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Oxford U Press Takes Aim at Bias in Reporting and Research on HBCUs January 31, 2008

Posted by twilightandreason in Black Colleges, Current Events, Higher Education, race, racism.

When it comes to mainstream reporting and research on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, it seems that the rules are the same as for mainstream reporting on Black people: take anecdotal accounts of failure and incompetence, and extrapolate to the rest of the group.

OUPblog, maintained by Oxford University Press USA, points this out in “Historically Black Colleges: Anecdote Doesn’t Equal Evidence,” an entry published on January 29, 2008. Written by Dr. Marybeth Gasman, an Assistant Professor of Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania, this entry explores some of the history of selective reporting and research on Black colleges, tracing the phenomenon to Christopher Jencks and David Riesman’s “The American Negro College,” a tragic masterpiece of faulty and anecdotal research that appeared in 1967, in the Harvard Educational Review:

Having taken on a variety of social ills before, the two Harvard University scholars [Christopher Jencks and David Riesman] decided to embark on an exposé of America’s colleges. When it came to Black institutions, though, the pair didn’t bother to check facts. Based largely on anecdote and hearsay, they presented a scathing document that has been a blight on Black colleges’ reputations—and fundraising efforts—ever since.

OUPblog highlights the reality that all Black bloggers know — indeed, the very reality that compelled many of us to begin blogging in the first place — that mainstream coverage of Black topics has little investment in presenting any perspective on our communities, cultures, institutions, and issues that challenges prevailing notions of race and power in the U.S. OUPblog reaches beyond many treatments of anti-Black media bias by highlighting its relationship to similar issues within academic research.

A lot has changed in the 40 years since Jencks and Riesman’s poorly researched smear of Black colleges and universities, but not so much that OUPblogs’ take home message is rendered irrelevant. OUPblog reminds us that a bias against both Black involvement in education and even the very existence of Black colleges and universities is woven inextricably into the fabric of both media reporting and academic practice. As critical readers and thinks we must remember this truth integrate it into our engagement with all mainstream reporting and research on HBCUs and other aspects of Black life and Black community in the U.S.

Posted by Ajuan Mance


Dartmouth Makes Bold Move on Financial Aid Front January 22, 2008

Posted by twilightandreason in College Admissions, Dartmouth College, Financial Aid, Harvard University, Higher Education, Yale.

Tuesday, January 21, 2008: Bloomberg.com’s top U.S. stories included this report on a recent change in Dartmouth ‘s financial aid policy:

Dartmouth College, following moves by Harvard and Yale universities to make their schools more affordable, said students from families earning $75,000 or less won’t have to pay tuition, starting in the next academic year.

Dartmouth, the smallest Ivy League institution, will also eliminate loans from aid packages, replacing them with grants, the Hanover, New Hampshire, school, said in a statement today. Besides the tuition breaks, students in the $75,000-or-under category may receive scholarships for room, board and other fees, the school said.

Matthew Keenan for Bloomberg.com

This spells good news for African Americans, since financial hardship is one of the major contributors to the relatively high attrition rate among Black undergraduates. High school guidance counselors and others who advise college-bound students should take notice of these profound shifts in the financial aid paradigm. Although Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth are three of the most expensive institutions in the United States, their shift from loan aid to grant aid, and their practice of waiving tuition for many middle- and low-income students makes an Ivy League education (at least at these three schools) equally or even more affordable, compared to a bachelor’s degree from a public institution. It is my hope that news of this generous new funding structure will trickle down from the admission offices and administrative corridors where these policies are created to the aspiring students who need this information the most.

I have always maintained that students from marginalized backgrounds have more choices than they are aware of. Such students are often unaware of the range of opportunities available to them, largely because too much of the information about the how, where, and why of college admission and financial aid remains inaccessible to those whose future depends on it most heavily. That Dartmouth’s new financial aid policy has made the top U.S. headlines on Bloomberg.com and Google news is a good first step. Hopefully, momentum will carry, beyond web-based newsites and into high school lunch rooms and hallways, the message that college costs to the student may be very different (and considerably lower) than the advertised “sticker price.”

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Black Milestones in Higher Education: Big Red Edition January 21, 2008

Posted by twilightandreason in 746, Black History, Cornell University, Elbert Frank Cox, Higher Education, Msae Jemison, Sadie Gasaway, Sarah W. Brown.

Big Red

History and Overview: Cornell University was founded in 1865, the same year that the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ended slavery in the United States. Located in Ithaca, New York, Cornell first awarded a bachelor’s degree to a Black student in 1897. In 2005, just under 5% of Cornell’s 13,000 undergraduates were Black studentss.

