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Throwback: Stop Saying Affirmative Action Disadvantages White Students

I’ve got a whole bunch of awesome irons in the fire at the moment, but that means that I don’t have as much time for writing new material (hence the number of guest posts recently).  However, I have been thinking a lot about affirmative action recently, and I thought it would make sense to repost an older article I had written.

I recently had a student come up to me after I gave a presentation at a conference, and he said something I often hear from young White people: “I agree with most of what you said, but you didn’t talk about the ways that White people are institutionally discriminated against.”  When I asked him to clarify what he meant, he said, “Well, like affirmative action, for instance. It is reverse racism!”

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Considering how often this sentiment is expressed and considering the recent debate about what reparations can and should look like spurred by the amazing Ta-Nehisi Coates article in the Atlantic entitled, “The Case for Reparations“, I figure it’s time to repost an article that I originally titled “Are White Students Being Disadvantaged by Affirmative Action” (though my friend Scott bemoaned the passive voice used in the title).

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I notice that whenever I can do question and answer sessions with young people (high school and college students), the same questions come up every time.  First, a White Man usually asks why Black folks are allowed to use the “n word” but he’s not (read my response here).  Then a White young person usually asks, “How do you feel about Affirmative Action? Because from what I understand, White people (particularly White Men) are actually now at a disadvantage in college admissions because of Affirmative Action, and it’s not fair that I will have less of a chance of getting into college because of what happened in the past!”

Ask any White person how they feel about Affirmative Action, and you’re almost guaranteed to hear that it is “racist against White people” and that it is “unfair” or “reverse discrimination” and that they oppose it.  Further, most White folks will tell you that they are, in fact, actually less likely to get a job or a position in a school than a Person of Color because of Affirmative Action policies.

This is not true. Not only are White people not being discriminated against actively, White people are still benefitting regularly from a system that was built from its inception by White people for White people.

You see, White folks will often tell me, “White people make up 72% of the American population, but they only make up 62% of those admitted and enrolled in degree-granting institutions.”  And the tricky part of that statement is that it is not false, not in the slightest.  It is, however, wildly misleading.

The Demographics of Success

Demographics are tricky.  In the United States today, there are A LOT of older White people.  Simultaneously, though, there are also A LOT of younger People of Color.  Thus, while the percentage of the American public that are White hovers around 70%, the percentage of traditionally college-aged folks is much lower: 59.7%.  The critics are right, though, that 62.3% of those enrolled in degree-conferring institutions are White.

Want to know if affirmative action really disadvantages White students? Read the rest of the post here.

Courtesy of DumbSainthood

How Do We CHANGE Rape Culture on College Campuses?

Carly PuchCarly Puch is a recent graduate of Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota. With a Bachelors degree in sociology and women’s studies Carly’s interests are in gender, masculinity studies, and all things feminist. Carly developed an increasing interest in social media and women and work working as an intern at the Minnesota Women’s Consortium. To see more of Carly’s work check out her blog, “Carly Puch: Life Through a Feminist Lens”.

Follow her on Twitter: @carlypuch

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I recently graduated from Augsburg College in Minneapolis, MN. My last year at Augsburg I, along with some other amazing women, started a group on campus called Augsburg Against Gender Violence. Our goal was to address what we thought was lacking on campus when it comes to education, information, and resources regarding gender violence and sexual assault. Augsburg College has been a leader on many hard issues, but it does not lead in the conversation concerning sexual assault. So our first step was to brainstorm.

Where to start? The task seemed more and more daunting. At our intimate meetings (we were lucky to have five people), we would throw out some truly incredible ideas. But we always ended on that ok where to start kind of vibe.

Should we call for more professor sensitivity training? Should we check if we are a Green Dot campus? Should we try and contact our public safety department? Should we target students and plan an on-campus activity? Basically were we thinking micro or macro? Both? In-between? I started to realize we took on a lot. It felt out of reach to make change.

Some of these options we attempted to pursue, and some we even accomplished. We attempted to contact the department of public safety, but our voices remained small. However, we managed to have Carlos Andrés Gómez speak at our school. Gómez is an award winning poet, actor and writer that discusses the connection between toxic masculinity, violence against women, and overall all how we fail to allow men to become fully developed emotional human beings. It was a lovely event.

