Monthly Archives: August 2008

Solidifying Hip-hop Studies

By Emery Petchauer

Research on hip-hop has expanded in breadth, rigor and nuance in the past ten years. Currently, this body of work signals the emergence of an interdisciplinary field gaining notoriety as hip-hop studies. The most recognized area of scholarship within hip-hop studies centers on commercial rap lyrics and their potential moral implications on young people. This area has been most recognizable because such scholarship is often co-opted into the ebbs and flows of moral panic associated with rap music in popular news sources.

In hip-hop studies, however, hip-hop is more than rap music, and its relevance extends beyond the moral realm. Rather, rap music is one element in an interrelated array of expressive practices that are built for youth, by youth from previous cultural traditions — mostly Black and Hispanic. These other expressions include but are not limited to forms of dance such as breakin’; musical production, manipulation, and performance such as DJing; graffiti art; and language particular to hip-hop. This is an important caveat to the field of hip-hop studies.

As scholarship on hip-hop expands and the field of hip-hop studies solidifies over the next few years, it is helpful to recognize that the field is made up of at least three areas of scholarship:

Hip-Hop Based Education: Scholarship in this area explores how different elements of hip-hop such as rap music can be used as educational resources in classrooms. Hip-hop has been used most frequently in language arts classrooms to teach skills such as literary interpretation, but it has also been used to develop critical consciousness particularly among ethnic minority students in urban schools. The recent Hip-Hop Education Guidebook published by the Hip-Hop Association illustrates that hip-hop is useful as an educational resource well beyond the language arts classroom.

Meanings and Identities: Scholarship in this area explores how hip-hop “works” on the ground and in the daily lives of youth and young adults who create and consume it. For example, scholars look at how hip-hop-identified folks mobilize texts to construct racial or generational identity or how hip-hop may function as social or (sub)cultural capital. Importantly, this scholarship is relevant both in and outside of the United States and among many different student populations (e.g., recent immigrants). Research that examines the potential moral implications of rap texts is one thread of scholarship in this area.

Aesthetic Forms: Scholarship in this area explores the habits of body and mind and the ways of doing within situated hip-hop practices. This scholarship draws most heavily on the full breadth of hip-hop activities. With the expressive whole of hip-hop as a guiding resource, researchers explore how learning, practice, community, assessment, and other processes work within hip-hop and their implication on pedagogy, curriculum, and other areas of education.

Here are some resources for further reading:

Alim, H. S., & Pennycook, A. (Eds.). (2007). Global linguistic flows: Hip-hop culture(s), identities, and the politics of language education [special issue]. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 6(2).

Christen, R. S. (2003). Hip-hop learning: Graffiti as an educator of urban teenagers. Educational Foundations, 17(4), 57-82.

Clay, A. (2003). Keepin’ it real: Black youth, hip-hop culture, and black identity. American Behavioral Scientist, 46(10), 1346-1358.

Dimitriadis, G. (2001). Performing identity/performing text: Hip hop as text, pedagogy, and lived practice. New York: Peter Lang.

Forman, M., & Neil, M. A. (Eds.) (2004). That’s the joint! The hip hop studies reader. New York: Routledge.

Rose, T. (1994). Black noise: Rap music and black culture in contemporary America. Hanover, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Runell, M. & Diaz, M. (2007). The hip-hop education guidebook, volume 1: A sourcebook of inspiration & practical application. New York: Hip-Hop Association, Inc.

20 . . . and Counting

By  V.I. King


A 25-year deadline is fast approaching; in fact, 5 years have expired, and there are only a short 20 years remaining.


In July, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court issued landmark legal opinions in the two lawsuits filed against the University of Michigan. It held, essentially, that universities can continue to give preferences in admissions on the basis of race for the purpose of promoting diversity.  However, in an opinion by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the Supreme Court gave our society a deadline.  She wrote, “Race-conscious admissions policies must be limited in time . . .  The Court expects that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”


Five years have passed.  Time is running out fast, and—as unpleasant as the task may be—political leaders, public intellectuals, journalists, social scientists, and voters need to start a national debate about affirmative action — whether to keep it, how to fix it, and what it means for the future of the country. 


