpless about it.  But again, there is always something you can do.

Jordan Davis

(Jordan Davis, 1995-2012)

So on this, what would have been Jordan Davis’ 19th birthday (he is deceased now, by the way, of horribly unnatural causes.  Not attempted dead, but actually dead, says my friend Wayne Au of Rethinking Schools), I am wondering what I can do about living in a country that appears to have one set of legal rules for white people, and another for everyone else.

Literally, what can I do?

I suppose I could take to the streets and riot, but you cannot fight violence with violence.  I could hate the country, or hate the legal system, or hate white people.  But you cannot overcome hate with hate.  You can only do that with love, patience, and repaying evil with good.  So, then, what can I do?

First, I have the second most important job in the world.  I used to have the most important job in the world—I used to be a preschool teacher.  Twenty-four children at a time, I used to influence the next generation of US youth by fomenting their love of learning, helping them to understand the importance of using education to actualize their dreams, and teaching them to value all human beings despite their differences from ourselves.  Now I am a teacher educator.  A teacher of teachers.  I am a professor of education at the Center for Urban Education, which is a graduate program that prepares educators for the nation’s must under-supported, black and brown-filled urban schools.  Now, instead of touting the importance of education to 24 children at a time, I do it with 24 teachers who will teach 24 children at a time, for what could be 24 years or longer each.  And that’s powerful.

The late Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  And he was right.  Even Adolph Hitler, with his Nazi Youth programs, understood that if you wish to change a country, you begin with its youth and patiently wait for generational change.  So if evil can use education (the largest form of organized socialization in any society, says Joel Spring, in Globalization of Education, 2009) and youth (generations are defined in 20-year spans) to alter the beliefs, practices, and culture of a nation, then so too can I use it for good.  And use it I shall.

So what can I do?  Continue to be an awesome professor.  When I teach my “Culture, Context, and Critical Pedagogy” course, I will continue to discuss race, privilege, whiteness, anti-oppression, and the affirmation of all forms of human diversity.  After all, you cannot change that which you don’t understand.

I will continue to teach my teachers—to teacher their students—that all human life is valuable.  That skin color is not a marker of automatic danger (blackness) or automatic innocence (whiteness).  That way, young black boys won’t be presumed guilty as they walk home with candy in their pockets, or when they blast their music loudly at a convenience store. And the white men who gun them down won’t be presumed to be acting in self-defense.  And get away with murder.  Literally.

And that’s not all I can do.  I’m a consultant for inclusion and diversity.  Oh, yes.  I will continue to accept invitations from private corporations, non-profit organizations, school systems, and teacher preparation programs to discuss difference, systemic privilege and oppression, racism, and most importantly, anti-racism.

And I vote.  In presidential and mid-term elections.  I will continue to educate myself about which candidates understand institutional “isms” such as sexism, classism, ageism, heterosexism, and racism.  Martin Luther King taught me that all forms of oppression are related, and that an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.  I learned that lesson well, and I plan to use it at the polls as I vote for candidates, laws, and those who will legislate on my behalf with an eye toward valuing the importance of justice for all.

And I plan to have children.  Highly educated, social-justice-loving, politically active children who believe in the common good.  Who will understand that, as Kimberly Wallace-Sanders of Emory University says, “No human beings are better than other human beings.”  Amen to that.  My children will be taught that, and they will live it out each day in these United States.

Look out, injustice.  I have a plan.  I am simultaneously seething and saturated with heartbreak at all I’ve seen in the media this year, and all I experience as a multiracial woman who is often perceived as black.  In addition to the story of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Darrin Manning, and Oscar Grant (on whose life the film Fruitvale Station is based), I experience similar disdain all the time.  Just the other day, a white woman in a dentist’s office hurried to her purse and buried it in her arm as soon as she noticed I had walked in.  She shot me a long glance to make sure I knew her actions were aimed at protecting her valuables from me.  At least she shot me a glance and did not actually shoot me.  Because if she had, she would have killed an unarmed, Ph.D-holding, two-time Harvard graduate.  And probably been let go.

As someone who is devastated by pervasive racism in American life and law, there is much I can do.  Racism and injustice had better watch their backs.  Because I am—we are—not helpless. And their time is limited.

Happy Birthday, Jordan Davis.  You should have had the chance to celebrate turning 19.

~ Guest blogger Taharee Jackson is Asst. Professor (Visiting) at the Center for Urban Education at the University of the District of Columbia.  She specializes in teacher education, multicultural education, and urban education reform.  Dr. Jackson holds a magna cum laude B.A. from Harvard University, an M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a Ph.D. from Emory University.  

