Report Finds U.S. Catholics Have Much to Learn About Islam

America
Michael O’Loughlin | Sep 12 2016
Well, at least there’s room for improvement.

That could be the takeaway from a new Georgetown University report released on Monday that found fewer than two in 10 U.S. Catholics hold a favorable view of Muslims, with many possessing little understanding when it comes to the beliefs of the world’s second largest religion.

When asked, “What is your overall impression of Muslims?” 30 percent of those Catholics polled said they held unfavorable views, 14 percent said favorable and 45 percent said they held neither favorable nor unfavorable views.

The report was released by Georgetown’s The Bridge Initiative, a program at the Washington, D.C., Jesuit university aimed at improving public understanding of Islam while tracking the public discourse on Islam and Muslim life.
“We hope Catholic educators, catechists and clergy can use this report as a starting point to ask, ‘What do Catholics know; what do Catholics not know; and what do we need to be communicating?’” Jordan Denari Duffner, the author of the report, told America.

The survey also asked about religion and violence. Forty-five percent of Catholics said that Islam encourages violence more than other religions while 24 percent said it encourages violence as much as other religions.

Catholics are about split when it comes to the response by Muslims to violence committed in the name of Islam. About four in 10 U.S. Catholics agree that “Muslims have sufficiently condemned acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam” while another four in 10 disagree.

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Catholics in the United States aren’t sure about what they share in terms of religious belief with the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. About a third of all U.S. Catholics (32 percent) believe that Catholics and Muslims worship the same God, while 42 percent say they do not. About a quarter of Catholics are unsure.

The Catholic Church has taught since at least the Second Vatican Council’s “Nostra Aetate” that the three Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—all worship the same God. But as the report shows, this teaching is still not fully understood, or accepted, by all believers.

Last month, for example, a controversial American prelate made headlines when he said, “I don’t believe it’s true that we’re all worshiping the same God.” Cardinal Raymond Burke shared that assessment at a press conference promoting his new book. He added that he believed Muslims seek domination while Christians promote love.

“While our experience with individual Muslims may be one of people who are gentle and kind and so forth, we have to understand that in the end what they believe most deeply, that to which they ascribe in their hearts, demands that they govern the world,” Cardinal Burke said.

The report notes that Pope St. John Paul II reiterated Catholic teaching about the three monotheistic faiths worshiping the same God in a 1985 speech to Muslim youth in Morocco. He said then, “We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world.”

Denari Duffy noted that Pope Francis often portrays Islam in a positive light, which has affected how the Catholic press in the United States represents Islam.

“The way our religious leaders talk about Islam is often the way people learn about Islam,” she said.

The report is being released, coincidentally, on the 10th anniversary of a speech given by Pope Benedict XVI in which he quoted a 14th-century emperor criticizing Islam, setting off a maelstrom of protest across the Islamic world. The retired pope has said he did not intend to insult Islam, but in a recent interview conceded that he did not “evaluate correctly” the political implications of the speech.

On the question of salvation for Muslims, which the church teaches is possible, more than half of all U.S. Catholics (55 percent) agree that Muslims can go to heaven, while 11 percent disagree. A third said they don’t know. Again, Vatican II, which theologians say is part of the church’s magisterial teaching, says that non-Christians can indeed go to heaven.

The report took a look at how the perceptions about Islam by American Catholics are influenced by Catholic publications. It found that publications that talk about Islam in the context of what Pope Francis said about the faith give a more positive explanation of Islam, while articles in Catholic publications that don’t mention the pope as often portray Islam negatively.

“Pope Francis’ words, gestures, and activities are often the frame through which Catholics consume information about Islam,” the report found.

However, the report suggests that many Catholic publications still tend to present Islam through references to terrorism, lately because of the Islamic State.

“The headlines of Catholic online articles dealing with Islam have a slightly negative overall sentiment, and the primary emotion conveyed is anger,” the report says.

And those headlines influence how frequent consumers of Catholic media view Islam. Readers of America have the most favorable view of Muslims (50 percent) among consumers of Catholic print media, while readers of Our Sunday Visitor have the lowest share (4.7 percent) describing Muslims as favorable. (Though the report notes that the vast majority of U.S. Catholics don’t consume much Catholic media at all.)

U.S. Catholics do appear to have at least some basic understanding of Islamic theology.

Most Catholics understood that key components of Islam include daily prayer (93 percent) and fasting (77 percent) and knew that Muslims do not believe in the Trinity. But 86 percent of Catholics thought incorrectly that Muslims worship Mohammed, a revered prophet.

When it comes to Jesus, 74 percent of Catholics said Muslims do not hold Jesus in high regard and 88 percent said they do not honor Mary. In fact, Muslims believe Jesus is a revered prophet (but not Son of the Father, as Catholics believe) and that Mary is his virgin mother.

Nearly half of U.S. Catholics, 44 percent, say that they either didn’t know of any similarities between the two faiths or that they believed there were none at all.

Some Catholics could note similarities, such as the two in 10 Catholics who said a belief in God was the most common facet of the two faiths, and the one in 10 who cited monotheism, or the belief in one God.

When it comes to cultural issues, most American Catholics think Muslims are victims of religious discrimination. Half (52 percent) say they agree that Muslims in the United States face similar discrimination that Catholics once faced.

But on the issue of religious liberty, just 26 percent of Catholics say American Muslims face threats. (Meanwhile, 34 percent of Catholics say their faith faces similar threats.)

American bishops have made religious liberty a key issue in recent years, usually around issues related to contraception and same-sex marriage. Critics contend that the bishops’ efforts have not taken into account threats facing non-Christians.

The report found that Catholics who know Muslims personally report having the highest views of Islam generally.

“From our survey, we found that knowing a Muslim personally — or participating in dialogue, social activism, or community service with Muslims—can often impact Catholics’ views in major ways,” the report said.

Reaping the benefits of personal relationships between U.S. Catholics and Muslims may be easier said than done. After all, Muslims comprise just one percent of the U.S. population, according to the Pew Research Center, and the report found that just three in 10 U.S. Catholics say they know a Muslim personally.

The report is based on a survey of 1,027 people polled between April 9 and April 15, 2015.

Michael O’Loughlin is the national correspondent for America. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeoloughlin.

Teaching Young Children About Bias, Diversity, and Social Justice

Edutopia

spiegler-teachyoungchildsocialjust-notstock

When my daughter was three years old, I taught her the word “stereotype.” She was just beginning to string words together into sentences, had determined that pink was definitely not her favorite color, and asked (demanded, actually) why all the “girl stuff” was pink and the “boy stuff” was blue. Because there’s no three-year-old version for a word describing why colors are gendered in our society, I figured that planting the seed might yield fruit soon enough. And somewhat surprisingly, I was correct.

Who’s Different and What’s Fair

As a society and within our educational institutions, discussions about bias, diversity, discrimination, and social justice tend to happen in middle and high schools. We’ve somehow decided that little kids can’t understand these complex topics, or we want to delay exposing them to injustices as long as possible (even though not all children have the luxury of being shielded from injustice).

However, young children have a keen awareness of and passion for fairness. They demand right over wrong, just over unjust. And they notice differences without apology or discomfort.

Racial identity and attitudes begin to develop in children at a young age. Two- and three-year-olds become aware of the differences between boys and girls, may begin noticing obvious physical disabilities, become curious about skin color and hair color/texture, and may also be aware of ethnic identity. By the time they’re five and entering kindergarten, children begin to identify with an ethnic group to which they belong and are able to explore the range of differences within and between racial/ethnic groups. In terms of bias, by age three or four, white children in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Europe show preferences for other white children. Further, current research suggests that children as young as three years old, when exposed to prejudice and racism, tend to embrace and accept it even though they might not understand the feelings.

The good news is that bias can be unlearned or reversed if we’re exposed to diversity in a positive way. Harnessing young children’s desire for fairness and using it as opening to discuss bias and discrimination is not a hard leap, but one that needs to be made explicitly and with instruction. They are also not afraid to comment on observed differences. Decades of research indicate that even if parents and adults are not talking about race or other differences, children still notice differences and prejudice. If we choose not to teach or talk about it, children’s notions about race and differences will go unchecked and likely become further entrenched in their minds.

It’s also important that adults in children’s lives do not perpetuate the idea that we should be “colorblind” to racial differences or shush them when they notice someone with a disability. Sometimes adults do this out of their own discomfort with talking about differences, or because they think noticing differences somehow makes you biased. We want to encourage children to notice differences because they do so naturally, yet at the same time, honor people’s identities without judging or discriminating based on differences. In other words, noticing people’s differences is natural, but when adults assign judgments or value to these differences, bias can develop in young children.

5 Elementary Strategies

Elementary school is a time ripe for these discussions. Provided that teachers have the right tools and resources and use developmentally appropriate language and activities, teaching about these concepts can be rich and engaging for children, laying the groundwork for more sophisticated understanding when they move into the tween and teen years.