Those who might believe that there is no urgent need to confront these issues now should bear in mind the long road to Brown v. Board of Education.  The legal path to that decision in 1954 actually began 20 years earlier, when civil rights attorney Charles Houston joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  The following year, in 1935, Houston and his protégé – the young Thurgood Marshall – won the first battle against the separate-but-equal doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson, in the case of Murray v. Pearson (which forced Maryland to open its law school to African-American applicants).  Nineteen more years of hard-fought litigation followed, including landmark cases such as Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada (1938), Smith v. Allwright (1944), Morgan v. Virginia (1946), Patton v. Mississippi (1947), and Shelley v. Kraemer (1948), culminating in the issuance of the decision in Brown v. Board of Education.


To play a role in shaping how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in 2028, higher education leaders and lawyers need to strategize – as Houston and Marshall did – about what test cases are emerging in all 50 states, how those cases will create appellate opportunities, and how each court decision can build upon a prior decision.


If the goal is to push back against Justice O’Connor’s expectation of a race-free admissions process after 2028, then those who support race-based admissions must think about what legal cases can best frame the argument that 2028 is too early a year to abandon that system.  If the goal is to recast affirmative action as a class-based system starting in 2028, those advocates need to build the case for why class is a fitting substitute for race when it comes to admissions.


There is a possibility that no appropriate case will reach the U.S. Supreme Court in 2028 to cause it to issue a ruling that will change affirmative action.  But there is an even greater possibility that opponents of race-based admissions are preparing, even now, to file test cases in the near and distant future that will drive these issues to the U.S. Supreme Court just in time to try to turn Justice O’Connor’s 2003 expectation into the law of the land.


V.I. King is President of the Board of Trustees at Glendale Community College and University Legal Counsel at California State University, Los Angeles.



Thinking About Justice in Little Rock: Philander Smith College

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

Recently I was invited to address the faculty and staff at Philander Smith College, a small Black college in Little Rock, Arkansas.  The institution’s president, Walter Kimbrough, asked me to talk about the link between fundraising and academic excellence.  As a result of a fantastic visit with the Philander Smith community, I wanted to write about the wonderful progress and changes at the institution in this week’s blog. 

Under the leadership of President Kimbrough, the faculty and staff members are committing themselves to promoting justice in diverse venues and from multiple perspectives.  The institution’s new motto is “Think Justice.” In our current higher education climate, in which colleges and universities are shying away from a commitment to social justice, I think Philander Smith College is brave.  Fewer than 20 colleges and universities in the United States have a mission focused on social justice. Too often, institutions of higher education are running scared from a commitment to equity and leveling the playing field.  Rather, colleges and universities focus on diversity (only) because it makes “us” feel good. 

I was tremendously impressed with the commitment of the Philander Smith College faculty and staff to the institution’s new focus.  In teams, they discussed how each of them – as individuals – could make the college a better place for all of their students, promoting social justice locally and nationally and eventually increasing the likelihood that students will give back to the institution in the future.  They generated concrete, obtainable goals.  This was no sappy brainstorming session, but the creation of a “hands on” to-do list for the college.  I was delighted to see people who truly love their institution and want to see it succeed. As I walked around the room to listen to the team discussions, I didn’t hear any cynicism – an attitude that tends to hold colleges and universities back.

This small college has experienced tough times in the past, suffering accreditation and financial problems and being censured by the American Association of University Professors.  However, Philander Smith College seems to be poised for greatness.  President Kimbrough and his administrative team are working hard to strengthen the institution’s faculty, encourage stronger teaching and research, expand the institution’s fundraising staff, and hire young, energetic staff members. 

