Posts Tagged ‘inclusive excellence’

AA Success

The social and academic success of African American (AA) students within our current educational system continues to be an elusive goal. Social success deals with the idea of being wanted in the environment – the belief that you actually matter.  Academic success is the A, B, Cs – the appropriate matriculation through the system.  In any environment, the academic and social should be closely partnered. There is a convincing positive correlation between social engagement and academic success for all students.  This suggests that students who feel comfortably accepted in their environment tend to perform better academically. 

There is huge difference between being comfortably accepted and attempting to be accepted, or attempting to belong.  Current data demonstrates that AA students who aggressively “attempt to belong” show lower levels of academic success than those who do not.  It would suggest therefore, that part of ethnic minority student lack of success may lie in the amount of energy focused toward the polar opposites of engagement or disengagement from the social environment to the predominantly white institution (PWI).  Notice, I am not talking about the act of engagement or non-engagement, but the amount of energy employed in the process…energy that may be better spend on academic pursuits. Students who actively and aggressively alienate themselves from the predominantly white environment as well as those who try to fully engage seem to be less successful than those negotiate between those two poles.  

Many reasons have been put forward as part-explanations for the high drop-out/stop-out rates of AAs at PWIs.  These include financial insolvency, feelings of marginalization, low academic preparedness, coming from single-parent or broken homes, et cetera.  It is also true that despite these challenges, many AA students are successful.  The question, from a strengths-perspective becomes; “What factors can be identified as responsible for success in this population?”

Felice (2006) interviewed 10 first-generation, sophomore, AA male students at a Midwestern PWI, to determine the skills that each indentified as responsible for his success.  Students were interviewed independently.  Themes were then drawn from each interview and collapsed.

Results indicated that successful male AA students;

  1.  found/created social enclaves within the environment of the university,
  2. only engaged with the university to get specific needs satisfied,
  3. retained very close ties with their home environment (parents and/or friends),
  4. suggested that they saw themselves as representatives of friends, family, or cultural group that did not have that opportunity, and
  5. were committed to a sense of deferred gratification – each was going through current discomfort for a better tomorrow.  

The creation of social enclaves and the strong retention of ties to home and family, run counter to Tinto’s (1997) assertion that students who transition successfully invest time and energy in attempting to assimilate into the larger culture.  Successful AA students find a safe space.

This study does not reject Tinto’s findings.  It simply suggests that this may not be the process for successful AA students at PWIs.  If AA students do not see the potential for reward in their efforts to engage they would, quite justifiably, find spaces of emotional security until better could be done. We may, therefore, consider creating the environment for the development of these social enclaves.

In another study looking at AA versus White students’ feelings of connection to the university, Felice (2009) found that;

  1. 51% of White students interviewed indicated that they attend sporting and other University events versus 8.8% of Black students
  2. 67% of White students indicated that they wear their school colors around campus versus 21% of Black students
  3. 97% of White students felt themselves very connected to the University versus 62% of Black students, and
  4. 72% of White students identified themselves as a (mascot name placed here) through and through versus 25% of Black students.

It is interesting to note that despite feelings of disconnect, 40% of Black respondents suggested that they would consider giving money back to the University versus 49% of White.  Additionally, of the population interviewed, only 14% of White students identified themselves as first-generation versus 55% of Black students. This is of particular interest because a very different posture must be taken in engaging first generation students versus second-generation students – despite ethnicity.

Readiness for Academic Engagement:

There is also the concept of readiness for academic engagement – and the social culture that that perception breeds on campus. 

It is true that many of our AA students do not enter colleges and universities with the necessary level academic skill acquisition and academic competence as determined by the accepting institution. 

  1. This is many.  This is not all.  Many and all are two very different words, and as there is no way to identify the difference within the institution it raises everybody’s anxiety.
  2. This is also very true of many white students.  Yet it is not accompanied by the anxiety of the null hypothesis.
  3. Although the numbers of under-academically prepared white students is probably much higher than Black students, the percentages are much lower.  For example: If we have twenty out of one-hundred AA students under-prepared (20%), that is a much higher percentage than the three hundred out of ten thousand white students (3%). 
  4. This truth and perception leads to inter- and intra-anxiety amongst AA students and how they perceive themselves to be perceived by whites and each other. You begin to observe these students separating “themselves from themselves” on campus.  There is a lack of acknowledgement of each other in classes and on campus.