Here are five concrete ways of bringing discussions about bias and diversity into the elementary classroom:

1. Use children’s literature.

There’s a wealth of children’s books that can be read aloud and independently to approach the topic of bias, diversity, and social justice. Whether it’s about people who are different than your students (window books), an affirmation of their identity (mirror books), or one that exposes bias or shares stories of people who stood up to injustice, reading books is a core part of the elementary classroom curriculum and therefore a seamless way to address the topic.

2. Use the news media.

Find topics and news stories that bring forth these themes, discuss them in the classroom, and build other reading, writing, social studies, and math lessons around them. Relevant news stories that highlight bias and especially those where someone stood up to it and justice prevailed — like the nine-year-old boy who was banned from bringing his My Little Pony backpack to school because it was the source of bullying, or the story ofMisty Copeland becoming the first African American appointed as a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theater in its 75-year history — are terrific teachable moments.

3. Teach anti-bias lessons.

We know that all educators face a plethora of daily demands. But because children’s social and emotional development is a key part of the elementary curriculum and because much of the teasing, name-calling, and bullying is identity-based, it’s helpful for the classroom climate to set aside a time every week for an explicit lesson on this topic. Social and emotional skill development lessons are the foundation, and then teachers can move to lessons on identity, differences, bias, and how bias and bullying can be addressed individually and institutionally.

4. Give familiar examples.

Take advantage of children’s interest in books, TV shows, toys, and video games, and use them as opportunities to explore diversity, bias, and social justice. Whether it’s about toys and gender stereotypes, a New Jersey girlwho was tired of seeing books only about white boys and dogs, or discussing a new line of dolls with disabilities, you can provide openings for children to see how bias takes place in media and the everyday objects that they use.

5. Explore solutions.

Re-think the concept of “helping others” (through service learning projects or other volunteer opportunities) to include discussions with children about the inequities that contribute to the problem and consider actions that can address it. For example, while it’s useful to provide food to homeless people, we want to deepen the conversation to convey a social justice perspective and a wider lens with children. Therefore, discuss the stigma and stereotypes of homeless people, learn about unfair housing policies, and reflect on solutions that will reverse the problem in a lasting way and encourage students to take action.

Start Early

Recently, several prominent national education organizations (including theNEA, AERA, AFT, and NCTE) have called for addressing equity in schools and society, specifically recommending that we need to highlight the “systemic patterns of inequity — racism and educational injustice — that impacts our students,” and that educators and school leaders “receive the tools, training, and support they need to build curricula with substantive exploration of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination.”

We need to begin this process with our youngest hearts and minds in order to have a lasting impact. What are your thoughts? How do you approach social justice issues with elementary students? Please share in the comments section below.

When Black and White Children Grow Apart

The Atlantic
Research shows that interracial friendships decline as kids enter adolescence—and that teachers may play a role.

MELINDA D. ANDERSON JUN 14, 2016

The image of black and white children hand-in-hand is possibly the most well-known and most often quoted line from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Over the years, black and white youngsters playing together has evolved from a civil-rights leader’s vision of racial equality to a clothing retailer’s marketing campaign, and in the process spawned a cultural meme—signaling everything from innocence and hope to a world free of interpersonal racism. Yet black and white childhood friendships, an inspiring notion, rarely happen organically.

According to a new study of elementary- and middle-school students, teacher behaviors may shape how students select and maintain friends and affect the longevity of interracial friendships. The study, led by researchers with New York University’s Steinhardt School, finds that as students move through a single school year, from the fall through the spring semester, their number of cross-racial friendships decreases. What’s more, students’ perceptions of their teachers—who may treat children in the same class differently, for example—influenced the rate of growth in same-race friendships from the fall to the spring.
Elise Cappella, an associate professor of applied psychology at NYU and the study’s lead author, said the group started out with a common understanding, supported by popular wisdom and established research, that as young people approach and enter adolescence, their likelihood of forming friendships across racial and ethnic groups decreases. “We wanted to try to understand what might be influencing that change … and we wanted to go beyond simply understanding the opportunity piece [greater numbers of diverse peers] to understanding what parts of this social process or the teaching practices might make a difference in the changes that occur.”

Access to diversity is only the first step, not the destination.
The research is drawn from a longitudinal study of the school experiences of 553 black and white students in a racially diverse, middle-class, and suburban unidentified district. That study, the Early Adolescent Development Study, collected detailed self-reported surveys during the 1996-97 school year from children ages 8 through 12 in grades three through five: 61 percent white, 39 percent black, with equal numbers of male and female students.

It’s a notable data set for a couple reasons, Cappella said, emphasizing that in the age range studied “children still form most of their friendships in classrooms and in schools. That was the case in 1996, and that’s still the case in 2016.” The data in the Early Adolescent Development Study is also particularly useful for analyzing interracial friendships because it was conducted in a school district that at the time had relatively low levels of tracking and high levels of integration—an unusual combination—facilitating an analysis of factors such as cross-racial friendships. Further, because the composition of the class and the actual teacher didn’t change, “if there were changes in cross- and same-race friendships [during] that year, we can isolate the effect [to] some aspect of that classroom.”

After calculating the racial composition of the students’ classes, the study’s authors used an index to measure how many same-race friendships would be expected if friendships were randomly distributed. Despite the district’s high level of racial integration, researchers found that the number of same-race friends grew for both black and white children over the school year, with white and older students showing the largest increases.
In the fall of the third grade, black students had 15 percent fewer same-race friendships and white students had 2 percent more same-race friends than would be expected by random chance. By the spring, black third-graders had 5 percent fewer same-race friendships than would be expected by random chance and white third-graders had 6 percent more. Among fifth-graders, black students started out with 2 percent more same-race friends than expected, and white students started out with 23 percent more. By year-end, fifth-grade black students had 10 percent more friends of the same race than expected and white students had 33 percent more.

As the argument goes and studies prove, children of all backgrounds benefit from diversified classrooms and schools where they can interact with peers of different races and ethnicities. Teaching Tolerance, an educational project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, concluded in a comprehensive review of research on racial and ethnic diversity in schools that “a racially integrated student body is necessary to obtain cross-racial understanding, which may lead to a reduction of harmful stereotypes and bias.” But access to diversity is only the first step, not the destination, said Cappella, noting that the study points to the need for teachers to create classrooms where interracial friendships can develop and grow.

The influence of teachers on students’ cross-racial bonds manifests itself in two key ways. Researchers found smaller increases in same-race friendships from the fall to the spring in classrooms where student perceptions of teachers’ warmth, respect, and trust—“My teacher pays attention to my feelings” and “My teacher helps children feel good about themselves”— were rated highest. And black children were more likely to make friends with white classmates during the school year in classrooms where teachers received high rankings on differential treatment—the survey asked children to rate their teacher’s behavior toward a hypothetical high- or low-achieving peer.
While the study did not establish that teachers were favoring one racial group over another, researchers theorized based on prior evidence that black children choose to befriend more white peers “as they begin to internalize the higher value their teachers place on the white students.” A study from Johns Hopkins University published in March also confirmed the comparatively low expectations white teachers have for black students.

How parents arrange get-togethers outside of school can “deepen friendships while allowing others to flounder.”
Jennifer Orr, a white elementary-school teacher in northern Virginia, said she was fascinated on a personal and professional level by the study’s analysis. Her oldest daughter, now in seventh grade, attended Annandale Terrace Elementary, a highly diverse school, from grades kindergarten through 5. “Her close circle [of friends] included a Korean girl, a few Latino girls and boys, and at least one girl from the Middle East, [but] she has only kept up with two friends from there: another white girl and a white boy.” As a parent, Orr offered a caveat to the study’s findings, bringing the role of parents into the picture. “The immediate thing that came to my mind … was how much parents may play a role” with race or ethnicity shaping how parents arrange get-togethers outside of school that can “deepen friendships while allowing others to flounder.”

From her vantage point as a former teacher at Annandale Terrace for 16 years, Orr said she strived to create a classroom environment that fostered friendships across races and ethnicities through activities and lessons. When assigning class projects she encouraged diverse groupings of fourth- and fifth-graders to solidify existing friendships, adding “that’s what strikes me the most from this study: The idea that friendships narrow during this age range.” Orr also turned to literature, using books with interracial friendships “to help kids see these friendships as normal and good.”

Keffrelyn Brown, an associate professor of cultural studies in the education college at the University of Texas at Austin, upholds the idea that teachers are fundamental to leveraging the promise of integrated schooling. Brown, who was a classroom teacher before becoming a researcher and teacher educator, stressed that “integration cannot only occur at the surface level. It must be seamlessly found across all [parts] of the … teaching and learning processes.”

