July 11, 2018
The Departments of Justice and Education this week rescinded guidance documents on Affirmative Action and related policies. The documents were meant to clarify existing laws and policies that allow colleges and universities to consider race as one of many admission factors to diversify campuses. The Department of Education announced that the documents, dating from the Obama era, “advocate policy preferences and positions beyond the requirements of the Constitution, Title IV, and Title VI. Moreover, the documents prematurely decide, or appear to decide, whether particular actions violate the Constitution or federal law.” Proponents of Affirmative Action have responded with a commitment to continue their existing practices. Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, sums up their stance: “We intend to proceed without asking anyone’s permission…We’re going to do what’s right for students no matter what.”
In 2004, there were only 25 colleges that offered programs for students with intellectual disabilities. Today, there are 270. While the national employment rate for adults with cognitive disabilities is less than 25 percent, those who attend college programs see an employment rate of 61 percent. The programs offer academic support in the form of student mentors and modified grading rubrics and assignments. For instance, an assignment for a 25-paragraph essay may be modified to a list of 25 full-sentence bullet points. Students may take classes like “reading and study skills” or “disabilities studies,” and can also take part in internships. The programs have benefits outside of the classroom as well. Students make friends with peers, attend parties, go out to dinner on campus, and take part in the overall social experience of college. Debra Hart, director of education and transition at the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, explains that while “not everyone with an intellectual disability has to go to college,” it’s important that the choice is there.
A new study conducted at San Francisco State shows that students majoring in ethnic studies are 20 percent more likely to graduate than those majoring in other subjects. Those who took at least one ethnic studies class were also found to perform better than those who didn’t. While some professors question the study’s findings, calling ethnic studies “easier than other majors like physics,” acting director of the university’s César Chávez Institute, Ken Monteiro, explains that “ethnic studies faculty members spend more time on advising and supplemental education than faculty in other areas.” As a result, ethnic studies majors develop critical thinking skills by relating different types of information to their experiences and considering the perspectives of others. Monteiro also attributes the program’s success to there being less stereotype or identity threat in class, otherwise known as anxiety that stems from being part of an underrepresented identity group. While multiple studies have shown the benefits of ethnic studies programs on both high school and college levels, these programs increasingly face ideological and budgetary threats. “We say we’re a fact-based society and evidence-based society,” says Monteiro, “but we’re trained to ignore facts if they don’t help our agenda.”