This separation of self from self is what I call the “Affirmative Action baby” syndrome.  It seems as if AA students, particularly males, are saying to themselves: “I am not an Affirmative Action baby.  You may be.” This area needs more research.

Notice we are talking about the emotional anxiety around the perception of academic preparedness.  The question therefore is “How do we shift that perception?” Given that perceptions are very well defended (stubborn), our positive changes must be aggressively marketed.

Demanding a Better Product…or Else:

Last time I checked, academic readiness for full inclusion into our environment was the forte of the high schools.  It is from these high schools that we draw our product. If the quality of the product is not as we would wish, we have four options.

  1. We accept the product.  Once we accept the product, knowing that it has deficits, it is our responsibility to fill those gaps. We have accepted the responsibility.
  2. We demand a better product from our wholesalers.  We do have the choice here of engaging in the preparation of the product, relative to our needs.
  3. We expand our recruiting umbrella.  In this instance, we search-out and create relationships with competing wholesalers. We no longer offer our current wholesalers the comfort of sending us sub-quality products.
  4. We establish our own wholesale producers.  In this instance, we actually establish a high school which meets the requirements for full inclusion into our environment.    

Inclusive Excellence:

The question becomes: “How do we attain a sense of inclusivity while retaining academic excellence?”  This will be the topic of another piece.

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Unless we re-conceptualize education and recognize that we have populations and sub-populations that are delayed within the twentieth century…we will continue to struggle.

Unless we acknowledge that any education system is designed to support the requirements of the culture – as described by the dominant group…we will continue to struggle. 

Unless we come to grips with the fact that education has shifted from a process of learning to a process of readying for employment…we will continue to struggle. 

Unless we allow some level of privatization of our education (K-12) system allowing for greater challenge to our current poor-accountability system…we will continue to struggle.

Until we acknowledge that a two-day training seminar on an emotionally pregnant issue such as race does absolutely nothing to shift anybody’s level of readiness…we will continue to struggle.  

Until we realize that higher education is a business and all the rhetoric of multiculturalism, and diversity, and inclusive excellence does nothing until you show me how the shift is going to benefit my company financially…we will continue to struggle.

Until we quit recycling the same song and dance and the same singers and dancers…we will continue to struggle.

Until we make a concerted effort to search for competence (if we know how to define and recognize it) rather than comfort (to make us feel safe)…we will continue to struggle.

Until we truly acknowledge that we are struggling and quit the stories of whose fault it is, and realize that we are nearing the water mark…we will continue to struggle. 

Finally ~ the chat and the rhetoric are all good; the meetings and the seminars are all good; the marching and the placards are all good – but every time we exit the room there is a strong scent of urine that nobody wants to clean-up.  That’s okay.  We seem to have lived with it a long time.  We could put some Febreeze on it, or just ignore it, or hide it with a flower pot.  We seem to be pretty comfortable as…we continue to struggle.

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Inclusive Excellence IV: The Plan

Now you have the job.  You have your Chancellor’s back and he/she has yours.  The relationship has been established.  

Time to get to work.

I am going to use a real-life situation so you can see aspects of the model in action.  There are going to be gaping holes in the model.  That’s why we call it a model.  The game plan is that you take it, and match the major aspects of the model…the hinges upon which it sits, to your particular social and cultural environment. 

Know that each situation is different.  Each university is different.  You will have to match your intervention to fit the particulars of your university – it’s size, the particular state it is in, where you draw your students from, the type of weather you enjoy, et cetera.   These particulars, which may seem peripheral, are integral to your success in attracting students to your university.  I will revisit this point later in the presentation. 

