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Posts Tagged ‘multicultural’

The coyote knew full well that despite his best efforts and the strongest ACME (sp) product available to him, there was no way he would ever catch the fleeting road-runner.  An anvil would crush him, he would fall into a deep chasm, or if all failed – they would go to commercial.  He knew it.  His wife knew it.  His children knew it. His neighborhood knew it. Every television show, book and movie reinforced it.  So he quit and drove a cab.  

In a recent self-identity study on 342 Afro and Indo-Caribbean students ages 8 – 11, respondents were invited to choose one of 5 male models (1 Asian, 1 East Indian, 1 White, and 2 Black) for the role of Medical Doctor, Security Agent, Police Investigator, Drug Pusher, or Janitor for an upcoming movie. 
Results indicated that
118 (35%) of students investigated chose the Indian model for the role of Medical Doctor in the movie, while 65 (19%) chose one of the two Black models for the same role.  Conversely, 63 (18%) of the students chose the Indian for the role of Drug Pusher while one of the two Black models was chosen to perform the role of the Drug Pusher by 168 (49%) of the respondents. 

In short: The East Indian students chose the East Indian for the role of the Medical Doctor.  The Black students chose the East Indian for the role of the Medical Doctor.  It was more likely for a Black student to choose a Black for the role of the Drug Pusher than it was for him/her to choose a Black for the role of the Medical Doctor.

Results suggest that regardless of the race of the respondents, East Indians were more likely to be perceived in the role of Medical Doctor – Blacks were more likely to be perceived in the role of the Drug Pusher. 

Of the 342 students tested, only 88 (26%) were of East Indian descent, while 254 or 74% were of Afro-Caribbean descent.

This study has very strong implications for the relationship between a child’s…a culture’s early identity development and academic success. It suggests that if evidence of success is not demonstrated within a child’s early environment (home, story books, neighborhood, movies, television shows, school, pictures, et cetera), the stories of “You can be whatever you want to be” are only rhetoric that we adults enjoy spewing for emotional and political release. 

…from a child the little coyote knew in his heart that there was no way he would ever catch the road runner…so he rejected that possibility – to himself.  Sad but True.   

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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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It has been suggested that one of the major reasons for African American (AA) students lack of success in predominantly white institutions (PWI) of higher learning is due to a feeling of alienation from the environment.  Others include lack of academic readiness, particularly in Math and English, lack of financial solvency, and feelings of academic unfairness.  Tinto has argued quite convincingly that for students to succeed within the higher education environment, it is necessary for them to begin a process of leaving the rules and mores of their home environment and adopt to and adapt those of the accepting environment.  It has been proposed that those students  who adapt well have a higher probability of success that those who do not.  One can easily see how the relationship between alienation and lack of success (drop-out/stop-out) might follow naturally.  It is rare that someone would stay or be retained in an environment where he/she doesn’t feel wanted/appreciated/worthwhile/desired. 

Coleman has argued that the development of the skills of bicultural competence, the ability to successfully negotiate and navigate the dominant culture, may act as a buffer (or have a mitigating effect) thereby supporting AA student success – not withstanding all the other aforementioned challenges.  In other words, acquiring and practicing the skills of bicultural competence may enhance a student’s potential for success.  Gutter investigated a number of high-achieving AA women.  She concluded that these women had employed the skills of bicultural competence, and that these skills were seen as supportive to their success in the work environment.  

A study of 10 successful male AA students argues against both.  Ten successful male AA students shared in individual interviews, the factors that they felt contributed to their academic success.  Each of these students was a second semester sophomore in good academic standing, none of whom was a transfer.  

Findings:  Yes, the feelings of unfairness and alienation were real, but (a) the students suggested that they were expected, (b) the feelings were used as a motivation to persist, (c) much of it was self-selected – these students searched for and/or created an enclave of emotional safety engaging in the larger environment to satisfy specific needs and only when necessary (tutoring, ask a question), and (d) in direct opposition to Tinto’s assertion, each of these students kept very tight bonds with their home families (parents, siblings, friends).  In essence, a bridge was created; one pillar within a “safe” enclave on campus, the other a firm planting in their home community.  None of the students alluded to the use of bicultural competence as a navigating skill.  It does not mean that the skills were not employed.  We may argue that knowing whom to ask and for what, could be seen as employing some aspect of biculturalism.   

It is also of interest to note that 8 of these 10 students were first-generation – neither of their parents had completed a higher education degree.  There was a very strong thread of doing it (being successful, not dropping out) for the community, for friends who never got the opportunity, for younger or older siblings, for absent parents. 

Only one of the students spoke about doing it for himself, and he was one of only two second-generation students.  The other second-generation student spoke of his family’s expectations and that two of his elder siblings were medical doctors.  He was an African immigrant. 

We may want to revisit some of our earlier assertions of AA student success in PWIs.

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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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