Monthly Archives: July 2008

The Value of Diversity Among Institutions

By Frank Wu

We have confused two propositions: we have come to believe that aspiring to greater excellence as an institution of higher education means striving to become the same as other schools. In particular, in the pursuit of higher rankings, we have confused excellence with exclusivity. Thus, it would be easy to search and replace the names and the logos from the viewbooks of most universities with that of their nearest rival, and no reader would be any the wiser. We have forgotten the value of diversity among institutions, even as we celebrate diversity within institutions. Yet the rankings are only an excuse. Even without surveys, too many of us seem to share exactly the same vision for our colleges.

One of the great strengths of the American system of higher education as a whole, however, is that it boasts such a range of offerings. If every public university tries to be one of the top 10 public universities in research funding, or every liberal arts college one of the most elite, we as a society and individuals will be worse off rather than better off. We will have forgotten the value of missions and access.

There are so many schools with unique identities: they are religious, historically black, single-sex, especially strong in specific disciplines, and so on. They have served distinct populations by giving more than a credential. They have become the center of communities. Even as mainstream institutions open up to all comers who are qualified, it is still worthwhile to have places where the minority is the majority, where an individual can be intellectually challenged without the burden of being compelled to represent a group. We may not always agree with the goals of such places, but that is exactly the point of having so many options. (We might be uneasy, for example, that the argument about institutional diversity was advanced by Virginia Military Institute in its unsuccessful effort, as a state school, to remain all-male; in part, the Supreme Court was skeptical that institutional diversity was actually a goal of the state. Nonetheless, there are institutions that contribute in a constitutionally permissible manner to institutional diversity.)

There have been so many schools that have balanced the importance of generating new knowledge with the responsibility to disseminate existing knowledge, but whose leaders face demands to shift toward research and away from teaching. All faculties claim to value both research and teaching, but the allocation of resources and the distribution of rewards shows that they are not valued equally. The mix is beneficial for all of us. There is nothing wrong with a school becoming more selective in its admissions, but there is something wrong with all schools doing so. Land grant schools and urban schools, among others, were founded to serve the public more generally and that vision remains worthwhile.

As Oscar Wilde once said, the only thing worse than not getting what you want is getting it. Ironically, the would-be consumers of higher education of as product who would like to have exclusivity do not realize that most of them will be turned away if to achieve that cachet.

Frank H. Wu is the author of Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White; he was Dean of Wayne State University Law School and Professor at Howard University Law School.

 

A Reverend Jackson: Hi Hater

By Emmett L. Gill, Jr., PhD, MSW emmettg@ssw.rutgers.edu

 I know very little about politics, but I have realized the enormity of the pending Barack Obama presidency.  With that said, Reverend Jesse Jackson, as many others have said, needs to, in all due respect, be silent.  Not only should Jesse be totally silent, but also he should be virtually invisible.  Jesse Jackson is an icon and icons should be rarely seen and almost never heard.  Reverend Jackson has done some extraordinary things – in foreign policy, human welfare, civil rights, athletics, and a host of other areas.  Reverend Jack ran for president twice – he w-a-s the man. 

Yet as of late Reverend Jackson has come to due more harm to the public will, image, and leadership of blacks folks than good – another very public clergy member with a child out of wedlock, the mere mention of his name exacerbated extraordinary racial tensions in the Duke lacrosse case, and now this.  An iconic preacher /politician expresses a desire to castrate the man that is accomplishing what Jack could not.  That is what rapper Maino is referring to when he says “Hi hater.”

Look I have not led any marches, leveraged any boycotts, saved any hostages, walked along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., or any of that, but I do know a hater when I see one.  “It’s a fact right… how they act trife…how they smile in your face then they back bite…”

Emmett Gill is an assistant professor at Rutgers, The State University, School of Social Work

An Obama Presidency and the Color of Fear

 

 

By Dr. Christopher Metzler

Barack Obama’s meteoric rise has caused joy for some, dismay for others and racial repellency for some Whites. Among those who are both overjoyed and nauseated at the same time are White supremacists and other hate groups. “I haven’t seen this much anger in a long, long time,” Russellville, Arkansas’ Billy Roper, a 36-year-old who runs a group called White Revolution, told The Washington Post in a story about the rise of hate group activity on the Internet. “Nothing has awakened normally complacent White Americans more than the prospect of America having an overtly non-White president,” adds Roper.

