Higher Education News

Author discusses new book about transgender college students

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 01/24/2017 - 08:00

ACPA: College Student Educators International is currently raising money to send a copy of Z Nicolazzo’s new book to every member of the Texas Legislature. The book is Trans* in College: Transgender Students’ Strategies for Navigating Campus Life and the Institutional Politics of Inclusion (Stylus). The book is timely, given that Texas lawmakers are currently pushing a bill that would require public colleges and universities to bar transgender students from using bathrooms that do not reflect their biological gender assigned at birth. Issues of identity are important to transgender people and are expressed in many ways. Some, for example, prefer the term “trans*” (as in the title of the new book) to transgender, as a way to indicate the many identities and views of transgender people, who have a range of experiences and identities.

Nicolazzo, who is assistant professor of higher education and student affairs at Northern Illinois University, responded via email to questions about the book.

Q: In your introduction, you describe your own identity. Would you briefly share that with readers, and explain why you started the book that way?

A: I identify as a nonbinary trans*-femme person, meaning I am feminine of center but do not wholly identify as a man or a woman. I started my book with a discussion about my own identity for two reasons. First, researchers are never separated from our work, nor should we be. In fact, who we are may mediate our choices to research the populations and/or issues we research, as well as the ways in which we go about researching these groups/issues. This was certainly the case for me in that my coming into my trans* identity in my late 20s very much influenced my choice to study alongside trans* collegians.

The second reason I started the book discussing a bit of my own identity and experiences as a trans* educator is that we as trans* people don’t always see people like us represented positively through media. Moreover, when we are represented, much of the stories told about us are not controlled or written by trans* people. Therefore, I wanted to signal to trans* people -- especially trans* youth, collegians, educators and aspiring scholars -- that we have the ability to control our own narratives. We can research and write about our people and population in remarkable and beautiful ways. In this sense, I was trying to replicate what Laverne Cox has talked about when she discusses trans* people serving as possibility models for each other.

Q: As you look at trans college students, what share are arriving at college already confident in their identities, and what share are still trying to figure things out? How does this affect their needs?

A: In answer to this question, I would say that most of us are both confident in our identities as trans* at the very same time that we are still trying to figure things out. What I mean by this is that most of us have experiences where we realize our environments are not built with our needs as gender-diverse individuals in mind. However, at the very same time, we are also trying to figure out how best to navigate our worlds in ways that make sense as well as how best we want to identify, express and embody our genders. This doesn’t mean we are confused about our genders or we don’t have things figured out. Rather, it means that we are all, every one of us, trans* and otherwise, evolving and seeking newer, more in-depth understandings of ourselves and how we interact with our worlds.

This all being said, trans* historian Susan Stryker noted in her endorsement of Trans* in College that three to six times more youth under the age of 18 are identifying as trans* than over the age of 18. Although it is very hard to get a firm grasp on how many trans* people there are in the U.S., this estimate clearly indicates institutions of postsecondary education need more support (financial and otherwise) for this growing student population, who will be coming to colleges and universities in greater numbers. It also means postsecondary educators will need to do a better job doing outreach and retention in ways that recognize and understand the distinct barriers trans* youth with various marginalized identities may face when it comes to accessing and persisting through higher education.

Q: What are the major challenges facing trans students? What are some of the ways colleges can tell if they are offering adequate support?

A: Based on the study detailed in Trans* in College, one of the major challenges facing trans* students is that the overarching discourse that pervades institutions of higher education is steeped in the gender binary. In the book, I refer to this as gender-binary discourse, and it is so overwhelming, and so broad based, that trans* students could clearly articulate the tacit and overt signs of how the discourse showed up. For example, Adem [one of the students discussed in the book] talked about being “mean mugged,” or stared at because of his ambiguous gender expression, and Megan talked about feeling like everyone was watching her when she walked around campus. Even though she knew this was not the case, the way both Adem and Megan were/felt focused on was a result of gender-binary discourse, and made the entire campus a deeply unsettling place for them to be.

The reality is that gender-binary discourse goes beyond sex-segregated bathrooms, sex designations on forms or sex-segregated leadership activities. Although it definitely includes these things, it also is about the very way cisgender students, faculty and staff think gender into -- or perhaps more to the point, out of -- existence. The other major challenge trans* students faced was in relation to how various other marginalized identities mediated their experience as trans* collegians. For example, Silvia talked about being unsure how to reconcile her disabilities alongside her trans*ness, and both she and Micah faced difficulty being both black and trans* on a college campus where affinity centers were set up largely as single-identity spaces.

A good way for educators to tell if they are offering adequate support would be to begin thinking about the barriers to their programming, teaching and/or services for those students who are most on the margins, which I would argue includes trans* students, especially trans* women of color. I referred to this as “trickle-up education” in the book, and it builds from Dean Spade’s notion of “trickle-up activism” that he discussed in his book, Normal Life: Critical Trans Politics, Administrative Violence and the Limits of Law. If we as educators can remove barriers for those most on the margins, and if we can do this proactively so that we do not wait until trans* women of color show up or are forced to out themselves due to our lack of attention, we can begin creating environments that work for everyone. The transformation won’t happen overnight, but if educators start by asking who is being left behind and left out, and what needs to happen to change this, we can recognize where our support is inadequate and, as a result, what we need to change and/or keep the same.

