A Country in Turmoil

Fellow GEDIs:

I know that we spoke about diversity many weeks ago, but given the current state of our nation and the conversations that are happening in the news and social media, I thought that I would share this article with you.

Pedagogy of Rage: Teaching in the Ruins of Ferguson

Where are the teachers and the schools and the colleges and the teacher’s unions?


I do not have to address this issue in the classroom, but as an administrator who has oversight of diversity and inclusion issues, I can only imagine the number of time s this conversation and the Eric Garner case will come up in the weeks to come. I am dealing with my own sense of frustration and disappointment and will some how have to help students work through their feelings simultaneously.





Size Does Matter…In Reducing the Grade Gap

As a staff member at an institution with a law school, I found this information very interesting. Research conducted by scholars at Stanford University Law School found that “class size and pedagogical policy have a considerable role to play in addressing gender gaps.”

They looked at the grades of both men and women enrolled in law classes from 2001-2012.   Of the 1, 897 students in the study they found that women scored on average .05 points lower than their male counterparts in large, lecture type settings. In smaller classes, there was no gap and men and women fared equally.   The author asserts that while the difference seems small and insignificant, it could make the difference between earning a clerkship or not.

I am curious as to how this translates into other disciplines.





Coming Home: Ethics and the American University by James F. Keenan, SJ

In his article, Dr. Keenan makes the distinct difference between academic ethics and what he coins as university ethics.  He says that university typically look at academic ethics as an examination of behavior by faculty members such as inappropriate relationships with students, plagiarism and cheating. University ethics, on the other hand looks at the standards of ethics as they pertain to out of the classroom issues such as student affairs, athletics, tuition, residential life and all other functional areas of the institution.

Keenan asserts that” isolationism and the attendant lack of solidarity dulls our sensitivity to matters that should be critiquing.” He sites that  faculty work alone, teach alone and write alone to support his notion of isolationism.

As Dr. Keenan points out, there have been numerous articles that show how truly “unethical” the university is. This can been seen in regards to numerous sex scandals, hazing in band and fraternal organization initiations and the misappropriation of funds.  These are all examples of “systemic failures” because universities do not hold their its employees to professional ethical standards.”These failures can be seen both the American higher education system and abroad.

Dr. Keenan asserts that faculty members are not trained on behaving ethically when it comes to grading papers, maintaining office hours and other behaviors that occur in solitude and behind closed doors.  Because there are very few “structures of horizontal accountability” faculty members only pay attention to what pertains to them and not what others are doing.  Additionally, because academic administrators come from the faculty, they have no more expertise or proficiency in ethics than the faculty members that report to them.

The author believes that we should move away from the concern of academic ethics and towards university ethics because that is the only way to adequately address the former.


HBCUs Not Rushing to Embrace LGBTQA Issues of Staff and Students

In a recent article in Diverse Issues in Higher Education, HBCUs were brought under fire for the lack of support that they show to students from diverse sexual orientations.  A white professor at Alabama State University filed a lawsuit against the university alleging that he and his husband were the recipients of discriminatory practices.

Dr. John Garland and his spouse (who also works at the institution) spoke out publicly about policies that were afforded to heterosexual married couples, but not to them.  When they went public with their complaint, they were retaliated against.

This incident is not new to HBCUs and continues a dilemma that they have faced for years; support for facutly, staff and students who are LGBTQA.  According to Sharon J. Letterman-Hicks, executive director and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, HBCUs have been the targets of numerous lawsuits as a result of discrimination.

The struggle comes from the long history of HBCUs being culturally and religiously conservative; particularly those that are faith based.  Additionally, many are private institutions and the alumni and boards of trustees expect them to only acknowledge “traditional” marriages. This philosophical ideology could prove to be detrimental to enrollments at institutions that are already struggling.

There are however, HBCUs that do show support for the members of the LGBTQA community.  Bowie State and North Carolina Central have resources provided on their campuses that include a resource center at Bowie state and faculty and staff who are dedicated to addressing the needs of the community.