As I reflect I thought that maybe we were asking the wrong questions. But really we weren’t asking enough.

After all, truly all of the above should be addressed: professors, students, faculty, staff, orientation leaders, and the public safety department. We should think about micro and we should think about macro. We need both. We need it all.

But it is time to admit that addressing sexual assault and rape against women after it happens is not enough. I do not mean to dismiss the many amazingly hardworking people that do this type of advocacy because it hard and under-appreciated work. But we need the before so we can stop relying on the after.

Statistics get thrown around all the time: 1 in 4 college women will be sexually assaulted. But I ask you to truly think about that. Now yes, that woman could be your daughter, mother, sister, or friend.

I am sick of that argument. We should care because they are people. End of story.

Building a Movement

There have been many steps in the right direction this year for addressing sexual assault on college campuses. The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault paired with the 1 is 2 many campaign to release a PSA encouraging men to be a part of the solution in ending sexual assault.

The White House then released a list of schools that have not properly responded to sexual assault complaints. Campaigns like Know Your IX, which work to educate college students to know their rights under Title IX, are gaining national attention.

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But with every step forward there have been reminders as to why dealing with the after is not enough.

The most poignant example surely is the recent tragedy at University of California, Santa Barbara. The shooter, Elliot Rodger, had connections to Men’s Rights Activist and Pick Up Artist groups, and shared with the world about his hate for women via YouTube.

This spring a female student at Harvard wrote a letter to the college paper, titled, “Dear Harvard: You Win.” The letter outlined how Harvard completely failed to do anything when she came forward and named her rapist.

A young man at Duke is actually suing the college because he was expelled after being charged with rape.

These incidents remind us that the problem is deeply rooted. We have been socialized to embrace rape culture. I say we because I am NOT exempt from it. I too fall prey to the effects of this system.

Nationally we have arrived at a point that Augsburg Against Gender Violence did, the now what? stage. What can we do with this information? More specifically how can we change the culture that allows and condones rape on college campuses?

Luckily there are people, groups, and organizations working on this effort all over the country. But they tend to be based at one school or one geographic location.

Continue Reading

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Income vs. Wealth: How Privilege Is Passed Down from Generation to Generation

Not too long ago, I got an angry e-mail from someone in the town where I grew up.

The author of the e-mail is someone who knows my parents pretty well, and he had somehow stumbled across something I had written about privilege.

“How disrespectful can you be!? It’s like your spitting in the face of everything your parents have worked for,” he wrote. “Writing about this White privilege makes it look like your father, one of the harder working men I know, just had everything handed to him. You know that’s not the case!”

I did my best to respond by explaining that privilege doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve had everything handed to you, and I know that my father has worked hard. To say that we have privilege doesn’t discredit any of his hard work. It simply puts that hard work in context.

I recently heard privilege described as a tailwind,” taking your effort and energy and propelling you further forward than those who must fly against the winds of our society’s constructs of power and privilege.

My father didn’t grow up with incredible wealth privilege. He is the son of a truck driver and stay-at-home mom who also worked at a local school cafeteria to earn extra cash. My grandfather grew up in the “holler” in West Virginia in an area well familiar with intergenerational poverty.

Part of what set our family apart, though, was our ownership of land.

Similarly, on my mom’s side of the family, go back a few generations and you’ll find some poor, hardworking farmers from Ireland and Belgium who settled on stolen indigenous land in South Dakota. Again, they were able to buy a plot of land upon which they could start to build their familial wealth legacy.

Fast forward a few generations, and I am the son of a doctor and a nurse.

Wealth and the Context of History

There are really a few ways to look at my family’s history.

Some might say that it’s the perfect example of “The American Dream,” as defined by the ability of a people to build something (read: wealth) for themselves that is passed down to ensure the next generation’s life is a little better than the last.

Others might note that my family’s story perfectly illustrates the trappings of privilege.

Sure, my family gave up most of our cultural identity to become White in the United States, but doing so gave us access to a system that privileged us in countless ways.

Simply put, we traded culture for a tailwind.

