Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Case For Diversity

“colleges have the opportunity to affect change in students’ attitudes through student peers, faculty influence, and structured education programs.” (29)

Diversity in general and affirmative action in particular benefits all whom attend the university as, “many studies indicate the importance of having diverse peers in the learning environment for important outcomes, such as improvements in students’ ability to engage in more complex thinking about problems and to consider multiple perspectives, and improvements in intergroup relations and understanding.” (v) Having peers from different cultural backgrounds enhances the academic experience for all those who participate in campus dialogue.

Although diversity as a positive attribute for higher education seems like a widespread belief there still lacks a substantial amount of research that proves the point. “Proponents herald the various outcomes of diversity—from retention to academic achievement to improved learning outcomes for students—yet limited evidence is available to explain why diversity in general, and racial or ethnic diversity in particular, enhances students’ experiences and meets institutional goals. Although many individuals can anecdotally attest to the impact, this response often does not satisfy skeptical policy makers, administrators, faculty, or students.” (ix) Therefore it is imperative that those seeking to diversify their campus do so on a comprehensive level and conduct research with both quantitative data as well as qualitative results.

Unfortunately schools looking to prioritize diversity do not do so on a comprehensive level. “Most campuses tend to focus on only one element of the climate—the goal of increasing the numbers of racial/ethnic students on campus. Although it is an important area for institutional effort, the framework reinforces the notion that other elements of the climate also require attention…” (3) A simple band- aid solution will not suffice, and students, faculty, and administrators need to be on board. Researchers have found that success often depends on an institution’s initial response to the entrance of diverse students and its early establishment of programs to accommodate them;” (9)

It is essential that schools understand that the problem of racial conflict is a result of contextual discourse as well as systemic institutional change. “Systems must be organized to advance the interests and respond to the needs of students rather than the preferences of the institutions created to meet those needs….. Systems of higher education must take a more comprehensive approach to desegregation and issues of equity in education, which involves promoting ‘the principle that each sector of education is linked to the others” (13)

And what is striking is that higher education, for some, may be the first opportunity to sit beside someone from a different race. If we are to consider college to be the beacon of higher education we must acknowledge how important this experience is to the individual as well as the overall institution. “Increasing segregation in high schools in various communities in this country, however, indicates that college may be the first opportunity for students to encounter and interact with someone from a different race or ethnicity.” (16) Changes at the college level are not enough. Students should be aware of how they can gain access as early as freshman year in high school.

Let us note that diversity if not a sprinkling of people of color but a systemic change with different parts, aimed at creating racial and social harmony. “Tokenism contributes to heightened visibility of the underrepresented group, exaggeration of differences among groups, and the distortion of individuals’ images to fit existing stereotypes (Kanter 1977).” (p. 19)

Diversity in faculty has a positive effect not only on students of color but white students as well. “Moreover, attaining a diverse student body and hiring diverse faculty result in significantly more opportunities for all students to learn how to deal with others from different cultural backgrounds after college.” (19)

In creating diversity it is important to get feedback not only from the majority population but minorities as well. Different groups may perceive racial conflict differently and it is a democratic obligation to include all voices. “One study found, for example, that 68 percent of white students thought their university was generally supportive of minority students, while only 28 percent of the African American and Chicano students thought so (Loo and Rolison 1986).” (25) “These findings show that institutional attention to reports of discrimination and perceptions of hostility on campus is paramount to providing a welcoming and satisfying undergraduate experience. Introducing mechanisms for students to report and seek redress for these experiences is also important, but campuses must be aware that many aspects of the psychological dimension of the climate go unreported.” (27)

One way for schools to help address diversity is training for administrators “studies called for increased training in cultural sensitivity for administrators and underscore the importance of ensuring that campus policies treat all groups fairly.” (27)

Proponents of affirmative action have a sense of entitlement that breeds racial conflict and notions of racial inferiority. “Some researchers believe that whites’ opposition to busing or affirmative action programs and policies is better explained through an understanding of group conflict theory holds that some individuals oppose these programs because they threaten the social status of whites. In short, white individuals view these policies as a ‘threat to their lifestyles, as well as other valued resources and accepted practices.” (33)

It is important, especially for students who are brainwashed in a homogeneous racial group to get outside of their comfort zone and talk/listen to people from different backgrounds. “Contacts that facilitate the reduction of prejudice are those that cause people to do things together. Although the effects of contact cannot always overcome the effects of personal characteristics in prejudice, contact could lessen prejudice if any of three of the following conditions are met: (1) equal status contacts occur between majority and minority groups in pursuit of common goals; (2) the effect is greatly enhanced if contact is sanctioned by institutional support; and (3) the contact is of the sort that leads to a perception of common interests and common humanity among members of the groups.” (34) College can facilitate these dialogues for some whom have never engaged, intellectually, with different racial groups.