The creation of schools with racial and socioeconomic diversity must be complimented by classrooms that affirm all students, Brown said. “It’s about cultivating a community of learners who are invested in the well-being of the community,” she explained, envisioning a learning space that is keenly attentive to issues of justice, fairness, and equity.

As validated by the study, children’s perceptions of teachers’ traits are very important—and unlike curriculum decisions and other pressures, it’s the one aspect that teachers can control. Cappella, the NYU researcher, said it’s the daily interactions that teachers have with their students in the classroom—modeling how you treat one another and how you listen to one another—that can bolster the likelihood of interracial friendships enduring.

“When teachers [show] that everyone is valued … that everyone deserves warmth and support, then that trickles down to the students, particularly at this age,” she said. “Those [actions] are the most salient and potentially the most powerful for influencing students in a more implicit way.”

7 cultural concepts we don’t have in the U.S.

Perhaps one of these ideas will inspire you to think differently in your day-to-day life.

Exploring other cultures helps us learn more about ourselves — and perhaps find a new celebration or concept that speaks to us. (Photo: Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock)

From the end of October through the New Year and onto Valentine’s Day, it’s easy to forget that the holidays we celebrate are simply cultural constructs that we can choose to engage in — or not. The concepts and ideas we celebrate — like our spiritual beliefs and daily habits — are a choice, though sometimes it feels like we “have” to celebrate them, even if we don’t feel like it.
Culture is ours to do with as we choose, and that means that we can add, subtract, or edit celebrations or holidays as we see fit — because you and me and everyone reading this makes up our culture, and it is defined by us, for us, after all.
If you want to add a new and different perspective to your life, there are plenty of other ways to recognize joy and beauty outside American traditions. From Scandinavia to Japan, India and Germany, the concepts below may strike a nerve with you and inspire your own personal or familial celebration or — as is the case with a couple of these for me — sound like an acknowledgement of something you have long felt, but didn’t have a word for.
Friluftsliv
friluftsliv
Photo: Shutterstock
Friluftsliv translates directly from Norwegian as “free air life,” which doesn’t quite do it justice. Coined relatively recently, in 1859, it is the concept that being outside is good for human beings’ mind and spirit. “It is a term in Norway that is used often to describe a way of life that is spent exploring and appreciating nature,” Anna Stoltenberg, culture coordinator for Sons of Norway, a U.S.-based Norwegian heritage group, told MNN. Other than that, it’s not a strict definition: it can include sleeping outside, hiking, taking photographs or meditating, playing or dancing outside, for adults or kids. It doesn’t require any special equipment, includes all four seasons, and needn’t cost much money. Practicing friluftsliv could be as simple as making a commitment to walking in a natural area five days a week, or doing a day-long hike once a month.
Shinrin-yoku
forest bathing
Photo: Semmick Photo/Shutterstock
Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term that means “forest bathing” and unlike the Norwegian translation above, this one seems a perfect language fit (though a pretty similar idea). The idea being that spending time in the forest and natural areas is good preventative medicine, since it lowers stress, which causes or exacerbates some of our most intractable health issues. As MNN’s Catie Leary details, this isn’t just a nice idea — there’s science behind it: “The “magic” behind forest bathing boils down to the naturally produced allelochemic substances known as phytoncides, which are kind of like pheromones for plants. Their job is to help ward off pesky insects and slow the growth of fungi and bacteria. When humans are exposed to phytoncides, these chemicals are scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, relieve stress and boost the growth of cancer-fighting white blood cells. Some common examples of plants that give off phytoncides include garlic, onion, pine, tea tree and oak, which makes sense considering their potent aromas.”
Hygge
hygge and cozy winters
Photo: Shutterstock
Hygge is the idea that helps Denmark regularly rate as one of the happiest countries in the world — Danes have regularly been some of the most joyful in the world for over 40 years that the U.S. has been studying them — despite long, dark winters. Loosely translated at “togetherness,” and “coziness,” though it’s not a physical state, it’s a mental one. According to VisitDenmark (the country’s official tourism site): “The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family — that’s hygge too. And let’s not forget the eating and drinking — preferably sitting around the table for hours on end discussing the big and small things in life.” Hygge’s high season is winter, and Christmas lights, candles galore, and other manifestations of warmth and light, including warm alcoholic beverages, are key to the concept.
Still a little confused and wondering how you could cultivate hygge in your life? This Danish NPR commenter sums up some specifics: “Hygge is a deep sense of cosy that can originate from many different sources. Here is a good example from my life : a cloudy winter Sunday morning at the country house, fire in the stove and 20 candles lit to dispel the gloom. My husband, puppy and I curled up on our sheepskins wearing felt slippers, warm snuggly clothes and hands clasped around hot mugs of tea. A full day ahead with long walks on the cold beach, back for pancake lunch, reading, more snuggling, etc. This is a very hyggligt day.” Now that sounds do-able, doesn’t it?
Wabi-sabi
patina and the concept of wabi sabi
Photo: markuliasz/Shutterstock
Wabi-sabi is the Japanese idea of embracing the imperfect, of celebrating the worn, the cracked, the patinaed, both as a decorative concept and a spiritual one — it’s an acceptance of the toll that life takes on us all. As I wrote about it earlier this year, “If we can learn to love the things that already exist, for all their chips and cracks, their patinas, their crooked lines or tactile evidence of being made by someone’s hands instead of a machine, from being made from natural materials that vary rather than perfect plastic, we wouldn’t need to make new stuff, reducing our consumption (and its concurrent energy use and inevitable waste), cutting our budgets, and saving some great stories for future generations.” We might also be less stressed, and more attentive to the details, which are the keys to mindfulness.
Kaizen
kaizen or continuous improvement
Photo: Santiago Cornejo/Shutterstock
Kaizen is another Japanese concept, one that means “continuous improvement,” and could be taken to mean the opposite of wabi-sabi (though as you’ll see, it depends on the interpretation). It’s a very new idea, only coined in 1986, and generally used in business circumstances. As this tutorial details, “Kaizen is a system that involves every employee, from upper management to the cleaning crew. Everyone is encouraged to come up with small improvement suggestions on a regular basis. This is not a once a month or once a year activity. It is continuous. Japanese companies, such as Toyota and Canon, a total of 60 to 70 suggestions per employee per year are written down, shared and implemented.” These are regular, small improvements, not major changes. Applied to your own life, it could mean daily or weekly check-ins about goals, as opposed to making New Year’s resolutions, or a more organized path based on small changes toward weight loss, a personal project or a hobby.
Gemütlichkeit
Gemütlichkeit is a German word that means almost the same thing as hygge, and also has its peak usage during the winter. In fact, some linguists posit that the word (and concept) of hygge likely came from the German idea. Blogger Constanze’s entry on the German Language Blog for “Untranslatable German Words” describes how the word means more than just cozy: “A soft chair in a coffee shop might be considered ‘cosy’. But sit in that chair surrounded by close friends and a hot cup of tea, while soft music plays in the background, and that sort of scene is what you’d call gemütlich.”
Jugaad 
jugaad or ingenuity
Photo: Michal Zieba/Shutterstock
Jugaad is a Hindi word that means “an innovative fix” or a “repair derived from ingenuity,” — think a jury-rigged sled for snowy fun, or a bicycle chain repaired with some duct tape. It’s a frequently used word in India where frugal fixes are revered. But the idea has further merit beyond figuring out solutions to get by with less. It also encapsulates the spirit of doing something innovative. As the authors of Jugaad Innovation write in Forbes, they see jugaad in many other places than the repair shop: “In Kenya, for instance, entrepreneurs have invented a device that enables bicycle riders to charge their cellphones while pedaling. In the Philippines, Illac Diaz has deployed A Litre of Light — a recycled plastic bottle containing bleach-processed water that refracts sunlight, producing the equivalent of a 55-watt light bulb — in thousands of makeshift houses in off-the-grid shantytowns. And in Lima, Peru (with high humidity and only 1 inch of rain per year), an engineering college has designed advertising billboards that can convert humid air into potable water.”
Jugaad’s idea of frugal innovation can definitely be applied in the individual life — what about setting aside a half a day twice a year where everyone in your family fixes something that needs repair? You’ll save money, spend time together, test problem-solving skills, and get a sense of accomplishment from repairing instead of buying new.
I’d like to integrate some of these ideas into my own life. Over the last few years I have dropped Christmas and Easter (I’ve been an atheist for over 25 years now) and replaced them with a Solstice celebrations; I have remade New Year’s into a quiet, reflective time (the antithesis of a party); and have incorporated an appreciation and gratefulness aspect into my almost-daily meditation routine. I’ve kept Thanksgiving, though mine is vegetarian, so the focus is on the harvest and thanks and not killing a turkey. And I celebrate Halloween some years, when I feel into it, and not if I don’t. And forget Valentine’s Day!
Because I don’t love some of our existing holidays, I’d like to add celebrations to my list — luckily I need not come up with them by myself, but can look to other cultures for inspiration. I actually started practicing hygge last winter and I felt it really helped me through the darkest days of the year. I may formalize it a bit by creating a “start” and “end” date to the practice. Wabi-sabi is also very appealing to me, as I tend towards perfectionism (which also tends to make me miserable), and it’s an idea that seems like it might become part of my seasonal cleaning and organizing time (along with Jugaad).
Have any of the above ideas inspired you to try something different or add a new celebration day to your life?