Q: The debate over North Carolina’s HB 2 and now legislation introduced in Texas has led many people to say that these disputes are “just about bathrooms,” suggesting that they can’t be that important. How important is the bathroom issue to trans students?

A: Again, I think the answer to this question is another both/and answer. The bathroom issue is certainly important to trans* students … and educators would do well to recognize that just having one or a few gender-inclusive restrooms does not make one’s campus wholly trans* inclusive or affirming. As one of my dear trans* kin told me a few years ago, at the end of the day, we all need to pee. We also know, based on who is hurt, harmed, harassed and in threat when it comes to sex-segregated bathroom spaces, that trans* women and trans* feminine people, especially trans* women and trans* feminine people of color, are at the most risk and have the most at stake in these conversations. Therefore, we cannot disregard the importance of resisting oppressive legislation such as HB 2 and SB 6 [the North Carolina law and the Texas legislation, respectively]. These laws are clearly designed through transphobic and transmisogynist discourse and are hugely detrimental to all trans* people, especially trans* women of color.

That said, when people reduce trans* people to our genitals and/or our bodily functions, people lose sight of the complexity and richness of trans* lives beyond bathroom spaces. We also lose track of the various different spaces that gender-binary discourse influences, and how we must be active in resisting these influences. For example, when people assume that trans* concerns are “just about bathrooms,” they miss how faculty who require students to dress up formally in either a man’s or woman’s suit for final presentations may foreclose potential careers for trans* collegians. Or when all one thinks about is bathrooms, one misses how the reality of having just one of a few bathrooms on a college campus actually allows for gender-binary discourse to persist due to the plethora of other sex-segregated facilities across campus. So many people think that if we can just get one bathroom, or one residence hall, or a couple spaces that are trans* inclusive, our campuses will be radically transformed. The research in Trans* in College indicates that while these changes are necessary, they are insufficient in and of themselves, and more needs to be done.

Q: The Obama administration told colleges that they were obliged legally to provide services to and not to discriminate against transgender students on the basis of their identities. The Trump administration has vowed to roll back the Obama administration policies. How would such a shift affect transgender students?

A: It is hard to answer this question, in part due to the fact that despite the Departments of Justice and Education drafting a joint Dear Colleague letter in May 2016, things have not been necessarily rosy for trans* people -- including trans* students -- under the Obama administration. For example, the number of institutions that offer trans*-inclusive housing is minimal at best, and of those institutions that offer trans*-inclusive housing, we are still not sure how trans* students are making meaning of these offerings (although I am currently working on collecting this data with Susan Marine and Rachel Wagner). Furthermore, it is hard to determine how the recommendations (because they are just recommendations, not binding requirements) set forth in the Dear Colleague letter have (or have not) altered college practices. This is because the letter just came out this past May (almost seven and a half years into the Obama administration’s tenure, which further speaks to the difficulty for trans* people under the Obama administration), and as a result, we haven’t had time to even sort out its effectiveness. Moreover, there is still no federal employment nondiscrimination act (ENDA) that protects trans* people, nor are there easy, cheap/free, clear-cut ways to access health care, name changes or updated identity documents for trans* people, and colleges and universities continue to struggle with implementing trans*-affirming administrative processes, if they are attending to this at all.

That being said, the Trump administration will be disastrous for trans* people, especially those trans* people who are most vulnerable (e.g., trans* women of color, trans* people with disabilities and poor and homeless trans* youth, many of whom are trans* youth of color). I am deeply worried about how the Trump administration will dismantle the already flimsy protections and resources some trans* people have. This is why the work of trans* scholars, poets, artists, activists and our accomplices and advocates is so very important and so very necessary right now. Now is the time to come together and to amplify the work, thinking and livelihoods of trans* people; my hope is Trans* in College adds to this movement toward equity and justice, and that we can come together to resist the dangerous and violent implications of the coming administration for trans* people.

New Books About Higher EducationDiversityEditorial Tags: Sexual orientationDiversity MattersIs this breaking news?: Is this diversity newsletter?: 

Houston Baptist University streamlines financial aid and admission process to build retention

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 01/24/2017 - 08:00

On the campus of Houston Baptist University, many students are the first in their families to go to college. It’s a distinction that makes the private university want to ensure that their students completely understand what is expected of them before the first day of classes.

Those expectations extend beyond academics, from knowing the exact cost of attending to university to making certain every form and application is signed and delivered.

Houston Baptist calls the initiative Project Day One, and they’re hopeful that it’ll lead to increases in retention.

“We knew there were several barriers to entry and frankly issues that were keeping students from being successful,” said James Steen, vice president of enrollment management at Houston Baptist. “We’re a really diverse campus, but we serve a low socioeconomic group and obviously a private education is expensive, so what we found is financial settlement is a big problem. We had a lot of students carrying balances from term to term, and we had to do something.”

Houston Baptist is a Hispanic-serving institution, with about 41 percent of its coming freshmen identifying as Hispanic, Steen said. About 80 percent of students are from the Houston metropolitan area.

“The whole point of Project Day One is to get everything buttoned up and completed by the first day of class, and it isn’t intended just for new incoming students, but also current students,” he said.

