Sociologist Alexandria Walton Radford has some new research that is rather disheartening. Radford was interested in the college choices of ambitious and high-performing high school students from different class backgrounds. Using a data set with about 900 high school valedictorians, she asked whether students applied to highly selective colleges, if they got in, and whether they matriculated.
She found a stark class difference on all these variables, especially between high socioeconomic status (SES) students and everyone else. Over three-quarters of high SES valedictorians (79%) applied to at least one highly selective college. In contrast, only 59% of middle SES and 50% of low SES valedictorians did the same. Admission and matriculation rates followed suit.
Interviews with a smaller group of these valedictorians shed light on why we see such dramatic differences in the application choices of low, middle, and high SES students. Radford explains that most students applied to schools with which they were already familiar. High SES students were much more likely to know people who had attended highly selective colleges, so they were more comfortable applying. They also felt more confident that they’d be successful at such an institution; less affluent students were more intimidated by these schools.
Radford concludes by arguing that it’s a mistake to leave decisions about whether and how to apply for college admission to families. Doing so, she writes, “allows the advantages (and disadvantages) of one generation to be passed on to the next generation.” School-based college guidance would go some way towards evening out the differences and making higher education admissions more meritocratic.
It’s been six months since we’ve discovered evidence of another racist party or antic on a college or high school campus. I guess it was about time for another… well, three more. Updated and re-posted.
This post is a collection of racially-themed parties and events at college and high school campuses. They’re examples of one kind of simple individual racism that still perpetuates daily life in the U.S.
April 2013: This still is from a video celebrating the spring semester induction of new recruits into UC Irvine’s Asian-American fraternity Lambda Theta Delta (via Colorlines). It features a fraternity member in blackface. The entire video can be seen here.
February 2013: Three hockey fans in the audience of a North Dakota high school semifinal donned Ku Klux Klan-ish hoods as a “joke,” they later said:
October 2012: The photograph below depicts the members of the Chi Omega sorority at Penn State (source). It was taken during a Mexican fiesta-themed party around Halloween. The signs read: “will mow lawn for weed & beer” and “I don’t cut grass I smoke it.”
The Vice President of the college’s Mexican American Student Association, Cesar Sanchez Lopez, wrote:
The Mexican American Student Association is disappointed in the attire chosen by this sorority. It in no way represents our culture. Not only have they chosen to stereotype our culture with serapes and sombreros, but the insinuation about drug usage makes this image more offensive. Our country is plagued by a drug war that has led to the death of an estimated 50,000 people, which is nothing to be joked about.
The president of the sorority sent out an apology. Penalties are under discussion as of this posting.
May 2012: The University of Chicago’s Alpha Delta Phi fraternity required pledges to wear ”Mexican labor outfits” and sombreros while mowing the frat house lawn to Mexican ranchera music (source).
UPDATE: A University of Chicago student involved in reporting this incident wrote it to say that the photograph we originally published is likely unrelated to the Alpha Delta Phi incident (that is, a fake or a photo of a different event). In other words, the incident happened, but the photograph was not of the incident. Accordingly, we’ve removed the photo.
September 2011: Students at Hautes Etudes Commerciales, a Montreal business school, were filmed “wearing black makeup [and] chant[ing] with mock Jamaican accents about smoking marijuana” as part of a skit (source). A student explained that it was part of a skit in honor of Jamacian Olympian Usain Bolt. A spokesperson for the school explained that Francophone Canadians were unaware of the racial history behind blackface.
Anthony Morgan, a law student at McGill University, caught the students on film. He welcomed an apology from the school, is eager to follow up on their own investigation of the incident and, in the meantime, is filing a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission (source). He explained:
[Being black] is not a costume that you put on… This is not just about a few bad apples. This is about a greater problem about what we think about, how we value, how we understand, how we discuss — if we discuss — black history, culture and contribution.
Race-themed events at colleges and universities are a yearly ritual. I include our collection of such parties and “celebrations” below.
February 2010: Members of the Athletics Union at the London School of Economics painted their faces brown and “dressed up as Guantanamo Bay inmates and drunkenly yelled ‘Oh Allah’…” At least 12 students were found to have dressed up in costumes that were deemed “racist, religiously insensitive and demeaning.”
October 2009: University of Toronto students decided to dress up like the Jamaican bobsled team from Cool Runnings for Halloween (source). Their costume, which earned them a “Costume of the Night” award at this college-sponsored party, included blackface.
