I have a lot of feelings about this semester. Despite several difficulties and challenges, what I feel most is gratitude. I am grateful for the opportunities afforded to me in so many walks of life. William Arthur Ward once said, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” With that in mind, I must express my gratitude to this class – both the professors and students. Thank you for this experience.
Author Archives: Troy Smith
What I noticed.
I generally enjoy this time of year. In fact, from a climate standpoint, I generally only enjoy fall and spring. There is something about the extremity of the weather in summer and winter that I find off-putting. The moderation of the former seasons appeals to me. The last time I can recall actively attempting to notice what I felt while outside was a few days ago when the sky was on the brink of rain, but the precipitation never actualized. The air was incredibly thick, dense, and discomforting – it was not the spring I affectionately recognized. In some ways, the air evoked feelings of disgust as it felt more like a muggy summer than spring. In other ways, the air awakened feelings of nostalgia.
Perhaps I have taught everyone I encounter to one degree or another. As I internalize information, it permeates through my thought processes and, furthermore, my communication and interactions.
I agree with Wilson’s and Laing’s sentiment that decolonization is impossible. The current iteration of America was intentionally established using colonial principles and practices. The same principles and practices now permeate and reverberate through all aspects of society – including education. The roots that were planted when America was founded have now grown and expanded to be culturally all-encompassing. I cannot envision the colonizing web that was created and that has caught so many domains can be untangled without significant collateral and residual damage to the interconnected infrastructures. Then again, maybe that is the point – to rebuild from the ground up.
For this reflection, I started to write about how the funds that colleges which are designated as HSIs receive are allocated to various priorities and departments and whether those allocations were equitable and benefitting the student Latinx population that allowed the college to earn the grants in the first place. I realized it was far too difficult to measure the impact on the Latinx student population of funds allocated to departments that do not necessarily cater to Latinx students. I felt like there was something to be said about certain improvements (e.g., physical spaces, infrastructure, increased financial aid) at a college ultimately improving the quality of experience for Latinx students – as they would likely be represented in a broad range of academic disciplines and extra-curricular activities. I scrapped my initial idea after recalling Garcia and Dwyer’s mention of the level of organizational identification students (OID) may or may not have on a campus.
In my higher education experience, the concept of OID never mattered much to me. I did not think I needed to feel a sense of belonging at my schools to be successful there. Reflecting, I realize that perspective was one of privilege because even though my post-secondary institutions were radically different – one a small, rural liberal arts institution with a relatively low percentage of students of color and the other a large urban university primarily attended by students of color, I did feel like I belonged at each. Garcia and Dwyer cite evidence that strong OID has clear benefits for student performance and persistence. Looking back on the frustrations of the students at HSIs who were concerned about how the money earned through grants for HSIs were not being earmarked specifically for Latinx students, it occurred to me that perhaps if these students felt a greater sense of identification at their institutions and deeper level of belonging to them, they would see value in the funds being allocated to the campus, at large. But, too often, colleges do not create an environment that cultivates that sense of belonging universally across diverse groups. For students who do not feel a sense of belonging on their college campus or do not see Latinx administrators and leaders at their HSIs, I can see how it would be tough to give the benefit of the doubt about how the governmental funds support their experience on campus. After all, the benefit of the doubt itself is a privilege not generally reserved for people of color, but often expected of them.
How do you define a Black University?
From strictly looking at the title of Bambara article, I took it to mean what is generally referred to as an HBCU (historically black college or university). My general understanding of HBCUs is that they were founded for black high school graduates to have viable options for college since many traditional, predominantly white, colleges would not admit them. I even recall hearing that in some instances, the establishment of these HBCUs was encouraged by state governments to maintain segregation and avoid any conflicts that could arise with Blacks trying to attend white institutions. HBCUs are literally rooted in blackness and, as such, that blackness can permeate through all structural aspects of the institution – including curriculum.
After reading Bambara’s work, I now better understand what she meant by a Black University. In essence, all colleges and universities should be Black Universities – spaces where not only are Black cultural studies accessible, but ubiquitous. A Black University is a space where the contributions of Blacks to world and American culture are not overlooked, but uplifted. A Black University values more than just the academic experiences and learnings of the elite who hold PhDs and advanced degrees and gives credence to the depth of wisdom and knowledge that is gained from unique lived experiences. A Black University is as intentional, in any academic discipline, at appreciating the opinions and works of Blacks in that field as institutions and departments have historically been at dismissing those same things.
Troy: The proof
While trying to impact societal and organizational change on a fundamental level, in theory, to hear “yes” to a request for advancements is generally a good thing. But can this theory be applied to higher education? Theories, in essence, are fragile and require that a very particular set of underlying assumptions fit a scenario before they can be applied. Furthermore, beyond the assumptions, they depend upon lemmas and corollaries, assistants in the mapping of arguments to proofs, to take the assumptions and prepositions and align them to support the proof. The higher education realm is dynamic and, at any given moment, the conditions that fit a particular assumption can shift. Certain givens, as they are stated in proofs, are static. For example, minoritized subjects are at a disadvantage with respect to college admissions. As Brim states, “As a general rule, in higher education, riches harm the poor…Poor students are hidden by elitist educational institutions, not from them.” General rules govern the proof of theorems. Better yet, they contain them so that the results of narrowly defined suppositions do not fall outside of predetermined bounds. Though ambitious in scope, later, I hope to use many of the givens established in our society, along with lemmas and corollaries justified in our readings and class discussions, to prove an overarching theory regarding the subject matter of this class.