Struggling With Privilege

The Harvard Crimson

The late historian and professor Tony R. Judt once told Historically Speaking that our task “is to tell what is almost always an uncomfortable story and explain why the discomfort is part of the truth we need to live well and live properly.”

While Tony Judt certainly was not talking about college life, his message seems to extend to us here at Harvard.

Just listen to the newly minted Dean of the College, Rakesh Khurana, speak about the college experience he hopes each student will get at Harvard. You will hear him talk about “transformation,” and his idea of a “transformative” college experience is deeply rooted in embracing discomfort. Real growth, to Dean Khurana, stems from branching out and exploring this sort of uncomfortable new territory.

Discomfort at Harvard comes in many different forms. But the main source of my own has come from class, privilege, and wealth.

It’s no secret that a good chunk of the Harvard population is unusually wealthy. In fact, according to Walter Benn Michaels, author of the polemic “The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality,” roughly 75 percent of Harvard students’ families have incomes over $100,000 per year, while only 20 percent of American families have incomes that high.

But what’s more troubling than these statistics alone is the fact that, once the most wealthy and privileged come to Harvard, they tend to stick together.

Here’s an example: When I first arrived at Harvard, I ran into someone from back home in New York City. She invited me to dinner with “a few other kids from New York.” Hers was an innocent display of kindness, and yet she was precipitating an insidious phenomenon—the rapid formation of the New York City “clique.”

So why do the New York City (and LA, and Greenwich, and so on) “elite” coalesce into these groups? This is where discomfort comes into the picture.

Yes, people do tend to find friends who have similar backgrounds and beliefs. That’s the easy answer. But in my experience, when it comes to the particularly privileged, there’s something more at play.

Unlike our different cultural or religious backgrounds, privilege is not a source of pride or a difference from our classmates that we choose to celebrate. Instead, privilege—and more importantly what privilege says about each of our characters—makes us uncomfortable. Our privilege forces us to question our worthiness and our merit, two of the things most highly valued at an institution like this one.

I find myself asking: If I got here because of the advantages afforded me by my background (a fact that is almost irrefutably true), then what does that say about my worthiness? What about my classmates who have made it here without any of the opportunities that I had? How do I reconcile my own desire to succeed with the guilt that I can’t help but feel about having had a leg up in the first place? What am I, or where would I be, without my privilege?

These questions are tough to ask and even harder to answer. The natural reaction to these questions, questions that inspire self-doubt, is to insulate ourselves from ever having to confront what it is that makes us so uneasy.

It is possible to avoid them altogether: by surrounding ourselves with friends who grew up the same way. We can avoid situations that bring these questions to the surface and then go about our college lives in bubbles of comfort.

But while avoidance is certainly possible, it’s far from right. If we experience college with social blinders on, we miss out.

In the words of Harvard’s mission statement, “Education at Harvard should liberate students to explore, to create, [and] to challenge.” It’s the last word that matters most. Forcing ourselves to challenge our beliefs, our upbringing, and the way of life that we may have experienced for our first 18 years is undeniably difficult. But it’s also essential to what Harvard seeks to accomplish with each of its students: a broader understanding of the world, and personal growth.

Failure to confront discomfort now leads to an equal inability to confront it later. If our awareness of our classmates of different socioeconomic backgrounds exists purely in the realm of abstraction, then we have failed not only to undergo Khurana’s “transformative” college experience, but we have also failed in making ourselves socially responsible citizens.

 

Nick F. Barber ’17, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Mather House.

Dalton School Apologizes for Screening Slavery Satire

The New York Times

By 

The Dalton School, one of New York City’s most prestigious private schools, has apologized after screening a satirical movie about a world in which the South won the Civil War.

The film, titled “C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America,” was shown to sophomores at a presentation of history projects on Monday. Its edgy and comical treatment of slavery quickly led to complaints, and on Wednesday, the school met with students and parents to apologize.

“C.S.A.,” released in 2006 and directed by Kevin Willmott, an associate professor at the University of Kansas, is presented in the style of a documentary, nearly 150 years after Ulysses S. Grant surrenders to Robert E. Lee, following the film’s conceit.

The movie is a hodgepodge of commentary by fake historians and altered footage, including an image of a Confederate flag on the moon. It freely uses racial stereotypes, with the not-so-subtle message that attitudes toward black people in the real world are not so far off from the imagined 21st-century Confederacy.

Some of the most provocative moments come during its spoof advertisements. One ad promotes Confederate Family insurance. “For over 100 years, protecting people and their property,” a narrator says as a slave smiles at the camera. Another markets a tracking device called the Shackle, a “revolutionary new way of servant monitoring.”

In interviews, Dalton students said that some felt the film was insensitive to the struggle of blacks and made light of slavery.

In a statement on Wednesday, Dalton’s leader, Ellen C. Stein, pledged to redouble efforts to speak with students and staff members about race.

“We believe in the highest levels of respect and sensitivity for the diverse nature of our student body and community,” she said in a statement. “Monday’s screening should not have taken place and we sincerely regret that the film was shown.”

Earlier this month the school wrestled with another racially sensitive work,overhauling a production of the musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie” over concerns about the show’s use of Asian stereotypes and references to a slavery ring in China.

Professor Willmott said the school had misinterpreted his film, noting that several of its most controversial ideas are borrowed from history. The movie ends with footnotes.

“This, in essence, is the American problem in race,” he said. “The minute that things become real, the minute that you get close to the edge, everything shuts down.”

He added, “This was an opportunity for dialogue in the school setting.”

“C.S.A.” opens with a quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw: “If you’re going to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh; otherwise they’ll kill you.”

Alex Vadukul contributed reporting.

Black Boys Have an Easier Time Fitting In at Suburban Schools Than Black Girls

The Atlantic

Minority young men are considered by their white peers to be cool and tough; minority young women, on the other hand, are stereotyped as “ghetto” and “loud.”
[IMAGE DESCRIPTION]
Ted S. Warren/AP Photo

Though I’m sure my name was a hint, I happen to be black. My parents are West African (Mali and Senegal to be exact), and I was born and raised in France. When I was 13, my family and I moved to a suburban community outside of Atlanta. The school I attended, though relatively diverse for Georgia, was majority white. I had an easy time there. I made friends quickly, a lot of them white. To this day, more than ten years later, my friend circle is still very much white, populated by the people I met at my mostly-white high school, or at my mostly-white university, or in my mostly-white neighborhood. I have always attributed my ability to fit into both multicultural and white environments to my personality and my immigrant’s need to adapt to whatever environment I’m in.

But recent research published in the American Sociological Association’sSociology of Education journal shows that my gender (male) was one of the determinative factors in the relative ease of my social integration. In an articlepublished last year, Megan M. Holland, a professor at the University of Buffalo and a recent Harvard Ph.D., studied the social impact of a desegregation program on the minority students who were being bussed to a predominantly white high school in suburban Boston. She found that minority boys, because of stereotypes about their supposed athleticism and “coolness,” fit in better than minority girls because the school gave the boys better opportunities to interact with white students. Minority boys participated in sports and non-academic activities at much higher rates. Over the course of her study, she concluded that structural factors in the school as well as racial narratives about minority males resulted in increased social rewards for the boys, while those same factors contributed to the isolation of girls in the diversity program.

Another study looked at a similar program, called Diversify. Conducted by Simone Ispa-Landa at Northwestern University, it showed how gender politics and gender performance impacted the way the minority students were seen at the school. The study shows that “as a group, the Diversify boys were welcomed in suburban social cliques, even as they were constrained to enacting race and gender in narrow ways.” Diversify girls, on the other hand, “were stereotyped as ‘ghetto’ and ‘loud’”—behavior that, when exhibited by the boys in the program, was socially rewarded. Another finding from her study was that because of the gender dynamics present at the school—the need to conform to prevalent male dominance in the school—“neither the white suburban boys nor the black Diversify boys were interested in dating” the minority girls. The girls reported being seen by boys at their schools as “aggressive” and not having the “Barbie doll” look. The boys felt that dating the white girls was “easier” because they “can’t handle the black girls.”

The black boys in Ispa-Landa’s study found themselves in peculiar situations in which they would play into stereotypes of black males as being cool or athletic by seeming “street-smart.” At the same time, though, they would work to subvert those racial expectations by code-switching both their speech and mannerisms to put their white classmates at ease. Many of the boys reported feeling safer and freer at the suburban school, as they would not be considered “tough” at their own schools. It was only in the context of the suburban school that their blackness conferred social power. In order to maintain that social dominance, the boys engaged in racial performance, getting into show fights with each other to appear tough and using rough, street language around their friends.