With regard to diversity “qualitative analyses reveal three primary findings. First, students appeared to have mastered a number of critical thinking skills. Second, levels of ethnocentrism among students appeared to have declined. Third, students were consistently able to distinguish between poverty and ethnicity as developmental risk factors.” (49) Diversity is good for critical thinking skills and high order thinking.

College curriculums have a responsibility to teach students the history, politics, economy, psychology and other academic disciplines with regard different racial groups. Classes on African, Latin American, Asian, and Native American peoples is essential for students to put their preconceived notions into perspective. “For race and ethnic relations to improve, we need not only one more friendship among students, but also more knowledge about the economics, politics, and sociology of race relations, and more group projects to encourage people to work together across ethnic lines.” (51)

And it is important to understand that the attention paid to different racial groups is not decisive in design but rather created to provide support to students whom struggle socially and academically. “Although some suggest that racial/ethnic student organizations and minority programs contribute to segregation on campus, a series of studies refutes this perspective. Studies have empirically demonstrated that students who join such racial/ethnic student organizations join them because they enhance identity and that such increased comfort with one’s identity may lead to a greater interest in cultural and cross-cultural activities.” (54)

With regard to government and policies involving education states of which prioritize diversity “should put into place a formal institutional planning and reporting process, regularly disseminate the information to the public about opportunities in higher education for minority students, and report progress in meeting the needs of minority students.” (59)

Studies have  also shown that “investing in student financial aid may be the most profitable investment the federal government can make with its funds.” (66)

“Unless the goal of creating a diverse learning environment is viewed as an integral component and necessary to achieve academic excellence, the goal will be considered separate or antithetical, thus inclining the campus community to devalue diversity.” (71)

Universities must also “document the historical legacy of exclusion of various groups as well as the continuous barriers faced by specific groups in admissions, hiring, and retention.” (71)

Schools, in an effort to establish diversity should: create self assessments, evaluation programs, affirmative action, hire faculty of color, community service opportunities, faculty/student interaction, student centered instruction.

Schools with exemplary diversity programs and institutional policies

·       Arizona State University
·       Carnegie Mellon University
·       UCLA
·       University of Michigan
·       Vanderbilt University
·       Ohio State University
·       University of North Carolina
·       University of Washington
·       University of Wisconsin

Hurtado, Sylvia, Jeffrey Milem, Alma Clayton-Pederson, and Walter Allen. 1999. Enacting Diverse Learning Environments: Improving the Climate for Racial/Ethnic Diversity in Higher Education. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report Volume 26, No. 8. Washington D.C. The George Washington University, Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Looking Into: “What About Poor White People?” an article by Ricky Lee Allen

The struggle within the white race and its class divisions seems to rationalize the actions of nonpoor Whites while attempting to de-racialize poor whites, who are obviously part and parcel the collateral damage of centralized white wealth. “in more recent years Rickey Allen has come to believe that this one particular semantic move is categorically different from the others that nonpoor Whites employ in that its rhetoric is as much intraracial as interracial.” (209) The question that thereby arises is no longer interracial relationships, say between black and white, but rather intraracial relationships such as a White CEO and his blue -collar mechanic.  “What about poor white people?’ does not more than express a desire for an individualistic notion of racism. It also signifies that poor and nonpoor Whites share a close bond: nonpoor Whites stand up for poor Whites when poor Whites are not around to represent themselves.” (210)

Thus the stratification of class within the White race is important to understand when attempting to dismantle White supremacy from all different directions. “the signification of poor Whites by nonpoor Whites provides a window into the internal political organization of the White race, which has yet to be adequately theorized in race-based terms.” (210)

Rickey Lee Allen states that “Understanding how the White race is held together is the first step toward the ultimate goal of breaking it apart so as to disassemble the political alliances that keep White supremacy in place.” (210) She believes that at the outset the relationship between poor and nonpoor Whites glosses over the obvious class difference.  “The inherent, teleological assumption being made is that poor and nonpoor Whites should be aligned, and class conflict divert attention from the racial agreements that hold them together.” (211)