In order to simplify the paperwork for students, Houston Baptist deployed a mobile financial aid program through CampusLogic that allows students to track each step in their aid process.

“This generation may not be as disciplined as we are about checking email, but we know more than 95 percent of students have a smartphone in their pocket, so we had to figure out a way to get to them,” Steen said.

Steen said the college is not asking students to have their tuition completely paid by the time classes start, but to have their paperwork and financial aid turned in to the college, and to have a plan and communicate with the college about the costs.

In some cases, HBU has been able to help students fill the gaps in financial aid, especially if they’re doing well academically, he said, adding that this can be especially difficult for international students who may have a hard time paying tuition when the money is coming from out of the country.

“The hard conversation is sometimes we just can’t help this student,” Steen said. “Sometimes there are students who are not making academic progress and they’re borrowing a lot of money to close the gap, and the best thing for them frankly is to say, ‘This is not a good fit for you.’ Those are the hard conversations, but they’re in the student’s best interest.”

Project Day One goes beyond financial aid, though, Steen said, adding that there are plenty of other boxes that incoming students have to check that can be burdensome if they’re new to college -- like sending in high school transcripts, completing immunizations or tracking down transferred course work.

Colleges have been working for years to try to streamline the entry process, especially when it comes to financial aid, said Karen McCarthy, director of policy analysis for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

It’s why many of them have pushed for a simplified Free Application for Federal Student Aid process or prior-prior year data, she said.

“You want everything to be all set and ready to go when school starts so you can focus on the academic side,” McCarthy said. “So much of it is timing, training and education for students.”

Complications like verification can derail students, which is why information sessions to avoid mistakes and a more streamlined process help, she said.

Many colleges have taken the position that students who haven’t paid the semester’s tuition in full aren’t allowed to register or move into dorms, said Zakiya Smith, strategy director at Lumina Foundation.

“Paperwork, or just in general the process of coming to school and getting courses in order … can be a barrier for students, if you’re a first-generation college student or someone who doesn’t have mentors or support,” Smith said. “It’s often a challenge to get them on the right foot, but the colleges that are looking to help students have those supports in place to get the financial aid done, those colleges that do that are largely successful.”

In the three years since Houston Baptist started Project Day One, the university has seen increases to its retention, but they also readily admit there have been some setbacks, which they attribute to the economy.

Undergraduate retention from first year to second year grew from 74.7 percent in 2015 to 76.4 percent in 2016, according to a report from the university’s office of institutional research and effectiveness. In that same time, minority retention grew nearly two percentage points, however, new freshman retention was down 2.6 percentage points, to 67.3 percent.

“We’ve seen some nice increase in retention, and a lot of it stems from the fact that students are more aware of the process,” Steen said, adding that students who don’t establish payment plans or settle tuition bills risk losing their schedule, although it’s a policy they don’t enforce. “We added the stronger language and we thought it would improve our yield in a way, but they’re flat and slowed down, and that’s because we’ve been so much more up front about it and students have opted out.”

In some cases, Steen said, students have made the decision that they can’t afford the college.

“And that’s OK, because we’d rather have them figure it out on the front end than come here for a semester and get in over their head from a financial perspective and transfer out anyway,” he said.

Editorial Tags: RetentionIs this breaking news?: Is this diversity newsletter?: 

Tens of thousands of college students and professors march in Washington

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 01/23/2017 - 08:00

WASHINGTON -- Hundreds of thousands of people converged on the nation’s capital Saturday to show solidarity and support for those who feel their rights may be threatened by the new administration, which began just the day before when Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States.

Among the sea of pink knit hats and colorful signs were tens of thousands of college students, faculty and administrators who feel that their rights, too, are under attack.

Some marched for themselves. Some marched for friends and family members. Some marched with contingents that traveled long hours on buses from campuses far from here. College women marched for reproductive rights and stronger legislation against sexual assault and sexual harassment. Some students said they were marching for the rights of undocumented immigrants, Muslims, members of the LGBT community, people of color and people with disabilities. And university professors marched for freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of inquiry and campus diversity.

An estimated 50,000 students from college campuses across the country attended the Women’s March on Washington, according to Madison Thomas, the march’s national coordinator for college engagement.

Thomas, who is herself a 19-year-old student at Georgetown University, helped organize 20,000 of those students by appointing over 250 campus liaisons across 40 states in the weeks following the election.

“Oftentimes, our voices are silenced or overlooked,” Thomas said of college students and millennials. “It’s important, as the next generation to inherit the United States, to stand up and speak out about what we want to inherit and what the U.S. will look like for us -- how we want our political system and our social structure to treat women.”

The march brought together many different people from faraway places with a variety of reasons to protest. Some worried that there would be too many issues represented at the march to create any real resistance.

But Thomas saw it differently. By seeing all that people had to lose, all the reasons they had come to march, she hoped the day would foster a sense of community among college students and forge a unified path forward.

That’s how it resonated with Rachel Jackson, a Smith College alumna who now lives here.