The Internet provides the opportunity for these groups and their supporters to “gather” and exchange vitriol about a potential Obama presidency. Stormfront.org constantly rails against Obama, even comparing him to the anti-Christ. So, what is it about Obama’s rise that has caused a corresponding rise in hate by these groups? There are at least three things.

First, Blacks have always been “othered” in American culture. So, many Americans still see us as being less than human. Second, many of the people who flock to these sites to address their views on race have long accepted the mantra that “You may be poor, you may be unemployed, you may be uneducated, but at least you are White.” Third, many in these groups believe that an Obama presidency would mean that Whites will become “the emerging minority.” Realizing how they have treated Blacks, they would not want Blacks to treat them as “The New Negros.”

Since the days of slavery, to the present, Blacks have been largely treated as outside of the mainstream of America. Further, Blacks have been portrayed as lazy, ignorant, vile and base by individuals and institutions such as the courts, the police and the media. This has been done largely to ensure that we are seen as so different from the “norm” of civilized American society that racism and discrimination are justified. After all, what “normal” White person would want to associate with people who are morally, intellectually and socially inferior? This creation of a stable other has served to concretize White as superior and Black as inferior. Since White is the ideal, and Blacks can never become White, Blacks are relegated to the static and permanent “other” — to be feared, marginalized and excluded. Obama’s rise as the presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee challenges this racial “logic” in ways that unnerve the people who patronize the Web sites of which I write. In their view, despite his multiracial heritage, Obama is still the much feared Black “other.” His election to the presidency would serve as a symbol that “othering” has lost its currency. The result will be a paradigmatic shift that will turn White supremacy on its veritable head. Their job then is to gather in this virtual space and let Whites know that an Obama presidency would mean that White supremacy has lost its luster. To them, Obama’s rise is an indication that the bell tolls with increasingly jarring tones for thee.

Many of my colleagues have written extensively about Whiteness as property. According to Professor Cheryl Harris, “Whiteness has functioned as self-identity in the domain of the intrinsic, personal, and psychological; as reputation in the interstices between internal and external identity; and, as property in the extrinsic, public, and legal realms. According Whiteness actual legal status converted an aspect of identity into an external object of property, moving Whiteness from privileged identity to a vested interest.” Given the prominence of Whiteness as “property” in all aspects of American life, the mere thought of Obama in the White House means, according to the racialized thinking of these White supremacist aficionados, that like the current foreclosure crisis in America, they will lose the sanctity of their house of Whiteness and see a rise in Blackness as property. Of course, this argument is simply droll.

The election of a Black person to the Presidency of the United States, without more, cannot and will not mean that the proprietary nature of Whiteness, which has been enshrined in every social, political and legal institution in the United States, will simply vanish. In fact, some Whites will point to Obama’s election, should it happen, as evidence that America has finally resolved the race question. Fear not White supremacists, there will be no wholesale plan by an Obama administration to establish a “Secretary for the Dismantling of Whiteness” or a “Secretary for the Elevation of Blackness.” Black Supremacy shall not reign anew.

Among the claims on the racist anti-Obama Web sites are the following: “Hewill make things so bad for White people that hopefully they will finally realize how stupid they were for admiring these jigaboos all these years,” White Supremacist stalwart “Darthvader” wrote on the neo-Nazi Vanguard News Network Web forum, “I believe in the motto ‘Worse is Better’ and Obama certainly fits that description.” J. Ron Doggett, a Virginian who has been a key activist in the Klan, the paramilitary White People’s Party and the neo-Nazi National Alliance, wrote, “I hope Obama wins because in four years, White people just might be pissed off enough to actually do something. … White people aren’t going to do a thing until their toys are taken away from them. So things have to be worse for things to be better.” Of course, the “toys” he speaks of include power, position and access to opportunity that he and others believe is a birthright given to Whites and denied Blacks.

Some even claim that Obama’s “yes we can” mantra translates into “yes we can kill all of the White people.” This simply proves that some Whites fear that an Obama presidency would mean that they will be relegated to the status of a mere Negro. For these Whites, this is a fate worse than death in a country which entitles them to privilege based solely on the color of their skin.

