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Black Alumni on the Silver Screen March 17, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in African Americans, Black Colleges, Black History, Blogroll, Higher Education, race.
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According to celluloid legend, Lana Turner was discovered by Billy Wilkerson, publisher of the Hollywood Reporter, while sitting on a stool at Schwab’s Drugstore (actually the Top Hap Malt Shop) in Los Angeles. The myth of the overnight sensation may be fun to contemplate, but for the following African American actors and actresses, the road to Hollywood included hard work and study, along with just a hint of good luck:

  • Jeffrey Wright (B.A., Political Science,  1987), Amherst College
  • Alfre Woodard (BFA, Drama, 1974) Boston University
  • Don Cheadle (BFA, Theatre,1986) California Institute of the Arts
  • Shari Belafonte-Harper (B.F.A., 1976, Drama) Carnegie-Mellon University
  • Aunjanue Ellis (B.A., African American Studies)  Brown University
  • Hill Harper (B.A., magna cum laude) Brown University; (J.D.) Harvard Law School
  • Aisha Tyler (Bachelor’s, Political Science, minor in Environmental Policy), Darthmouth College
  • Denzel Washington (B.A., 1977, Drama) Fordham University
  • T’Keyah Crystal Kemah (Bachelor’s, School of Business and Industry [recruited as a National Merit Scholar]) , Florida A&M University
  • Ossie Davis (Bachelors, 1938) Howard University
  • Lynn Whitefield (Bachelor’s) Howard University 
  • Anthony Anderson (Bachelor’s) Howard University 
  • Wendy Raquel Robinson (BFA, 1989)
  • Ruby Dee (B.A., 1945, French and Spanish), Hunter College
  • Avery Brooks (B.A., MFA, Acting [first Black MFA in Acting to graduate]), Rutgers University
  • Sheryl Lee Ralph (B.A., English Literature major, Theatre Arts minor [At age 19, she became the youngest female graduate and was named one of the Top Ten College Women in America by Glamour magazine.]), Rutgers University
  • Shemar Moore (B.A., Communications [attended on a baseball scholarship]) Santa Clara University
  • Holly Robinson-Peete (B.A., 1986, Psychology and French [did a junior year abroad at the Sorbonne]) Sarah Lawrence College
  • Melvin Van Peebles (Bachelor’s, 1953) Ohio Wesleyan
  • Chandra Wilson (BFA, Drama) New York University, Tisch School of the Arts
  • Shelton Jackson “Spike” Lee (B.A., Mass Communication) Morehouse College; (MFA, Film) New York University

Posted by Ajuan Mance

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University of Maryland Sidesteps the Slavery Issue March 11, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in African Americans, Higher Education, race, Slavery, University of Maryland.
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from a 3/07/01 editorial in the U of M-College Park Diamondback:

As state legislators moved closer to passing a joint resolution “expressing regret” for the state’s role in slavery yesterday, it remained unclear whether the university would ever take a similar step.

Although it has been widely known that the founder of the Maryland Agricultural College – later renamed the University of Maryland – owned slaves, university officials made little mention of the deeper role slavery played here during the 150th anniversary last year. Several founding contributors in 1856 donated money made from the use of slaves, and some believe slaves were likely used on the campus, according to two university researchers.

The only formal recognition the university has made beyond founder Charles Calvert’s ownership of slaves since The Diamondback reported on the sparse mention of slavery during the anniversary was a statement on the university’s press release website written by university archivist Anne Turkos.

“The role of African Americans in the early history of the Maryland Agricultural College is particularly unclear,” Turkos wrote, “Many people believe that Calvert lent his slaves to the college to help erect the first buildings, but we have not been able to confirm this to date.”

In an e-mail, Turkos said an assistant archivist has been researching slavery’s role in the university’s history “when she has time,” but noted the resources for such research are “somewhat complex and widely scattered.”

If the bill heard yesterday passes as expected, Maryland will be the nation’s second state to express regret for slavery. Virginia was the first state to do so last month. But if the university ever announces any plans to even begin exploring the issue more deeply, it will hardly be the first university to do so.

As evidence of slavery’s role at other universities has surfaced over the last several years, some have commissioned committees to investigate and make recommendations on how to make amends. The faculty at the University of Alabama voted to formally apologize after it became clear professors had once whipped slaves on the campus, The New York Times reported.

When Ivy League member Brown University confirmed slave holding founders had donated money early in the university’s history, and the brother of a founder profited from the slave trade, a committee recommended in a report that the university “tell the truth in all its complexity.” The committee went on to say the university should “include discussion of the university’s historical relationship to slavery as a normal part of freshmen orientation,” and “create a center for continuing research on slavery and justice.”

It’s unclear whether university President Dan Mote has considered taking similar steps at this university. His office did not grant a request for an interview regarding this story made on Wednesday, and a secretary recommended reporters call University System Chancellor Brit Kirwan for comment yesterday. Kirwan did not return calls, but told a reporter last year that “It seems a very appropriate topic to explore.”