“One of the things I found from the march is … it doesn’t matter if I’m marching because I want to show the power of women’s education and another person is marching for equality and someone else is marching for immigration -- we can all coalesce and join forces,” said Jackson, who helped organize a group of about 200 women from the Seven Sisters colleges to come to the march. “That will be valuable going forward. We can all overcome minor differences in priorities to work together. That, I think, is fantastic.”

On Trump’s first full day in the White House, marchers wanted the new president to hear -- literally hear, if they chanted and cheered loud enough -- that they would not tolerate the same behavior and rhetoric he made the focal point of his campaign.

“It’s important that we send a message to our new president that a lot of people care about women’s issues, a lot of people care about injustice. And we’re not willing to let injustice be normalized, to let sexual assault, sexual harassment and bigotry be normalized,” said Sophia Myszkowski, a student at American University. “I think the sheer number of us here -- that alone sends a message.”

Although the Women’s March was, to some extent, a protest of Donald Trump, most in attendance said they were advocating for something -- reproductive rights, women’s rights, human rights -- rather than against Trump himself.

And after Trump delivered what some called a dark, dystopian inauguration speech the day before, the march organizers wanted Jan. 21 to be inclusive and uplifting. That’s part of why Deb Kopp, a senior at Temple University in Philadelphia, traveled here for the march.

“Yesterday was hate filled,” she said. “Today is much more about love and empowerment.”

Kopp, who is pursuing a degree in women’s studies, came to the march with about 70 other members of a national Jewish youth movement called Habonim Dror, or “builders of freedom.” Six of them had come from Temple.

Kopp worries that Trump does not yet realize the power he wields over the American public. Everything he says carries immense weight now, and he needs to understand that, she said. One of the most important ways to get that message across, she said, is by pushing back every day after the march as well.

“These protests that are happening -- that can’t just stop after today,” Kopp said. “I’ve seen a lot of people who don’t usually participate in activism here, and that’s really amazing, but I’m worried that the momentum will stop after today. It can’t. This is the next four years. We have to be resistant. We can’t just have one protest and think that’s going to make a big change, because it’s not. We have to keep fighting.”

Many professors attended, too, and some signs surely warmed academics' hearts (photo at right by Robert Matz).

Julie Schmid, executive director of the American Association of University Professors, marched in Washington on Saturday because she feels quality education and accountability of educational institutions are now “up for grabs” under the Trump administration.

“We [at the AAUP] see this march as a movement in itself, but it builds upon and brings together a bunch of movements we’ve been involved in for decades -- social justice, economic justice,” Schmid said. “We are here to fight to protect freedom of inquiry and freedom of expression. We’ll be here, and we’ll keep fighting and standing with other allies in sight.”

The AAUP partnered with the Women’s March to take a stand against some of the recent attacks against college students and professors, Schmid said. The response was overwhelming. They had members participating in over 600 sister marches across the country. Over 350 people came to Washington from the AAUP’s chapter at Rutgers University alone.

“I am heartened by the support we are receiving from members and potential members,” Schmid said. “These are things that people care about. People care about the freedom of inquiry; they care about the ability to get a good education for themselves. We are seeing people mobilize around these issues. That gives me hope. This is the beginning of a movement.”

Editorial Tags: Diversity MattersPolitics (national)ActivismImage Source: Photograph by Emily TateIs this breaking news?: Is this diversity newsletter?: 

College Republicans react to Trump inauguration

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 01/23/2017 - 08:00

James Dilmore, chairman of Florida State University College Republicans, traveled to Washington alone last week to attend Donald Trump’s inauguration Friday but came with no plans to hobnob with other conservatives throughout the weekend.

“That's not who I am. I'm not part of the establishment. I'm not one of those people. That's who I hate. That's why love Donald Trump,” he said. “I’m not an aristocrat. I’m not an elitist.”

Trump’s inauguration as the 45th president brought about 250,000 people to the Capitol Friday -- about a quarter the size of the crowd that attended Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013. The incoming president lags his predecessor in enthusiasm levels among college voters and typical college-age voters, in particular.

But Dilmore said there was a positive reaction to Trump’s election on the Florida State campus and the experience of being at the inauguration Friday resonated deeply.

“I want to help expand the message of conservatism at Florida State to college kids,” he said. “I have no intention in my mind of ever trying to be that upper-class elitist. I just want to get people’s interest and get people involved and let them know they’re not alone.”

Dilmore said he wanted to see a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and stronger border security but Trump’s “renegade,” anti-elitist message was at the heart of his appeal.

Trump’s victory in the Republican presidential primary sharply divided Republican groups on many college campuses last year. College Republican groups took heat at campuses like American, Harvard and Princeton Universities and other places over decisions to withhold endorsements from Trump in the general election after a campaign filled with rhetorical attacks on women, African-Americans, Latinos, Muslim immigrants and other minority groups.

After refusing to support the party’s nominee for the first time in more than a century, the Harvard Republican Club took heat from conservatives on and off campus. Cameron Khansarinia, the Harvard student body vice president and a campus Republican leader when that decision was made, said in response to the criticism last year that Trump did not have the right character or temperament to lead the country. After the inauguration, he said many of those concerns persisted.

“One can also hope his actions will overshadow the terrible things he's said,” Khansarinia said.

The group did see many policy areas where it hoped Trump would work with the GOP Congress, he said, including tax reform and repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

“Hopefully the office of president will have an impact on him and he will rise to the occasion,” he said.