Prescriptive Racial Stereotypes of Asian American Leaders

In an article entitled “Why So Few Asians are College President,” Dr. Santa J. Ono, President of the University of Cincinnati, indicates that he finds himself among a very small group of Asian American leaders in higher education: only 1.5 percent of college and university presidents are Asian American and 3.4 percent are administrators in higher education. By contrast, Hispanics comprise 3.8 percent of presidents and African Americans hold 5.9 percent of these roles. This pattern also holds true for the corporate sector, such as the low representation of Asian Americans as corporate officers and members of corporate boards.

Why are Asian Americans so underrepresented in leadership roles? Ono suggests two major factors at play: cultural differences deriving from home environments that value preferences for indirect communication, emotional restraint, and an egalitarian view of power as well as contradictory perceptions about Asian Americans such as being conspicuous but self-effacing, hyperambitious but timid. Frank Wu, Chancellor of the University of California Hastings College of the Law, similarly points out that the model minority myth transforms positive qualities into negative attributes: intelligence is seen as lack of personality, family-oriented as clannish, and hard-working as unfairly competitive.

Ono, however, points to significant new research by Jennifer Berdahl and Ji-A Min at the University of Toronto that sheds light on the particular barriers Asian Americans face in leadership roles. Berdahl and Min distinguish between descriptive stereotypes or generalized beliefs about what members of different racial groups are like and prescriptive stereotypes which, when violated, are likely to provoke social disapproval and backlash. Since East Asians in North America are often descriptively stereotyped as relatively competent, cold, and nondominant, Berdahl and Min identify “nondominant” as a prescriptive stereotype that, when violated, causes negative consequences in the workplace. As a result, when East Asians remain in subordinate, nonleadership roles, and do not try to assert their own viewpoints or ideas or take charge, the competitive threat to valued resources they pose is neutralized. Through a series of four studies, the research findings reveal that not only did East Asians report more racial harassment at work than other employees, but, more importantly, those individuals that violated racial stereotypes were more likely to be the targets of such harassment. Berdahl and Min report that the negative responses to dominant East Asians did not depend on gender and appeared to be unique to this racial minority group.

This promising line of research on prescriptive stereotypes helps explain the hurdles faced by Asian Americans in their efforts to attain leadership positions and how these stereotypes can influence their ability to break through the so-called “bamboo ceiling” or what Sylvia Ann Hewlett calls “the marzipan layer” just below the upper rungs of power.

The notion of prescriptive stereotypes can also apply to the challenges faced by other racial minorities and women when they violate expected stereotypical behaviors and experience backlash. As Santa Ono notes, unconscious bias may be more difficult to address in academe where intellectual fairness and rigor are already presumed to be present. In this regard, he aptly suggests that academe focus some of its energy, acuity, and empathy toward tearing down existing social and psychological barriers to success, “particularly those all the more imposing for being invisible.” Perhaps greater understanding of the influence of prescriptive stereotypes will provide the opportunity for reexamination of the impact of subtle, unconscious bias on organizational processes and allow us to develop truly inclusive definitions of leadership capabilities.

Issues of Bias: UCLA’s Minority Faculty

[The following analysis was sent to us by an experienced academic administrator.]

A Los Angeles Times article published on October 18, 2013 notes that an independent investigative report conducted at UCLA found instances of overt and covert racism involving minority faculty members. This information was gathered by an investigative review team appointed by Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, Scott L. Waugh, under the direction of Chancellor Gene Block and involves findings from interviews with eighteen faculty members in individual interviews as well from ten written statements submitted after a Town Hall meeting. The external review team consisted of a panel of experts including former California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno, UCLA Professor emeritus Gary Nash, Bob Suzuki, former President of Cal Poly Pomona, Dr. Maga Jackson-Triche, former UC Davis Professor, and attorney Constance Rice.

 

(Image from Flickr)

 

The findings of the report include the identification of conflict involving a racial component in two UCLA departments, two reports of egregious incidents of bias experienced by UCLA faculty members, and three reports of perceived bias in hiring, advancement, and retention.

The academic department is the cultural environment that shapes how minority and women faculty are supported and welcomed, the way conflicts are resolved, and how power is distributed. The department chair sets the tone in the academic department, but the makeup of faculty in a given setting, such as the predominance of long-serving tenured faculty, also impacts the departmental dynamic.

