Posts Tagged ‘multiculturalism’

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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We’ve afforded these families and these kids all sorts of opportunities to lift themselves out of the appalling circumstances of their lives, yet they seem never to be grateful of our efforts; nor do they take advantage of the education.  They’re late for class.  Their homework is not done, or done poorly.  Sometimes it is done but never handed in.  They are disruptive in class – shouting out inappropriately, standing up, walking around, interfering with the other students who are trying to learn, intimidating the students…just overall disrupting the flow of the educative process.  We call the parents.  They either don’t come, or they yell at the teachers.  They, themselves, seem complicit in the whole thing and call us racist.  Or other times they don’t even call us back!  Look, just yesterday the principal tried to break-up a fight between two of them in the corridor and got smacked in the face for her efforts.  Come on Doc.  This is your area.  Tell us; what do they expect us to do?

In one form or another, this scenario has played itself out in at least eighty-percent of my meetings with principals or staff, or at seminars in which I am presenting.  The “these families” that they are alluding to are generally “African Americans.”  Although I am called in to deal with other ethnic and social minority populations, challenges with the African American population seem to more-often-than-not rise to the top.  These emotional sharings occur most frequently during round-table discussions rather than in the large group settings.  It would seem that there is greater comfort in these smaller groups – particularly if you allow a few minutes for ice-breaker activities and initial processing before joining them. 

But that’s not the point.  The point is, “How do you respond to that?  What do you do?” 

There is neither a single nor an easy response to this.  If there were, we wouldn’t be still dealing with this fifty-five years after Brown vs Board of Education. 

The first thing to recognize is that the approach to dealing with this issue is different relative to the age of the population (pre-primary, primary, middle, high), their history in the community (are they new immigrants or do they have a long history), the social grouping (lower, middle, high), the integration of that grouping (Is there a mix of lower and middle class, or is it a predominance of one class), the training of the teacher (has the teacher been trained to deal with that population or is it this one class he/she did) , the training of the principal, the readiness of the school district (particularly the Superintendent) to lead on the issue, the relationship between the Superintendent and the Board of Education (is the Superintendent a leader of a manager), and the level of integration of the families into the social fabric of the community.  

Those questions (above) must be answered first because it is from that knowledge and insight that the plan of intervention is developed.

The frustration you hear many teachers speak of is normal.  If you have not been trained to work with a population, and the population is relatively new and not yet integrated into the social culture of the community…this is expected.  Plus, let’s be honest about it, this is no way to be a successful teacher.  You cannot expect a teacher to do his or her best work if this is the situation he or she is walking into every day!  It simply won’t happen.  Additionally, without addressing the situation, you are offering those less-than-stellar teachers and easy “out.”  They just blame the parents, blame the school, blame the District…blame, blame, blame. 

Yes, that may be only 10% of your teaching fraternity, but do you know how many teachers ten percent is?   I have met and worked with many terrific teachers and principals, psychologists and social workers, but I have also worked with my fair share of those who seem to have a standard complaint stuck in a desk drawer waiting for just the right kid to pull it out.

This challenge goes both ways. 

Once we recognize and accept the fact that this challenge goes both ways (distrust, fears, concern, labeling, perceived targeting, etc.), our very next move is to get away from the emotional discussions and from the discussions of emotion.  Those take us nowhere. 

Frankly, it gets us into a game of emotional ping pong where one person serves and the others either deflects of tries to slam the ball back to the other side.  The parents never win those games.  They don’t have big enough rackets.  So they retreat, or they don’t answer the phone, or don’t come to meetings, or become very belligerent when they do come.   So we retreat to our corners in the same frustrated state that each of us came to the table with. 

This is a multilayered challenge that demands a multilayered response, the first part of which is “Understanding and Normalizing the Challenge.”  If you truly want to shift it, and that truth is different in different schools and in different school districts, you must first understand and normalize the challenge.

The story below attempts to explain and normalize one aspect of this enormous and historic challenge.  Follow it slowly.  It is written in very simple language but has profound parallels to our current conversation.  Remember, this is a multifaceted challenge.  This story simply takes one sliver of it and attempts to help you make sense of that aspect of the challenge.   When you’re done reading it, you are simply supposed to say, “Okay, now I understand.”

Read it.  Re-read it.  Then let’s talk. 

Spots On My Carpet

 Once upon a time there was a pretty little lady

Who had a pretty little house.

And a pretty little car

A pretty little sofa

And a pretty little chair

The pretty little lady had a pretty little dog

Who had a pretty little bed

A pretty little bowl

To put her pretty little food

She had a pretty little bone

and pretty little toys

A pretty little collar

And a pretty little leash

To take her pretty little walks

In her pretty little neighborhood

They were such a pretty little pair

They took pretty little walks

Around the pretty little park.

They were so happy.

One day they thought –

“Wouldn’t it be nice to share our pretty little life with another dog?”

So off they went in their pretty little car to the pound.

In the pound they saw so many dogs.

They saw big dogs

Small dogs

Fat dogs

Thin dogs

Smiling dogs

Frowning dogs

Each dog in want of a good home.

They chose one dog to share their home with.

And off they went in their pretty little car with their new friend.

He was so happy.

He got his own pretty little bed

And pretty little bowl

Pretty little collar and pretty little leash

They went for pretty little walks

Around the pretty little park.

They were such a pretty little family.

One day the lady went to work leaving the two dogs at home.

After a long day’s work

She returned to her pretty little house.


There’s a spot in my carpet – she screamed.

Oh my goodness!   What a mess!

Toys were strewn everywhere.

The place was in such a mess.

Who did this?


But why?

Didn’t I bring you from the pound?

Didn’t we share our pretty little home with you?

Didn’t we share our pretty little food with you?

Didn’t you have your own pretty little bowl and pretty little toys?

We brought you in as part of our family!

Is this how you repay our kindness?

She was so hurt!!!

Her pretty little house was ruined

And there was a spot in her carpet.


Moral of the Story: Do not expect me to change my behavior simply because either my geography or my social status has shifted.  It takes much more than a change in environment to precipitate/encourage/support a change in behavior.

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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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