 I suggest that readers keep their eyes on Philander Smith College.  Good things and a whole lot of justice are forthcoming!


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).







Being Black, Male and Educated in Today’s World

By James Ewers

There are far too many black males being portrayed as useless citizens in our society.  We see pictures of us being sent to jail or being expelled from school.  Some of us still turn a blind eye to what is going on around us.  The CNN Special, “Black in America” pointed out that African Americans make up 13 percent of the population, yet we commit 49 percent of the homicides.  That statistic should send a sobering message to all of us, black and white, who see ourselves as difference-makers. 



Obviously, we as African Americans have come a long way since the days of segregation.  While our gains educationally have been significant, we still have a very long way to go.  The achievement gap, according to some, has increased between black children and white children.  Some of this achievement gap data is being played out every day.  Recently, I went to the public library to check out some books and made a casual observation about who was in the library.  While some may disagree, there is more value in some African American homes placed on an Xbox and a Nintendo Wii than getting a library card and using it.  It doesn’t matter how proficient your child is on either game as the more compelling question is, can they pass the third grade proficiency test?  I don’t have anything against these games. However they can’t be put ahead of education.



We can’t undo the past yet we can be better forecasters about the future of our young African American boys if we become more proactive.  Educating African American boys might arguably be the single greatest priority in our communities. The biggest piece in this educational equation is that education must be viewed as invaluable in our quest for success.  It can’t be seem as a maybe but should be seen as a must!  National statistics show that young black boys are more likely to be suspended or expelled before completing high school than any other group. 



There are some factors that have led to this statistic being what it is.  First, a dearth of successful African American role models has contributed to young male students not seeing enough of us and they therefore think dreaming big dreams is out of the question. Therefore invariably when you ask a young African American boy what he wants to do, he will give you the name of a sports star or a music star.  As a product of the legitimate old school, I knew as much about Dr. King, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and Whitney Young as I did Jim Brown, Willie Mays and Jessie Owens.  Maybe we need to invest in copies of Jet, Essence and Ebony so that our boys can see successful African American males in business, the military, education, law and medicine. 



Behavior has also contributed to this dilemma. Fighting and destroying school property only creates a negative opinion about young black males. Simply put, knowing how to comport yourself will put you in a favorable position with the education community. Another factor is the lack of diversity training in many of our school systems. There are teachers who are simply ill-equipped to interact successfully with young black males. It is my thinking that diversity training should be mandated for every school system.



Valuing education means talking about it in our homes, then our boys will have an increased chance to become an educated black male. Of course being black, male and educated brings on increased responsibility and opportunity. If you have these three characteristics, you have a chance to be a change agent each day. For those of us who are blessed to have a college degree it means that we must do more. Here are two ways of thinking about being black, male and educated. I believe the vast majority of people will give us the respect that we have earned. I would like to believe that our opinions about matters of the day are valued and valuable. On the other side are those who fear us because of our color, our maleness and our education. We become instant threats to some who are unwilling to accept us because we bring new ideas and inclusion to the process. Maybe in the end that is the dual role for those of us who are black, male and educated; that is, we are both respected and feared. 


Dr. Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs and director of community partnerships at Miami University Middletown in Ohio. He is the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues








Department of Justice?

By Frank H. Wu

I was wrong. For years, I have counseled law students that their resumes should be accurate and that it was unlikely their disclosures of their political viewpoints would affect their career prospects. Now, hearings on Capitol Hill have provided proof of what many had suspected. Under the Bush administration, the Department of Justice violated federal law by playing politics with entry-level hiring in its prestigious “Honors Program.”

If you were about to graduate from law school and had been a member of the conservative Federalist Society, which boasts a terrific network of judges, high-ranking government officials, lawyers, and law professors, your prospects were terrific; if you were a member of the liberal American Constitution Society, however, your prospects were basically nil. Whatever arguments they may make about merit in other contexts, top decision-makers entrusted with law enforcement in our nation at this time apparently value ideology above qualifications.