Mentorship in graduate studies – Troy
The pursuit of a PhD, in and of itself, seems like an incredibly daunting endeavor in any academic discipline, but reading in Rogers’ book that it takes, on average, nine years to earn a PhD in the humanities sounds mind-boggling. I have much respect for anyone who takes this path. Perhaps this datum is so surprising to me because I neither considered pursuing a PhD nor focused much of my academic interests on the humanities.
Rogers’ mention of the importance of mentorship in the higher education realm really resonated with me. When I started my undergraduate studies, I was determined to take no mathematics courses, even though that had been my strongest subject for my entire academic career. By my second semester of college, after a disappointing foray into philosophy, sociology, and a couple of other disciplines, I decided I would take one math course. I appreciated the professor of that course so much that I decided to take another class with him the following semester. By the end of my sophomore year, I had declared mathematics my major and that professor was my advisor. My undergraduate experiences with the mathematics department directly inspired my decision to pursue a graduate degree in mathematics, where I once again was fortunate enough to have an incredible advisor. Considering my experiences with my advisors, whom I also consider to be mentors, it is disappointing to see Rogers state, “The reality, though, is that good mentoring is difficult and often invisible work, and is not typically professionally valued in the same way that publishing or teaching are.” Reflecting, I recognize that there was never a forum and hardly ever any opportunities to praise my advisors for their great mentoring work and recognize their impact. Posselt writes, “…assuming the most accomplished applicants are the best candidates reduces doctoral education from a developmental process to a scholarly finishing school, and implies that mentoring relationships and learning environments matter little to students’ success” Perhaps if greater value and emphasis are placed on the mentoring aspect of professorship, that could directly impact how committees determine the criteria by which they base their admissions decisions. Unfortunately, it is difficult to ascertain if that would have a positive or negative impact on an already controversial, exclusive, and somewhat arbitrary admissions process.
Troy – Recognition is not enough
Majority creates a metric of normalcy that, in turn, produces a level of invisibility cloaked by uniformity and custom. Diversity, in several regards but, more specifically, racially, has not fully penetrated the majority on many college campuses as, in many instances, the entire population of non-whites does not exceed 50%. Likely, it never will. How can it? Save for a small subset of higher education institutions that serve students of color primarily (generally a result of location or intentional design), having a majority of white students on college campuses, particularly elite ones, is expected – as the racial demographics of our country still indicate whites as a majority by a large margin. As a result, it becomes easy for society, at large, to overlook the issues that plague minority demographics. Therein lies the privilege that Blacks are not afforded.
Referring to recent recognition of historical wrongs related to slavery, Harris et al. state, “It also reflects the convergence of the important, if little remarked, changes in Western political and intellectual life:…the emergence of what Charles Taylor has called ‘the politics of recognition,’ a politics keyed not to individual rights but to the collective rights of groups to have the identities and histories they value acknowledged in the public sphere.” With respect to colleges finally reckoning with their troubled relationships with slavery, it begs the question: Is recognition and acknowledgment enough? As Sara Ahmed mentions, regarding university multicultural documents, “To read the document for what it is saying would be to miss this point by making it the point.” Ultimately, any document purporting to address inequality means nothing if it does not affect change. Ahmed follows this up remarking, “As I explore in more detail throughout this book, it is as if having a policy becomes a substitute for action.”
Check-in survey (Troy)
- What barriers exist for you in our class right now? None, fortunately.
- What *all* do you envision us being capable of, together, in this class going forward in the semester? Productive discourse and enlightenment on complex issues.
- What course content questions do you have so far (i.e., questions about the readings)? None.
- What course process questions do you have so far? None.
Is meritocracy in higher education the goal?
Discussing Harvard’s admission practices, Jordan Weissman of Slate writes, ”Perhaps it’s time for Harvard to dial back those advantages a bit. It would be nice if our so-called meritocracy were at least a little bit more meritocratic.” Meritocracy, as a word, is simple to define – not even requiring a dictionary or any research. Examining the word, merit generally means based on accomplishments or abilities, and not criteria one has no control over. This presents a tricky situation when looking at college admissions – particularly as it relates to the consideration of race. Considering race in admissions is absolutely necessary to combat centuries of racism and discrimination in admissions in the higher education world. But can there be a true meritocracy in higher education if race is considered as a factor? Probably not. Which is likely why Weissman did not speak in absolutes when he asked for things the be a “little bit more meritocratic.” It is clear that a true meritocracy, that only considers abilities and measures that colleges value, would likely not serve underrepresented racial demographics very well – though by no fault of their own. As stated in, The Real Problem With The SAT, published in The Atlantic, “as family income increases, so do scores on the exam. Between the poorest and richest students, there’s a 400-point gap.” Several other assigned readings for this week clearly indicate that the privilege associated with relative wealth leads to markedly higher SAT scores – which, in turn, directly impacts admissions to elite schools. Wealth is probably a better indicator of performance on the SAT than race, but in America, Black and brown students are disproportionately adversely affected by poverty as it relates to their educational attainment, making them far less likely to achieve the results that would appeal to elite schools. So, a meritocracy likely will not be realized, but since the elite higher education landscape has not been a meritocracy for so long, it should be ok with settling for the next best option.