Another controversy over Trump unfolded at Penn State University, where a breakaway campus conservative group formed after the College Republicans leadership there voted not to endorse Trump in the general election. But Michael Straw, the Penn State College Republicans president, said with the election over, the organization would support Trump going forward.

“Just because we didn't endorse him doesn't mean we aren't going to support him now. He did win,” Straw said.

Straw said the group will focus on areas where Trump agrees with congressional Republicans on policy, whether on tax policy or other issues. He said he personally supported continued federal funding for Planned Parenthood, for example, but expected the campus group to focus on consensus issues for conservatives going forward.

Overwhelmingly on the Penn State campus, Trump remains unpopular. Straw said he would urge other students to take the same position as his group on the inauguration, however.

“A lot of people at Penn State are negative, but I would tell them, you want your president -- no matter who they are -- to be successful,” he said. “I did not support Donald Trump, but he is our president. So we need to look forward and hope for the best for what he does.”

Editorial Tags: Politics (national)Is this breaking news?: Is this diversity newsletter?: 

Pitt arts and sciences faculty divided over proposal to eliminate foreign language exemption

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 01/23/2017 - 08:00

Foreign language study helps high school students gain admission to colleges and universities, but should it also exempt from them from such study once admitted? An ongoing curricular debate at the University of Pittsburgh -- in which about half the faculty seem to want to raise the standard for foreign language study and half want to maintain the status quo -- highlights the role of foreign languages in general education at a public research university.

“Grades and what they mean at different high schools vary immensely, as do standards and practices -- every state certifies its own foreign language teachers in different ways,” said Lina Insana, chair of French and Italian at Pitt. “They’re a totally unreliable measure of what a student has accomplished.”

Insana is a co-author of a proposal to eliminate what she called a “very large loophole” in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences’ general education requirements for foreign language. Currently, Dietrich’s undergraduates must complete a two-course sequence in a foreign language prior to graduation. Students may gain an exemption from the requirement in one of several ways, including taking a proficiency test administered by Pitt, scoring a four or five on an Advanced Placement exam, or earning B’s or better in all courses over three years of foreign language study in high school.

That last pathway out of foreign language study is what Insana and many of her colleagues want to change. They say precollege foreign language study that does not culminate in the ability to pass a proficiency test should not automatically exempt students from their otherwise required two terms of study. While the Advanced Placement exam and university proficiency tests are standard instruments that provide a good sense of what a student has learned, proponents say, a mere transcript is not.

“We would never dream of saying, ‘Oh, you took high school algebra, so you never have to prove your math competency again at this institution of higher learning,’” for example, Insana said. “The idea that there’s not enough time for language learning is a very typical American cultural bias. … Yet we can’t expect the world to speak English.”

Pitt doesn’t seem to expect the world to speak English, either. It has committed to “Living Globally” by 2020, meaning that it will “pursue research and scholarship that increase global understanding,” “develop our students into global citizens and leaders,” and “improve people’s lives by studying and solving the world’s most critical problems.” Nearly half of the students in the College of Business Administration, for example, study abroad.

Yet a number of professors in the Dietrich School have vocally opposed the proposal, saying that two terms of foreign language study is too onerous a requirement for all students. Adam Leibovich, chair of the department of physics and astronomy, wrote in an email to his faculty colleagues on the eve of a fully faculty vote on the proposal, “We need a large turnout of science faculty to have our voices heard so that resources are not taken away from us,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. “Please make sure that you go to the faculty meeting and that you encourage your faculty to do the same.” That was late last semester; Leibovich since declined an interview request.

David J. Birnbaum, chair of Slavic languages and co-author of the proposal, told Inside Higher Ed via email that prior to the meeting, “some colleagues in other divisions circulated alarmist announcements, filled with meticulous arithmetic, asserting that thousands of students would be required to enroll in language courses if the proposal were accepted. That was never true. What thousands of students would have to do is take a placement test, as they have always had to do with every other requirement that makes exemption an option except foreign language. If every one of those students who studied language in high school were to pass the placement test, there would be no additional enrollment in language courses.”

The only way thousands of additional students would have to study language at Pitt, he added, “would be if thousands of students who had studied language in high school failed the placement test, that is, if the assertion in the curriculum that high school language study automatically meets Pitt’s outcome requirement turned out to completely unfounded.”

Insana said she was still gathering data on how many students meet the high school exemption requirement.

The outcome of the faculty vote was 62 in favor and 67 opposed, but the idea is not dead. The proposal now goes to the student and faculty Undergraduate Council for further study, according to information from the university. The last time Pitt updated its general education requirements was in 2001.

Beyond Pitt

While the foreign language debate most frequently plays out in K-12 education, it’s also part of many conversations about general higher education: How many terms, if any, of a foreign language do students need to round out their studies and give them a head start on the job market? Over all, though, requirements are declining. According to information from the Modern Language Association, the percentage of four-year colleges and universities mandating foreign language study dropped 17 percentage points between 1995 and 2010, to about half of all institutions. Many language departments on a number of campuses also have been targets for elimination.

