Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Racial discrimination at Swarthmore College

High school students applying for a  program offered by Swarthmore College could be rejected because of their skin color or race, application criteria indicate. 

The "Discover Swarthmore" program -- in which selected high school students are brought to the small college outside Philadelphia for a visit -- uses race as one of its selection criteria.

Program organizers say they will "prioritize" applicants who are African American, Latino, Native American, and Asian Amercan -- in other words, every race but white. Those applicants with skin color that is too light will end up on the bottom of the consideration pile.

Is this OK?  Imagine if it was a different racial group singled out. Pretend the program said: "We will prioritize applications from whites, Latinos, Native American and Asian Americans," African Americans are left out. Would that be OK? 

In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

Why, 54 years later, are we still judging people by the color of their skin?


Here's the announcement from Swarthmore:

Discover Swarthmore (DS) Program affords students the opportunity to visit one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country, all expenses paid! The program will provide participants with a taste of the college experience, including the opportunity to meet other talented students, learn from faculty members, eat in the dining hall, and spend a few nights in residence halls with student hosts.

While the dates have not yet been set, Swarthmore is planning to offer two DS programs to give students maximum flexibility in attending one of the programs. Last year, the programs were hosted in September and October.

Nomination and Selection Criteria

Discover Swarthmore is open to all rising high school seniors, but the selection committee will prioritize applications from students with the following characteristics:
  • Traditionally underrepresented groups (African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, and Asian-American)
  • First generation in their family to attend college
  • Low-income students (Pell-eligible, free/reduced lunch, etc.), and students who might not otherwise be able to afford a trip to campus
  • Rural and small town students
  • Undocumented and DACA-eligible students
Additionally, any rising seniors (U.S. citizens, Permanent Residents, and undocumented/DACA students living in the United States) interested in attending, regardless of demographic or economic background are invited to apply. Swarthmore supports diversity of all forms including, but not limited to, racial, ethnic, ideological, sexual/gender identity, geographic, and religious diversity.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Stop saying "seven Muslim majority countries"

Look, I get it. Donald Trump's order barring immigration from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen is deeply flawed.

But using the shorthand to describe the targeted nations as "seven majority Muslim countries" or "seven predominantly Muslim countries" -- as many news outlets have repeatedly done -- is not only unhelpful, it's potentially dangerous.

First, choosing to describe these countries by their dominant religion suggests that they are unique in being heavily Muslim. That's not true. There are 49 countries with a Muslim majority population

Do we describe the North America Free Trade Association as involving "three Christian majority countries." Would that be helpful?

Further, these thumbnail descriptions suggest that the countries were selected because they're majority Muslim. That's not true, either. They were selected because the Trump administration -- rightly or wrongly -- believes they are a major source of terrorists. If Trump was out to target Muslim countries with this order, there are much larger targets. In fact, out of the 10 countries with the most Muslims, only one (Iran) is on the list.

The worst part of this is that by emphasizing the religion of the barred countries the media is fanning the flames of a wider religious conflict. I don't blame the people from these seven countries for being upset, but turning this into a Christian vs. Muslim issue is inflammatory and could lead to bloodshed.

How else can news stories refer to these countries?

They could simply say "seven countries," and then list the countries in later on. You could say "seven countries in northern Africa and the Middle East," although with the same number of words you could just list the countries.

You could say "seven countries that the Trump administration believe incubate terrorism." That's a little wordy, but at least specific and accurate.

At the very least, all stories should list the countries. I've seen several stories that say "seven majority Muslim countries" or "seven predominantly Muslim countries," but never say what the countries are. That's poor journalism.

Or here's a crazy way of doing it. Just list the countries.  Consider a story from CNN that says this:

"Trump's executive order on immigration bars citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for the next 90 days and suspends the admission of all refugees for 120 days."

Instead, just say this:

"Trump's executive order on immigration bars citizens of Syria, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen from entering the United States for the next 90 days and suspends the admission of all refugees for 120 days."

That works, is specific, and is useful for the reader.