Black Milestones at Cornell University:

  • 1892 — Edward Brooks completes a law degree and becomes the first African American to earn a diploma from Cornell University.
  • 1897 — Sarah Winifred Brown becomes the first African American to earn a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University.
  • 1899 — Nancy Brown, sister of Sarah Winifred Brown (above) becomes the first African American legacy student to graduate from Cornell University.
  • 1906 — Alpha Phi Alpha, the first fraternity for Black men, is founded on the campus of Cornell University.
  • 1921 — Thomas Wyatt Turner completes his doctorate at Cornell, becoming the first African American in the U.S. to earn a Ph.D. in Botany.
  • 1925 — On September 26 of this year Elbert Frank Cox becomes the first Black man at Cornell and in the U.S. to earn a Ph.D. in Physics.
  • 1932 — Frederick Douglass Patterson completes his doctorate at Cornell, becoming the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in bacteriology.
  • 1936 — Flemmie Pansy Kittrell completes her doctorate at Cornell, becoming the first African American in the U.S. to earn a Ph.D. in nutrition.
  • 1961 — Sadie Gasaway completes her doctorate at Cornell, becoming the fifth African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics.
  • 1966 — The Afro-American Society (AAS) is founded at Cornell University.
  • 1972 — Ujamaa Residential College, a Black themed living community, is formed.
  • 1981 — Mae Jemison graduates from Cornell Medical School. She would go on to become the first African American woman astronaut and the first Black woman in space.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

For Mechanical Engineering Pioneer, Success Runs in the Family January 16, 2008

Posted by twilightandreason in Alicia Jillian Hardy, Engineering, Higher Education, M.I.T., Women in Science.
Dr. Alicia Jillian Hardy

Dr. Alicia Jillian Hardy

Congratulations to Alicia Jillian Hardy who, in September of 2007, became the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.). Her doctoral research was focused in part of developing new, more fuel-efficient forms of internal combustion. She is currently putting her knowledge in this field to use in a 6 – month internship at BMW’s Munich research facility.

An academic standout in high school, where she won awards in math and science, Hardy was accepted at all 14 of the colleges and universities she applied to. On her brother’s advice, she chose M.I.T., but — ironically enough — not for its programs in the sciences. She entered M.I.T. with every intention of focusing on the humanities, and during her first year of college she fell in love with the Institute’s writing program. During her sophomore year, however, she decided to opt for engineering’s more clearly defined path to employment.

As an undergraduate, Hardy took advantage of a broad range of opportunities, both inside and out of the classroom. She was a teaching assistant for the multivariable calculus course and a member of the women’s crew. When graduation finally arrived, though, Hardy did not enter the workforce, opting instead for M.I.T.’s graduate program in engineering. She earned her master’s in 2004 and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering this past fall. When she returns from Munich, Dr. Hardy will begin a full-time position at General Electric where she will be working on biofuel technology.

Although she recently became the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from M.I.T., Dr. Alicia Jillian Hardy is not the first in her family to earn a doctorate, nor even the first in her family to complete a Ph.D. in engineering. Her mother holds a doctorate in education and her brother, Cordell, holds a Ph.D. in chemical engineering.

Sources: The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education and M.I.T. News

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Reasons to Be Cheerful: The 5 Best News Stories of 2007 January 9, 2008

Posted by twilightandreason in African American Professors, African American Students, Black Colleges, Black Faculty, Black Students, Denzel Washington, Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Good Black News, Higher Education, Imus, IQ, James Watson, race, Ten Best List, Wiley College.
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If I was asked to choose a single phrase to describe the state of Black higher education in 2007, it would have to be, “the changing same.” Also title of Deborah McDowell’s landmark study of Black women’s literature and literary theory (The Changing Same: Black Women’s Literature, Criticism, and Theory), this phrase captures the peculiar contradiction between the perception and the reality of Black people’s involvement in higher education during the year 2007.

Perceptions of Black people’s relationship to college and university education are progressing much more slowly than Black people’s real life achievements in academe, largely because Black academic progress simply depends on supporting African Americans’ pursuit of their goals and dreams, while a shift in the perception of Black people’s role in academe depends on changing the minds of people not only within, but also outside of the African American community, including many who have no vested interest in thinking about Blackness in more progressive ways, and who might even have an investment in maintaining the old biases.

Certain events in 2007 have highlighted this divide between popular (and often racist) perceptions of what Black people can and do accomplish on college campuses and the reality of Black student and faculty achievements in U.S. Higher ed. People like Don Imus (who looked at a basketball team full of hard-working, talented young Black women and saw only “hoes”) and James Watson (who stunned progressive communities in the U.S. and abroad with his unabashed assertion that Black people’s intelligence is genetically impaired) espoused ways of looking Blackness that are mired in centuries-old stereotypes. On the other hand, on college and university campuses across the nation, Black students, faculty, and administrators spent the year achieving their goals and setting new ones, all undaunted by the subtle and not-so-subtle racism that swirled around them.

