News Highlights: Week of December 18

How a statistical paradox helps to get to the root of bias in college admissions by MinutePhysics from Aeon

In the 1970s, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley discovered something odd about the school’s graduate admissions statistics. On the surface, 44 percent of male applicants and only 35 percent of female applicants were accepted. But when researchers took a closer look, they found each department actually accepted more women than men. This is called Simpson’s paradox: “a statistical phenomenon in which a trend appears in small data sets, but differs or reverses when those sets are combined into a larger group.” How did this happen? It turns out more women applied to departments with less funding and fewer spots to fill, like English. Meanwhile, more men applied to well-funded departments with more openings, like Engineering. So even though both departments had a slight bias against men, more women were rejected because they were applying for more competitive spots. Unconvinced Berkeley was advertising programs with a gender bias, the researchers asked whether “women are shunted by their socialization and education toward fields of graduate study that are generally more crowded…less well funded, and that frequently offer poorer professional employment prospects.”

University of South Carolina Honors Slaves Who Contributed to Its Early History, from The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education

Visitors, students, faculty and staff at the University of South Carolina will notice a new addition to the campus when they return from winter break—the school has prominently displayed two new plaques honoring the enslaved men and women who worked for the school before the Civil War. One plaque acknowledges that enslaved people made contributions to the school, the other marks the last remaining slave quarters on campus. Student researchers relied on archival financial records to show that slave labor was used to construct campus buildings and to serve and feed students. John Dozier, the chief diversity officer for the school, spoke about the new installation: “we have been inspired by our students to be more thoughtful about how we tell the history of the university and of the state in more complete ways. This is an attempt to do that; the plaques represent the beginning of how we contextualize our past.”

The Company Working to Make Dance More Inclusive, by Lea Marshall of The Atlantic

Members of the Axis Dance Company, a contemporary dance company focused on disability inclusion, are no strangers to challenges. To sustain funding, they must prove their work is more than “just therapy.” To perform, they need to meet accessibility challenges like stages that aren’t accessible to dancers in wheelchairs. And they constantly have to avoid what co-founder Judith Smith describes as “inspiration porn” or “the pernicious practice of using those with disabilities purely as foils for the able-bodied.” But for Smith, it’s all worth it. She says people think they’re not supposed to look at the man in a wheelchair or the woman with half an arm, but when they’re figures on a stage and people are given time to stare, the dancers’ bodies start to become ‘normal’ for the unfamiliar audience. Axis dancers, Smith adds, discover unexpected strengths (like a dancer with cerebral palsy who found enhanced flexibility). Bill T. Jones, a well-known choreographer, says working with Axis forces choreographers to find new creative possibilities. He discusses his own experience working with Axis: “I learned that we shared the determination of not making works built around our otherness…I learned that there were times when it was right that people were separated around their abilities and I learned to look for those unexpected opportunities when they could be joined.”

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