After all, one of the key markers of access to wealth in the United States for much of its history has been the ability to own land. There’s a reason that for a good, long while in this country, a man couldn’t vote unless he owned land, and you couldn’t own land unless you were White and Christian.

And land-ownership has been systematically denied to those not considered “White” (through the ever-changing construction of Whiteness) for most if not all of this country’s history.

From the Land Grant Acts to the Homesteading Acts to redlining policies toWhite flight, we see how owning land, but particularly land considered “desirable” or worthy (whether because of access to resources or proximity to jobs or simply status) allows for wealth mobility.

And this access to wealth mobility is relates directly to intersectional identity politics.

This does not mean that all White people are wealthy or that poor White folks somehow are failures for not better working the system that privileges us.

It simply means that the limited access to wealth that has always been a staple in this country has just been more limited for people of Color and women and disabled/differently-abled people and non-Christians and really anyone who isn’t part of the smaller, privileged few that are most granted access to wealth in this country.

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

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Columbine High School – A Community Defined by Unity

I’m pretty lucky.

I get to spend a large amount of my time hanging out in schools where people care really deeply about building inclusive environments where everyone feels safe.  Just this week I got to spend a day learning from some committed educators at the high school I graduated from, educators who are going above and beyond to serve traditionally marginalized students.

Most of the time when I’m working with a school, though, there is a laundry list of problems laid out by students, staff, parents, and administrators: cyberbullying, teachers feeling bullied by administration, students feeling bullied by teachers, students treating other students like crap, students feeling like no one cares for them in the building, etc.

Even if it’s a minority of voices, I can always find people to talk about the trials, the challenges, and the difficult stuff that the community is facing.

Thus, when I was asked to work with Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, I was pretty sure what I would encounter.  What I wasn’t sure about was how Columbine’s history would impact how inclusive it is today.  I had all sorts of preconceived notions about the community based in the media frenzy surrounding the community since the shootings there in 1999, but what would the community actually be like?

No matter what my expectations may have been, what I found was not at all what I expected…

Columbine is proof that when people dedicate themselves to inclusion and building safe educational environments, individuals can have a powerful impact.

In the case of Columbine, this spirit of inclusion grew out of tragedy, but it doesn’t have to be that way for your community.  Need tools for building an inclusive school culture and climate?  Look no further than CivilSchools.

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A Lesson on Citing Sources

I recently had the incredible pleasure of working with Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, offering an assembly and working with some of the classes to think more about what it takes to build a truly inclusive community.

It was inspiring to work with Columbine, as I have never found a community as committed to or as successful in building a community where all people feel safe (a subject about which I hope to write more sometime soon).  This level of inclusiveness has been hard won, with staff and students working hard to ensure that the defining characteristic of their school is not related to the tragedy that occurred there in 1999 but is the commitment born before and renewed after that tragedy to make sure that every person who walks in those doors feels safe to fully be themselves.

No one is more committed to inclusiveness than Principal Frank DeAngelis, the long-time leader who is set to retire in a few months.  Before my assembly, I had the chance to sit with Mr. DeAngelis (Mr. De as the students call him) to talk about Columbine and to get some pointers on best serving the community.  During our talk, he mentioned a few words and phrases that can be triggering to people at Columbine, and he asked that I avoid using those phrases.  I took notes, and scratched out a few phrases from my outline, adding alternatives for me to use in the margins.

My remarks in the assembly were based in the theory of critical mass, empowering students to realize that if they want to change their community for the better, they don’t need to get a majority on board.  Instead, they simply need to get a critical mass working for positive change.

While in the early stages of explaining the idea (which is somewhat abstract and needs some real-world examples), I clicked to my next slide, an example to prove the point.  In that moment, I realized the grave mistake I had made: my slide used one of those triggering phrases that Mr. De had asked I avoid!  I quickly clicked past the example and, flustered, attempted to explain the concept, doing a poor job in the process.

I basically said that the idea, which I noted had been studied by many sociologists, allows a small group of people to inspire powerful change simply by being vocal proponents of new social norms, and I moved on.

After the assembly, a few students asked me to better explain the concept, and I laughed, explaining how I had screwed up with the slides, and further explained the sociological theory.