Case in point, the study highlights allegations of systematic exclusion of minority and female faculty in what is called “Department A” that ranged from telling junior faculty of color that they would not attain tenure, to discriminatory remarks such as “I thought Asian women were supposed to be submissive.” A white faculty member who was tenured and subsequently left the department indicated that he had spoken out against such conduct, been retaliated against by the department chair through a recommendation against a merit increase in pay, and he then retired rather than continue in that atmosphere.

In “Department B” two faculty members alleged that the department was divided along racial lines, indicating that they had experienced incidents of bias or discrimination by other faculty members, including senior faculty. One faculty member indicated what he perceived to be a clique of Caucasian male professor who ran the department, and said he had personally witnessed senior faculty use racially or ethnically insensitive language.

Incidents of racism noted in the panel’s findings include the report of a Latino faculty member in the health sciences, who indicated that shortly after his hire as a fully tenured faculty member, a senior faculty member in his department, upon encountering him for the first time in the hallway, asked in a loud voice in front of a group of students “What is that fucking spic doing here?” When the Latino faculty member reported it to his assistant dean, the assistant dean, although sympathetic, advised him against going to the dean since it would cause more trouble. The Latino faculty member feels threatened by the senior faculty member, and also believes that the individual left a screwdriver in his mailbox in 2010.

The majority of incidents identified to the reviewers involved process-based discrimination in hiring, advancement, and retention. Faculty members believed that they were denied advancement due to bias and discrimination, usually through an unfavorable letter from the department chair or dean and a negative departmental vote.

Recommendations for action in the report include the need for: 1) adequate training of UCLA employees, including faculty, on what constitutes biased or discriminatory behavior; 2) review of UCLA’s policies and procedures for clarity in how to report incidents of perceived discrimination and the subsequent investigative process; and 3) a centralized Discrimination Officer to address incidents of alleged bias, discrimination, and intolerance. The Discrimination Officer would have independent authority to conduct fact-finding investigations as a core responsibility of the office, would plan education and training, and ensure appropriate followup and recordkeeping. In essence, the Discrimination Officer would create the needed infrastructure to address informal and formal complaints and implement proactive and preventative measures to address forms of covert and overt discrimination.

The UCLA report highlights the importance of a framework of structural components that support an inclusive environment within the decentralized organizational environment of university departments. Recent research on academic departments finds a high degree of variability in the climate and interactions within academic departments that can be strongly influenced by the leadership of the dean and department chair.

Given the decentralized structure of universities with varying micro-climates and cultures, the experiences of women and minorities within departments can reflect very different realities depending on how power is operationalized through leadership, demographic makeup of the department, and intradepartmental interactions. The steps UCLA is taking are important by not only calling attention to the persistence of forms of subtle and covert discrimination, but also in creating the clear and unequivocal leadership expectation for an inclusive work climate throughout the university that supports the progress and contributions of diverse faculty and staff.

Illusions of Meritocracy: Does It Favor Certain Groups?

The notion of meritocracy hinges on the belief in a just system, or what researchers have called “system justification theory.” As theorists John Jost and Masharin Banaji explain, system justification theory is a psychological process by which people justify existing social arrangements as legitimate and fair, such as the belief that hard work, effort, and motivation lead to success. This theory locates the cause of events within personal attributes, and indicates that individuals should take personal responsibility for outcomes. For example, a recent article by John Jost, Brian Nosek, and Samuel Gosling notes that stability and hierarchy provide both structure and reassurance, in contrast with social change and equality that imply unpredictability and greater chaos, especially in large social systems.

The irony of system justification theory is that members of minority groups can view the locus of individual success or failure as solely due to their own efforts and discount the impact of socially-mediated forces of discrimination. We have seen examples in the recent press where minority leaders themselves emphasize personal responsibility while remaining silent on the impact of the forces of systemic discrimination. As Alvin Evans and I point out in Diverse Administrators in Peril , this viewpoint can undermine self-esteem when individuals impacted by discrimination internalize contemporary forms of oppression and become their own oppressors through self-blame and inappropriate attributions of instances of everyday discrimination to their own dispositional or personal inadequacies. It heightens what Wesley Yang calls “self-estrangement” by removing the factor of difference from the equation.

A study conducted by Frank Samson at the University of Miami highlighted in a recent article in Inside HigherEd clearly demonstrates the fluidity of the notion of meritocracy when applied to different minority groups. When one group of white adults in California was asked about the criteria that should be used in admissions processes, a high priority was placed on high school grade-point averages and standardized tests. Yet when a control group was told that Asian Americans make up more than twice as many undergraduates in the University of California system compared to their representation in the state population, the participants then favored a reduced role for test and grade scores in the admissions process. They further indicated that leadership should be given greater weight.