Former University of New Mexico Student Files Lawsuit Claiming She Was Ostracized for Anti-Gay Views

Monica Pompeo filed a law suit last year alleging that UNM violated her rights and acted inappropriately when she was kicked out of a film class for describing a lesbian romance film as “perverse” in a critique paper for the class.  The professor provided written feedback to Pompeo stating that her comments were “inflammatory and offensive”  She was accused by the professor of hate speech and the professor refused to grade her paper. The university made a motion to have the case dismissed because “the restrictions that the university placed on the student were reasonably related to pedagogic concerns.’ The court denied the motion and the lawsuit will move forward.

According to the court,  the professor violated the terms of her syllabus that called for “open minds” to examine “representations of a plethora of genders and sexualities.” The judge indicated that a university cannot offer free discourse and then punish a student for doing so.

Pedagogical Approaches to Student Racial Conflict in the Classroom

Penny A. Pasque, Mark A. Chesler, Jessica Charbeneau, Corissa Carlson
In a blog, one of my esteemed GEDI colleagues raised the issue of addressing racist comments or conversations when they arise in the classroom. That is an excellent question and one that I did not have an answer to. As a woman of color, as you can imagine, I have found myself in situations in which someone says something not so smart, not very PC and honestly, downright offensive in one on one encounters, in meetings with other colleagues, but never in the classroom as a faculty member.
Research shows that having a diverse student body and faculty enhances the academic experience for everyone. The learning that occurs between people from different races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations and different levels of ability is invaluable. While the classroom can be a great venue for meaningful conversations, it can also be a battleground when inappropriate comments are made and emotions and tempers flare.
In their article, Pasque, Chesler, Chabeneau and Carlson asserted that many faculty members do not know how to address these issues because more times than not, the comments come out of nowhere and catch everyone off guard. It must be said, however that the way that faculty handle (or don’t handle) the situation makes a world of difference. In their study, they looked qualitatively at how faculty members pedagogically addressed these situations.
Thirty four men and thirty two women at a research university participated in this study. Twenty participants self-identified as African American, fourteen as Asian or Asian American, eight as Latino/a, four as Native American, two as Arab American and eighteen as Caucasian. The faculty members crossed academic three academic disciplines; the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences. The faculty members were interviewed about racial incidents that occurred in their classrooms and how they addressed them.
Five major themes emerged from the study:
“Not In My Classroom”
Some of the faculty asserted that they never had any conflicts or points of tension in their classroom. This was particularly the case for the faculty who taught the hard sciences and only “stuck to the facts”. Other faculty members who fell into this category made the distinction between “differences of opinions” and “conflict” citing that differences of opinion are normal and they would not upgrade the status of said conversations to “conflict” status.
“Let’s Not Make a Scene”- Avoidance and Minimization
Faculty members in this category recognized the presence of racial conflicts and tensions but chose not to address them publically. One faculty member recalled an incident where a student made a comment that caused a negative reaction from another student. Not only did she not address the issue in the classroom, she did not address it with the student after class. Unfortunately, another student stopped the speaker from speaking and took control of the situation. Other faculty asserted that they did not speak up or challenge controversial commentary because they did not want to upset the other white students in the room and alienate them from the students of color.

Taking Control: Diffuse, Distract and Divert
Faculty members who used this approach stopped the conversation all together, changed the conversation at hand or threatened the students’ ability to remain in the class when such conversations emerged. One faculty member in this group told the students that their “debate” was not reflective of the expectation that she had for classroom behavior and that if they could not remain civil, they needed to find another class. Faculty who addressed conflicts in this manner emphasized the importance of maintaining control in the classroom and preventing a situation to get out of hand, especially if they felt like they could not handle it.

Reactive Usage: Turning Overt Conflict into a Learning Opportunity
Some of the faculty members in the study used the conflict as a learning opportunity. Instead of stepping in and intervening, the faculty created a safe space for the students to talk through the issue to gain different perspectives. Faculty members challenged racist or insensitive language and assisted the students in explaining what they meant and helped them reframe their statement in a less threatening manner and allowed responses from the other students.
Proactive Usage: Surfacing Underlying or Covert Conflicts for Learning
Faculty members in this category intentionally created “hot button” topics to serve as learning opportunities. They preplanned activities or lectures in which they knew that conflict could arise and prepared in advance for the conversation. Needless to say, this does not work when the comments catch the professor off guard, but is certainly beneficial for constructive, structured learning experiences. These faculty members addressed racial conflicts early on in the semester, so when the topic came up, students were not surprised.

