President Obama has called upon the country to double the number of Americans with college credentials by 2020, but reaching that goal will be impossible without raising the educational attainment of Hispanics, the youngest and fastest growing U.S. ethnic group. People of Hispanic background are pursing college degrees at higher rates and now surpass African Americans as the largest share of non-white students enrolled in U.S. institutions of higher education. But Hispanics still lag behind other groups in actually completing college work to attain their degrees. The reforms America must undertake to boost Hispanic graduation rates include enhancing resources for what the U.S. federal government labels “Hispanic-Serving Institutions” – that is, non-profit, degree-granting colleges and universities whose undergraduate enrollments include at least 25% full-time students of Hispanic descent. My work looks at the special challenges these institutions face and suggests useful steps forward. (more…)
In January 2015, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin sported a new beard as he announced he would not seek the GOP presidential nomination for 2016. Commentators rightly connected the announcement to the new beard, because it has been more than a century since the presidency of William Howard Taft, the last White House incumbent with facial hair. In fact, ever since the mustachioed Taft completed his term in 1913, just a few years before American women won the right to vote, few U.S. politicians with facial hair have run for or served in national elected offices. Currently, fewer than five percent of the members of the U.S. Congress have beards or mustaches, according to recent estimates.
Although there has been little research about politicians’ facial hair, analysts have learned that voters make inferences about candidates based on appearance. Skin color, facial structure, and smiles all matter, because voters are ever on the lookout for short cuts, for easy clues to candidates’ issue positions and personal traits. Assessments of appearance are one way voters make guesses about candidates, so it is reasonable to assume that beards and mustaches could influence voter perceptions. Along with two colleagues, Jeanette Morehouse Mendez and Ben Pryor, I have done experiments showing that facial hair does indeed matter for politicians. (more…)
Location, location, location is the mantra we often hear about the value of real estate – and the same principle applies to the rights and protections enjoyed by gays, lesbians, and bisexuals across the United States. Those who live in New England, along the West coast and in the Great Lakes states can marry whom they wish and are legally protected against hate crimes and discrimination in public accommodations and employment. In the rest of the country, however, such legal rights and protections are rarely found. Drawing on my own research and that of other scholars, this brief explores why this variation exists. Regional imitation, the presence of gay and lesbian legislators, public opinion, and institutional rules all turn out to matter.
Neighboring States Acting Together
Regional differences in public policies supporting gays and lesbians suggest that the importance of what scholars call “policy diffusion,” where policies adopted in one state spread to its neighbors as their citizens and officials see positive effects and move to imitate. In New England, for example, the process started when Massachusetts legislated against employment discrimination in 1988 and recognized same-sex marriages in 2004, and Vermont became the first state to formally recognize same-sex relationships by instituting civil unions in 2000. Similarly, California and Minnesota were early adopters, setting the stage for diffusion along the West coast and among Great Lakes states. California legislated against employment discrimination in 1992 and against hate crimes in 1999, and Minnesota took action in 1993. (more…)
Half a century after the start of the modern feminist movement, American women make up only 19% of the U.S. Congress and just 24% of all state legislators. Many factors help to explain such severe underrepresentation – and one of the key issues is that political careers are particularly lacking in job flexibility. Elected officials work long hours, travel extensively, and cannot easily interrupt work obligations to care for children. Because women still do most of the housework and child care, challenges in balancing their obligations dissuade many from running for public offices, in the same way that women often avoid other inflexible careers like business leadership.
When women forego legislative careers, it matters not only for the individuals involved, but for states and the nation, because female politicians are more likely to raise issues and vote for policies that matter to women. With women underrepresented in the halls of government, our democracy not only misses out on vital talent; it cannot fully address everyone’s concerns. (more…)
Media stories about measles outbreaks in California and Arizona have featured prominent politicians weighing in with conflicting messages. Should vaccination be required for all children with few exceptions? Are vaccines safe? Should parents have a choice – when refusing vaccines can put their own and other people’s children at grave risk? The stories are dramatic, but scholars and public officials warn that it is dangerous to turn vaccination into a political football. Other widely publicized controversies reveal that the insertion of politics into media coverage can be hard to reverse, as it may undermine public trust in doctors and public health officials.