In the case of the girls, the urban signifiers that gave the boys so much social acceptance, were held against them. While the boys could wear hip-hop clothing, the girls were seen as “ghetto” for doing the same. While the boys could display a certain amount of aggression, the girls felt they were penalized for doing so. Ispa-Landa, in an interview, expressed surprise at “how much of a consensus there was among the girls about their place in the school.” She also found that overall, the girls who participated in diversity programs paid a social cost because they “failed to embody characteristics of femininity” that would have valorized them in the school hierarchy. They also felt excluded from the sports and activities that gave girls in those high schools a higher social status, such as cheerleading and Model U.N., because most activities ended too late for the parents of minority girls. Holland notes that minority parents were much more protective of the girls; they expressed no worries about the boys staying late, or over at friend’s houses.

Once minority women leave high school and college, they are shown to continue to struggle with social integration, even as they achieve higher educational outcomes and, in certain locales, higher incomes than minority men. Though, as presaged by high-school sexual politics, they were still three times less likelythan black men to marry outside of their race.

For the second time in as many sessions, the Supreme Court heard a case about affirmative action last Tuesday. Following last year’s Fisher v. Texas non-decision, the court will now be deciding whether states can ban the consideration of race in college admissions through ballot initiatives as the Michigan did in 2006. Based on the tenor of the oral arguments, some court watchers have predicted that the court’s conservative majority will now take the opportunity to further limit the use of affirmative action in admissions across the nation. As Garrett Epps noted last week, it is nearly impossible to have a measured conversation about affirmative action, an issue that splits even the most ardent liberals. However, there appears to be a general consensus that minority populations benefit from these programs. But very rarely do commentators stop to consider the diversity of that minority population, and even fewer consider what impact affirmative actions programs have on the disparate, intersecting groups who participate in them.

A couple of months ago, Ebony.com editor Jamilah Lemieux started the Twitter hashtag #blackpowerisforblackmen to discuss the little-talked about but deeply-felt existence of black male privilege. Tweets like “#blackpowerisforblackmenbecause the Black men’s problems are the community’s problems” and “#blackpowerisforblackmen bc although black women played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement, we’re only told about MLK&other blk men” speak to a history of minimizing of the experience of black women. The hashtag, which attracted no small amount of blowback from black males, revealed the dilemma that many black women face: having to combat both racism and sexism. Like the research about the diversity programs, the conversation showed that what we sometimes instinctively think of as “the black experience” is complicated by gender. The ostensible purpose of affirmative action is to increase the presence of minorities in colleges and universities. But as the Supreme Court considers further limiting the scope of such programs, it is important to remember that unless cultural expectations about race and gender change, full educational integration will remain a pipe dream.

A Rainbow Over Catholic Colleges

The New York Times

Michelle Xu/The Hoya

Georgetown students wind their way through a metaphorical closet door. Relations between the university and its gay students were not always this good.

By KYLE SPENCER
Published: July 30, 2013

“COME out of the closet in style!” read the poster, and on a crisp fall day, dozens of students on Georgetown’s Red Square did, metaphorically at least. They formed a winding conga line and sashayed through a life-size closet door. That afternoon, they gathered for same-sex smooching in a campus “kiss-in.”

Christopher Gregory/The New York Times

“Society is changing,” says Nate Tisa, Georgetown’s first openly gay student body president. “And God is in that change.”

The day’s events were part of “OUTober,” a month jam-packed with celebrations related to all things L.G.B.T.Q., or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning. “Every month is a good month to be gay at Georgetown,” said Thomas Lloyd, president of the campus pride group. Indeed, there’s a Gender Liberation Week, Gay Pride Month, a popular drag ball called Genderfunk and a Lavender graduation ceremony attended by the university president.

Not so long ago, relations between the university and its gay students were strained. In 1980, the students had to sue for equal privileges for their organizations. In 2007, they stormed the steps of Healy Hall, protesting what they saw as an inadequate response to antigay incidents. And a 2008 survey found that 61 percent of students thought homophobia was an issue. That year, the administration began to address the problem, opening an L.G.B.T.Q. resource center with a full-time staff.

Further honing its current image as a gay-friendly campus, in March Nate Tisa became Georgetown’s first openly gay student body president. Mr. Tisa, who clocked numerous hours at church retreats and religious summer camps as a boy in Rochester, N.Y., has called on the university to lead the church toward a new interpretation of homosexuality. “Society is changing,” Mr. Tisa wrote in The Hoya, Georgetown’s student newspaper, “and God is in that change — do not reject it.”

As the national gay rights movement touches down in state legislatures, the Supreme Court and even the Boy Scouts, it is also being felt at many of the nation’s 267 Roman Catholic colleges and universities, where students and administrators are grappling with what it means to be young, gay and Catholic in 2013.

Perhaps nowhere has the movement been more visible than at the country’s oldest Catholic university.

“Georgetown has made a huge commitment to its L.G.B.T.Q. community,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, a national nonprofit group. “It has a history. It has a past. But today it is pushing the needle forward.”

The support for gay students has elicited nods of approval from many alumni, but it has agitated others. Some say that Georgetown is losing sight of its Catholic mission and has become a hotbed for viewpoints that conflict with church teachings. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church” says to “respect” homosexuals — an attitude suggested by Pope Francis in his remarks this week regarding gay priests. But it denounces homosexual sex as “contrary to the natural law”; homosexuality is thus, some argue, not part of God’s plan.

Shortly after Mr. Tisa’s victory, William Peter Blatty, the octogenarian author of “The Exorcist,” and Manuel A. Miranda, a fellow alumnus, circulated a petition and 198-page memorandum condemning Georgetown for promoting a culture of “moral relativism” and an ideology of “radical autonomy.” More than 2,000 alumni have signed the petition, which was sent in May to Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop of Washington. The petition calls on the archbishop to better regulate the university or strip it of its Catholic identity, an unlikely but technically possible outcome.

“The petition’s primary aim is very much akin to pressuring someone that you love very much into going into rehab,” Mr. Blatty wrote me in an e-mail. He has deep roots at Georgetown. He attended on full scholarship, set his blockbuster horror story on campus and named his new watchdog group, the Father King Society to Make Georgetown Honest, Catholic and Better, after the late Thomas M. King, a beloved theology professor.

Other groups, too, have made it their business to monitor Catholic colleges. TheFellowship of Catholic Scholars was critical of Notre Dame for inviting President Obama, who supports abortion rights, to give a commencement address. The Cardinal Newman Society, founded in 1993 by a Fordham University alumnus, has attacked Boston College for turning a blind eye when students distribute condoms and DePaul University for allowing a production of “The Vagina Monologues.” The Cardinal Newman Society has also taken aim at Georgetown for Genderfunk. This year, a male student went as a high-heeled Mary and danced to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” while Jesus (a woman) looked on.

Several pages of the Georgetown memorandum are dedicated to Mr. Tisa, his “irrepressible and well-trained gay agenda” and his attempts at “cleverly redefining what Catholic means.”

Cardinal Wuerl declined to comment, but Rachel Pugh, a Georgetown spokeswoman, pointed to the university’s two required theology classes and up to seven Sunday Masses at the main chapel as evidence that it is deeply connected to its Catholic identity. The university also organizes church retreats and regular Eucharistic adoration ceremonies. Dozens of priests live on campus and serve as spiritual mentors.

“Our Catholic and Jesuit identity on campus has never been stronger,” Ms. Pugh said. “Academically, we remain committed to the Catholic intellectual tradition.”

Many students have an entirely secular experience at Georgetown. Sitting on a knoll overlooking the Potomac River, the university is a magnet for political junkies wanting access to the Capitol. But the obsession with politics is only part of the Georgetown story. Half of undergraduates identify as Catholic. The university’s religious underpinnings are embedded in its philosophy, and so, too, is what some students refer to as “the God conversation,” a dialogue about Jesuit values that regularly arises inside and outside of class.

The Jesuit educational model created by St. Ignatius of Loyola has a distinctly humanist bent. Todd A. Olson, Georgetown’s dean of students, says he is confident that providing gay students support, freedom of expression and a place to celebrate who they are does not conflict with the university’s Jesuit heritage. He cites cura personalis, the Jesuit tenet that loosely translates into care of the whole person, saying that Georgetown has an obligation to concern itself with the well-being of all its students.

“What is important and what is behind that is that each person has individual needs,” Dr. Olson said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.”

The university, he said, is careful not to take positions or advocate behavior that contradicts church teachings. The resource center, for example, does not distribute condoms or provide safe-sex counseling.

