Author Archives: Keshia James

The spirit of the law

There is the letter of the law then there is the spirit of it” 

This week’s podcast and Garcia & Dwyer’s piece really reiterates the discussion we’ve being having throughout the semester of what diversity means or should really look like for the university. In the podcast Ceja-Williams was asked if she thinks that there are enough HSIs, and I love how she addressed the question. It’s not about quantity but quality. There would never be enough but the first step to getting there is ensuring that the ones that do meet the criteria for HSI are providing the necessary support for their Latinx students. Both the host and Ceja-Williams talk about the “spirit” of the law which I think is more important than the policies itself. Throughout lower and higher education, institutions try to meet the quota or legal requirements of certain demographics for the funding benefits, but the real issue is whether the funds are used in a meaningful way. With laws about diversity and inclusion it’s not only about meeting the designation but how is the designation reflected in the student support system. 

The Black University

“A student in Music 5 (an alternative to Music I) asked his instructor why the African and Afro-American traditions were not taught since they obviously influenced American music and so much of modern music throughout the world? He was told, “We only consider serious music in this course” (14) 

Reading Bambara’s chapter, I think about how the Black University will be more inclusive of the international student, particularly students from the Caribbean. In the suggested courses, the Caribbean is included in terms of nutrition and root courses among others. I see the Caribbean in this sense being recognized for its link or contribution to African American culture which is sometimes overlooked when looking at American history. Incorporating the Caribbean in terms of what is taught is one thing but how can the Black University create a much-needed link for Caribbean immigrant and international students – a link of continuity and acceptance of their educational background?  

Simon Says? Nah! I SAY!

I held my breath for “Simon Says” Powerful!!

It made me think of how control and inferiority (elements of slavery) are perpetuated in the classroom and school structure. More so, I think about the way Black history is taught and how in many ways it reinforces the white supremacist agenda. Slavery is a prominent part of African-American history but it is not the only part and should not be where the teaching begins. Coming from the Grenada what I learned about my African ancestry was from a very different perspective. Before slavery, we learned African history and when slavery was taught the focus was on the many rebellions and uprisings that took place on the plantations. It may be seen as being dismissive but there was a focus on teaching the people that we are not just decedents of slaves. That being said, on the NYT article about who should own the photos of slaves, it definitely should not be Harvard. I view educational institutions holding on to these photos of slave the same way I view Western museums holding African artifacts – upholding white supremacy.

What’s valuable? – Keshia

Patricia Matthew’s interview on the Brian Lehrer Show brought me back to my observation of the brick wall in last week’s reading. Faculty of color are surely given the short end of the stick on all aspects of diversity in the university. They are burdened with the work of doing diversity yet it is not viewed as “scholarly” enough for tenure. I assume it is too far-fetched to think that the work faculty do for the university would be a major consideration in granting tenure. This is just another way to create the brick wall. 

Professor Roger’s chapter two in Putting the Humanities PhD to Work hits the nail on the head in this quote on diversity work in the university. 

  • “No matter how many diversity initiatives a university launches, true equity will remain out of reach as long as the educational system as a whole continues to ascribe value to deeply conservative processes and outcomes, since the way to measure, success will always involve looking back toward those who have come before” (Rogers, 40). 

If the work faculty do for the university is not valuable, what is? Does the exclusivity of scholarly writing for the university make it valuable? Rogers’ discussion on scholarly work that extends beyond the university could not be more spot on! Making scholarly work applicable and accessible to the public are ways the university can be more diverse in its reach.  

  • “If humanities programs were to emphasize this potential for connection, gainful employment, and meaningful applicability, it would represent a significant stride in reasserting higher education as a public good rather than a private and elite undertaking” (Rogers, 60). 