And what is even more ridiculous is that poor Whites, by not problematizing class divisions within the White race, become the object of their own racism. This complacency is one of the pillars of White supremacy and without it, may deteriorate into propaganda nonsense. “White race requires an internal hierarchy in order for it to exist, meaning that those at the bottom of this hierarchy must be willing to submit to the authority of those on the top.” (211) If one were to question how and why do certain Whites get admitted to certain Universities because of their legacy, much of the unwarranted racism thwarted at “affirmative action” students could be re-directed against a population that rarely answers questions about their wealth. “Avoiding the reality of poor Whites’ lower status relative to nonpoor Whites ultimately weakens the overall effort to create cross-racial solidarity and end White supremacy because an opportunity to expose and disrupt the troubling racial alliance between poor and nonpoor Whites is lost. In the Whiteness studies approach, it is the avoidance of discussing poor Whites, both on the part of the educator and the students, that gives ‘What about poor White people?’ much of its power.” (212)

Allen suggests that to understand the dynamics of the poor and nonpoor White relationship one must apply Critical Race Theory. “To move beyond the limited analytical vision of undifferentiated- White privilege versus Marxist-analysis-to-the-rescue, what I suggest is a critical race exegesis of ‘What about poor White people? It’s more recent growth can be traced to legal studies, its roots go back at least to the work of W.E.B. Dubois (1868-1963) and Franz Fanon (1925- 1961).” (212)
“At the top of the White supremacist hierarchy, the White racial polity is invested in its dominant status and will only give political concessions to people of color when they are pressured from multiple sides to do so and, most importantly, stand to benefit the most from what appears to many as racial progress for people of color. Bell (1980, 1992) calls this White supremacist phenomenon the ‘interest convergence principle.” (213) In other words poor Whites many times do the dirty work of nonpoor Whites, and create a mythological boogie man that takes the form of people of color. When these courses of actions are deconstructed one can clearly identify the origin of bigotry and hatred. All fingers point to the hegemonic, white, rich oppressors who act behind close doors. And poor Whites, who may have advantageous access to nonpoor Whites, become key actors in the movement to dismantle the systems of racism, classicism, and sexism. 

Although it may be hard to believe “Poor Whites are in a relational sense oppressed people who do face institutional and everyday forms of dehumanization.” (214) And the forms of dehumanization take on many shapes and sizes. “One of the ways that poor Whites are dehumanized is through stereotypes. Many of the prevalent slurs used against them directly communicate their lower status in the White group.” (214)

Luckily Allen doesn’t confuse the racism that people of color endure with the racism of poor Whites.  “Although I agree that poor Whites are not the victims of racism, I disagree with the notion that their denigration stems primarily from class exploitation.” (214) What Allen is trying to say is that it is difficult to highlight forms of poor White dehumanization but it does exist, and will most likely be more appearrant within Critical Race Theory. With this apparatus a layman can identify stereotypes geared at those who are often times defenseless. “Moreover, stereotypes of poor Whites are often rooted in racial notions. For example, negative images of poor Southern Whites’ racism, backwardness, and biological corruption are often juxtaposed against images of the educated, genteel White Southerner who supposedly embodies civility and protects seemingly defenseless Blacks from the violent racism of poor Whites (Smith, 2004). (215)

What becomes problematic is not the stereotype itself but its generalization, and the fact that poor Whites have to get past a preconceived notion of where they are from and how they act. And in the attempt to debunk these stereotypes they may get frustrated from pressures within the White race and sling a racial slur. Which often times is said to be a mark of their ignorance.  “While some poor White Southerners do in fact live out the stereotype of the uneducated, virulent racist, the problem is that portrayals of poor White Southerners by seemingly antiracist filmmakers leave nonpoor White Southerners looking as thought they are the only members of the White group who work for racial progress.” (215)

And even knowing that this pressure is coming from nonpoor Whites to throw away the shackles of the hillbilly, poor Whites still show love and admiration to their true oppressors. “Given that nonpoor Whites are the main group that distorts the image of poor Whites, one would think that poor Whites would harbor a lot of animosity toward nonpoor Whties. Such is not the case. It is an if poor Whites do not care if they are depicted as crazed racists.” (215)“nonpoor White perceptions of and interactions with poor Whites, particularly with members of subgroups like White Appalachians, are largely guided by a combination of fear (of retaliation) and revulsion (toward their genetic inferiority).” (216)

And “Although poor Whites experience systemic dehumanization, they are as much oppressors as they are the oppressed.” (216) Which means that yes, poor Whites can be just as racist as nonpoor whites, while the former prefer interpersonal racism and the latter a more institutional tilt, both play the troubling role of possum.