Its guides are Pope John Paul II’s 1990 document outlining administrators’ roles and responsibilities and a sister report, released in 1999 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, exploring how the Pope’s words ought to be applied. The latter document urges administrators to “enjoy institutional autonomy” and foster academic debate but to consistently uphold teachings about homosexuality, abortion, family planning and premarital sex. These seemingly contradictory missions have caused tension in recent years, particularly as Catholic institutions seek to educate and protect the health of their students, many of whom are sexually active.

LAST year, Ryan Fecteau became the first openly gay speaker of the General Assembly at the Catholic University of America, which is run by the church. Mr. Fecteau spent much of his term urging the administration to recognize the university’s gay-alliance group. Ultimately, administrators denied the request, counterarguing that a gay advocacy group really wasn’t part of the Catholic mission. He says he achieved a partial victory: a universitywide debate on the issue.

Mr. Fecteau is one of a growing band of student leaders who are Catholic, gay and seeking institutional changes through a mix of political maneuvering and theological debate.

In 2011, students at DePaul, the largest Catholic university in the country, elected Anthony Alfano as its first openly gay student body president. Mr. Alfano lobbied successfully for a resource center and also worked to raise awareness about high suicide rates among young gay Catholics. Gay leaders at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio last year persuaded administrators to alter the code of conduct to include language condemning violence stemming from sexual orientation.

During his sophomore year as vice speaker of the student senate and his junior year as speaker, Mr. Tisa helped produce a report on the challenges that incoming gay students face when they arrive. While students found a welcoming environment in the L.G.B.T.Q. Resource Center, with its beanbags, Diet Cokes and lots of students to share thoughts with, Georgetown was still a scary place to come out. Some complained of intolerant, sometimes verbally abusive roommates, and resident assistants unskilled at addressing altercations.

The report proposed several initiatives — a gender-neutral dorm and a Safe Spaces program that would designate rooms on every dorm floor where gay and minority students could retreat if needed. Last spring, Mr. Tisa began vigorously pushing for both.

There are other issues on his agenda. At the last student government meeting of the school year, Mr. Tisa and his cabinet members gathered in their usual conference room, decorated with a basketball net, ratty couch and long wood table on which sat a copy of “The Politics of the Presidency.” Mr. Tisa polished off a slice of cold pizza before launching into a discussion on several green initiatives and a report outlining ways to make the campus friendlier for students with disabilities. One cabinet member suggested that a neighborhood cleanup drive, intended to soothe perennially tense community relations, had gone so well they might do them more often. Mr. Tisa shook his head an emphatic “no,” adding dryly of the neighbors, “I don’t want them to get too dependent.”

Later, I asked Mr. Tisa about the petition sitting on the archbishop’s desk. Had he been offended by the remarks about him? “No,” he said dispassionately. “They just don’t get it.”

Many of Georgetown’s straight students say they are proud of the university’s work on behalf of gay students, largely because they see it as a civil rights issue. Maggie Cleary, a senior and former head of the Georgetown University College Republicans, said she thought it was important for gay students to feel welcome on campus and for those who might not have a lot of experience with openly gay people to be exposed to them.

According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, 62 percent of 18- to 34-year-old Catholics favor legalizing same-sex marriage, compared with 48 percent of those 35 to 54, and 39 percent 55 and over.

But in a much-talked-about opinion piece in April in The Hoya, titled “Marriage an Institution Defined by Procreation,” Andrew Schilling, a government major from Iowa, argued in support of the church’s stance on homosexuality. “True compassion for our L.G.B.T. friends,” he wrote, did not mean turning “marriage into a legal tool for social inclusion.”

Mr. Schilling said he was chastised for his opinions. “I can feel like my voice is being silenced,” he said.

Asked about this, Mr. Tisa said he thought it was crucial that all students express themselves on these issues. Still, he said, for gay students, certain viewpoints can be difficult to hear. “For a lot of people these are not abstract debates,” he said. “They’re personal.”

At a Formica table in his split-level dorm suite, wearing khakis and a Georgetown sweatshirt, Mr. Tisa was eager to discuss his own coming out.

He attended a Jesuit high school, where, tall and broad-shouldered, he played football. Early on, he began to suspect he was gay. It was as tortuous internally as it was externally. Would he have to choose between God and a happy life?

His faith had brought him strength as a child dealing with his parents’ divorce. Once again, he found solace in prayer, and in conversations with other Catholics. The first person he shared his story with was a layperson he had grown close to during weekend youth retreats. “She said, ‘I love you. God loves you. And I’m here for you,’ ” he recalled. “Then we cried.” That encounter, he said, reminded him that Catholic teachings were “based on love, not condemnation.”

“I really wanted to be part of that,” he said.

During Thanksgiving break his freshman year, Mr. Tisa broke the news to his parents. This past year, he wrote an opinion piece telling the entire campus. “Baby, we were born this way,” he proclaimed, calling on Georgetown to become a voice for a new Catholicism, one that supports the entirety of a gay person’s life.

Diane Butler Bass, author of “Christianity After Religion,” says many gay students find it too painful to stay in the church. “Those who do,” she said, “remain because there is something about the church they find beautiful and soothing. And they end up determining for themselves the things that they believe are central to being Catholic.”

Kimberly Blair, a gay junior from Atlanta, remembers the discomfort she felt at a Bible study group freshman year. Club members were reading from the Book of Leviticus and discussing the morality of homosexuality:

If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

“I was sitting in the front row and I honestly started crying.” she said.

Mr. Lloyd, the pride group president, says he is often tempted to join the more tolerant Episcopal Church. But for many young Catholics, particularly of Irish or Italian descent, Catholicism is interchangeable with identity. “You stay Catholic because you have a love of the institution and you want to change it,” he said.

It has taken Mr. Tisa years of reflection to work through how his sexual orientation and his Catholic faith can coexist. He refuses to accept that his relationship with another man is “intrinsically disordered,” as described in church catechism. And he is quite sure of this: “God is not a child in a sandbox, making sculptures and throwing them away.”

It is a message he is intent on spreading across campus with evangelical verve. As he often tells students: “We need to bring the Catholic identity into the 21st century.”

Can he do that from his perch at Georgetown?

“Yes,” Mr. Tisa said. “I have a lot of faith.”

Kyle Spencer writes on education from New York.

Law on Racial Diversity Stirs Greenwich Schools

The New York Times

Lisa Wiltse for The New York Times

Greenwich education officials are weighing several proposals to address racial imbalances in the district’s schools.

By 
Published: July 19, 2013 
Greenwich, Conn. — Just a few minutes’ drive from the polo fields, the fieldstone walls guarding 10-acre estates and theGreenwich Country Day School, from which the elder George Bush graduated in 1937, is far denser terrain, where the homes are smaller and closer together and part of a public housing complex that seems escaped from New York City.
Multimedia
Lisa Wiltse for The New York Times

“In 2013, that is a very different conversation than in the civil rights era,” said the superintendent, William S. McKersie.

This, too, is Greenwich, and the two public elementary schools in this part of town look, demographically, nothing like most schools in the whiter, wealthier areas. At both, minority students make up at least two-thirds of the enrollment, including some students who are the children of housekeepers, landscapers and construction workers who keep up the lavish homes in the backcountry.

And that is putting the town on a collision course with the State of Connecticut.

Segregation within school districts is not unique to Greenwich — one need look no farther than New York City to find mostly white schools a few blocks from mostly black schools. But Connecticut is one of a few states that forbid districts from letting any of their schools deviate too much in racial makeup from any of their other schools.

The Greenwich district, where minority students constitute one-third of the overall public school population, is trying to come up with solutions. But as previous attempts to correct the imbalance have failed to keep up with population shifts, the district’s leaders and many parents are challenging the notion that the law, which was passed in 1969, is even relevant today.

“In 2013, that is a very different conversation than in the civil rights era,” the superintendent, William S. McKersie, said. “We are getting high-quality outcomes. The challenge with the state is, ‘Are you applying an old understanding of how to get educational opportunity that could undermine what we are trying to do here?’ ”

Based on a number of measures, including high school students’ performance on SAT and Advanced Placement exams, Greenwich in recent years has ranked near the top among Connecticut districts in its economic class, said Kimberly D. Eves, a district spokeswoman. She said, “We are among the top performing districts in the state, over all.”

The district’s student body breaks down as 69 percent white, 16.9 percent Hispanic, 8 percent Asian, 2.9 percent black and 2.8 percent multiracial.

State law says that no school’s nonwhite enrollment can deviate from the districtwide average for schools with the same grade levels by more than 25 percentage points. In addition to New Lebanon and Hamilton Avenue Elementary, the two schools on the western edge of town with too few white students, two schools on the far eastern and northern sides of town are flirting with imbalance of an opposite kind: having too few minority children.