In the Civil Rights Cases, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which provided that “all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement; subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law, and applicable alike to citizens of every race and color, regardless of any previous condition of servitude” was unconstitutional. The majority went on to say that “when a man has emerged from slavery, and by the aid of beneficent legislation has shaken off the inseparable concomitants of that state, there must be some stage in the progress of his elevation when he takes the rank of a mere citizen, and ceases to be the special favorite of the laws, and when his rights as a citizen, or a man, are to be protected in the ordinary modes by which other men’s rights are protected.” (Emphasis added)

A review of the discussions on the aforementioned Web sites suggests that the fear of the Whites who are threatened by a potential Obama presidency is that they will lose their most favored status that has been granted them for oh so many centuries. This means that their rights would have to be protected to the same extent as “the ordinary Black person.” Thus, they would be subjected to racial profiling, redlining, discrimination in employment and always being the “suspect” on the 6 O’Clock News. The thought of being “The New Negroes” is just too much to take.

Dr. Christopher Metzler is Associate Dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies and the author of a forthcoming book, “The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a Post Racial America (August, 2008).

 

 

Not Just One Dark Body: Scaling the Intercultural Mountain in the HBCU Classroom

By Dr. Pamela Reed

It is no secret that classrooms at historically Black colleges and universities are becoming increasingly culturally diverse, both with regard to faculty and students. More and more, international students and faculty contribute in a singularly significant way to this heterogeneous mélange. Whether they hail from the African continent, the Caribbean, South or Latin America, or other global ports, university students and faculty of color are more representative than ever of the diversity within the African Diaspora.

In my department alone at Virginia State University, the faculty is/has been comprised of citizens of Guadalupe, Panama, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Ecuador. We even had Fulbright Scholars from Kenya and Egypt. Not to mention German, and other European-descended faculty members. Besides that, during my three-year tenure, I have worked with students from (or descended from) Jamaica, Ghana, Honduras, Nigeria, Trinidad, Dominican Republic, Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, and Haiti, among others. Add to that mix American Indians and Caucasians. Of course, this is not a new phenomenon to the HBCU, but the numbers are steadily increasing with the passage of time.

Certainly, this turn of events is not unique to the HBCU. For beyond the manifest benefits of the mobility that is afforded to students who study abroad, economic and otherwise, there are numerous gains that are less obvious to the laic observer. Indeed, recent studies indicate that those who study abroad, while undoubtedly confronted with the stress of culture shock in the short term, are ultimately endowed with life skills that enable them to more readily handle the trials and tribulations confronted in today’s complex world.

By extension, a survey of the literature reveals that — because of increased cultural sensitivity and skills acquired in working with “the other” — American students matriculating at colleges or universities with appreciable numbers of international students are likely more capable of competing in the global marketplace. The same is presumably true of all students; however, in this instance it is the African American case under consideration.

Still, it is undeniable that this “diversity” and “multiculturalism” is a radical departure from the established norms of the American (and global) academy. Most assuredly, in recent years, colleges and universities around the world are grappling with this sea-change in the collective educational landscape. It is for this reason that academic departments, and positions devoted to diversity, inclusion, equal opportunity, multiculturalism, intercultural studies, area studies, equity (or whatever name individual universities choose to assign them) are burgeoning around the country, as well as the greater western world, and beyond.

Ironically, these areas are routinely overlooked in the boardrooms and cabinets of HBCUs. Along these lines, I recently submitted a personally requested proposal for a conference presentation on this very topic to a major national organization of HBCU professionals, and the silence was deafening. Similarly, I broached the topic with a high-ranking HBCU official who told me, in short order, that this is just not done at the HBCU, that this is the purview of majority institutions.

Indeed, because most of the faces in HBCU classrooms are of a darker hue, we typically ignore the need for multicultural affairs and intercultural conflict resolution in our midst. The time has come, I believe, to address this void in HBCU administration and student affairs, and hopefully come to the realization that we can no longer afford to view our student population as just “one dark body,” if I may borrow and extend W. E. B. Du Bois’ classic metaphor presented in The Souls of Black Folk.

Hopefully, moreover, the notion of a Black monolith will soon be forever abandoned, and a spark will be ignited, propelling HBCU’s to begin to actively and formally acknowledge the internecine tensions — often simmering beneath the surface — amongst the various groups of African descendants matriculating and teaching in our hallowed halls. That is not to say, I must hastily add, that all the branches of the Diaspora are not tributaries of the metaphorical river that is African culture; however, we must actively work on strengthening the ties that bind us — lest the African continent should instead become a distributary, from which the diverse branches of the said river flow away from the source, never to return.