Well today, a few weeks after visiting Columbine, I got an email from a teacher at the school who was, to put it mildly, unhappy with me and my presentation.  She felt like I had deceived the students into thinking that the concepts of critical mass and tipping points were my own rather than those of researchers like Mark Granovetter, Thomas Schelling, and (most well-known) Malcolm Gladwell.

In short, she accused me of plagiarism.

And you know what? She’s right!

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Source: ReactionGifs

When I taught high school, I always stressed to my students that they had to take great pains to cite their sources, for even accidental omission of a source is, by definition, plagiarism.

Though my omission of the names of the researchers upon whose work my remarks were based was accidental, a result of my flustered, poor explanation of the concept, those omissions are still plagiarism, and that’s not only not cool, but it’s downright unethical and illegal.  Though I did mention vaguely the work of “sociologists” who have studied the idea, that’s not enough.

Thus, I owe an apology to the Columbine community.  No matter my excuse, I should have clearly cited my sources, and for not doing so, I am sorry.

Additionally, I owe that teacher a big thank you! After all, I wouldn’t have realized my mistake without her email, and as a result, she is helping me to continue my journey toward accountability and integrity.  I work hard to ensure that whatever I produce, whether it’s a blog or a presentation or training, is well-grounded in research and clearly cited.  And here, I fell short.

If nothing else, I hope this will act as a model to any of the students who read my blog: always be careful to cite your sources.

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6 Ways Parents Can Address Bullying

If you’re a parent of a school-aged child, it’s likely that you’ve been affected by bullying.

With approximately 30% of students reporting being bullied and far more being peripherally affected or even traumatized by bullying, it’s a weighing concern on parents’ minds.

I often will meet parents when I’m out at a party or on a long flight who, when they hear that I’m a bullying-prevention educator, immediately begin to impart their terrible story of childhood trauma and abuse or stories about their kids being bullied in school.

And while just about every parent cares passionately and deeply about ending bullying, most are unsure of what they can do to protect their child.

That’s one of the reasons that I partnered with Everyday Feminism a few months ago to facilitate a free webinar on how parents can intervene to end bullying.

Knowing that not every parent has an hour to sit down and watch the recording of our webinar, though, I wanted to offer a quick read for parents who are concerned about bullying.

Understanding Modern Bullying

Before parents can effectively intervene when bullying is taking place, it’s important that we understand a few things about the nature of modern bullying.

First, a comprehensive review of the research on bullying from the American Educational Research Association tells us that “bullying is often aimed at specific groups” and is often a direct result of power imbalances.

In short, bullying is primarily a problem of power, not simply random childhood cruelty.

Though not every instance of bullying is directly related to identity, research indicates that it can be important to talk about bullying through the lens of identity.

Second, the nature of bullying has changed tremendously in the last 15 years.

I often have adults say to me, “Man, I was bullied, and I survived! All this coddling isn’t going to help kids toughen up!”

My response is always, “While I’m really sorry that you were bullied, we also need to understand that bullying today isn’t the same thing as bullying when we were young.”

In my own case, I was bullied pretty terribly in my youth.

It got to the point that I felt pretty desperate and even suicidal at times. And this was in a time when I was able to take breaks from the bullying.

You see, when I got home from school, the bullying stopped. And every summer break, I got a two-month reprieve from the bullying behavior. And I barely survived!

Today, with the wide accessibility of cell phones and the Internet, bullying can be near constant.

One of the last things young people with cell phones do before bed and first things they do when waking up is check their phone. If they’re being bullied through Twitter or text, that’s how they will start their day.

The scary thing about cyber bullying is that it never takes a break.

Knowing these two things about bullying will help tremendously as you look for the ways to best support your child and intervene when they are being targeted for bullying.

1.  Look for Signs of Bullying

Though it may seem obvious, many of the signs of bullying go unnoticed or written off as moodiness or growing pains.

But there are concrete things that you can look for that will help you to identify when you child is being bullied.

No matter your child’s age, ask yourself these questions:

Has your child…

 …stopped doing things that they enjoy?