More institutions have come to expect foreign language study in high school for admission, however. Twenty-one percent of colleges and universities required it in 1995, compared to 25 percent in 2010.

Still, many top institutions that require foreign language study have exemption policies involving high AP scores or some other standardized demonstration of proficiency -- not just general high school study. Princeton University is weighing a proposal to expand its foreign language requirement, specifying that all undergraduates -- including those with high AP scores and even native fluency in another language -- would have to study foreign language for at least one semester. Yale University, for example, also requires all students to take some foreign language courses.

The MLA also has highlighted the need for more programs for heritage speakers, or those who speak another language for cultural or family reasons. Pitt is somewhat unique among its peer institutions in that it admits a significant share of local heritage speakers who speak a variety of languages of study, including Italian, Polish and Russian. The university offers courses in more than 30 languages.

Rosemary Feal, executive director of the MLA, said that Pitt’s high school language exemption policy was unusual among its peers, in that most require an AP score or similar. Three years of high school study with B grades is “virtually meaningless” since at many high schools, “seat time in a language does not necessarily translate to any meaningful level of proficiency,” she said.

“One would expect college students going to the caliber of college as Pitt to be expected to have three years of language with a good grade -- that’s generally an entrance requirement,” Feal said. “If Pitt wants to be like the University of Virginia or the University of Michigan or another highest-caliber public institution, then having higher standards would make sense.” Feal noted that many institutions already require four semesters of study, not two.

Birnbaum emphasized that the proposal isn’t about getting students to take more or fewer language courses, but to bring the current requirement to “the same honesty, consistency and integrity that we see in every other requirement.”

“If Pitt believes that students don’t need to have language proficiency equivalent to a year of college-level study, let us write that honestly into our curriculum,” he said. “But if we believe that they do, we need to test it. The current curriculum says one thing and does another.”

Teaching and LearningEditorial Tags: LanguagesImage Caption: Nationality Rooms in the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of LearningIs this breaking news?: Is this diversity newsletter?: 

Shooting at U of Washington as tensions grow over Milo Yiannopoulos speeches

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 01/23/2017 - 08:00

A man was shot and seriously wounded at the University of Washington Friday night outside a building where Milo Yiannopoulos, the Breitbart writer who has been inflaming campuses with his comments about race and gender, was speaking. The shooting victim is in the hospital. The names of the man who was shot and the shooter have not been released, and the university said it could not comment on whether they have any connections to the institution.

As at many other campuses, Yiannopoulos drew protests and there were clashes -- mostly verbal but some involving the throwing of objects -- between Yiannopoulos fans waiting to get in and those protesting. The Seattle Times described some of the chants that took place, with those supporting Yiannopoulos shouting "white power" and those opposed shouting back "Nazi scum."

Many of those waiting to see Yiannopoulos wore red "Make America Great Again" caps from the campaign of Donald Trump, who was inaugurated as president that day. Some carried signs that said "Celebrate Patriarchy." When protesters chanted, "Black lives matter," the pro-Yiannopoulos crowd chanted, "Blue lives matter." Both sides regularly called the other fascist.

If the sometimes ugly scenes outside Yiannopoulos speeches have become common on his tour of campuses, the shooting was still a shock to many.

It is unclear what happened, but a 34-year-old man was shot and is in critical condition in a Seattle hospital. A man who turned himself in to university police said he shot the other man in self-defense after an altercation that led him to feel he was in danger of being attacked by a white supremacist. Friends of the man who was shot, however, told The Seattle Times that their friend was a Bernie Sanders supporter who was not a racist.

The shooting took place despite what would seem extraordinary steps to make it possible for a controversial speaker to appear. The university has confirmed reports that there were 200 Seattle police officers on hand, on top of 25 university police officers. The university bans firearms on campus, except for use by law enforcement.

Speech Called Off at Davis; Appearance Scheduled at Boulder

Amid the protests, Yiannopoulos was able to give his talk, which was sponsored by the College Republicans group at Washington. A week earlier, a speech by Yiannopoulos that was scheduled for the University of California, Davis, was called off -- a decision that the university says was made by the Davis College Republicans, the group that invited him, but that Yiannopoulos said was made by the university.

A large protest (at right) outside the hall where Yiannopoulos was to speak made entry difficult. Yiannopoulos and his supporters said protesters also damaged property, but the university said this was not the case.

Interim Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter said in a statement that he was disappointed that the speech did not take place, regardless of what people think of the ideas being promoted.

“I am deeply disappointed with the events of this evening,” said Hexter. “Our community is founded on principles of respect for all views, even those that we personally find repellent. As I have stated repeatedly, a university is at its best when it listens to and critically engages opposing views, especially ones that many of us find upsetting or even offensive.”

Yiannopoulos is scheduled to speak at the University of Colorado at Boulder Wednesday. As at Washington and Davis, officials there have said that principles of free speech and the First Amendment require that the campus allow student groups to invite speakers whom many find offensive.

Asked if security would be heightened, Deborah Méndez Wilson, a spokeswoman for Boulder, said via email, “We are aware of what happened at the University of Washington and other recent events, and we continue to make plans for his appearance on Wednesday. As is standard practice, we don’t comment on security preparations.”