To this end, elements of the cultural mosaic, focusing on the visible and invisible components of culture must be systematically explored. From language, gender, and national origin, to family, educational values and religion/spirituality, the rich diversity of the African Diaspora must be examined, not only within the context of the academy, but within real-world current events such as Darfur, or even the upcoming presidential election.

Lastly, the role of culture on teaching and learning styles should also be a focal point, and the profound impact of cultural competence of both faculty and students must be acknowledged and studied — and restudied. Last but certainly not least, we all benefit from cultural exchange and, thus, it is to be treasured, encouraged and nurtured at the HBCU in a programmatic way, comparable to “minority” or multicultural affairs operations at majority institutions. And this cultural panoply must be critically examined. In so doing, both our kinship and our diversity must be studiously regarded. So, yes, we are one. One dark body. But, when you scratch the surface, we are so much more.

Dr. Pamela D. Reed is a diversity consultant and assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Virginia State University.

Accreditation of Black Colleges: Future Success?

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

On Thursday, June 26, 2008, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) removed Florida A & M University (FAMU) from its list of institutions on accreditation probation.  The historically Black institution seems primed for success, with President James Ammons including all of the campus constituents in his plan for the future of the institution. 

Since Black colleges are found almost exclusively in the Southern and Border states, most of them are accredited by SACS.  In the past, this organization has been criticized for its disproportionate attention to HBCUs [for a thorough discussion of this issue see Understanding Minority Serving Institutions]. For example, between 1996 and 2005, 25 percent of the SACS’ sanctions related to HBCUs, while these institutions make up only 13 percent of SACS’ membership.  In addition, between 1989 and 2007, nearly half of the 20 institutions that lost their accreditation from SACS were historically Black. 

Most reprimands and revocations of accreditation are the result of financial deficits; however, faculty quality, campus infrastructure, and student enrollments play a crucial part in the accreditation process.  Unfortunately, the loss of accreditation often has a snowball effect, making it impossible for an institution to distribute financial aid, leading to a loss of students.  As a result, some of these tuition-driven institutions cannot recover financially, which dooms their chance at reaccreditation.

Of note, the SACS’ Commission on Colleges installed its first African American president, Belle S. Wheelan, in 2005.  The previous president led the organization for 20 years.  Wheelan recognized the past tension between Black colleges and SACS; she has worked to increase communication with and provide educational programming for HBCUs to better their ability to maintain accreditation.  Wheelan has also committed to hiring more Black employees to enhance the image of the organization and improve its relationships with HBCU members. Since Wheelan took office, SACS has placed fewer Black colleges on probation.

In response to the accreditation problems at many HBCUs, the Southern Education Foundation (SEF) established a Black college leadership program in 2004.  It is funded by the Mott and Mellon Foundations and run out of SEF’s Center to Serve Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The initiative provides small grants, ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 to HBCUs to assist them in maintaining their accreditation.  SEF also provides funding to HBCU leaders to attend the annual SACS conference, hosting a special, day-long conference dedicated to issues faced by HBCUs.  The goal, of course, is that HBCU administrators will gain the tools to succeed and will have the positive working relationships with SACS representatives that lead to open dialogue about accreditation issues.

The majority of the work in maintaining or regaining accreditation falls on the shoulders of HBCUs themselves, however.  HBCU leadership MUST hire the best administrators possible and empower them to do their best work.  These leaders MUST hold the highest standards for their staff and faculty and create working environments in which individuals develop a firm commitment to excellence.

With a new, energized leadership at many institutions and increased attention to the issue of accreditation, HBCUs seem poised for accomplishment.

 

An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions  (SUNY Press, 2008).

 

Post Script:  Belle S. Wheelan, the president of SACS’ Commission on Colleges, took issue with my depiction of her leadership of the organization.  She noted that her efforts at SACS have not been directed specifically at HBCUs, but instead at small, private colleges (most of which are HBCUs) that have had difficulty attaining or maintaining accreditation in the past.  She also noted that she herself has made no special efforts on the part of HBCUs and, in fact, does not have a vote in the accreditation process.