Political Controversy Sticks
Our research examines two recent politically charged health controversies – the 2009 dust-up over mammography screening guidelines and the 2006-2007 debate over whether middle schools should require girls to get vaccinated against infections by the human papillomavirus (“HPV” for short). Specifically, we found that local and national media coverage did not start with a focus on political controversy. But once news stories started to highlight partisan arguments among political leaders, political controversies became the focus of subsequent coverage. (more…)
At all levels from kindergarten to twelfth grade, American schools are making huge investments in digital education – with proponents often touting digital tools as a way to close achievement gaps and improve learning opportunities for economically and academically disadvantaged students. Digital instruction – using computers, netbooks, or handheld devices – is rapidly spreading in classrooms and supplemental areas of instruction. Big money is in play: One estimate values the U.S. school market for education software and digital content at nearly $8 billion. Advances in technology allow digital tools to offer the promise of broad access at low cost, competing with face-to-face methods of instruction for shrinking funds. But with schools inundated with new digital tools, little attention has been paid to whether teachers, parents, and students are putting them to effective use. (more…)
Years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the daily lives of American Muslims continue to be affected by the anxieties and policies those attacks unleashed. Because so many of their fellow citizens see them as both physically threatening and culturally inferior, Muslim-Americans endure regular expressions of hostility at their jobs and in public spaces. They are also the target of government policies aimed at securing the country from another terrorist attack.
Every single day in U.S. airports, for example, Muslim Americans are treated as dangerous. Quite a few men have been told they are on a No-Fly List when they attempt to check in for flights; and women who wear the hijab or other religious clothing are often stopped and searched by Transportation and Security Administration agents. Such government actions are not only a problem for the people affected; they also convey the broader message that Muslims are a threat to national security and require careful monitoring and surveillance. (more…)
For most Americans, protecting free expression means countering threats from government. Private corporations are not usually seen as threatening free speech. But as private technology companies increasingly mediate access to information and services, the distinction between governmental and private censorship becomes less clear. Concepts of free speech and freedom of expression may need to be revised and enlarged to take account of new threats in the age of digital communications—and policies to protect freedom of expression may need to counter threats, often subtle, from the private sector as well as government. (more…)
Media coverage often implies that Americans are ill-informed or hate intellectuals. Politicians are known to make fun of the highly educated—as Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown did when he sneeringly tried to slight his 2012 election opponent, Elizabeth Warren, as “the professor.” Or media features may play up the supposed popularity of ignorance, as in the spoofs of Sarah Palin’s 2008 vice-presidential campaign and television coverage of grammatical errors in signs at Tea Party rallies. In such instances current news events are sometimes said to reflect a long history of American “anti-intellectualism.” So frequently does that term get bandied about in the mainstream media that it almost seems obvious that Americans really do revel in ignorance and mockery of the best-educated.
But in fact, positing anti-intellectualism as typical for America is a relatively recent phenomenon. The term “anti-intellectual” has appeared in the New York Times
over 650 times since 1870, and more than three-quarters of the times happened after historian Richard Hofstadter published his 1964 book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life
. For nearly 100 years, in short, Americans were rarely described as anti-intellectual. Only over the most recent half century, has “anti-intellectualism” become a recurrent interpretive lens to make sense of society and politics. It is worth looking more closely, as I have done in my work, to better understand the concept and the realities. (more…)
Opinions vary about whether multiculturalism and ethnic and racial diversity are divisive or beneficial to contemporary American society – but most of those discussing the issue presume that these are relatively recent trends, especially characteristic of the late-twentieth and early twenty-first century United States. The Immigration Act of 1965 is often cited as a watershed moment, a major policy change that opened the door to unusually diverse streams of immigrants, giving rise both to new ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups – and also sparking nativist reactions based on worries about a fraying national community. But a look back across U.S. history reveals that ethnic diversity and multiculturalism are hardly modern innovations.
Indeed, multicultural realities and ideals were present from the U.S. founding. Subsequent eras have brought new waves of arrivals, adding more cultures, religions, and languages into the mix, but not changing America’s core identity so much as adding to it. Only one major time period – the era between the 1920s Quota Acts and the 1965 Immigration Act – brought a temporary partial delay in the U.S. march toward greater cultural diversity. (more…)