The researchers emphasized previous research that shows that avoiding the conversation or distracting and not addressing the topic or the comments is an ineffective way to manage the situation. Faculty must find ways to make it a learning opportunity for all involved. They assert that there is no one right way to handle the situation, but avoidance is not one of them. Recognizing that many faculty members are ill-equipped to engage students in this kind of resolution, they encourage institutions to train faculty members in advance so that they do not compromise the academic environment by keeping the “elephant in the room” after a situation emerges.

Bias in Student Evaluations

Basow, S.A. & Martin, J.L. (2012). Bias in student evaluations. In M. E. Kite(Ed), Effective evaluations of teaching: A guide for faculty and administrators. Society for the Teaching of Psychology.

Some of our classroom conversations and blog posts have revolved around the topic of course evaluation and their importance in the promotion and tenure process of faculty. I found an interesting article that highlighted some of the existing research about race, gender, age and physical attractiveness bias and how they affect students’ overall perception of their faculty and how it could potentially play out in evaluations. Here are just a few (but significant) nuggets taken from the article:
• Cultural stereotypes that surround gender and race may influence the expectations of faculty members. Examples of this are the expectation that women are
going to be more nurturing than men and that minorities and women are going to be less intelligent than their white male counterparts. (Biernant, Fuegen & Kobrynowicz, 2010).
• Students tend to perceive things like grading harshly, asserting authority in the classroom and not accepting student excuses more negatively coming from women and faculty of color than they will from white, male faculty. (Biernant, Fuegen & Kobrynowicz, 2010 )
• Male faculty members tend to be rated similarly by both male and female students but women are rated lower by male students and the lowest ratings are of those female faculty who teach in business and engineering (Basow & Montgomery, 2005).
• Discipline does matter. Humanities professors tend to get higher ratings while natural science professors get the lowest rating. Female faculty members are rated lower by their male students but in the natural sciences, male and female students both rate their female professor lower than their male faculty (Basnow & Montgomery, 2005).
• Faculty who teach diversity based courses receive lower evaluations in those courses than any other courses at an institution. Black faculty members who teach these courses are rated “more knowledgeable” than their white counterparts but “more biased and subjective” (Anderson & Smith, 2005).
• Black faculty and Hispanic faculty members tend to receive lower evaluations than their Caucasian and Asian colleagues (Hamermesh & Parker, 2005).
• Faculty who are perceived as “attractive” receive higher ratings in the area of effectiveness regardless of the gender of the faculty member by both male and female students (Hameresh & Parker, 2005).


Oakwood University Professor Creates First HBCU Developed MOOC

Since 2012, the popularity of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) in higher education has skyrocketed. These courses, which have expanded the distance learning phenomenon, have enhanced assess and affordability which are two of higher education’s greatest issues. They are low in cost or free and allow non-traditional students, veterans, professionals and others who don’t have the opportunity to sit in a classroom the ability to learn.
While MOOCs have become the new trend in learning, Historically Black Colleges and Universities have been left out of the picture until recently. Dr. Kevin Augustus Burton, Professor at Oakwood University in collaboration with the Center for Excellence in Distance Learning at Wiley College created the first HBCU developed MOOC entitled : Understanding World Religions: An Occupational Approach. In 2012 two other HBCUs, Alcorn State University and Morgan State University announced plans to develop MOOCs by early 2013 but neither opportunity manifested.
According to the article featured in Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Dr. Burton hopes that this course will expand beyond the HBCU arena and into a more global and diverse population.