— Nathan Cohen

Equality and — more importantly — equity in higher education begins with full disclosure. I am not only calling for U.S. colleges and universities to fully disclose the role of slavery and other forms of discrimination in their institutions’ histories, but also to disclose the following information about current race-relations on campus. College should research and disclose their finds on:

  • The ways that they are currently favoring economically privileged (mostly white) students in their admissions programs through preferences for wealthy students and the children of alumni.
  • The number and nature of reported incidents of racial harrassment on campus.
  • The number and nature of reported incidents of racist remarks, racist grading practices, and other forms of bias in the classroom.
  • The percentage of African American students (broken down by gender) who are recruited athletes.

and, finally,

  • For each faculty and/or administrative search, the number of applicants for faculty and administrative positions who are people of color and the percentage applicants of color who are hired.

Equality and — more importantly — equity in higher education begins with full disclosure. I am not only calling for U.S. colleges and universities to fully disclose the role of slavery and other forms of discrimination in their institutions’ histories, but also to disclose the following information about current race-related practices:

  • The ways that they are currently favoring economically privileged (mostly white) students in their admissions programs, most often through preferences for wealthy students and the children of alumni.
  • The number and nature of reported incidents of racial harrassment on campus.
  • The number and nature of reported incidents of racist remarks, racist grading practices, and other forms of bias in the classroom.
  • The percentage of African American students (broken down by gender) who are recruited athletes.
  • The number of applicants for faculty and administrative positions who are people of color and the percentage applicants of color who are hired.

U.S. colleges and universities have played an important role in developing and disseminating many of the key ideas and strategies that have advanced equality and diversity at all levels of education. Still, for most of the history of this country, higher ed was focused on serving needs of a fairly narrow demographic, affluent white men; and although most college students today are neither wealthy nor male, and although a growing proportion of students on U.S. campuses are people of color, most academic institutions retain many of the structures and practices that are best suited to insuring the success of those who enjoy class, gender, and race privilege.

It is my hope that as colleges begin to examine the role of slavery in the founding and sustenance of their institutions, they will also turn their thoughts to the other ways that they participated in, embraced, or established particular procedures, belief systems, and structures that marginalized people of color and/or privileged their white male constituents, some of which — unlike slavery — might still be a part of the fabric of the academic, administrative, and residential life of the campus.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Ivy League Diaspora March 5, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in Academia, African Americans, Black Students, race, Slavery, Stereotypes.
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Although it’s become old news (the first reports on this subject that I encountered were published in 2006), the fact that a disproportionate number of Black students admitted to selective U.S. institutions are first- and second-generation immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, and (less frequently) from Europe is getting more and more national attention. Here’s a recent article on the subject from the Brown Daily Herald:

More than a quarter – and in some cases nearly half – of black students at selective American colleges and universities are first- or second-generation immigrants, according to a new study appearing in the February issue of the American Journal of Education. Some sociologists say the data throw into question the criteria and purpose behind many education-related affirmative action programs as well as the way diversity is often presented at American universities. Camille Charles, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and an associate director of the school’s Center for Africana Studies; Douglas Massey, professor of sociology at Princeton; and Margarita Mooney and Kimberly C. Torres, postdoctoral fellows at Princeton’s Office of Population Research, authored the study, titled “Black Immigrants and Black Natives Attending Selective Colleges and Universities in the United States.”

“If you’re a purist, then you’ll think that (this discovery) is not in the spirit of affirmative action. But if you’re a diversity purist, and your idea is to expose everybody to as many different kinds of people as possible, then you’ll think this is great,” Charles told the Chronicle of Higher Education in an article appearing this week.

The report is based on data from a larger project, the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen, which is sponsored by the Mellon Foundation and led by researchers at Princeton. The survey looked at 1,051 black freshmen enrolled at 28 selective colleges in 1999. Of those, 27 percent were first- or second-generation immigrants, largely from the Caribbean or Ghana -more than twice the national average of 13 percent for all black Americans aged 18 to 19.

The number climbed sharply when the schools in question were narrowed to the most selective. At the four Ivy League schools included in the survey (Penn, Princeton, Yale and Columbia), 41 percent of black students were first- or second-generation immigrants.

These numbers would seem to challenge the surprisingly persistent belief among a small but no less disturbing cadre of white and (surprising) non-white scientists and pseudo-scientists in the genetically-based intellectual inferiority of Black people(s). They also raise a number of interesting questions about

  • the long-term impact of enslavement and enforced segregation on the descendants of U.S. Black slaves.
  • the need for educational initiaves directed specifically at the Black descendants of U.S. slaves.
  • about the need for colleges to develop programming (speakers series, coursework in African and Afro-caribbean music, literature, history, and languages) that addresses the interests of a broader and diasporically-based population of students of African descent.

In the long term, I believe that some of these issues will be addressed. In the short term, however, I predict a public discussion of why “homegrown” Blacks can’t/don’t do as well as their immigrant brethren and sistren. I also predict that a surprising number of African Americans will join those voices that decry the failure of U.S. (non-immigrant) Blacks to “do better.”

Stay tuned.

Posted by Ajuan Mance