February 2007: Pictures from a “South of the Border” party at Santa Clara University in California. Indeed, that IS a pregnant woman, cleaning ladies, and a slutty gang member.
January 2007: A party in “honor” of Martin Luther King Day at Tarleton State University in Texas:
January 2007: A party in “honor” of Martin Luther King Day at Clemson College in South Carolina:
January 2007: A party in “honor” of Martin Luther King Day at University of Connecticut School of Law:
In this 20-minute video, the Pew Research Center’s Paul Taylor discusses trends in the racial/ethnic breakdown of the U.S. population over the last century. Taylor discusses a number of related issues, including the income and wealth gap, perceptions about interracial relations, and the electoral implications of the demographic changes. For instance, while Ronald Reagan once said Hispanics are “Republicans who don’t know it yet,” there’s no evidence that they’re any closer to realizing it. As Hispanics and Asians make up an increasing proportion of the voting population, old electoral strategies based on winning most of the White vote are no longer sufficient to win a national election.
I’d skip the introductory remarks and start just after the 2-minute mark.
Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.
Last week the U.S. Congress made headlines when it quickly adjusted the sequester cuts that affected air traffic control. How quickly? Parts of it were hand-written (via The Daily Show): The move was interpreted as one meant to a certain class of voters, but it was also as a purely self-interested move, since Congress members fly quite frequently.
Riffing on this, Bloomberg Businessweek put together a short video about a little-known congressional perk: free and convenient parking at Reagan National Airport.
This little perk, saving congress members time and $22-a-day parking fees, is a great example of the way that privilege translates into being “above society.” The more power, connections, and money you have, the more likely you are to be able to break both the legal and social contract with impunity. Sometimes this just means getting away with breaking the law (e.g., the fact that, compared to the crimes of the poor and working classes, we do relatively little to identify and prosecute so-called “white collar” criminals and tend to give them lighter or suspended sentences when we do). But these perks are also often above board; they’re built into the system. And who builds the system again?
In other words, some of the richest people in the world get free parking at the airport because they’re the ones making the rules. I like this as a concrete example, but be assured that there is a whole universe of such rules and, like this sudden revelation about free parking, most of them go entirely unnoticed by most of us most of the time.
Scholars suggest that studying abroad in a previously-colonized country may increase people’s cultural sensitivity and awareness of global inequality. I investigated this hypothesis by interviewing college students: one group had studied abroad for a semester or more, the other had only traveled out of the country for vacation.
I asked both groups to view and analyze fashion photography that contrasted models with more humble images of residents of less developed countries. I hoped people would point to how, by contrasting glamorous, thin, conventionally-attractive White models with “average” people from less-privileged countries served to heighten the high status of the West and their representatives. I saw this as a form of Western “slumming”: a practice of spending time in places or with people who are “below” you, out of curiosity or for fun or personal development.
Here are three examples of the kinds of photography I showed students:
My findings revealed that study abroad students think they’re more culturally competent but, in fact, they were no more likely than people who had never studied abroad to express concern about the exploitation of previously colonized people in ads like these.
The majority of students from both groups – those who’d studied abroad and those who hadn’t — demonstrated a distinct lack of concern. They unreflexively “Othered” the people in these images; that is, they affirmed the locals’ marginalized group status and labeled them as being Other, belonging outside of our normative Western structure.
The majority also expressed approval of the aesthetics of the ads without irony. For example, one student said: “I think it works because it’s this edgy, culturally stimulating, and aesthetically pleasing ad.” When asked the art director’s intentions, another student commented: “I don’t know. Just like ordinary people next to someone who’s on top of their fashion game.”
Only select few students successfully observed the use of Othering in the images. When asked the art director’s intentions of one image, a student replied: “I think it’s to contrast the model with the everyday life of these people… (it) feels more like an image of people of color being an accessory.” Noticing this theme, interestingly, did not correlate with having studied abroad, in contrast to my hypothesis.
My findings suggest, then, that living abroad for a semester or more in a previously colonized country does not necessarily contribute to the detection of global inequality in fashion photography.
Erica Ales is a senior Sociology major at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California.
Vogue’sphoto-shoot titled “Storm Troopers: Celebrating Hurricane Sandy First Responders” features various images of models with workers of different organizations who combated the damage of Hurricane Sandy. Vogue praises the attributes of these workers in the caption: “when Hurricane Sandy hit, the city’s bravest and brightest punched back.”