Greenwich education officials are weighing several proposals for state review, including starting additional magnet schools and doing some modest redistricting, with busing for those options. This week, district officials updated state education officials on their plans.

In a statement, Stefan Pryor, the state education commissioner, defended the law as a way to improve the quality of education for all students in Greenwich.

“Greenwich has grappled with this issue for years,” Mr. Pryor said, “undertaking, for example, efforts regarding magnet schools and facility upgrades, with limited effect to date.” Noting that Greenwich “continues to have a significant achievement gap,” he said it was important that the district make greater progress.

Greenwich officials say they have made gains, even if not enough.

The gap between whites and blacks on meeting state goals in reading dropped to 27.4 percentage points in the 2011-12 academic year, from 32 points five years earlier, said John Curtin, the district’s special projects manager. For whites and Hispanics, the gap fell to 21.7 percentage points, from nearly 30 points in the same period, he said. (Asians make up only a tiny percentage of the students at the two schools.)

Dr. McKersie, the superintendent, said, “We are not satisfied with the quality of education we are providing, particularly to our low-income Latino and African-American students, and our other low-income students.”

But in making their case that improving education might not be as simple as rebalancing the schools’ racial makeup, Greenwich officials point to another, smaller gap. In New Lebanon and Hamilton Avenue Elementary, black and Hispanic students are passing state tests at only a slightly lower rate than in the other schools — in math, the difference is six percentage points.

They also say they spend $2,000 to $4,000 more per student in those schools, in addition to any federal aid given to schools with high-needs populations. This is evidence, they say, that the district has tried to address head-on the core concerns behind the state law — that segregated schools do not provide for their lowest performing students.

“We have evolved educationally in recognizing that we must provide high-quality instruction based on individual student needs, regardless of where the school is in the district,” Dr. McKersie said. “I am not convinced that forcing students to move from their neighborhood elementary school is the best strategy for improving academic outcomes, especially in a district where students attend integrated schools from 6th through 12th grade.”

The imbalance was created by a steady increase in black and Hispanic residents on the western side of town, which created another vexing problem for the district: Several schools are now in danger of becoming overcrowded.

Kelly Donnelly, a spokeswoman for the Connecticut Board of Education, said the state preferred local officials to solve the racial imbalance issue. If it found a remedial plan was insufficient, she said, the state could order the district to redraft it, and if it was still lacking, the matter could end up in court.

Amid the civil rights movement of the 1960s, a number of states developed policies or enacted laws on racial integration in the schools, including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, said Gary Orfield, a professor of education and law at the University of California, Los Angeles, who is a director of the university’s Civil Rights Project.

Since then, he said, many of the desegregation policies have been “repealed or interpreted away, or died of little use.”

In Boston, it was a federal civil rights lawsuit, not a state law, that led to busing, and the resulting widespread protests and white flight from the public school system.

Susie Ponce, whose parents are from Colombia, moved to western Greenwich from Queens in 2007. She thinks Hamilton Avenue Elementary, which her two children attend, could have more white children, she said, but it has an array of nationalities.

“If I had a choice, I would keep my kids where they are right now,” said Ms. Ponce, who until recently was the school’s parent coordinator. “Because not only are they getting a great education, they are getting the social-emotional intelligence that I grew up with, just being exposed to other children from different cultures.”

Still, Jennifer Roberto, 15, said that had Hamilton Avenue Elementary been more integrated when she went there, her high school experience might not now include a lunchroom demarcated in unofficial zones: light-skinned faces here, dark ones over there.

“If they change the groups at kindergarten and everything, if they start mixing it, it will be more diverse later,” Jennifer said. “Cliques wouldn’t even form.”

Adriana Ospina, the lone Hispanic member of the Greenwich Board of Education, said, “You hear some of the kids being referred to as ‘the ghetto kids,’ and that is horrendous.”

But even parents and local officials who think Greenwich needs to try harder to integrate its schools are wary of forcing students to travel across town.

Ms. Ospina said she was hoping that voluntary measures, like increased used of magnet schools, could solve the problem. She said it was not fair to tell a parent of an elementary school student on the eastern side of town that her child “no longer has the right, or privilege, to a neighborhood school.”

That is the stated view of virtually all parents, almost all of them from schools in the northern and eastern parts of town, who have spoken at the district’s public meetings on the issue.

Lori Fields, whose daughter just completed kindergarten at Parkway Elementary, a school in the backcountry, in far-northern Greenwich (with a 17 percent minority enrollment this spring), said the school was a large reason she bought her home eight years ago, when she was moving from California.

At a June 14 hearing she said, “I don’t support any option that would force children out of their neighborhood schools.”

At the hearing, Benjamin D. Bianco, a lawyer and father of a student at North Street Elementary School (29 percent minority enrollment), in the center of town, said he saw the state’s racial balance mandate as open to challenge as violating the equal protection clause of the Constitution, an idea the district has also said it is considering.

“We all bought our homes based on what school our kids were going to go to,” Mr. Bianco said. “If you talk to any Realtor, I’m sure in this town, but probably in any town across America, when they give you the listing for homes you have price, square footage, school district. I mean, it’s not a complicated concept.”

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Kristin Hussey contributed reporting.

Admitted, but Left Out

Here’s an interesting and concerning article about diversity in independent schools.  The article gives us much to consider as we know the importance of creating a safe school environment where all are accepted, heard and appreciated.

 

Admitted, but Left Out

Left, Collection of Idris Brewster; right, Monica Almeida/The New York Times
Ayinde Alleyne, left, graduated from the Trinity School in 2011. He attends the University of Pennsylvania.
By
Published: October 19, 2012

WHEN Ayinde Alleyne arrived at the Trinity School, an elite independent school on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, he was eager to make new friends. A brainy 14-year-old, he was the son of immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago, a teacher and an auto-body repairman, in the South Bronx. He was soon overwhelmed by the privilege he saw. Talk of fancy vacations and weekends in the Hamptons rankled — “I couldn’t handle that at that stage of my life,” said Mr. Alleyne, now a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania — and he eventually found comfort in the school’s “minority corner,” where other minority students, of lesser means, hung out.

In 2011, when Mr. Alleyne was preparing to graduate, seniors were buzzing about the $1,300-per-student class trip to the Bahamas.

He recalls feeling stunned when some of his classmates, with whom he had spent the last four years at the school, asked him if he planned to go along.

“How do I get you to understand that going to the Bahamas is unimaginable for my family?” he said in a recent interview. “My family has never taken a vacation.”

It was a moment of disconnection, a common theme in conversations with minority students who have attended the city’s top-drawer private schools.

There is no doubt that New York City’s most prestigious private schools have made great strides in diversifying their student bodies. In classrooms where, years ago, there might have been one or two brown faces, today close to one-third of the students are of a minority. During the 2011-12 school year, 29.8 percent of children at the city’s private schools were minority students, including African-American, Hispanic and Asian children, according to the National Association of Independent Schools, up from 21.4 percent a decade ago. (Nationally, the figure was 26.6 percent for the same period, up from 18.5 percent 10 years before.)

But schools’ efforts to attract minority students haven’t always been matched by efforts to truly make their experience one of inclusion, students and school administrators say. Pervading their experience, the students say, is the gulf between those with seemingly endless wealth and resources and those whose families are struggling, a divide often reflected by race.

Schools have aggressively recruited minority families that pay all costs in full, to break the perception that they are always the ones receiving financial aid. But a connection persists. At the Calhoun School, also on the Upper West Side, 32 percent of the student body is made up of minority children, and 70 percent of them receive some form of financial aid (a figure that has decreased markedly in recent years). Spending on financial aid at the school grew to $3.6 million last year from $1.7 million a decade ago. (It now represents 14.8 percent of total expenses, up from 14.1 percent over that same period.)

At Trinity, where 37 percent of students are from a minority group, financial aid spending ran to $5.7 million last year, up from $2.7 million 10 years ago (13 percent of expenses, up from 11 percent). Minority students represent 38 percent of the student body at the Dalton School, on the Upper East Side, where financial aid totaled $7.8 million last year, up from $3.9 million a decade earlier (13 percent of expenses, up from 12 percent).

David Addams, the executive director of the Oliver Scholars Program, which recruits low- and middle-income African-American and Latino students and helps guide them through private schools, says the report card is mixed. “These schools have gotten better at providing opportunities for X number of kids, but once there, how well does the school community embrace them and support them in succeeding as well as any other member of the community?” he asked.

The schools point to efforts to hire diversity directors, create forums for discussion about race and privilege, and design mentoring programs to help students find connections. But several new film projects at some of these schools cast a bright light on the sometimes fraught intersection of race and class, and how the two play out in some New York City independent schools.