 You will also find similarities.  There are certain similarities to all universities despite size or geography.  Then there are similarities that small universities enjoy, others particular to large universities, others to Midwestern universities, and other still to Southern universities.   Certain aspects in the model, therefore, can cross…can be used anywhere.   However, to make this model work, you will have to take the skeleton and clothe it in the body relevant to your situation and circumstance.   This means that you have to know your particular situation and circumstance.   That is the very first thing.  This too, I will get back to.  But you can place it as number one right now.

Throughout this piece, I am going to propose that you do a number of things and ask a number of questions.  What I will also do is attempt to consistently link both the directives and the challenges back to Inclusive Excellence (IE).  I will try to explain what these questions have to do with moving your university toward IE. 

Finally, do not expect a straight-line solution to this challenge.  Just as with any good recipe for creating a cake, you bring in diverse elements, mix them together in appropriate proportion, and then allow it to bake at the appropriate temperature.  Work diligently but be patient.   Remember that it is not as if everybody wants you in their kitchen in the first place.  Many are very happy with the cup cakes they have enjoyed over the past fifty years!  They are none-too-happy about you being in their kitchen tinkering with stuff.  It is okay to have the rhetoric of change.  In fact, many of us have been hired to lead the rhetoric of change.  But when you begin the process of change (a) it is not linear, and (b) there is a necessary process of grief that will be incurred.  This is another piece I hope we will discuss.    

Here we go.

1.     Learn Your Town/City.

This means that you learn everything about the place that you are going to.  

  1. When was your town/city built and why was it was built?  What were the social-historical circumstances that led to its being built?  What is its financial profile?  What is its social profile?   What percentage of your residents has attained a four-year degree?  How slowly or quickly does your town/city change?  What percentage of the population in your town/city is retained?  What percentage was born in the town/city, grew up there, went to school there, and still resides there?  Is your town/city a manufacturing based economy, a technology-based economy, or are you a university town where a large percentage of the economy revolves around the university?  Is your community heavily conservative, heavily democratic, or a mixture?  Would your town/city be considered an urban, suburban, or metropolis environment?  Do stores open late?  What is considered late?  Are there places within your town/city that ethnic and social minorities (to your town) can comfortably get needs met – haircut, meal, music, et cetera?  Are there available radio and television channels that serve or recognize ethnic and/or social minority populations? 

This is an incomplete list of the questions you have to answer before anything else can be done.

2.     Learn Your University.

This means that you learn everything about the place that you are going to.

  1. I know that you guys meet with all the social and ethnic groups and/or their representatives.  That is great.  I know that some of you even have informal meetings with students.  Beautiful.   I also know that many of you have great climate surveys commissioned.  Wonderful.  Let me add a little bit to your hard work. 

When was your university built, why was it built, how was it established? What type of students does it attract?  Are they first-generation or second-generation?  Where do they come from?  Are they primarily from within the community, within the state, adjoining states, or from all around the country and the world?  How wide is its net?  If given the names of a number of universities, which ones would your university think itself close to, relative to prestige?   Would it say that it matches up well against a University of Michigan, a UCLA, or Whitewater?  On what is that assessment based; numbers of students, strength of athletic program, strength of its academic program, endowment?  What is that assessment based on?  How accurate is that assessment?  Do the students agree?  Does the community agree with that assessment?  Does your university have a long history of support for and integration of ethnic and social diversity cultures, or is this process in its infant stages?  That you have had an ongoing process for years does not mean that there has been any or any substantial progress.   How committed are your ethnic and social diverse cultures to the university?  Do they attend your sporting events?  Do they purchase and proudly don your clothing? Do they bleed your colors or do they simply go to your school?   If I pick up the school newspaper, do I see myself reflected anywhere, or is it only in the sport section?   Am I evidenced anywhere in your alumni magazine?   What is the make-up of your Board of Regents?  How has that make-up shifted over the past fifty years… or has it? 

Here again – another incomplete list of questions that must be answered before anything can be done.

3.     Learn the Relationship Between the University and the Community.   

Here you are trying to find out if the university sees itself as an integral part of and player in the community, if the community and its attendant school district agree, and how that relationship might be demonstrated.  Some universities are the main employer in the community.  That is where the term “university town” comes from. For example: Madison, Wisconsin is a university town.  There is a very dramatic and much evidenced shift when the university is in recess.  Here are some of the questions you need answered.