Although the title and caption suggest that the photos are meant celebrate the hard work of the men and women who responded to the hurricane, they also serve as a foil against which the models stand out. In other words, this photo spread is at least as concerned with celebrating a look and lifestyle associated with money and beauty, as it is with celebrating the working class. This is obvious for at least two reasons.
First – the weaker argument — the majority of the workers are dressed in baggy, loosely fitting uniforms; they are not wearing the make-up or striking the poses so cherished by magazines like Vogue. The models, in literal contrast, embody high fashion. Their expressionless faces and leisurely poses are the province of the elite.
The next image is particularly striking in this regard. The glamorous model not only contrasts with the gritty workers, she is elevated above them; the eye is drawn to her ephemeral presence, not to the men and women below. Their presence serves to make her allure all the more impressive.So, the class contrast elevates the models, figuratively and sometimes literally in these images. We see race contrast used to do the same thing when Black men and women areused as props in fashion shoots as well as East Indian and Asianpeople.
Second – the stronger argument – if Vogue wanted to celebrate the men and women in working class occupations that helped after Hurricane Sandy, they could have left the models out altogether. As it is, the implication is that the workers aren’t valuable in themselves, they’re only valuable as a setting for high fashion.
The photo shoot, then, instead of honoring the workers, affirms the class hierarchy in which they are embedded. The photographs fall in line with the magazine’s message – a celebration of an elite lifestyle – one that is well out of the reach of blue collar men and women.
Eliza Connors is a first year student at Occidental College. She hopes to pursue a degree in sociology.
A new report by the ACLU reveals that “debtors’ prisons” in Ohio. The phrase refers to the practice of imprisoning someone for the failure to pay fines. This practice is in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Still, people who can’t afford to pay fines issued in response to traffic violations or misdemeanors are being routinely imprisoned in at least 7 out of 11 counties studied.
Among the worst offenders is Huron County. An investigation found that as many as 22% of the bookings in Huron were for failure to pay a fine, usually coded as “contempt.” Typically this resulted in a 10 day incarceration. The state would then charge them fees related to being jailed, making it even more unlikely that a person would be able to pay.
The ACLU profiles several individuals. One is a young man named John with a girlfriend and a nine-month-old daughter. He was busted for disorderly conduct and underage consumption of alcohol, plus a few other related charges, and fined $1,300. He agreed to a monthly payment plan to pay off the fines, but wasn’t able to make the payment every month. Norwalk County, in response, put him in jail for 10 days.
He came out of jail owing more and the cycle continued. At the time of the interview, John had been incarcerated for a total of 41 days and had incurred an extra $1,599.10 in fees related to his incarceration. He had paid off $525 of the original $1,300, but owed an additional $2,374.
The ACLU points out that this is obviously an impossible cycle. A person who is struggling financially may lose their job if they are incarcerated for ten days, especially if it happens more than once. Meanwhile, loading on additional fines virtually ensures that they won’t be able to pay. Moreover, however, they point out that it’s not good for Ohio. The costs debtors incur don’t pay for their incarceration, so the state loses money each time they do this. The net loss for the state in John’s case, for example, was $3,853.
Most hospitality workers — especially those at high end hotels — routinely interact with people with significantly more economic resources than they. This is an interesting point of contact analyzed exquisitely by Rachel Sherman in her book, Class Acts: Service and Inequality in Luxury Hotels(review here).
Sherman observes that workers and guests often minimized the class differences between them, even as enacting relationships strongly structured by their relative privilege. Instead of obsessing about the wealth and privilege of the guests or ranting about the injustice of class inequality, though, they “normalized” it such that it was mostly invisible:
Unequal entitlements and responsibilities were not obscured, because they were perfectly obvious and well-known to interactive workers. Nor were they explicitly legitimated, since workers rarely talked about them as such. Rather, they simply became a feature of the everyday landscape of the hotel. Conflicts over unequal entitlement were couched in individual rather than collective terms and in the language of complaint rather than critique (p. 17).
Interestingly, this confession bucks the trend, which makes me wonder: if normalizing becomes habitual, what upsets it? What knocks class consciousness back into full view? In this case, it might have been the personal nature of the question. When the guest expresses worry about the safety of the worker’s own neighborhood, questioning whether “someone like her” should go “somewhere like that,” perhaps it is to direct of a contrast to ignore.