Allen argues that this racism device is one that has historical roots, dating back to the days of slavery where homeowners and slave-owners feared slave rebellion. Allen believes that European immigrants were brought to this country to serve as a buffer between nonpoor Whites and blacks. And up to today, this paradigm still exists. “Whites must have perceived a threat to the normative order of White supremacy, such as the possibility of a slave revolt, and were therefore willing to open up the ranks of the White racial polity in order to preserve White domination.” (217) Thus the influx of European immigrants to America, a white social order needed to be maintained. “In our contemporary context, I see ‘What about poor White people?’ as a coded representation of the long-standing hierarchical and hegemonic alliance within the White racial polity.” (218) Poor White people have been used for quite some time, and Allen argues, to the benefit of generational White wealth.

Allen suggests that there are benefits to being white. “The benefit that dutiful poor Whites receive for playing the role of decoy is the current manifestation of the public and psychological wages of Whiteness. They receive race-based benefits that people of color do not receive for allowing themselves to be the distraction that is necessary for nonpoor Whites to evade a high level of scrutiny.” (218)

However, “Higher status, nonpoor Whites will never want all Whites to be economically equal because there would be no device left to divert attention away from the racism and White racial privilege of nonpoor Whites.” (219)

Allen believes that part of the responsibility in fighting racism lays in the hands of White people. “Rather than having people of color do all of the anti-racist work, we poor Whites need to be the ones who challenge nonpoor Whites during discussions about race when they ask, ‘What about poor White people?’ I have seen too many poor Whites remain silent and let nonpoor Whites do the dirty work of the White hegemonic alliance, but we poor Whites join them in this semantic move and support more actively the White racial clause.” (219)

She also believes that there should be academic pedagogy that recognizes hegemonic power the accurately explains: racism, sexism, and classicism. “Absent a curriculum that provides poor White students with an opportunity to unlearn their submission to nonpoor Whites, investment in Whiteness, and learned superiority relative to people of color, the future of poor Whites will most likely resemble their past since they will not be able to forge meaningful and transformative political alliances with people of color.” (220) “The white hegemonic alliance overdetermines the educational experiences of poor White students.” (220)

“Without a critical discourse to reveal a myth of the achievement ideology, a good many White Appalachians will experience self-hate and blame themselves or others of their group for their predicament.” (221)

“Despite the educational woes of poor Whites, it would be a mistake to suggest that poor Whites, such as White Appalachians, are in the same social and educational situation as students of color.” (221) Which may answer the question to the debate over affirmative action and white privilege.

“The benefits of being White and Appalachian are highly evident when looking at educational attainment.” (222) Meaning even though many blacks and white people share the same economic bracket they are more likely to get admitted into a four year university. “If the struggles of poor Whites are hidden then it is due to their situatedness within the White hegemonic alliance.” (222) And this alliance has every reason to deny their involvement in the detrimental gap of wealth in the country.

“Poor Whites’ learned sense of inferiority relative to nonpoor Whites is only half of the story. For the other half, we need to think about the benefits that poor Whites receive for not engaging in an antiracist social movement to change the dehumanizing education that they are offered.” (222)

“It is also important for the maintenance of White supremacy that poor Whites leave school believing that their worldviews and knowledge systems are superior to those people of color (Mills, 1997)” (223) So it would seem that along with entertainment (minstrel shows) and propaganda (skewed political ads),  nonpoor Whites also use education (public education) to teach poor Whites that they are superior to their brethren who may have mellonin. This is not only problematic for those poor White youth but also educators seeking to teach a transformative text. Educators must recognize this slant in the public education system and do something to ameliorate its negative effects.

“We also need to avoid class-based approaches that see race as an empty ideology (Leonardo, 2005) and stop imagining poor Whites primarily, if not solely, as victims of capitalist exploitation.” (222-223)

This article was taken from The Handbook of Social Justice in Education, edited by William Ayers, Therese Quinn, and David Stovall. Published by Routledge New York, NY 2009