Diversity in Higher Education

I work at an elite, liberal arts college in southern California. I feel lucky to have a job, and especially lucky to have a job that I love. My students, my colleagues, and my work are constant sources of fulfillment.

But life in the world of higher education–particularly in the small liberal arts college variety–leaves a lot to be desired.

The lack of meaningful racial/ethnic diversity in higher education continues to challenge my existence within academia. Things are, of course, better than they were. I am a product of a movement to increase diversity–a movement which existed since before my birth. My educational training connected me to this movement as a participant, even in some ways a leader at my local levels. My role as a professor has been to foster the continuation of this movement and to assure it takes root in new and substantive ways at my local institution, while continuing to represent a measure of its success.

But change has come slowly. Increasingly, it hasn’t even kept pace with the broader social changes marking the need for even more. Often it feels as though we are moving backwards.

Generally, when we discuss the issue in higher ed, the primary focus is on student populations. This is appropriate. We are in an urgent crisis when it comes to educational equity measured by a diverse student population. (Really, we have never not been in crisis.) The elite liberal arts colleges of the nation have done admirably well in the last 20 years (at my college Latinos comprise about 12% of the student body) but even these advances are not enough. When it comes to faculty diversity, the numbers nationwide are far gloomier.

Let me give you some perspective, based on the recent data from the 2010 Census:

In California as a whole, 37.6% of the population is Latino. Almost 48% of the people in Los Angeles County (where my college is located) are Latino. In nearby San Bernardino County, almost half–or 49.2%–of the population is Latino.

Despite this, on a monthly basis, I am the only Latino in the room at work meetings and/or work-related social functions. Rather regularly, I am one of two.

I am certain the non-Latinos in the room don’t think twice about this fact. Perhaps even, when they see me, they think how my presence imbues the context with diversity. Who knows?

I am never not aware of it.

Senate Apologizes for Slavery

From CNN, a story on yesterday’s passage of a nonbinding resolution in the U.S. Senate which “acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery, and Jim Crow laws” as it “apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared “In the nearly 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, America has taken serious and sincere steps to heal the deep wounds of one of history’s greatest crimes against humanity.  This resolution is another one of those steps.”

Slavery has been illegal in the United States for almost 150 years.  Many forms of legal segregation and discrimination have been illegal for over thirty years.

Sometimes the most powerful lessons from these kinds of resolutions is not in the content of the acknoweldgement but in the timing and context compelling its passage.  That is, I think we have a lot more to gain by thinking about why it took over a century for the Senate to do this and why they did it now.

The “Border Beat” (November 24, 2008)

Guess what?  The “Border Beat” missed you too.  It’s just that we were so busy with work.  Plus, our friend came from out of town for a visit and then we were kind of overcome with all the blog activity of the Obama win.  And we have this scratch in the back of our throat.  Come to think of it, we did write, didn’t you get it?

What’s that?

Damn you!  You’re right.  We promise to be better.

Here’s the latest news and views straight from the heart of Latinolandia. . .

• “Owed Back Pay, Guest Workers Comb the Past” (New York Times)
The struggle for economic justice waged by these men is historic and a long time coming.  For decades, and now for almost 7 years in the courts, these former “guest workers” (read: “colonized labor”) have been fighting for nothing other than their pay.  It seems to have reached a new plateau and, hopefully, an end.

• “Giving up on the American dream” (Denver Post)
The article is an overly balanced (neoliberal) take on the reduction in “illegal immigration.” As far as the “issue” goes, let’s try and remember what this all says (immigration is economic and reciprocal) the next time we have to hear some idiot talk about how “everyone would come live in America if they could.” As for the title, it is as fitting for the article as it is for my attitude after reading the comments from my fellow countrymen and women.

• “FBI finds attacks against Latinos on rise” (Newsday)
See, this is how it works: you take people’s fears and anxieties and help focus them toward an explanatory hate directed at a racial/ethnic minority; and then, they start hurting them. The latest version of this story is called “Lynching Latinos.”

• “GOP must win back Latino vote” (Sacramento Bee)
This opinion piece makes a some sensible and fact-based conclusions about the need for the Republican Party to reach out to Latinos. This guy better watch out–people shoot sensible and fact-based Republicans out here!

• “A new look at Asian immigrants” (Boston Globe)
Hmmmmm. Is there an Asian/Latino bear hug in our sociopolitical future?  Did we just feel it on November 4th?

• “Handling of immigrant children is criticized” (El Paso Times)
I’ll just quote a sentence from the recent report which exposed the abuse of immigrant children at the hands of U.S. immigration officials and bureaucratic procedures: “The U.S. treats undocumented, unaccompanied children with a shocking lack of concern.” This article includes a link to the full report–“A Child Alone and Without Papers”–written by the Center for Public Policy in Austin.

Historic Photo of the Week
Segregation signs were also commonplace in the pre-WWII U.S. Southwest.