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End of Year List of Noteworthy Stuff December 31, 2006

Posted by twilightandreason in African Americans, Blogroll, Current Events, Higher Education.
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If I’m still blogging here a year from now, you can be sure I’ll have all manner of intriguing lists, summarizing the best and worst of Black people’s experiences on U.S. college campuses. For now, I have compiled a short list that captures the good, the bad, and the ugly in U.S. Black higher ed for 2006.

The Good
1. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that as of 2004, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 80% of African Americans 25 and over had completed high school, an increase of 10% since 2003. –Click here for the U.S. Census Bureau Press Release

2. Sasha-Mae Eccleston (Brown U, ’06) and Garrett W. Johnson (Florida State, ’05), the two most recent Black Americans to be elected Rhodes Scholars (elected for 2006).

3. Despite the demise of affirmative action in the UT system, the University of Texas reported record numbers of African American and Latino enrollees in the fall of 2006.

The Bad
4. Community colleges are failing in their function as a gateway to higher education. A recent article on InsideBayArea.com reported that, “[o]nly 3 percent of black students starting at a two-year college in 1995 went on to earn a bachelor’s degree by 2001, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.” –Read article at InsideBayArea.com

5. Fall 2006: Despite enrolling its largest freshman class ever, Indiana University saw a substantial drop in the number of incoming African American students (from 412 students to 345).

The Ugly
6. Technological innovations serve the interests of campus racists, too. Digital cameras, cellphones, computers, and community-based websites like Myspace, Facebook, and Livejournal facilitate the widespread distribution of what, at one time, might have been isolated racist acts. Whether dressing in blackface for a campus event (Whitman College), holding a so-called ghetto party (at the University of Chicago), or re-enacting an antebellum whipping while dressed in blackface (Texas A&M University), campus racists are using the new technologies to flaunt their deeply offensive behavior. –Read article at the USNews.com

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Two Great Words that Work Well Together December 15, 2006

Posted by twilightandreason in African Americans, Blogroll, Current Events, Higher Education.
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If I really wanted the title of this post to sounds like that 1970s peanut butter cup commercial, I should have written”two great tastes that taste great together,” but I couldn’t bear to write a sentence that was deliberately incorrent. Mind you, I have no problem with making grammatical errors by accident…

Some might imagine that as an African American, I am much more likely to make such errors than my white counterparts, given that I must certainly have been invited to attend college and graduate school only as a result of the over-generous, ill-conceived, and guilt-ridden efforts of said institutions to “diversify” their campus populations through affirmative action. For many opponents of those admission and recruitment initiatives that are lumped under that infamous heading, such efforts amount to little more than wrong-headed attempts to “right past wrongs,” to make up for the racial injustices of the pre-civil rights era by loading up on African American students, with little regard to ability or proven academic success. Such is the mythology around affirmative action, a mythology whose folly was recently illustrated with stunning ignorance by the editors of , Primary Source, a student-run conservative magazine produced at Tufts University student magazine.

If you haven’t already heard the not-so-good news, the editors of Primary Source, the second oldest conservative publication of its kind, recently published a parody of the Christmas carol “O Come All Ye Faithful” titled “O Come All Yet Black Folk.” The an editor at Primary Source recently apologized for the carol, explaining that it was intended as a critique of affirmative action, but acknowledging, “that the purpose of the carol was not clearly communicated.” The lyrics of the carol are as follows:

O Come All Ye Black Folk
Boisterous, yet desirable
O come ye, O come ye to out university
Come and we will admit you,
Born in to oppression;
O come, let us accept them,
O come, let us accept them,
O come, let us accept them,
Fifty-Two black freshmen.

O sing, gospel choirs,
We will accept your children,
No matter what your grades are F’s D’s or G’s
Give them privileged status; We will welcome all.
O come, let us accept them,
O come, let us accept them,
O come, let us accept them,
Fifty-Two black freshmen.

All come! Blacks, we need you,
Born into the ghetto.
O Jesus! We need you now to fill our racial quotas.
Descendents of Africa, with brown skin arriving:
O come, let us accept them,
O come, let us accept them,
O come, let us accept them,
Fifty-two black freshmen

Affirmative and action: two words that, taken individually, have relatively positive connotations; and yet when used alongside one another they have the peculiar effect of leading otherwise intelligent people to draw on some of the oldest, most hackneyed and offensive stereotypes applied to African Americans. “O Come All Ye Black Folks” is a case in point. Despite their regular contact–in classes, in the dorms, in the locker room, in the library, and on the playing field–with highly motivated, academically sound, intellectually engaged Black students, the editors of Primary Source remain mired in a perception of African Americanness that sounds more like the setup for an episode of 1970s, Norman Lear sitcom.