You don’t have to be a person of African descent to feel cheered by the news stories listed below. If you care about people, education, and the future of our communities, the positive changes that these stories point to will fill you with pride in our Black youth, as wells as pride in our capacity as a nation to rise above the worst of our racist history and to move towards a future full of progress and promise for everyone:

  1. Black women athletes graduate at impressive rates. The November 15th JBHE Weekly Bulletin reported that among Black men and Black women enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities, the graduation rate for athletes is significantly higher than the graduation rate for Black students who are not athletes. Most surprising is the finding that the national graduation rate for Black women student-athletes (64%) is higher than the national graduation rate for all white male students, athletes and non-athletes, alike.
  2. African Americans make “spectacular progress” in the acquisition of master’s degrees. The November 8, 2007 JBHE Weekly Bulletin reported that in the 20 years between 1985 and 2005, the number of African Americans earning master’s degrees from U.S. university nearly quadrupled, from 13,939 to more than 54,000. The most dramatic gains were made among African American women who, in the 2004-05 academic year accounted for 71 percent of the master’s degrees awarded to Black people in the U.S.
  3. Washington-led film project puts the spotlight on Black intellect. On Christmas Day African Americans received a wonderful gift in the form of “The Great Debaters,” the Golden Globe-nominated true story of how a debate team from Wiley College, a small HBCU located in Marshall, Texas, rose from nothing to eventually challenge the dominance of Harvard’s legendary squad. Washington compounded this gift of visibility for a little-known aspect of African American history with a special gift to the College itself, a $1 million donation to help re-establish Wiley’s legendary debate program.
  4. HBCUs lead the nation in faculty diversity. With Black professors making up just under 60% of the faculty, white professors making up another 21 percent, and other ethnic groups making up roughly 17%, historically Black colleges and universities feature the most diverse faculty composition of any grouping of schools in the U.S. As a point of comparison, consider that nationwide over 80% of all college and university faculty are white.
  5. The rising generation of scholars. Although this story was published in 2008 (this morning, as a matter of fact), I am listing it as one of 2007’s “reasons to be cheerful,” mostly because the young men and women included in the profile of the Diverse Issues in Higher Education “Emerging Scholars” for 2008 are being recognized largely for their achievements during the previous year. Of the eight scholars of color listed here, five of them are African American, all are under 40, and all are intellectual standouts, not simply among their respective ethnic groups, but among all scholars in their fields.
  6. Posted by Ajuan Mance

GOP-Sponsored Efforts Seek to Restrict Student Voters January 7, 2008

Posted by twilightandreason in AlterNet, Hilary Clinton, Iowa Caucuses, Student Voters, Voting Rights, young voters.

According to a January 5, 2008 report on AlterNet.org, a number of largely unnoticed GOP-sponsored election laws could have a devastating effect on students’ voting rights. Acoording to this recent article, Bill Clinton, Hilary Clinton, and Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen have all railed against the participation of large numbers of college and university students in the Iowa Caucuses. The basis for this outcry is their believe that out-of-state students somehow “skew” the real, true will of Iowa voters.

Apparently the Clintons and Yepsen are not alone in this belief. On the other side of the political spectrum from Sen. Clinton sit a sizable grouping of Republican legislators who would also seek to limit the participation of students, people of color, and others whose vote might — apparently — contradict the real will of the more authentic, more representative citizens of a given state. Unfortunately, while the Clintons and Yepsen are battling student participation with their words, these GOP legislators are taking more concrete action:

The real barrier to student voting in 2008 is not admonitions from the Clintons. It is a patchwork of state laws, according to Rosenfeld, that discourage student voting. Arizona, for instance, rejects out-of-state driver’s licenses as an acceptable voter ID. The same is true in Indiana. New Hampshire requires students to register at local government offices. Virginia allows local election officials to decide if a dormitory qualifies as a “domicile.” Some do, Rosenfeld said, and some do not. New Mexico restricts the number of voter registration forms one person may carry at a time. And Texas has new penalties for “improperly” helping people with absentee ballots. — Steven Rosenfeld, “GOP Already at Work to Keep Obama Voters From the Polls,” for AlterNet.org

All of these efforts to restrict student voting bring to mind recent and not-so-recent discussions with students in my classes, about whether or not voting has any relevance in the current political environment. In particular, I have encountered a number of young people who are truly struggling to determine whether or not voting in national elections is an effective means of engaging in the work of social change and social justice.