  1.  What is the relationship between the community and the university?  How is that evidenced?  Are there any radio stations, stores, television stations, or barber shops that cater to diverse populations?  Do your students feel comfortable going down-town?  Do they pick up on-campus jobs or are there student jobs available downtown?   Do you have a rhythm and blues station?  Do you have a world music station?  Do you have clubs that students can feel comfortable at, or does that have to all happen on the campus?  Is there a self-imposed curfew that student hold themselves to?  That means, do they feel safe being off campus late at night?  How late do the buses run?   If I pick up the local newspaper, do I see myself reflected anywhere, or is it only in the sport section?    What is the relationship between the university and the school district?  How is that evidenced? Are there vibrant, ongoing academic relationships or is it that the university simply sends their teacher-education interns for the school district to absorb?  Are there ongoing tutoring, mentoring, and pre-college programs?  Is there a standing committee in discussion on this very issue of student readiness, recruitment and retention? 

These are some of the answers you will need addressed before you could move forward with this work.

After you get those answers, you have your data set and all cleaned-up; now you are ready to get to work on this thing. 

Let me take a few of these questions I have posed and answer them for you.  What I am doing here is simply giving you an example and explaining, as I go along, why this information is so important to your success in developing an intervention strategy.  Yes, it is an intervention strategy.  If things were going right, you wouldn’t need intervention.  Just the admission of a wish for intervention suggests that something is not as you wish or expect it to be.

That is next.

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The University of Wisconsin-Madison does not HAVE to do anything…not one thing – unless….

The University of Wisconsin is your largest direct and indirect employer.  If you think I am joking, put your minds back to the Thanksgiving weekend.  Recall how easily it was for each of us to cross town, or to secure a seat at a restaurant.  Think of how this town atrophies when this university goes on recess.   If the University of Wisconsin sneezes, we all catch the cold.

So the University of Wisconsin does not HAVE to do anything…unless it wants to be recognized among the premier universities by public acclaim.  It is not!!

To get there, there are a number of things that must be done.  I will not list them here.

Suffice it to say that your Board of Regents has taken the extraordinarily positive step of mandating, not simply identifying, four (4) goals to serve as the centerpiece of your diversity agenda.  You have no idea how positive that move is from that body.  The beauty of that move suggests a recognition that it is in our financial best interest to move on this agenda.

The conversation that your paper has supported/initiated/magnified must continue because this shift, that has been demanded, needs social activists.  This slow bubbling must continue.  Feed the conversation.  Encourage the discourse.  While this is occurring at one level, there must be the small group huddled around a table in a backroom somewhere, discussing the strategy of inclusive excellence.

These are two separate but related paths (financial & social).

Remember you can always remain status quo.  You are a pretty good Midwestern university, doing pretty good research, with an okay football team, and a fair basketball team settled in a cold, but beautiful state.

But if you want to be “top tier” you have some work to do…and your Board of Regents seems to be demanding “top tier” right now.     

Good Luck.

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Checking the Ethnic Box

flag_of_IranIt was December 23rd 2007 I believe.  It was that one rainy Christmas a few years ago – the one where snow didn’t fall until around December 27th.   It was raining really hard.  A bucket per drop is what we say in the islands. Next to me, sometimes sprinting behind me in hurried steps was an Iranian girl, a high school senior looking/hoping to be admitted to her neighborhood University.  It is clearly one of the best Universities in the United States.  That, plus the reality that her family culture would not allow her to go away to college, makes this a very anxiety laden afternoon.   Her acceptance letter had not yet come. 

Her family had migrated to the US relatively recently.  They had checked the White box. 

You see, there are all these boxes you can check as you enter high school, as you move toward college…every time you apply for anything there is an ethnicity box to check.  Relative to US law, Iranians, Iraqis, Pakistani’s, Indians etcetera are considered White.  So they check the ethnic box next to White.

We are absolutely soaked.  We hustle through Pharmacy to meet with the Dean.  We meet with the Associate Dean.  The Dean’s not available.  The Associate Dean was very kind and quite personable.   She says that there is nothing she can do, and wishes us successful travels. 