Nearly 170 after the first African American college was founded, 233 years after the poet Phillis Wheatley became the first African American to publish a book, and in an era when African Americans are found throughout academe, enrolled as students, and employed at all levels of the administration and the faculty, Black people remain, to this small and hopefully non-representative group of student editors, loud, self-pitying, underachievers.

In the end, thought, I think that the last line of the refrain speaks volumes about the real intent of this racist carol: “Fifty-two black freshman.” Before the landmark 1978 legal case The Regents of the University of California v. Bakke ended the use of quotas in college admission, much of the affirmative action debate centered around the ethics of that practice–of the fairness of the use of quotas in selective admissions. Curiously enough, many affirmative action opponents continue to cite their opposition to the long defunct practice of quota-based admissions as the basis for their rejection of diversity initiatives.

In the this post-Bakke era, however, the sad reality is that much of the opposition to affirmative action and its perceived preferential treatment for African American applicants is truly about a fundamental discomfort on the part of many non-Black students and alumni with the simple presence of Black students on campus.

Perhaps for the student editors Primary Source, a mere 52 young Black men and women, in a freshman class of 1284 students, is sufficient to diminish the quality of their Tufts experience. Maybe it is as simple as what Patricia Williams suggested in The Alchemy of Race and Rights, that when Black people become associated with an elite institution, an elite art form, or any elite place or pursuit, that space or activity loses some of its prestige for its white participants. It simply becomes less special.

52 Black men and women out of a class of 1284 are a sufficient basis to compose and print a racist “carol,” that suggests that none of those students have truly earned their place in the entering class. The implication is that their presence on Tufts campus sullies the entire institution. Did their applications sully the entire applicant pool? Is this the new 1 drop rule? Is this the new version of draining the entire pool because 1 “colored person” has attempted to swim in it?

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Slavery Goes to College, or Coming to Terms with a Shameful Past December 10, 2006

Posted by twilightandreason in African Americans, Black History, Blogroll, Current Events, Higher Education.
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I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to figure out how I could best state my feelings about the relationship between U.S. institutions of higher education and the institution of slavery.

When Brown University produced it’s detailed report on the role of slavery in the history of that institution, I applauded. Colleges have long struggled with the issue of full disclosure–of minority student numbers, of on-campus crime statistics, of salaries and other forms of compensation–and few topics have provoked more anxiety in the administrative halls of U.S. colleges and universities than the recent demands institutions speak openly about the role of slavery in their early growth and development.

A number of recent news reports have made note of the great silence with which other institutions have responded to Brown’s (eventual) candor on the subject of it’s relationship to the slave trade. Most schools that are old enough to have possible links to U.S. chattel slavery would probably prefer to leave such relationships unexcavated, and many folks in the academic community support this impetus to, in effect, let sleeping dogs lie.

I cannot overstate how strongly I disagree with that perspective. I believe that full disclosure is an absolutely necessity, especially at the present time, when Black people’s rightful place in higher education is being vigorously debate in both the academy and the media. At the same time that I call for full disclosure of institutions’ relationships to the so-called “peculiar institution of slavery,” however, I also discourage demonizing institutions for their past links to slavery. Many of the United States’ most prestigious colleges and universities have roots that extend deep into the antebellum period; and among those American institutions founded during the antebleeum period, there are few of any type (educational, financial, corporate, or otherwise) that are not in some way linked to slavery and the slave trade. For U.S. colleges and universities this might include the hiring and promotion of slaveholding faculty and/or administrators, the financing of the slave trade, or the kidnapping and transport of African peoples for the purpose of selling and enslaving them on American shores.

And yet a college’s roots in the slave trade cannot be ignored. I believe that the identification of the specific relationships of the various colleges and universities of the U.S. to slavery and the slave trade could form the basis of a new understanding of racism, racially- and ethnically-based considerations in the admission process, and the waning practice of affirmative action.

Whenever I get the opportunity–whenever I uncover any useful links, sources, or other information on the topic–I’m going to use this space to work towards a fuller understanding of the relationship between U.S. higher ed and American slavery. I want to do this in part to uncover the role of the exploitation of enslaved Black people in the growth and expansion of U.S. higher education. I am also interested in the exploring ways that both the antebellum trade in Black bodies and the use of free Black labor have helped to shape some of the very institutions that African Americans were excluded from attending, in many cases, well into the 20th century.

Insitutions should voluntarily establish scholarships and a policy of preferential admission for the direct descendants of those from whose labor and or sale they benefited. This privileged admission status would function something like the preferential treatment of legacy applicants (the children and grandchildren of alumni) and development applicants (those whose families have or are likely to make substantial donations to a given institution). Such families would be identified by name and, ideally, descents would be contacted early in their school careers and informed of the unique opportunity that their ancestors’ legacy had created for them.