Since Asian American scores on the SAT topped white average scores by 1641 to 1578 this year and the leadership abilities of Asian Americans tend to be unrecognized , the shift in criteria by study participants shows that meritocracy means different things when applied to different groups. Samson attributes this shift to “group threat” from Asian Americans and suggests that key Supreme Court decisions based upon the framework of meritocracy might have been decided differently if different groups had been involved. Samson notes the exclusionary rhetoric that emphasizes “qualifications” applied in discussions of opportunities that can exclude African-Americans and how this framework shifts when applied to Asian Americans. In an earlier post, I cited a June 14 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Stacey Patton that explains how the frequent argument about “lack of qualified candidates” for top roles becomes a loaded and coded divergence—a smoke screen that feeds stereotypes of minorities as less capable, intelligent, or experienced (p. A4).

Certainly the road to attainment of meritocracy will require consideration of the many detours we have taken in the course of American history. Perhaps we need to be reminded that a true meritocracy is still an aspirational goal and in the words of Martin Luther King, represents “a promissory note” that will “open the doors of opportunity” to all Americans.

The Fisher decision misses the point: Separate and unequal

A new Georgetown University report titled “Separate and Unequal: How Higher Education Reinforces the Intergenerational Reproduction of White Privilege” by Anthony Carnevale and Jeff Strohl reinforces why the Supreme Court’s decision in Fisher v. University of Texas misses the point. Recall that in Fisher v. the University of Texas, while the justices recognized the value of diversity in the higher education experience, universities and colleges must prove that no workable race-neutral alternatives could have produced the same diversity benefit. And strikingly, Justice Kennedy stated that in this process “the university receives no deference.” A reviewing court will be the arbiter of this determination.

The report by Carnevale and Strohl debunks the assumption that the United States has attained a level educational playing field in which consideration of race is no longer relevant. The study demonstrates that American higher education has two separate and unequal tracks: the 468 selective colleges and the 3250 open-access institutions. The divergence between these two tracks is increasing rather than diminishing. The authors identify two prominent themes that characterize these tracks: 1) racial stratification in the 4400 two- and four- year colleges analyzed for the study; and 2) polarization between the most selective schools and open-access schools. And from a student perspective, they conclude that “disadvantage is worst of all when race and class collide.”

Between 1995 and 2009, despite increases in the enrollment of African American and Hispanic students attending postsecondary institutions, more than 8 in 10 of new white students enrolled in the 468 most selective institutions, whereas more than 7 in 10 new Hispanic and African-American students have gone to open-access two and four-year colleges. White students account for 78 percent of the growth in the more selective institutions, while 92 percent of the growth in open-access institutions went to Hispanic and African-American students.

In addition, stratification by income is marked in more selective colleges, with high-income students overrepresented relative to population share by 45 percentage points and African-American and Hispanic students underrepresented relative to population share by 9 percentage points. This disadvantage is magnified by pre-existing geographic (spatial) isolation in the location of high schools as well as economic and educational deprivation in the pre-college years.

Why does this matter? The 468 most selective schools spend two to nearly five times more per student, have higher ratios of full- to part-time faculty, higher completion rates, and greater access to graduate schools, even when considering equally qualified students. Also, the college completion rate for the most selective schools is 82 percent, compared with 49 percent for open-access, two- and four-year institutions.

The report responds to two important questions. First, it provides substantive evidence that contradicts the “mismatch” theory which posits that minority students fare better in universities where the median test scores are nearer their own. In contrast, it reveals that Hispanic and African-American students benefit from attending selective institutions even when their test scores fall substantially below the averages at these schools, with a graduation rate of 73 percent from top colleges when compared to a graduation rate of 40 percent at open-access institutions.

Second, the report sheds light on the difficulty of substituting race-neutral alternatives such as class or to produce the same educational diversity benefit. The authors find that it would take more than five or six times the current level of class-based admissions to maintain the current racial mix in the most selective colleges. In fact, the pool of low-income white students far exceeds the pool of Hispanic and African-American students eligible for selective college admissions. The flood of low-income students that could result from using class as a proxy for disadvantage would create intense resource challenges for all but the most wealthy of selective institutions in the financial aid process. More selective institutions would also have difficulty to maintain current standards in the competition for students with higher test scores.

