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The Chronicle of Higher Education: Is Protesting a Privilege?

The results could suggest that a certain type of environment allows a student more freedom to protest, Baker says. “Certain people have the time and resources to be able to protest in certain ways.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education covered the research of SMU education policy expert Dominique Baker, an assistant professor in the Department of Education Policy and Leadership of Simmons School of Education and Human Development.

Baker’s research published recently in The Journal of Higher Education. She and her co-author on the study, “Beyond the Incident: Institutional Predictors of Student Collective Action,” reported that racial or gender diversity alone doesn’t make a college campus feel inclusive. Students are more likely to initiate social justice campaigns at large, selective, public universities.

Some universities are more likely than others to experience student activism like the “I, Too, Am Harvard” campaign in 2014, the study found.

The Chronicle article by journalist Liam Adams, “Is Protesting a Privilege,” published Dec. 6, 2017.

Read the full story.


By Liam Adams
The Chronicle of Higher Education

Campus protests advocating for diversity occur more frequently at elite colleges, a study suggests.

Since her days as a Ph.D. student at Vanderbilt University, Dominique J. Baker says, she had wondered, “Why do certain universities have protests and others don’t?”

That curiosity led Ms. Baker and a colleague to study differences in protests among higher-education institutions.

Their recent report, published in The Journal of Higher Education, is titled “Beyond the Incident: Institutional Predictors of Student Collective Action.”

The more selective a college and the fewer of its students receiving Pell Grants, they found, the more likely those colleges are experiencing protests against racial microaggressions.

It’s not a new notion that protests occur more commonly at elite institutions. A previous study, by the Brookings Institution, found that more-affluent colleges are likelier venues for protests against controversial speakers, although the report was criticized for being incomplete.

The study by Ms. Baker, an assistant professor of education policy and leadership at Southern Methodist University,and Richard S.L. Blissett, an assistant professor in the department of quantitative methods and education policy at Seton Hall University, focused on the “I, Too, Am” movement, which started at Harvard University to protest microaggressions against students of color.

Racial microaggressions usually involve unequal treatment of people of color, or racial slurs or jokes, notes the report. Some students at Harvard were so fed up with microaggressions on the campus that they started a photography project in which students of color held signs containing offensive statements that had been made to them.

Read the full story.

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Student-led protests seeking inclusive campuses are more likely to occur at selective universities

A new study found that racial or gender diversity alone doesn’t make a college campus feel inclusive. Students are more likely to initiate social justice campaigns at large, selective, public universities.

Some universities are more likely than others to experience student activism like the “I, Too, Am Harvard” campaign in 2014, a new study finds.

That student-led campaign at Harvard publicized the hurtful experiences routinely faced on campus by students from marginalized populations, meaning gender and ethnic minorities.

A new study led by a researcher from Southern Methodist University, Dallas, found that students are more likely to initiate social justice campaigns like the one at Harvard at large, selective, public universities where there are fewer students receiving financial aid.

The study is one of the first to take an empirical look at the institutional characteristics of universities in an effort to understand the current spike in student-led activism.

“Interestingly, our quantitative analysis found that numerical student diversity — in terms of gender and race — was not sufficient to make students feel they attend school on an inclusive campus,” said Dominique Baker, lead author on the research and assistant professor of higher education at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development.

“Our study found that more selective institutions, larger institutions, and institutions with fewer students receiving the Federal Pell Grant had greater odds of students adopting social justice campaigns to heighten awareness of their plight,” Baker said.

The federal government awards Pell grants to undergraduate students who need financial assistance for college.

Eradicating student protests isn’t the goal of the new research study, Baker said. Universities are seeing one of the largest jumps in student activism since the 1960s, so the goal is to provide data-based empirical research to help universities improve the campus environment for minority students.

“We are more concerned with what leads to protest and collective action — and which environments are conducive to it,” Baker said. “This research project helps us understand the kinds of contexts in which students may feel compelled and able to act. That may help us think about the ways in which we can best support our students and create more inclusive spaces.”

Co-author of the study is Richard Blissett, an assistant professor in Seton Hall University’s department of education. The researchers reported their findings in The Journal of Higher Education in the article “Beyond the Incident: Institutional Predictors of Student Collective Action.

Students across the country are fighting for inclusion and justice
The issue is a growing one. Recently, more than 70 U.S. universities have faced questions about how to address student protest demands regarding a variety of social injustices, such as police brutality, racism, and gender disparity, among others, the authors say.

At least 40 U.S. universities have had some sort of “I, Too, Am” campaign.

Studies from decades past that looked at student activism found that social movements and student protests during the 1960s and 1970s took place at more cosmopolitan and prestigious universities on both coasts, as well as some major public universities in between and some progressive liberal arts colleges.

With their new study, Baker and Blissett wanted to see if that holds true now. They looked at whether certain types of U.S. institutions were more likely to see student activism than others.

Numerical diversity is not enough for students to feel a campus is inclusive
The “I, Too, Am Harvard” movement began as a student play and evolved into a photo campaign. For the play and photos, 63 Harvard students held up dry-erase boards on which they wrote examples of racist things that had been said to them, as well as things they would like to say to their peers in response. The photos were published on Tumblr, then went viral on the social news website BuzzFeed. Ultimately that sparked many similarly named movements on other U.S. campuses.

For their study, Baker and Blissett analyzed 1,845 institutions, including those with publicized “I, Too, Am” campaigns. They linked the information with five-years of institution-level data from the U.S. Department of Education on all four-year public and not-for-profit universities.

