Student Affairs

Dr. Estela Bensimon – Making Race Talk Routine


Welcome message from Dr. William Watkins

  • This is the fifth annual Terry Piper lecture!
  • It’s our pleasure to host development and enrichment programs such as this, and it’s wonderful to see such a turnout.
  • Shout outs:  Cheryl Spector, Shellie Hadvina, Ben Quillian, Frank Stranzl, Randy Reynaldo, Abraham (didn’t catch last name – sorry Abraham), Matt Perez, Meryl Simon, Shelley Ruelas-Bischoff, Michael Clemens
  • Purpose of this lecture series:  gather faculty, staff, and administrators to acknowledge our work together and interconnected responsibilities for student learning and success.
  • Terry served as VP of Student Affairs at CSUN from 2001 – 2010.
  • Terry’s mission:  to forge and amplify the work that we all do in support of student success:  we ALL have a role in helping our students make it to the finish line.
  • Terry would want us to remember the amazing work of Dr. Jose Luis Vargas, who passed away late last month.

Forward by CSUN Provost Dr Yi Li

  • Though I did not know Terry, his legacy at CSUN is deep and it influences my work.
  • One outcome of Terry’s legacy are multiple collaborations between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs; this lecture series is just one example of that.
  • US Census Bureau:  “majority minority” is a coming reality for the United States.  By 2018, 45% of all jobs will require a higher education…so our work is incredibly important.
  • CSUN has already arrived at this point!  It is important for us to lead the way for our sister campuses, and campuses across the nation.
  • Dr. Bensimon is a Distinguished Professor of Higher Education at the USC Rossier School of Education and Co-Director of the Center for Urban Education, which she founded in 1999.
  • Race, empathy and student success are the themes of Dr. Bensimon’s work.  Recommendations based on her work have been implemented at over 40 campuses across the country.
  • Dr. Bensimon spent a few moments thanking the folks who helped make this event happen.

It’s important for us to mobilize our power on behalf of others…we have so much more power than we realize:  social networks, authority to make change in our institutions, and more.

Has much changed between 1964 and 2016?  Sometimes it’s hard to see…

Why is Race Talk So Difficult?

  • We’re fearful we’ll say the wrong thing, we’re afraid of being called a racist.
  • Fear of conflict is an obstacle to discussing and addressing racial/ethnic inequity.
  • In higher education, we’re overly polite at times (collegiality)
  • Shared a comic to highlight disparities in the accumulation of generational differences
  • “The Diversity Agenda” makes it easier to NOT talk about race.  The history of the word is tied to the 2003 Supreme Court decision about the University of Michigan (could race be used as one of the admissions criteria?  Answer:  yes).
  • Diversity Misunderstood and Misused:  Chief Justice Roberts asks:  “Why does diversity matter in a physics class?”

Details of Racial Inequality

  • Wealth gap is real.
  • Mortgages are the primary means of wealth for the middle class; mortgages are denied to black and latino families than whites.
  • Black and latino students are more likely to attend poorly funded school.  On average, these students are shorted $733
  • Affluent schools have AP courses, which helps students with access to advance more quickly.
  • Grad rates at CSUN:  4 year 14%, 6 year 48%, 8 year 55%
  • Aggregate data doesn’t tell the whole story! (Will need to see if the slides will be made available…I’ll post if I find it).
  • Detailed slide of CSUN’s Student and Faculty Representation by Race/Ethnicity, Fall 2014.  Big takeaway:  white students are the minority (26%), and white faculty are by far the majority (65%).  However, this “is fairly typical and not something for us to feel too bad about.”

Language Used To Talk About Race

  • Avoid ambiguous term like At Risk, Non-Traditional, Minority, URM (Under Represented Minority)
  • The CSU does this a lot and I really think it shouldn’t.  People don’t identify themselves like this, neither should we.  I to personally agree with this in a big way
  • Caucasian, European, American; why are these terms not ok?   A German Anatomist (Johann Friedrich Blumenbach) who was into racial classification identified these “races” as a measure of Christian perfection.

The Meaning of Equity

  • Diversity != Equity
  • The antidote to diversity, rooted in civil rights principles.
  • Redistribution of resources to provide for those with the greatest need
  • Financial aid is a form of equity.
  • Racism is created by structural inequality.