 Of course, everyone understands that the executive branch must have the ability to implement its vision. That is why the President is entitled to scores of political appointments, which he may distribute as patronage – though the current occupant of the White House has made remarkable poor choices in that regard and has even been willing to fire members of his own party (serving as US Attorneys) without reason. In any event, the civil service is supposed to be different. It is insulated from these vagaries. Even within the senior executive service, the highest level of career government employees, it has been common for Republicans to work for Democrats, and vice versa. That is as it should be.

 I am sorry to learn I was more naïve than my students about all this. The dilemma will be undoing the damage, in a principled manner that does not continue this regrettable cycle.

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.

Apologies Abound and CNN’s Black in America: The Inescapable Nexus

By Dr. Pamela D. Reed

On July 28, in the year 2008, the United States House of Representatives, almost 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, passed H. Res. 194, offering a formal apology for the centuries-long, government-sanctioned enslavement of African Americans and for the generations of Jim Crow segregation and for the institutionalized discrimination that followed and that persists in this, the “land of the free.”  Florida, Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey and Virginia had done so previously.

            Just a few days before the passage of H. Res. 194, in an ironic bit of timing, CNN launched its much-hyped documentary chronicling the plight of the contemporary African American people, Black in America.  Most would read these two headlines and would not connect the dots.  Well not this writer, for whom this seeming historic coincidence bears critical scrutiny.

            For four hours CNN documented the mixed bag that is Afro America.  To be sure, there is much to be proud of for America’s descendants of chattel enslavement, whose forebears, as the House resolution bluntly states, “were brutalized, humiliated, dehumanized and subjected to the indignity of being stripped of their names and heritage” for almost a quarter of a millennium.  Which brings us to what I see as the major problem with Black in America:  There was no substantial, meaningful historical context presented.  Unless you count the meeting, with cameras rolling, of the two sets of Rand offspring:  the ones descended from slaves and the ones sired by their slave-holding forefathers.   But I digress.

            In the face of incredible odds, African Americans have flourished in this country, in spite of the past.  As the CNN report documents, more Blacks are attending and completing college than ever before.  The so-called Black middle class is burgeoning.  Moreover, for the first time ever, an African American man, albeit not a descendant of enslaved Africans, is actually within reach of the American Presidency.  That’s the good news.

            This notwithstanding, recent studies indicate that only 1 in 2 of today’s African Americans will graduate with a high school diploma.  This is particularly alarming since the high school graduation rate serves as a societal bellwether and as an indicator of future skill and income levels.  Indeed, the Center for American Progress (CAP) reports that by 2006, after steadily declining in the 1990s, the poverty rate for African Americans had increased to nearly one-quarter of its population, 24.2 percent to be exact.  This is in stark contrast to the 8.2 percent of impoverished Whites.  The CAP analysis, The State of Minorities (April 2008), went on to report that the unemployment rate for African Americans, 8.3 percent, is double that of White America’s 4.1 percent.

            And still there’s more.  The Home Mortgage Disclosure Act revealed that, in 2006, of the 322,356 home-purchase loans made to African Americans, 172,055 were “high-cost.”  That is a whopping 53 percent.  Only 150,301 were at the market rate.  In a rare instance of being outpaced economically by Blacks, the subprime rate was only 18 percent for Whites.

            Then there are the staggering incarceration disparities between Blacks and Whites in America.  Much has been written of it; however, it is clearly crystallized in a Washington Post article “New High in U.S. Prison Numbers” (29 February 2008).  It broke to the world the news of the findings of the Pew Center of the States report, One in 100:  Behind Bars in America 2008:  “One in nine black men ages 20 to 34 is behind bars. For black women ages 35 to 39, the figure is one in 100, compared with one in 355 for white women in the same age group.”  Truth be told, this is a new low.