It would seem that this AlterNet article answers that question unequivocally. If the active participation of student voters did not have the capacity to bring about socio-economic and political change, then there would be far fewer efforts to limit that right. Left, right, or center, students need to participate in both national and local elections. As members of a younger generation, one that brings to the table a relationship to issues of gender, race, class, and environment far different than that of older voters, their voices are among the most important in any election. Younger voters understand aspects of our current cultural, economic, and political environment in ways that I and other older voters cannot. Those in the youngest voting demographic were born into and shaped by a world profoundly different from the one in which I came of age, and this difference is reflected in the sometimes dramatically different understanding that we have of the meaning and function of power, media, money, relationships, and family. Young voters’ ideas and opinions reflect an understanding of the current moment that picks up on nuances and subtleties of elements like the relationship of technology to race, for example, that I cannot grasp as easily.

If you are a student, please do whatever you can to insure that — during the current election season — your right to vote is secure. If you are not a student, reach out to young voters both on and off campus, make sure they are registered, and encourage them to participate in this and other elections.

I have long believed that students and other young voters should not have to be convinced and cajoled into working to choose the leaders who will shape the coming decades, and that the importance of exercising this fundamental right was self-evident. Time has shown me, however, that for many young people, generations removed from those who remember when large numbers of Americans were not permitted to exercise their voting rights, the right to vote goes both ways.

Many young people I’ve spoken with consider their refusal to vote a strike against the status quo. I call upon all those who have skipped elections in the past and who are contemplating the possibility of sitting out the current presedential race, and I encourage every one of you, regardless of your political leanings, to consider the type of political statement you are making when you opt out of a system that wants you to do exactly that!

Posted by Ajuan Mance

A Visible Elite? Lawrence O. Graham Proposes a Black Social Register January 1, 2008

Posted by twilightandreason in A Beautiful Mind, Lawrence Otis Graham, Our Kind of People, race, The Senator and the Socialite.
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Lawrence O. Graham’s exploration of the history and culture of the African American upper class, in books like Our Kind of People and The Senator and the Socialite, has cemented his reputation as today’s premier chronicler of the Black elite. Graham, profiled in this Black on Campus blog entry, has announced his intention to compile the Our Kind of People 800, a registry of what he describes as, “‘the talented tenth’—the kind of blacks that sociologist W.E.B. DuBois discussed 100 years ago—blacks with superior backgrounds: doctors, bankers, lawyers, educators and generous socialites.”

Due out in November of 2008, Graham’s registry will give added prominence and visibility to a Black constituency infrequently depicted and rarely acknowledged by those outside of that group. Indeed, in the public imagination, African Americanness dwells somewhere at the opposite end of the spectrum from achievement, prosperity, and power.

Of course, an emphasis on the wealthiest, most-privileged members of any group raises concerns about whether or not a focus on the fortunate few obscures the plight of economically marginalized communities. Graham’s project, however, is rooted in a desire to make positive social change that will benefit all Black people. He explains that, “So much of what we hear about black America is really the very worst of black America, and a lot of that comes from pop images from shows like Hot Ghetto Mess. It’s almost a re-emergence of the anti-black comedies in the 1950s. but instead of Amos and Andy, you’ve got Flavor Flav up there.”

Whether or not Graham’s compilation of this 21st century “talented tenth” will reinforce or disrupt existing race- and class-based hierarchies stands to be seen; but when compared to other, similiar listings, he is off to a more promising — and much more progressive — start. The United States’ most prominent social register — founded in 1887, by New Yorker Louis Keller — is weighted heavily toward genetics or “blood,” in that a determining factor for inclusion is membership in one of America’s oldest families, most often British or Dutch in origin. The Our Kind of People 800 will, if true to DuBois’s formula for identifying Black America’s most prominent individuals, privilege achievement over blood. The slippery slope will come when and if the 800 begins to privilege one’s ancestry over one’s own accomplishments.

Another factor determining the direction of Graham’s Black social registry will be its use. A productive use of this registry, for example, would be the development of a radio show, television show, or even a website that focused weekly or monthly on a detailed profile of one of the families or individuals listed in the 800, preferably with a teacher’s guide to developing a curriculum emphasizing what the achievements of those Black people who were listed could teach young people about reaching their own goals. A less desirable use of the registry would be the establishment of — say — scholarships based on membership in a registry family. I would also hate to see the deployment of the 800 registry as a gatekeeping tool limiting access to valuable educational opportunities and employment networks.

The true impact of Graham’s Black social registry will not be felt until it has been in circulation for a least a year or two. In the interim, I look forward to its release and to the visibility that it will provide for those African Americans whose life experiences, families of origin, and educational and occupational achievements are at odds with the popular stereotype of Black people as anti-intellectual underachievers, with little regard for family bonds.

Sources: BlackNews.com and The Philadelphia Inquirer

Posted Ajuan Mance