Maybe this is what colleges fear. Maybe their reluctance to uncover and disclose any relationship to or involvement in U.S. slavery and the slave trade is based in a fear that the descendants of those whose sale or labor benefited the institution would demand compensation. Or maybe colleges fear damage to their reputations. There are, no doubt, some students who would not wish to attend a college that was deeply involved in the practice of slavery and/or the slave trade. Other students might prefer not to live in a dormitory named after an avowed klansman, pro-slavery advocate, plantation owner, or slave trader. Students deserve the right to make this decision, as do parents. They cannot, however, respond to something that they have not been allowed to know, nor can they–and this is the more likely scenario–explore what the slave legacy of the college or university in question means to them, acknowledge this aspect of the school’s legacy as one of many facets shaping the insitution, and join the college community, fully informed of the complex web of influences, actions, shameful transgressions, and transcendent moments that constitute it’s history.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Hmmm… December 1, 2006

Posted by twilightandreason in African Americans, Current Events.
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“We have to grab our young men and elevate them. We are not ignoring our young women. We will get there. But we need to deal with [the young men] first.”
–Chicago School Board President Rufus Williams, explaining the board’s choice to hold an after-school session for boys and men, featuring guest speaker Bill Cosby.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Good Black News about Education December 1, 2006

Posted by twilightandreason in African Americans, Blogroll, Current Events, Higher Education.
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I don’t need to use this space to inform you that many African American high school students are still struggling with standardized tests, nor do I need to remind you that many of our urban youth are dropping out of high school before they even have the opportunity to consider college. You’ll find enough of those kinds of stories on other sites. Sadly enough, the obsession with Black underachievement is not limited to mainstream media, nor is it confined to white and/or conservative news sources. Too often African Americans on both the right and the left join their majority counterparents in perpetuating the notion that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is to find a successful Black high school or college student.

While African American underachievement is a crucial issue that negatively impacts far too many of our youth, I don’t believe that the interests of Black young people are served by disseminating the notion that Blackness and academic success are oppositional.  Over and over again, I encounter bright, hard-working African American students who are psychologically paralyzed by the feeling that they do not belong on a college campus. No Black person they’ve ever been close to has attended and/or completed their degree, and they do not feel entitled to this precious time for scholarly inquiry, intellectual and personal growth, the very same educational opportunity that many of their white counterparts seem to embrace as their destiny.

If I were to ask these students to name the percentage of U.S. Black college entrants who receive their bachelor’s degrees within 5 or 6 years, they could not tell me, nor could they quote the percentage of African American college graduates who eventually go on to graduate schools. The would not be able to name even a single African American Rhodes scholar, nor would they be able to recall the name of even one Black college president. They would, however, be able to rattle off the names of any number of Black professional athletes and musicians and their legal troubles. And while they might not, in fact, know the percentages of African Americans who graduated from high school last year, or who were attending college, they would be–and, in fact, have been–able to inform me that there are more African American men in prison, in jail, or on parole than there are in college. This is not terribly surprising, since this misleading observation is one of the more widely repeated “facts” about U.S. Black educational achivement. What is surprising, and disappointing, is the conviction with which African Americans of all ages will cite disturbingly low high school graduation rates (often 30-35% lower than the actual rate for African American seniors) if asked how many Black people graduate from U.S. high schools.

How, I often wonder, can African American students–especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds–ever begin their undergraduate (or graduate) programs with confidence, if they have already internalized the notion that their presence on a college campus, and even their mere interest in learning, marks them as an anomaly among U.S. Black people.

After spending so many decades reporting on Black underachievement, it is nothing short of remarkable that such stories continue to constitute “news”; and yet maybe the point of this relentless focus on Black underperformance is not to inform the public of new developments, but to reinforce–even to African American people themselves–the existing status quo.

One of the most disturbing aspects of my interactions with Black students at virtually every college I have ever been affiliated with has been their clear understanding of their “place” in the educational hierarchy. Whenever I come across an article or report on low African American SAT scores or Black drop-out rates I skim quickly, looking to see whether or not the author is offering anything like a new perspective on these issues. If not, I move on. But, as a Black PhD whose world is populated by Black professors, Black doctors, Black attorneys, and other highly-educated African American professionals, these reports are easy for me to disregard. They don’t reflect the reality of Black education as I know and experience it everyday. I’m lucky, but many African American undergraduates, graduate students, and high school students with college aspirations are not as fortunate. When many of our youth look around their neighborhoods, their schoolhouses, and–too often–their undergraduate and/or graduate programs, the reality they see seems to confirm the bleak picture offered up in those regularly recurring stories of Black failure.

Too often, and for too long, the truth of both mainstream and non-mainstream reporting on Black educational achievement has been that “no news is good news.” I’m ready to close the door on that approach. Time for more news, information, and opinion sources that reflect back to our youth a vision of Blackness that–in terms of educational achivement and the life possibilities that school success opens up for all young people–is full of promise, inspiration and hope. Enough of the usual warped mirror of failure and unattainability. Time for some Good Black News about Education.

Posted by Ajuan Mance