             I won’t even go into allthe dismal statistics relevant to the healthcare disparities in America. It’s too depressing. The AIDS pandemic in Afro America, which has been likened to that of some developing African nations, cannot be ignored here, though, as many contend it has been by the federal government.  CNN’s Black in America sounded the alarm regarding the skyrocketing rate of HIV/AIDS infection among African Americans, particularly women between ages 25 and 34, for whom AIDS is the leading cause of death.

            This modern-day “black plague” is particularly dangerous because the primary modes of transmission are behavioral, i.e. sexual intercourse, drug use, etc.  Hence, it is far too easy for some, particularly in the church, to write it off as some sort of divine penance.  Further, many fear that as AIDS becomes known as a “black disease,” still fewer dollars will be spent for medical research in this area. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time Blacks were, well, mistreated. 

            Even the American Medical Association (AMA) has owned up to this, issuing an apology of its own last month. The nation’s largest organization of physicians is seeking forgiveness for generations of race-based discrimination against Black physicians, who for many years were denied entry into this professional enclave. In a written statement, the National Medical Association (NMA), the organization of Black doctors in America, graciously accepted the apology, but stressed the deadly legacy left in its wake. 

            This medical redlining, “a litany of discriminatory practices, [has] had a devastating effect on the health of African-Americans,” says Dr. Nelson L. Adams, NMA president.  “These persistent, race-based health disparities have led to a precipitous decline in the health of African-Americans when compared to their white counterparts and the population as a whole,” added Dr. Nedra H. Joyner, chair of the NMA’s board of trustees.

            Is this all accidental, this being the chasmic gap between Blacks and Whites in America?  Of course it’s not.  This is the shameful legacy of chattel slavery, Jim Crow, and continuing racial discrimination in this country.  And this is why the House of Representatives, with no mention of restitution, whispered their long-overdue apology.  That is to say that there has been little to no media coverage of this historic resolution.  Bringing to mind this time honored question:  If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

            But what does all this mean?  The short answer is this: it will take more than apologies to right the wrongs that America has heaped upon generations of African Americans. Regret without redress is just not enough. Not when these past transgressions undeniably led to the present uneven playing field.  And more importantly, if the present high school graduation rate for African Americans is any indication, the future looms large.

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

“But professor? You’re not white, you’re German, right?”

By Emery Petchauer

As a proverbial “vanilla brother” (as my Dean affectionately refers to me) at an HBCU, on the daily I am in a position to experience and explore racial identity and its implications on classroom pedagogy. This applies to my own racial identity, that of my students, and how we co-construct one another. Occasionally, such rewarding conversations are prefaced by a tentative, “No offense, but how come white people always…?” from a student (a blog entry for another time). In one such conversation, however, as I attempted to nuance, well, why white people always…, “Keisha” responded by saying with seriousness and slight confusion, “But professor, you’re not white, you’re German, right?”


As I mused on this comment over the next few days and its implications on classroom pedagogy, I considered two important details.


First, Keisha was biracial, which made me contemplate how her own racial identity shaped how she constructed mine. In fact, later in the semester she told me that she had German ancestry, which added further complexity to her judgment about the categorization of my German/Austrian surname as “colored.”


Second, in this particular class, students were aware of my knowledge and experiences in hip-hop due in part to my research on the topic in conjunction with education. Consequently, I wondered how hip-hop as a form of (sub)cultural capital and performances thereof may have mediated her negotiation of my race.


These details brought me back to one of Bakari Kitwana’s theses in Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop (which, really, is about much more than white kids): that there is a “new racial politics” emerging with and through the post-baby boom generation (i.e., the students who sit in college classrooms today). Many anecdotes such as the one above may be more emblematic of these new ways that young adults are constructing race than they are of collegial or youthful ignorance. Other anecdotes many professors could cite from their classrooms that might be (re)considered in this light are the “why-would-I-major-in-Black-Studies” comment; the “people-aren’t-really-racist-anymore” opinion; or, most recently, the “if-Obama-can-do-it-everyone-can-do-it” argument.