Structural Racism

  • Important to recognize and name it
  • Institutions are molded to certain values and certain people.  They have historicity associated with them.
  • “Neutral” often masks structural racism
  • We need to be equity-minded to help be more systemically aware; need to focus and put the emphasis on the institution.
  • Understand inequity as a dysfunction of structures, policy, and practices
  • Question assumptions and take action to eliminate

Example:  Euniversity of Wisconsin Eau Claire

  • Honors program was 100% white
  • Criteria:  ACT test scores
  • NOW:  they use multiple entrance criteria

Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine

  • Faculty experience the institution differently
  • A series of slides highlighted the differences between perceptions of campus racial climate, depending on your own race
  • We typically think that “Student Commitment + Student Effort = Student Success”
  • Cultural practices may not exist in some schools and households
  • Inequitable outcomes != emerge from deficits in:  motivation, direction , engagement, effort, discipline, study skills, time, commitment.  NEED TO REFRAME THIS
  • We need to focus on what we can control within the institution.  Require new:  institutional structures, cultures, practices, routines
  • We need to look to the data to notice racial inequities.  Go course by course, section by section!  This is hard work, and sometimes there is fear by faculty that it may unearth uncomfortable facts.
  • Essential Equity Practice:  Disaggregate > Report > Set Goals.
  • Report the state of equity by department.  The numbers that result are manageable!

Can You Make Race Talk a Routine?

  • Yes / No?
  • What will it require?
  • Who will lead it?
  • What stands in the way?

Reactions / Q&A

  • Catherine Stevenson (director of dev math at CSUN):  parallels between developmental education for students and for faculty are profound.  Students can succeed if you can show them what they need to do and then provide “do-able actions.”  How do you help institutions find those practical steps.  Dr. Bensimon:  we use data to inform actions; we train faculty on the protocols to use to help implement those changes.  Example:  work-study students may not have been trained to understand and identify student help-seeking as a cultural practice (some cultures do no encourage reaching out for help and view it as a personal failure).  Another example:  syllabi can be modified to help facilitate learning.  This has been a powerful tool for faculty in reviewing and re-stating pedagogical philosophy.
  • Nicole Olson (graduate student):  I think we can make race talk a routine, but it will require awareness of biases.  Senior administration, departments, faculty and student working groups can help to address this.  Dr. Bensimon:  can you give an example when race was NOT discussed?
  • Catherine, Financial Aid:  I think it can be done, I see it in my own department.  You have to have the courage to talk about it!  My director has done this without fear – we talked about the Mizzou situation, and was a safe space for us all to talk about things.
  • Dr. William Watkins:  have we ever actually talked about race directly on this campus?  Yes, particularly during CA proposition 209.  Dr. Bensimon:  sometimes laws are made to be broken 🙂
  • Admissions & Records:  we recently went into full impaction, and race often hasn’t come into play in the discussions we’ve had in A&R (personal note:  this has been discussed extensively among Student Affairs leadership…what this tells me is that we need to do more active outreach on our own campus!).  Dr. Watkins:  we’ve been so focused on the public, we haven’t provided enough education internally.  We’re going to change that right away via internal focus groups.
  • SAP (Satisfactory Academic Progress) is often a barrier.  Dr. Bensimon:  we have a tool that analyzes the language used on university web sites…and number of clicks it takes to get to certain info.
  • Becky from Library:  if white is preferable to “European,” does this apply to Middle Eastern students?  How does that break down and is it useful when speaking about race?  Dr. Bensimon:  we don’t address that issue specifically, but we’re clear about the basis of research, which is that equity and status in this country have a basis in slavery, racism and economic barriers.  I don’t actually know how Middle Eastern students identify themselves.
  • Vanessa Bustamante:  goals are important!  My studies on gap analysis re: faculty hiring were not easy in Academic Affairs.  When I moved to Student Affairs, my studies opened up dramatically.  Dr. Bensimon:  we’re doing work with CLU  right now.  Another audience member – didn’t catch her name: We cannot have real clear goals on hiring due to proposition 209.

By Paul Schantz

CSUN Director of Web & Technology Services, Student Affairs. husband, father, gamer, part time aviator, fitness enthusiast, Apple fan, and iguana wrangler.

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