The parking lot is flooding by the time we exit the building.  I motion to her to remain within the building until I bring the truck around.  She wades across, climbs into the front seat and we head toward the main building on campus. 

The parking lot is pretty deserted.  It is two days before Christmas.  It is raining.  It is flooding.  Folks need to get out to their homes and families.  We enter a side door that I am most familiar with.  The elevator is uncomfortably cold and slow this evening.  We exit, cross the hall and drip into the office of an old friend. 

We greet each other with careful hugs.  I relate my story.  After some thinking and processing, she makes a call to another building and sends us on our way.

It no longer matters.  I am not going to be soaked to the skin for nothing.  We are following any lead and creating others where none existed prior.  We head down the hill and across campus to the building she directed.  We have our pick of parking spots.  Not even the parking ticket people are out on patrol.  Even they have given up.

We enter the building, veer left and catch the elevator.  Once at the top, we enter the open greeting area. 

A gentleman greets us and summons us back to his crowded office.  Papers and files are all over his desk.   I repeat our story.  He listens.  I wait.  He offers something.   I stop listening half way in his diatribe.  I repeat my story with emphasis.

Then he says, “Did you do over the ACT?”  She answers in the affirmative.  I inject, “It should not matter.  Thirty is an excellent score. You cannot tell me you see students with 3.76 GPAs, As in all advanced placement classes, and an ACT score of 30 everyday!”

He ignores and searches for the file.

I continued. “If the University of __  really wants diversity, as they say they do, then let us encourage diversity.  Here you have a young woman whom you will not have to worry about.  She will be academically successful.  She brings the ethnic diversity that is so necessary for our students’ development.  She has a GPA of 3.76 with an ACT score of 30.  You are telling me she is not tops on your list of Get This Child Here?”

He ruffles through stacks of papers, eventually locating her file.  He fuddles with a calculator on his desk entering her most recent ACT score and comes up with a final number.  He turns the calculator to me (as if that mattered) and says, “I think we can get her in.”  He tells me that her new score of 31 (one whole point greater) shifted the algorithm just enough to get her in the door.

Now, that is nonsense! 

If you want talent…if you want diversity…if you perceive a benefit to having a diverse campus, then go after diversity.   Do not conflate disadvantaged with diversity.  They are not the same and should not be used as if they were.  You want thoughts and perspectives from different ethnic and social cultures.

I am not saying not to support our students who have been traditionally underrepresented.   Don’t get me wrong.  Academics is still the one secure path to social mobility.  If we are successful in attracting and retaining more first generation students in here, much of our current social challenges will shift to the left.   They will never fully go away, but they will not have the same weight or negative impact. 

I am talking about diversity of thinking, diversity of cultures, diversity of perspective…all while having confidence in that student’s ability to navigate the challenging academic environment of the university.

 You cannot get more diversity than an Iranian child with an ACT of 31 and a GPA of 3.76 on a 4 point scale. 

All because she checked the White box.

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Breaking the Egg


I lived first in a little house, I lived there very well

The world to me was small and round, and made of pale blue shell.

egg2Nestled 80 miles Northeast of Madison, the capital, and 82 miles Northwest of Milwaukee, the largest and most diverse city, lies the sleepy lumber town of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. 

 The City of Oshkosh first came to prominence after the great fire of Chicago.  Oshkosh was one of the primary sources for lumber used to rebuild that city, and grew to become the third most populace city in Wisconsin.  In 1972, one of the children’s overalls made by a, then obscure, clothing company called Oshkosh B’Gosh gained notoriety when it was advertised in one of the more prominent magazines of the day.  Oshkosh Trucking was one of the largest and most beloved employers within the Fox Valley, and paper was king. 

 That was then.  This is now.

 Much of Oshkosh’s manufacturing base has disappeared exposing a large un-transferable labor force.  In an effort to rebuild a sagging economy, the Oshkosh Correctional Institute which was built in 1986 expanded its rated bed capacity in 1996 to receive 1,800 inmates.  This, plus Oshkosh’s history as a “low crime” community had resulted in a dramatic shift in its demographic make-up.  Within the span of one decade (10 years), Oshkosh’s African American (AA) census population ballooned to a near four-fold increase over its original numbers….almost exclusively lower socioeconomic.    