Though it is easy to attribute such anecdotes to ignorance, what are the pedagogical implications of believing that new ways of constructing race among ethnic minority students are, at least in part, responsible for such anecdotes or the one above with Keisha?


Effective, culturally-responsive pedagogy starts where students are. Consequently, learning is more meaningful when faculty members work in student-centered classrooms to understand how it is that students construct their own racial identities and those of others. Whether we agree with these new racial politics among students or not, they can be useful educational starting points that can implicate discipline-specific material and facilitate integrated rather than compartmentalized learning.

Dr. Emery Petchauer is an assistant professor of education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.








In the World of HBCUs, Research Must Inform Practice

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

Quite often students and others ask me why I do research — What’s the purpose?  Does it make change?  Am I doing research to fill journals and books that very few people read?  The answer for me and most of my faculty colleagues is “No”!  Most of us became faculty members because we wanted to shape and influence the minds of young people.  And, we wanted to use our writing and research skills as well as our voices to make positive and systemic change in the world.  I personally seek to understand and make change in the world of HBCUs.  Fortunately, there are quite a few scholars conducting research related to HBCUs.  I thought I’d use this week’s blog entry to highlight some of these individuals and their work.  I hope that those of you who work at HBCUs and are interested in the future of HBCUs will take a look at the work of these scholars.  Their work, by and large, shows the positive impact that HBCUs have in the nation — providing much needed empirical evidence that policymakers, the media and the public crave.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, here is an interesting article:

Renee Akbar & Michele Sims, “Surviving Katrina and Keeping our Eyes on the Prize: The Strength of Legacy and Tradition in New Orleans’s HBCU Teacher Preparation Programs,” Urban Education, (July 2008), vol. 43, no.4.

And in this world of changing technology, this article might be helpful:

Brigitta Brunner & Lori Boyer, “Internet Presence and Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Protecting Their Images on the World Wide Web,” Public Relations Review, (March 2008), vol. 34, no. 1.

To explore the role of HBCUs in preparing the leaders of corporate America, see:

Robert Boyd, “Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the Black Business Elite,” Sociological Perspectives, (Winter 2007), vol. 50, no. 4.

For an up-to-date examination of graduation outcomes at HBCUs:

Valerie Rawlston Wilson, “The Effect of Attending an HBCU on Persistence and Graduation Outcomes of African American College Students,” Review of Black Political Economy, (Fall 2007), vol. 34, no. 1/2.

To explore issues of gender and student engagement, check out:

Shaun Harper, Robert Carini, Brian Bridges, & John Hayek, “Gender Differences in Student Engagement Among African American Undergraduates at Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” Journal of College Student Development, (2004), vol. 45, no. 3. 

For those practitioners in the area of student affairs administration, see:

Joan Hirt, Terrell Strayhorn, Catherine Amelink, and Belinda Bennett, “The Nature of Student Affairs Work at Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” Journal of College Student Development, (2006), vol. 47, no. 6.

If you are interested in the impact of an HBCU education on African American males, see:

Robert Palmer & Marybeth Gasman, ” ‘It Takes a Village to Raise a Child’: The Role of Social Capital in Promoting Academic Success for African American Men at a Black College,” Journal of College Student Development, (January/February, 2008), vol. 49, no. 1.

And lastly, this article provides a rigorous examination of HBCUs’ impact on the labor market:

Terrell Strayhorn, “Influences on Labor Market Outcomes of African American College Graduates: A National Study,” The Journal of Higher Education, (January/February, 2008, vol. 79, no.1.

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).

A Foot In Two Worlds

By Kristan Venegas


I appreciate the opportunity to be asked to participate in Diverse’s “The Academy Speaks” blog series but I have to admit that I am hesitant about what I have to offer. As a first generation student and now scholar of color, I still see myself as someone with one tentative foot in the academy, while the other is settled firmly somewhere else. So to be designated as someone who “speaks” for the academy unearths a tentative spot within me.