The researchers also collected various measures of student diversity at each university, including gender and undergraduate racial identity, as well as Pell Grant recipients to capture low-income backgrounds.

They investigated whether the current state of diversity, or recent changes to it, could predict where an “I, Too, Am” campaign would appear. They found no consistent evidence that racial diversity was predictive of a campaign, suggesting diversity alone may not be enough to address student dissatisfaction, the authors said.

“Colleges focusing solely on the number of marginalized students may miss other characteristics of the institutions that could be associated with student mobilization or discontent,” Baker said.

Institutions without campaigns may also have inclusion issues
The researchers found that the 40 institutions with social movements were generally more selective in their admission policies, more socially prestigious, and primarily in the Mideast.

This prompted the researchers to pose the question, “What social resources are required for people to be able to protest in the first place?” Baker said. “This could explain why some institutions have campaigns and some do not. We are continuing in our work to investigate some of these types of questions.”

The results have important implications, said co-author Blissett, suggesting that student expressions of dissatisfaction with institutional racism may not be, as some theories describe, “idiosyncratic overflows of emotion,” but instead a function of the institutional environment.

“We are adding to a growing base of literature that suggests that thinking beyond diversity as reflected in enrollment numbers may be important for institutions that want to ensure that their minority students can thrive, and feel safe and at home on campus,” he said.

That said, just because an institution hasn’t had a student-led campaign does not necessarily mean that the institution doesn’t have social justice problems related to gender and race.

The research findings can help campus leadership see student protests as a key source of political information. The findings suggest that the higher education community can seek ways to create supportive spaces that make campuses feel more inclusive so students are less likely to feel compelled to protest the environment, Baker said.

“We’re not saying that the presence of racial and ethnic minorities or women is not important,” she said. “Our main conclusion from this research is that a focus on forms of diversity and inclusion beyond only enrollment numbers may also be important. Institutions may want to think more holistically about the challenges that these students are facing on their campuses.” — Margaret Allen

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More than half of the racial college completion gap explained by pre-college factors

The two key factors driving the achievement gap between Hispanic and White students were poverty and attending a high-minority high school.

In an analysis of Texas students, more than 60 percent of the racial gap in college completion rates can be attributed to factors that occur before college — factors that are beyond the control of many colleges and universities, finds a new study led by NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and with a co-author from Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

The study found that the two key factors driving the achievement gap between Hispanic and White students were poverty and attending a high-minority high school.

“Our findings demonstrate that these disparities can often be traced back to high school, suggesting that colleges and universities are not solely responsible for the racial gap in graduation rates,” said Stella M. Flores, associate professor of higher education at NYU Steinhardt and the study’s lead author.

Co-authors are Dominique J. Baker, an assistant professor in SMU’s Department of Education Policy & Leadership in the Simmons School of Education & Human Development, and Toby J. Park, Florida State University.

Research shows that some student populations are less likely than others to complete college, with a significant gap in completion rates between Black and Hispanic students and their White counterparts. But less information is available on what part of the educational pipeline is most likely to contribute to the gaps between these student groups.

The study, “The racial college completion gap: Evidence from Texas,” published in The Journal of Higher Education. The researchers focused on the college completion gap by race and sought to determine not only the factors associated with college completion, but also how these factors may be contributing to racial disparities.

They analyzed data from kindergarten through college completion for all public school students in Texas, one of the nation’s largest and most diverse states. They focused on one cohort of students who graduated from high school in 2002, entered a four-year institution that fall, and graduated college within six years by 2008. The sample consisted of 25,875 White, 9,837 Hispanic and 5,139 Black students.

As expected, six-year college completion rates varied by race: 65.5 percent for White students, 51.4 percent for Hispanic students, and 43.6 percent for Black students. The college completion gap in Texas aligns with national figures, where Hispanics experience at least a 12 percentage-point gap in college completion compared with their White counterparts, while Black students experience a 22 percentage-point gap.

Combination of factors contribute to disparities
Confirming the racial college completion gap, however, was only the first step in the analysis. The researchers then dug into what factors contribute to these disparities.

They found that pre-college characteristics — a combination of individual, academic, and high school context factors — contributed upward of 61 percent of the total variance for both Hispanic and Black students as compared with their White counterparts.

These pre-college influences shared similarities but also differed by race. The two key factors driving the achievement gap between Hispanic and White students were poverty and attending a high-minority high school.

While attending a high-minority high school also explained a large portion of the college completion gap between Black and White students, the next most critical group of factors that explained this gap were related to academic preparation such as access to rigorous coursework that included high-level math courses and AP courses.

“These results unsurprisingly suggest that college completion is both a financial issue and one of academic preparation, but also that one factor may be more critical to one population than another, at least in Texas,” said Flores. “This has important implications for how and where we should invest public funds.”

Post-secondary factors accounted for a much smaller proportion of completion gap
The researchers also looked at factors connected to the college experience, such as the percentage of tenured faculty members, faculty-to-student ratio, per-student expenditures, and whether the school was designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution or a Historically Black College or University. These post-secondary factors accounted for a much smaller proportion — 35 percent — of the completion gap than did individual factors and schooling outcomes initiated prior to enrolling in college.

“This finding is notable because a number of states have engaged in performance-based funding for higher education. However, our research suggests that it would be unfair to rank or award funding to institutions based on factors over which they have lower levels of control,” Flores said. “Accountability is very important, but knowing the sources of inequality along the educational pipeline should be acknowledged and attended to in such formulas.”

The research was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Civil Rights Project/Projecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA. — New York University