Although a large percentage of this immigrant population came from Chicago, Milwaukee, Racine, Tennessee, Minnesota, and Ohio also accounted for sizeable portions. 

 One of the largest challenges came in the education of this new group.  This population had neither a long history in Oshkosh, nor did they come from similar inter nor intra-geographic environments. The challenge was one of understanding this new population, bringing them together, all while trying to educate them.

 I recently held a conversation with eight (8) African American middle school students.  Each of these students was attending the same school.  Many had classes together.  Not one of these students was born in Oshkosh (0/8).  Only three of the eight (3/8) were born in Wisconsin.  And only two (2), a brother & sister pair attended primary school in the District.

 How do you acculturate a group of students into “how things are done here,” when the only secure cross-cultural connection they have is race/color.  They do not even know each other sitting in the car, yet our expectations are that they move forward toward a shared goal/purpose. 

Just think of it – we have dramatically increased the belly of our population through immigration (increased jail population), loss of jobs (closure and exit of manufacturing), and lack of transferability of employment (trained to do one thing, and have done it for years). 

When you sit within a culture that has lost jobs, has a population retention rate of 79% (79% of the population remain or return), a 29% bachelor degree or above rate (71% high school and below), and has a proud steeled cultural and social history, you must expect these changes to breed and harvest strong grief reactions!! 

 Not dealing with it does not make it go away.  But (a) know that is one aspect of grief, as is anger, and (b) change may need to be mandated.  It is not going to happen organically. And it is not going to happen without financial challenge. 

 We can sing the song of social change how much we want.  The words are nice.  You feel like hugging and offering the sign of peace afterward.  It will not change without a shift of market forces.  You either reward me financially for making the changes, or charge me financially for not making the changes. 

 I will not be happy.  I will not make them willingly.  I will be very resentful.  I will try to make perfunctory shifts, like moving the furniture.  But, with insistence, I will make the changes…if only because I want to retain my job.

 Then comes the, already readied and primed, social movement.  When changes are being forged, you must have a readied and primed social movement to support and enact that change.  Those are the people who do the work and place the moral cover over the mandate.  Eventually, we get to a new sense of “normal.”    

 This is not as simple as I’ve made it seem from this brief statement.  (See the challenges of our new Black president or a new Black principal) These are countervailing forces; change versus defense of change. 

 This challenge is nowhere near brief.  It is, has been, and will be with us forever. 

 As human beings, we identify, generate, re-identify and re-generate ourselves through difference.  We group.  And as we group through culturally similar identifiers (age, ethnicity, language, schools we attend, music we like), those identifiers themselves become the seed of separation. 

Even a kid with 12 earrings hanging onto or out of each orifice, identifies with another kid similarly adorned, all while arguing against society’s lack of individualism. 

Don’t expect it to be different because this is 2009.  That is simply another day, another year, another date. In many ways we are still basic and base animals in beautiful clothes and nice smelling cologne.

 If we are, however, to steel/steal the best of us, we have to figure this one out.  We are losing some great talent.

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Engaging is the beginning...Diversity is not a dirty word.  Nor is multiculturalism.  It is simple.  The world has changed before our eyes and we need to change, too.

I am Dr. Al Felice.  I am a Doctor of Psychology with a specialization in ethnic and social minority cultures.

Multiculturism is an invitation to embrace diversity.  Diversity of thought, shape, color, culture, attributes, character, race, gender, and abilities.  At best, multiculturism is a dream for the beloved community- an inclusive community where everyone can have a meaningful role.  It may be a Utopian dream, but if we do not dream it, and practice it in small steps, we will fail as a species.

This blog is my exploration of that dream and its mandate.  I invite you to challenge me, offer ideas, express your frustration and share your delights. 

In my homeland of Trinidad, West Indies, we have a saying:  All of we is one.  Despite the pain we cause each other, I hold this to be true.

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