Students who are being bullied tend to express greater self-consciousness, and as a result, they may suddenly stop doing things they enjoy.

Maybe they’re being mistreated at baseball practice, so they no longer want to play baseball. Maybe they’re being bullied for their interest in Magic the Gathering, so they suddenly stop playing the game that they love.

…expressed a sudden or progressive sad or sullen attitude?

Maybe this is a sign of seasonal affectedness, or maybe this is because the teasing has finally broken through your child’s defenses. Once the poison of bullying gets inside, it often will show up through progressive or sudden sadness.

…expressed a sudden or progressive angry attitude?

Similarly, bullying can also lead to sudden outbursts of anger.

This is important to recognize because it can often end up leading to your child“passing on the hurt” by bullying other people.

For me, I was terrible to my parents and best friends when I was being bullied in middle school.

…expressed sudden or progressive self consciousness about their identity?

Because much bullying is identity-based, it can lead to students feeling more self-conscious about the aspect of their identity that is being targeted.

In the case of heterosexist/homophobic bullying, it can lead targeted kids to express self-consciousness and to project their understandings of heterosexuality in extreme ways.

…been reluctant or afraid to attend school or activities?

Maybe they’re just hitting that time of year when nothing can make them want to go to school, or maybe they’re being mistreated in some way. But sudden reluctance to attend school or activities is a good sign that bullying could be taking place.

 If your answer to any of these questions is yes, talk to your child.

The more open and honest you are with them about your concern, the more likely they will be to talk to you about what’s hurting them.

And even if they don’t end up sharing everything with you right then and there, bringing it up helps them understand that they can come to you for help.

2.  Engage Your Child’s Digital World

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism

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Educators: Investing in Student Achievement Means Investing in School Climate

While I was setting up for a recent bullying prevention presentation at a high school, a counselor expressed disappointment and frustration at some teachers’ reactions to having me come speak to their students.

“They don’t understand why we were spending time on an assembly and training like yours when we need to be focusing on achievement.”  It’s sadly a common refrain that I hear from teachers around the country.

And I get it!  Teachers are under tremendous pressure to improve test scores that measure very specific aspects of the student educational experience.  More and more, teachers livelihoods are one the line as districts tie teacher pay and teacher advancement to student achievement, a practice that is dubious in its research support to say the least.

But this is the environment in which teachers must practice their craft.  People are constantly looking over their shoulders, and teachers are under an incredible amount of pressure to ensure growth in their students’ “achievement,” as measured by districts, state tests, and federal measures.

Thus, I completely understand the laser-like focus on achievement data.

The good news is, though, that some of the lowest-hanging fruit in helping students learn and perform better in school is often the stuff that gets treated as “fluff” or “extraneous.”

Maslow’s On Our Side

In the most simple of psychology, we know that our basic needs must be met before we can care about more complex problems.  As it relates to education, how can a kid focus on the intricacies of balancing equations or diagraming sentences if they are worried for their safety or consumed by their feelings of loneliness within a community that’s supposed to accept and include them?

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

Before students can focus on self actualization and esteem, two of the needs of Maslow’s hierarchy that are met through a rigorous and rewarding education, students have to feel safe and like they belong.

Simply put, one of the best ways to improve student achievement is to start by making sure all students feel safe and fully supported in their school environment.

Now, when it comes to their classroom environment, most teachers do a pretty good job of meeting this basic need.  They make sure that no taunting or teasing takes place during class, and they work hard to support all of their students.  However, school culture and climate extends far beyond the reach of one single classroom.

The Costs of Feeling Unsafe

That’s precisely why we need school-wide efforts to prevent bullying and to build inclusive school culture.

Approximately 30% of students are targeted for bullying behaviors, leading to them feeling unsafe and marginalized within the very community where they ought to feel safest.  Further, research from Penn State indicates that those young people who witness bullying are also unlikely to feel safe in their school environment, and the impacts can even last throughout the rest of their lives.

Thus, at minimum, 30% of our students aren’t having their basic needs of safety met because they’re being targeted for bullying, and when we consider the students who are adversely impacted by simply witnessing bullying, we know that a strong majority of our young people are carrying the weight of fear into school.

Read the rest at CivilSchools.