I am flattered to be asked to participate in this blog series because I care deeply about issues of diversity, the impact of the election on our lives, and the other institutional impacts that are faced by myself and others as we seek to bring ourselves and those around us forward in struggles for respect, equality, and strong futures. I look forward to the possibility of engaging in online dialogues with colleagues on these issues.


At the same time that I see these larger issues, I do not struggle to remind myself of their meaning in my daily life, especially as I have spent so much time reflecting on the basics of access and survival.


One Monday evening last spring, I was a career day speaker at Mount San Antonio Community College for the adult and continuing education program. I stood in front of 20 young students of color. Mainly male, mostly Latino, all drop outs or push outs from the public K-12 system.


During my 30 minutes to speak to the group, I spoke about my commitment to social justice, which manifests itself through action research that helps low income students and students of color to getting college. And then the big question came: “who has the worst chances of going to college?” Though I wish it wasn’t phrased that way, I explained that statistics such as those by Excelencia in Education and NCES suggested that African American and Latino males were proportionally the least represented. I was passing this “insight” onto a room full of mainly Latino males who instantly became embarrassed, defensive, or displayed some combination of both responses. A few students shared their thoughts, which often included a reference to someone else judging them, judging their social backgrounds, making inferences based on their appearances, including fashion choices and skin color.


As the guest speaker, who had known these students for about 20 minutes, I knew that moving onto some sort of motivational speech at that point would have been false and meaningless. Instead, I asked the young men themselves to tell me why they were different, and reminded them to think about what they internally possessed to make sure that they would be different. When the session was over, I had a one-on-one discussion with a young Latino named Joey. He is tenacious, strong, and has, to date, escaped his narcotic past. I left that meeting exhausted but with a real sense of hope that some of the students from this class, students with capabilities and drive like Joey’s, will change the statistics about ethnic male participation in postsecondary education.


The euphoria continued for a little under 12 hours. Early Tuesday morning, around 2:45 am, a different young Latino was arrested about two feet from the end of my driveway. While I still don’t know all of the details, I do know that he was stabbed, bleeding, and arrested, though also provided medical treatment.


My house and block were marked off with yellow police tape and detectives roamed our block taking statements, while investigators marked the fresh blood stains that trailed up and down the street. Being in the middle of a crime scene, even if only an absolute bystander, really impacted the rest of my day. I was late for my first meeting with an Associate Dean. Something had happened to me that I couldn’t stop wondering about. The parallels between the hope I had experienced just the night before with the males I met created a sharp contrast to the reality that was overtaking my low-income, ethnic, urban neighborhood. Should I explain to her that I have chosen to live in the neighborhood where I grow up and that this is the 2nd crime that has taken place at the end of my driveway in the last six months? Would she understand what that meant? How would this change how she might think about me as an academic? How does this change that way that you as a reader are thinking about me and my community choices right now?


The same defensiveness, need for compensation, or just plain second guessing myself in confiding in Associate Dean was part of me, just as it was part of the coping mechanism of the young men I spoke to just the day before. The connections made here are not meant to be melodramatic. Instead, they are drawn to meet two goals. First, they help you as the reader understand my voice as a purposefully bi-cultural academic. Second, they call into question that numerous mental and social privileges that affect K-12 schooling, safety, and postsecondary access. I have a PhD and yet my background and current choices make me question may place in the academy. What must it be like for the Black and Latino males who have much less entrée in postsecondary education? They are more likely to be able to discern the role of yellow police tape than they are able to explain the role and function of an Associate Dean. Where are the disconnects, where are the opportunities for learning, and how can we bridge the two in a meaningful way?


Dr. Kristan M. Venegas is an assistant professor, director of Masters Programs and a research associate at the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education.