The film projects at Dalton, Calhoun and Trinity are independent of one another and are at different stages of completion. The Trinity film, “Allowed to Attend,” in which Mr. Alleyne appears, was made by Kevin D. Ramsey, the school’s director of communications, and has been shown at the school. At Dalton, the filmmaker parents of an African-American student tracked their son and a friend through their years at the school and are preparing their documentary for broadcast on public television next year. Calhoun is just embarking on its project. But footage from the films and interviews with students and administrators involved with them reveal that initiatives to diversify some of the most elite schools have proved more challenging than glossy brochures and perfectly balanced multiracial imagery on Web sites might indicate.

Students report feeling estranged, studying among peers who often lack any awareness about their socioeconomic status and the differences it entails. They describe a racism that materializes not in insults, but more often in polite indifference, silence and segregation. Albert, an Asian-American boy in “Allowed to Attend,” says: “You can do a lot of psychological damage to people by ignoring them for an extended period of time. For, like, four years.”

DJ BANTON had never fit in at her neighborhood school in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Children there called her an Oreo — black on the outside, white on the inside — because of the way she talked, and because she got good grades. So when she was accepted at Trinity for the seventh grade through the Prep for Prep program, she hoped she would find children like herself, students who liked to study and listen to Top 40 songs and watch anime. She craved new friendships and deep connections, perhaps the only surefire inoculation against the perpetual loneliness of adolescence.

Those hopes didn’t pan out, at least not for many years. “I left one school where I felt I didn’t belong and went to one where I thought I would belong, and realized I didn’t belong in ways I couldn’t surmount,” Ms. Banton, who appears in “Allowed to Attend,” said in an interview. In elementary school, she said, she could pretend to be “blacker” — change the way she talked, pretend to like music that she didn’t. But at Trinity, “the differences were in money and in the way I was raised,” she said. “I had never been to camp, and I couldn’t change or control that.”

Many of the themes explored are common to any adolescence: where to sit in the cafeteria, dating, parties, homework, tutors. But these issues also intersect with race, wealth and privilege. Minority students talk about feeling overwhelmed by the resources they are suddenly confronted with, and many feel forced to pick between their personal roots and the golden promise of a new peer group with greater wealth. They struggle to bridge the two worlds, and some grapple with guilt if they pull away from neighborhood friends. They describe feeling like a guest at someone’s house: you can stay and look, but you don’t belong.

“The only people who could relate to what I was feeling were minorities, or they were poor,” Ms. Banton, now studying at the University of Southern California, said. “It became linked in my mind — rich, white; minority, poor.”

The emotions are raw, even years later. When Katherine Tineo, who is Afro-Dominican, was accepted at Brown University, she remembers her classmates at Calhoun telling her that it was a result of affirmative action. She stood up in a school town hall meeting and explained, through tears, that she believed that she had been admitted on the merits of her application — her good grades and her efforts to create awareness about multiculturalism at Calhoun.

Recounting the experience seven years later, Ms. Tineo, now 25, broke down again. “To say I got into a school because of my color and not because of my efforts?” she asked, her voice cracking. “I didn’t come from similar places from them, so they thought I didn’t amount to the same thing.”

The project at Trinity was inspired by an earlier film, “The Prep School Negro,” a documentary completed in 2008 and re-edited in 2012 by André Robert Lee, which explores what it means to be poor and black in a wealthy, mostly white school. The film examines his experience at Germantown Friends, an elite day school in Philadelphia, and his attempts as an adult to understand his education and socialization. As a student, he received a “life-changing” education, he said, discovered new worlds and even found a white, upper-class “adoptive” family.

But as he gravitated to his new world, he slowly divorced himself from his poor, urban past, which included his mother, sister and friends. “I lost a major connection with my family, and I lost an understanding of what true intimacy and connection with people is,” he said.

Mr. Lee has spoken at more than 200 schools, and at a screening of the film at Trinity, Ms. Banton asked him to elaborate on how he had bridged the gap between old and new friends. She was struggling with the same issue; her best friend, one she used to play with nearly every day in Flatbush, now seemed distant and angry. “You wonder, ‘Is it my fault for changing or her fault for not?’ ” Ms. Banton said.

Conversations with Ms. Banton about “The Prep School Negro” prompted Mr. Ramsey to make “Allowed to Attend,” which was filmed during the last three weeks of school in 2011 and includes four other minority students, their families and friends. (The entire senior class was given the chance to participate in the film.) The administration gave Mr. Ramsey permission to produce the film, and the students in it approved the final version; Ms. Banton also made a copy available to The New York Times.

Trinity’s upper-school head, Jessica Bagby, said she cried when she watched the film. “They were so brave in telling their story; they were so courageous,” she said. “But I was heartbroken that their experience was what it was.”

That experience included the different places where students congregated, with the white, popular students hanging out in the “swamp,” or student lounge, and the minority children taking over the red staircase. It involved a divide between those with weekend houses and limitless lunch budgets and students like DJ, who could not afford to spend $8 a day at the diner. And it included a teacher mixing up black girls who look nothing alike. One young woman, Cece, explains in the film that she could not feel pretty when the standard of beauty — white, skinny, tall — was something she could never be.

“It’s hard for me to get a guy to pay attention to me in a predominantly white school, because I’m black, and that’s miserable,” Cece says. “From September to June, there’s not a day that I feel pretty.”

The Dalton film, “American Promise,” is a 12-year project undertaken by Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster, two Brooklyn filmmakers, whose son, Idris Brewster, started at Dalton in kindergarten along with his best friend, Oluwaseun Summers, who goes by the name Seun. Idris graduated in June and now attends Occidental College in Los Angeles; Seun left after eighth grade, after years of academic and social struggle. He graduated from Benjamin Banneker Academy, a predominantly African-American high school in Brooklyn, and attends the State University of New York at Fredonia.

Idris Brewster has fond memories of Dalton. He hated middle school, but enjoyed high school. He made wonderful friends, and said Dalton’s mentoring program helped him connect to other African-American boys at the school. The school provided him the support he needed and the opportunity to branch out. “I met different kinds of people than I would have met at a public school, or in my neighborhood,” he said, equating his education to living in a different culture for 12 years.

But his close friends were all African-American, and racial divides were pervasive. “We’re excluded from the whites,” he said, describing the cafeteria as “whites on one side and blacks on the other.” He did not assign blame to Dalton, and said that much of the issue was simply economic. Most of the black students were not wealthy, he said, so “they have less in common with the whites, who are extremely rich.”

Seun’s mother, Stacey Summers, recalls feeling elated when he got into Dalton. She was happy to take part in the film. “I wanted to chronicle his journey because it would be filled with success, and it would be rosy, rosy, rosy,” she said. “I was naïve.”

“You are thinking going in that all the children are bright and capable,” she added. “The longer you are in the system, you realize what children and parents have to endure to keep up with that level.” Many families paid for expensive private tutors, and other support for their children that she could not afford.

Seun struggled academically and socially. Play dates were difficult. Parents could not, or would not, come to their Brooklyn neighborhood. Some who declined to visit the borough offered to have Seun to their homes, but his mother felt she was imposing. “He never had a friend come to Brooklyn,” she said. She felt like an outsider.

Ms. Stephenson and Mr. Brewster had to get permission every year from Dalton’s board to film in the school, according to a former trustee. They hope that “American Promise,” scheduled to be broadcast on public television in 2013, and the book that accompanies it will be constructive in addressing the issue they say is paramount: the achievement gap between African-American boys and their white counterparts.

“This is not about what Dalton didn’t do for us, or what white people didn’t do for us; it’s about what are the needs of these boys and how can we provide it,” Mr. Brewster said. The conversations in the documentaries, and interviews with the participants, suggest that talk of a postracial society is just that. “As soon as someone says ‘postracial,’ I say, ‘Who was at the last dinner party and who came to the wedding?’ That one friend doesn’t count,” Mr. Lee, the “Prep School Negro” filmmaker, said.

STEVEN J. NELSON, the head of Calhoun, said that there were certain inevitable realities for minority families at the school: At some point, one parent will be mistaken for a nanny or a service worker. African-American boys will be frisked by the police, or followed inside a store.

“Students, and these are nice kids, too easily assume ‘I’m a white kid in this nice Upper West Side school, and that kid is a brown kid in this nice Upper West Side school; my understanding of us can stop there,’ ” he said. Conversations have to move beyond the surface, he said.

To help that process along, Calhoun recently won $243,063 from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation to produce a film and develop a curriculum and a Web site. The film will be created by Point Made Films, which produced “The Prep School Negro.”

Clayton Wortmann, a former Trinity student who participated in that school’s documentary, agreed it was important to start a conversation. “The level of silence is astounding,” he said in an interview. “Everyone is too nice to talk about it.”

He said the film reminded him of the essay “Consider the Lobster,” by David Foster Wallace. “Do you think about these things? Do you think about how little you think about these things?” he said, paraphrasing the essay, which is about the cruelty of killing and eating the crustaceans. “That’s what the film will do. It will get people to think about how little they think about it.”

Original article