Attacks on Multiculturalism

Yiannopoulos (at left) has been setting off campus controversies for a year now -- and his Breitbart connection has become more controversial, given that website's links to Donald Trump. He is known for such actions as going to an anti-rape protest holding a sign that said, "Rape Culture and Harry Potter: Both Fantasy."

He particularly likes to criticize feminist and gay leaders (though he is gay). In a typical move, on Saturday he posted to social media a GIF of sheep being herded, with the line "Live Stream of Women's March."

Some colleges (generally private institutions, not bound by the First Amendment) have barred him from speaking. Others have seen chaos break out, as when students at DePaul University last year took to the stage while he was speaking and prevented him from finishing.

As he has gained fame (and enemies) on college campuses, Yiannopoulos has also attracted attention by singling out for personal criticisms people who are not public figures, although they have played some role in campus politics. At West Virginia University, he broadcast a photo of a professor and referred to him as a "fat faggot." Students there -- with an endorsement from President E. Gordon Gee -- took to social media to defend the professor.

In December, Yiannopoulos mocked a former student at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee for being transgender and for pushing for bathroom access consistent with transgender students' identities. Yiannopoulos also critiqued the former student's physical appearance.

‘Uncharted Territory’

Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, said that controversial campus speakers are nothing new, and that most colleges have historically erred on the side of providing a "marketplace of ideas" and not blocking appearances even by those who offend.

But at the same time, he said, "It does seem that we are entering some uncharted territory with the increase in booking campus speakers such as Milo Yiannopoulos." Kruger added that "our campuses are more polarized than ever, and the most recent election cycle has increased this polarization. This election season has given voice to views around women's rights, Islam, gender identity and racial issues that many students find offensive and, in some cases, a direct threat to their safety on campus." Some of the views being expressed today in campus appearances are "a year ago would not have been expressed publicly."

A related problem, Kruger said, is the way social media is being used to attack those who question these speakers' views. Fans of these speakers are using social media to "name and ridicule" students who criticize the speakers. "Hashtags such as #snowflake may serve to quiet those students who do not want to be called out in such a public domain," he said.

All of this adds up, he said, to "a very challenging time ahead on college campuses," which will be "caught with having to allow controversial speakers on campus whose speech may be offensive, yet protected."

In this environment, Kruger said, it is a "critical time" for colleges to create opportunities for students to discuss issues of race, gender and religion, and to engage in civil discussions with those with differing backgrounds or views.

The Debate at Washington

Those advocating that campuses bar Yiannopoulos have made the argument that he is mixing political commentary with direct attacks on people based on their identities. Given the pattern, they say, keeping him from campus is not the equivalent of just banning a politician with whom some students disagree.

A petition that called for the University of Washington to ban him called Yiannopoulos a "bigot and misogynist" and noted that the university's policies ban "discriminatory harassment."

Ana Mari Cauce, the university's president, declined to bar him, citing the values of free expression. But she also raised a question about whether Yiannopoulos was actually engaging with students -- as opposed to just provoking them.

"I want to state clearly, especially to the thousands of people who have contacted my office with concerns about an upcoming visit by a speaker known for racist and misogynist provocation, that we understand and empathize with their objections and frustration," Cauce said in a statement. "The statements he has made at other campuses are clearly in opposition to the University of Washington’s values …. He is not someone I would ever invite to speak here, not because I don’t value a robust or difficult discussion about a range of policies or social issues -- such conversations are necessary and college campuses are ideal places to have them -- but because this is clearly not the kind of conversation he is seeking. He generates heat, not light, and his manner of engagement is anything but civil, respectful or conducive to true dialogue across differences, of which we need more, not less."

She added that the university would not block his right to speak, however. "The right to free speech and expression is broad and allows for speech that is offensive and that most of us would consider disrespectful, and even sexist or racist. As a public university committed to the free exchange of ideas and free expression, we are obligated to uphold this right," she said.

After the talk, she issued another statement condemning the violence and again stating that students have the right to invite speakers -- and to protest those speakers.

Her statement: “I am absolutely heartbroken that someone was shot on our campus during tonight’s protest. I have been very proud of our students who, to the best of my knowledge, acted with restraint, whether they were planning to attend the event or protest it peacefully. It is an outrage that anyone would resort to violence in the middle of this otherwise peaceful protest. Political action and peaceful protest are the primary engines of constructive change. Violence is destructive and has no place. Our thoughts are with the man who was shot, and with his family and friends. We fervently hope he recovers.”

DiversityEditorial Tags: Diversity MattersStudent lifeImage Caption: Scene at the University of Washington Friday nightIs this breaking news?: Is this diversity newsletter?: 

Power Five leagues adopt new rules lessening time demands

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 01/23/2017 - 08:00

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Legislation designed to lessen the time demands on college athletes in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s wealthiest conferences was easily adopted at the NCAA’s annual meeting here Friday. But before the proposals were voted on, the division's student representatives already found themselves fighting off attempts to allow athletically related activities on their new day off.

The Power Five leagues -- which include the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Pac-12 and the Southeastern Conference -- unanimously voted to adopt new rules that would give athletes one day off per week during a season, 14 days off at the end of a season and two days off per week during the off-season. Two amendments to the rules were also considered: one that would require athletes to attend “life skills activities” organized by the athletics department on some of those free days, and another that would allow participation in recruiting activities, such as hosting a prospective athlete.