Keshia- The Brick Wall

The whole idea that institutions would need committees to create diversity to me shows that there is a will to control rather than to “open-up” and be more accepting. It also makes the institution less genuine about wanting to be diverse in the first place. That is how I see the brick wall that Ahmed speaks of. Ahmed states that “the wall might become all the more apparent, all the more a sign of immobility, the more the institution presents itself as being opened up.” Therefore “doing diversity work” would be hard because there is a lack of interest to really change. Automatically placing the people or color on the “diversity committee” makes diversity something that only people of color want leaving the rest of the institution free to accept of refuse any plans to change. Why should the people that has been left out be the ones to work to get in? Addressing the lack of diversity can only be meaningful if it is with the full involvement of all races. Unless there is a unified desire to change, the resistance of the brick wall will forever be present in “doing diversity work.”   

Keshia: How will elite colleges choose?

The above link is a New York Times article Matt shared on the impact of the temporary removal of the SAT requirements on college admissions for the elite and lower tier schools. Removing these standardized tests give all students a fair chance to get into schools based on a truer picture of their ability. Many colleges may welcome the step as a way to have a more diversity among their applicants but reflecting on Jordan Weissmann’s article in Slate I am wondering if there will be a great difference in the diversity of the student body. In Harvard’s case, which is the focus in Weissmann’s article, how much less of the athletes, legacies and kids of donors (43% of which are white) are they willing to admit to achieve the diversity they seek?  How will Harvard choose?

Keshia – Why the Ranks?

When applying to college undergraduate programs, the first things I considered was whether the program was accredited and affordable. Being in New York City made CUNY my best bet. Next on my list of things to consider was how far away from home the school was and what the support was like for international students to make the transition easier. Medgar Evers College was it for me! A quick 15-minute walk from home and an international students’ group that helped to make the campus feel like home. I had a great social and educational experience at MEC and was able to graduate with my bachelors and teaching certification in 3 years.  

It always confused me when friends and family members seem to boast of going to a private college out of state as better than going to a CUNY college or university only to return to the city and hold positions alongside CUNY graduates with much less student debt. The notion of prestige and ranking sadly exists among CUNY colleges as well. In a typical conversation, when asked what school I go to the response was 8 times out of 10, “Oh. Why Medgar?” “Why Brooklyn College or Hunter?” To me they are all CUNY, with different CUNY issues. Same peas, different pods.  

What is the logic behind the ranking of CUNY colleges if they are all under the same system? What does it say about CUNY’s leadership if some colleges are considered “better” than others? 

In Davidson’s chapter John Mongulescu makes the point that student success after attaining higher education has less to do with the name of the institution than with whether social systems in place that make the jobs and appropriate compensation available. I my view, “how low can higher ed go?” questions the rationale of ranking colleges when at the core the knowledge is the same. Public colleges and universities considered low ranking have produced just as much prestigious individuals in society as ivy league. The ranking then is more of the possible connections that come with being in a particular school which makes higher education more of a popularity or exclusivity contest than about learning. 

Keshia James – COVID and CUNY

The inequalities in education exacerbated by the pandemic are not only a K-12 issue but also an issue in higher education. The New York Times article “College Made Them Feel Equal” looks at how the inequalities surfaced within private colleges however, the sentiment is the same within CUNY. Ironically, more is revealed about a person when they are behind a screen than when in person. CUNY has taken some credible steps to address some of the inequalities from the onset of the pandemic. Keeping college pantries open, distributing laptops, grants for tuition and rent assistance, and flexible grading policy helped to address the challenge faced by many students throughout CUNY. It shows that although we are all receiving the same education, we do not all have the same opportunities. This leads us to question the notion of education as the “great equalizer” a belief the article made clear disappeared during the pandemic. 

The quick outreach shows that CUNY is very much aware of the inequalities among its student population. It is counterproductive in my view that so many classes were cut during the 2020 fall semester. This delayed hopes for some students of graduating on time and created additional spending on tuition, especially for international students. A quick scan through the list of PSC-CUNY op-eds for 2020, and you see the topics quickly move from health, safety, and addressing students’ needs at the beginning of the pandemic to budget cuts and lay-offs. However, the op-eds give a good insight into the vital role CUNY has beyond education in shaping the community. A role that certainly deserves more investment.