Toward a Race Pedagogy for Black Faculty

In the article “Toward a race pedagogy for Black faculty” (2014), Closson, Bowman and Merriweather examine how Black professors who teach racially, culturally and social justice based courses create a pedagogical approach that engages both the learner and the faculty in an environment that is non-threatening. This is a difficult task because many scholars have asserted that teaching such courses are “dangerous” (DeSoto, 2008) and “polarizing” (Tucker, 2008) from the onset. Additionally, as a society, we do not readily, willingly, and openly discuss race. Many of the students who are enrolled in such courses are forced to be there because of some general education requirement which causes frustration for the student and they often enter the learning experience with a closed mind.
While it should be noted that challenges face any faculty member, regardless of race, who teaches such courses but for Black faculty, the challenges are very different. As indicated in the article, the majority of white students have not had many (or any) faculty of color as instructors and their presence alone in the classroom causes angst and uncertainty. This lack of comfort causes students to act out in various ways. As a result, these faculty members experience what is coined “racial battle fatigue” as they have to defend themselves, their scholarship, their motivation for the teaching material, their academic credibility and yes… even their intellectual capabilities.
The authors pointed out that over the time professors have used trial and error approaches to teaching these types of courses. The anticipatory approach is one method used by some but unfortunately puts the faculty member on the defense. It requires that faculty members anticipate the antithetical attitudes and prejudices held by some students in order to prevent them from happening. Faculty spend copious amounts of time over-preparing for lectures in an effort to be extremely knowledgeable about the subject matter so that they look like the expert and the information they present is flawless. This addresses the issue on the front end and preempts inappropriate commentary, questions or challenges from the students.
Another approach by faculty members is “minimizing or controlling the politicized and/or or contentious nature of the subject matter”. The basis of this approach is to dilute the content so that the material is more palatable and will not generate as many negative emotions from the students. It is a very non-confrontational approach and does not promote the self-guilt or resistance from white students that other methods may inadvertently evoke. The principle behind this method is to create a safe environment where all students are welcome to provide their perspective in a non-judgmental atmosphere.
While there is no one right or wrong method, it cannot be denied that the race and lived experience of a faculty member is very relevant when it comes to race base courses.


The Gender Divide and Web 2.0 Applications

In 2004 one the hottest new terms in pop culture was “Web 2.0”. Coined by Tim O’Reilly, the phrase describes the new generation of World Wide Web sites that allow its users to interact, have discussions and collaborate with others. Web 2.0 sites include, but are not limited to blogs, wikis, social media sites, online games and video sharing.
Over the past decade, these sites have gained significant popularity, especially on college campuses according to the ECUCASE Center for Applied Research (2011). In the article “Gender divide and acceptance of collaborative web 2.0 applications for learning in higher education” (2013), Huang, Hood and Yoo assert that social networking use has skyrocketed from 65.3% in 2006 to 90% in 2011. In 2009 Jones and Fox found in their research that 75% of adults and 93% of teens in the United States regularly use Web 2.0 applications.
While there is no doubt that Web 2.0 is accessed by millions on regular basis, there is a concern that women may not be using Web 2.0 applications at the same rate as men which could detrimentally impact their learning opportunities as these applications are used in higher education institutions across the country as significant means of collaborative scholarship.
Based on the research cited in this article, women in general are less competent and technologically savvy than their male counterparts. Males tend to use the internet more than women. When women utilize the internet, it is more likely for email and school related activities and less for entertainment purposes. Additionally, women typically have a less positive attitude toward internet usage than men.
In their study, Huang, Hood and Yoo confirmed the results of previous research. They examined the differences in men and women and their perception of Web 2.0 applications and their utilities for learning tasks. They conducted an on-line survey with first year and sophomore students from a public, Midwestern university enrolled in an introductory level educational technology course. They found that while both males and females were anxious about the use of blogs, wikis and “immersive virtual environments” females had greater anxiety than males when using these applications and that they did not use the internet as often as the male students in spite of the fact that they had the same level of access as their male peers.
This research is very important as faculty members examine how they use Web 2.0 applications in their learning environments. Special attention, in my opinion, should focus on how the applications are presented to the users and the level of support available for students (not just women) in an effort to make the process less intimidating, more user friendly and more effective for learning.