“I hesitate to water down the proposal,” said Ty Darlington, a former football player for the University of Oklahoma. “I think the base proposal is grounded in a true day off and the idea that student-athletes can do whatever they want with that time off. It doesn’t matter what it is, whether it’s constructive or not constructive. There should be time in every week where a student-athlete can use that time as they see fit.”

The amendments would have been introduced largely without debate if not for outspoken athletes like Darlington. (“We’re here to discuss these proposals,” Eric Kaler, president of the University of Minnesota and chair of the Division I Board of Directors, said at one point. “Don’t be shy.”) This was the third year that athletes were allowed to debate and vote during such sessions.

Athletes were split on whether to require life skills activities, and that amendment ultimately was adopted with a 48-32 vote. Darlington warned the leagues that athletes would unanimously vote against allowing an exemption for recruiting activities -- an amendment proposed by the Big 12 Conference -- and 14 of the 15 athlete representatives voted against the proposal. That amendment did not pass, mustering just 12 votes in total, nearly all of them from Big 12 members.

The conferences also adopted a rule prohibiting required athletically related activities between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., as well as a rule specifying that institutions must develop a “time management plan” for each varsity sport. The plan would ensure that “athletes are provided with adequate notice of all countable athletically related activities.” Athletes in attendance spoke in support of the rule, saying it was common for coaches to give them just 30 minutes’ notice before an unscheduled athletically related activity.

The Power Five was scheduled to vote on similar legislation at last year’s meeting, but the proposals were tabled at the last moment, frustrating athletes and representatives of conferences such as the Pac-12, which had sponsored much of the legislation. Other leaders within the conferences said at the time they wanted to see more research on the issue before taking any action.

The NCAA’s own team of researchers had already been studying the issue during the previous year. According to those findings, football players in the Football Bowl Subdivision reported spending 42 hours per week on their sport during the season. Two-thirds of Division I athletes reported spending as much or more time on athletics during the off-season as during the season. Nearly one in three FBS football players said their sport prevented them from enrolling in a course they wanted to take.

Last year, the NCAA commissioned another survey focused on time demands in response to the Power Five’s concerns at last year’s meeting and a Division I Council meeting in February. That survey, which included responses from 50,000 Division I coaches and athletes, found that there was broad consensus on reducing time demands for college players, including requiring a minimum eight-hour overnight break and mandating a no-activity period at the end of a season.

“I am very pleased with today's actions,” Larry Scott, commissioner of the Pac-12, said in a statement. “College represents a period of major personal growth and opportunity for our students, and as athletic administrators, it is incumbent on us that they have the necessary time and the flexibility to take full advantage of everything our universities have to offer.”

During his state of the association address on Thursday, Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, also encouraged the Power Five to adopt the new rules, calling the legislation “a very good starting place.” He made a similar argument in favor of lessening time demands for athletes at last year’s meeting.

While much of the time demand legislation was met with little debate on Friday, one proposal proved contentious: a rule banning spring break training trips like the University of Michigan’s controversial week of spring practices at the IMG Academy in Florida last year. The NCAA prohibits players from practicing during winter break and summer vacation and allows no more than eight hours of required training and workouts per week during the off-season. In the spring, the NCAA allows up to 15 practice sessions during a 34-day period, which can include intrasquad scrimmages and a spring game.

Unlike summer and winter break, there were no NCAA rules specifically barring practice during spring break. Colleges, for the most part, have avoided scheduling such practices, however.

Several coaches and conference commissioners criticized Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s travel plans at the time. Bob Bowlsby, commissioner of the Big 12 Conference and chairman of the Football Oversight Committee, said the trip was “inconsistent” with recent discussions to treat athletes more like traditional students. The Southeastern Conference went so far as to ask the NCAA to intervene and prevent the trip from happening, saying the practices were “not appropriate.”

At Friday’s meeting, former Northwestern University women’s soccer player Nandi Mehta argued against the proposal, saying the rule would limit travel opportunities for athletes, many of whom may not have other means of traveling on such trips. In return, Greg Sankey, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, stressed that the rule does not prevent teams from taking spring break trips, only those that involve practices. “The football team could still use spring break for a lot of valuable experiences” without putting on helmets and pads, Sankey said.

The ban on spring break practices was adopted by a 58-22 vote. Eleven of the 15 athlete representatives voted against the proposal. Warde Manuel, Michigan’s athletics director, suggested that the new rule had less to do with time demand concerns and more to do with preventing colleges like Michigan from expanding their reach into other conferences' territories.

“We already take away time that is valuable to our student-athletes,” Manuel said. “Christmas, Thanksgiving, summer tours -- that’s all during the break period when universities are closed. And yet we want to identify this particular period and say, ‘that is sacrosanct.’ If we really want to take this further, we should not allow any practice [during vacations]. We should look at the other break times that we take up time of our student-athletes. If we truly want to protect them, then let’s take it further and not just specify one point in time in the year.”

Editorial Tags: NCAAImage Caption: Mark Emmert, the NCAA's president, waits to give his state of the association address.Is this breaking news?: Is this diversity newsletter?: 
Syndicate content