The report does not include an identical analysis for Asians and Native Americans due to data limitations. It does note that while 50 percent of new Asian enrollments have gone to the most selective schools, 30 percent have also gone to the open-access schools. In this regard, a 2005 College Board study reveals that Asian American/Pacific Islander students are evenly concentrated in two- and four-year institutions, with over half of the students in California and Nevada enrolled in community colleges. And a study produced by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute concludes that, like other minority students, AAPI students often struggle with poverty, with 47.4 of Asian American families classified as low income compared with 39.5 percent of the general population.

The challenge ahead for universities is to develop the statistical models that will satisfy the Supreme Court’s requirement to prove that alternative race-neutral alternatives are not sufficient for producing the educational benefits of diversity. In the evolution of the new criteria required to satisfy Fisher’s requirements, the Georgetown University report takes an important step in laying the groundwork for the evidentiary data and metrics needed.

Summing up the complexity of the court’s newly imposed requirements for justifying the consideration of race as one factor among others in college admissions, Thomas Kane and James Ryan point out in a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that:

The court sometimes seems to labor under the belief that there is some magical combination of race-neutral proxies that will produce exactly the same group of students as in a class admitted under a race-conscious plan. Admissions officers know differently….

“A Long Slow Drift from Racial Justice” — The Hidden Perils of the Fisher Ruling

Last week two decisions from the Supreme Court seemed to turn the clock back on the delicate framework of Civil Rights constructed in the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson eras, in what the former president of the University of Michigan and Columbia University, Lee Bollinger, called “a long slow drift from racial justice.” The high court’s decisions in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder and Fisher v. the University of Texas, while appearing to give credence to the principles of racial justice, severely eroded the means to attain voting and educational access.

The Shelby Country decision nullified Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, while maintaining Section 5. Section 4 required nine states and some counties to obtain preclearance from the Department of Justice prior to changing voting requirements. Although based on a formula last updated in 1975, most observers believe that a bipartisan Congress will not coalesce in passing an updated formula. Chief Justice John Roberts justified the decision by stating that “things have changed dramatically” in the South and this country. Within 48 hours of the law passing, Texas, one of the states formerly covered under Section 4, moved to strengthen its requirements for voter identification and indicated that redistricting maps would no longer require federal approval. Comedian Bill Maher aptly termed the Voting Rights decision as evidence of Racism 2.0, in the evolution of more subtle and carefully constructed forms of exclusion. The Fisher decision, in turn, set an almost impossibly high bar for the use of race in college and university admissions that will likely result in unparalleled levels of litigation.

In the Fisher case, Abigail Fisher, a white undergraduate denied admission to the University of Texas claimed that her race prevented her admission to the university while less qualified minority students were admitted. The Supreme Court returned the case to the Fifth Circuit, asking the district/appellate Court to re-review the case with “strict scrutiny” of the inclusion of race in holistic review at the University of Texas. Although some affirmative action advocates viewed the outcome of the ruling as positive in that the justices recognized the value of diversity in the higher education experience, the decision now makes it extremely difficult for universities and colleges to consider race even as one factor among many in a holistic review of admissions applications. Ordinary Americans, as Lee Bollinger observed, will not pick up on the decoupling of race-conscious college admissions and “the larger project of social justice” amidst the legal maneuvering and minutiae.

The Fisher decision essentially brought the courts into the university and college admissions process by requiring a reviewing court to determine if a university’s use of race is necessary to achieve the educational benefits of diversity. Further, “the reviewing court must ultimately be satisfied that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce” these benefits (Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin et al., June 24, 2013, p. 2). Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy, declared that in this process, “the university receives no deference.” Kennedy explained further that the courts, not university administrators, must determine that the means chosen to attain diversity are “specifically and narrowly framed to accomplish that purpose.”

As noted by Peter Schmidt in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the decision has led representatives of Pacific Legal Foundation and the Southeastern Legal Foundation, public-interest law firms that have brought litigation against affirmative action programs, to indicate that they look forward to representing individuals who wish to challenge university and college admissions policies. It remains unclear is how the courts can possibly handle challenges to admissions policies that might arise in the more than 4000 institutions throughout the United States.

Commentators indicate that universities and colleges will need to ramp up their efforts at data collection to meet the requirements of the Fisher decision and to prove that race-neutral efforts could not have attained the same level of racial diversity. Given the constraints of the Fisher decision and its aggressive intrusion in the realm of university governance, it will require significant efforts on the part of colleges and universities to find the appropriate channels to continue to enhance the access and success of minority students to educational opportunity.