On Empowering Male Students of Color

Here’s an abstract about the evidence published in a recent book. The author writes, about the way men of color are currently treated on campus:

 On the one hand, like many of his peers and other college students, he acknowledged an increased motivation to succeed academically and develop “a vision” to achieve his goals. On the other hand, while his family helped motivate his aspirations, he expressed having to contend with the added burdens that come with being a Black male – being a negative statistic.

The statistics about males of color cut two ways. First, they can serve to “justify” the already-lowered expectations of males of color throughout the educational pipeline. Because they do not complete college at higher rates, some may argue, it might be expected that they will not be successful in college. In fact, some of our youth receive these messages well before they reach college. Second, the statistics signify to these students a narrowed conundrum: succumb to the perceptions or attempt to prove them wrong. Inherently, the cost of this dyadic view is that it strangles away these students’ sense of agency and belonging on many college campuses.

At some institutions, students of color in general and males of color more particularly are responding to and trying to navigate hostile and apathetic campus cultures. Here, the students often are trying to “survive” just to “make it through” college. In effect, with little and not enough support, racial tensions between themselves and staff and faculty, social and academic dissonance, racism and discrimination, and lowered views of them, standards of and support for excellence for males of color are compromised quite easily. And the resulting discussion indicts the students themselves for not performing better.

I really don’t want to write much else. The author, Professor Derrick R. Brooks, knows what he’s talking about, and here’s hoping what he and his colleagues have found is spread across the country.

Students come to our campuses full of potential and possibilities and some come with greater needs than others. They also come with various forms of capital at their disposal. While we need students to engage in specific performances to progress through college requirements successfully, a key component is better positioning ourselves to support males of volor [sic] for success. College should not operate on a sink or swim mantra, and our support for students should not depend on our job titles or how students “prove” to us how much or if they care. Greater attention to helping students become who they are, even as they continue formulating their identities and sense of self, can go a long way in helping them achieve their goals and increasing their possibilities for success.

I know I spent far too much time just trying to stay above the water myself, and I suspect that experience is common.

Behavioral Book Breakdown: “Scarcity”

Year: 2013

Authors: Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir

Well, this one is truly great. It covers every sort of “Scarcity.” Yes, it starts with povery, but it also touches on people who lack time, and even people who lack companionship, and how each of these types of scarcity truly lower fluid intelligence and executive control. The book does not pretend that those who are poor (or busy, or lonely) are actually less intelligent, but instead explains that the experience thereof can render a person with average intelligence below average, even if only induced temporarily.

The book has great implications for any program or person who seeks to help those in need, or even someone who wants to help a lonely friend or relative. In short, I plan to return to it frequently as I study, as I think there’s a lot to be found here. You should check it out too.

Inside Higher Ed Interview on “Backlash”

I don’t have much to add that the eminently qualified professor, George Yancy, doesn’t say himself in this interview from Insider Higher Ed.

Frankly, you should read the interview itself. But here is a choice quote.

Things got so bad that it was necessary for me to be escorted by campus police to my classes to teach. I also had to have police presence during the times that I traveled to give public talks at other universities.

This all happened because he wrote an article saying that racism is still prevalent. So now he’s written a book about what happens when we try to talk honestly about racism and the “Backlash” that results from it.

Yancy does not speak with hatred in his heart, but love.

 Colleges and universities must become spaces where students risk their dogmatism, risk being touched and transformed by ideas that encourage freedom, mutual respect and profound forms of love, where that love, as James Baldwin says, takes off the masks that we are afraid that we cannot live without and know we can’t live with. Colleges and universities must be encouraged to engage in critical dialogue, mutual passion or shared suffering, and recognition and respect of our differences.

Would that the right folks could listen to what he’s saying.



Behavioral Book Breakdown: “Thinking, Fast and Slow”

Carrying these posts over from my personal site, as I believe that behavioral science can have a great impact on the public sector, especially given the relative lack of funding. Behavioral science can generate low-cost solutions to entrenched problems, and so I’ll occasionally describe books I’ve read on the subject.

Author: Daniel Kahneman

Year: 2011

So this is kind of the ur-text for this subject. It’s thick (literally), and dense (in every sense of the word). It will cover every single cognitive bias (or “heuristic”) that had been studied up through its publication, most of which were codified by Kahneman himself and his late partner Amos Tversky. Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for his behavioral science work, and the discipline would literally not exist if it weren’t for these two men.

But my god, it is not easy to read.

I took it with me on my vacation in early September. I read a novel very quickly and then turned back to this one. And my vacation was extended because of weather issues. And I could only get through 30 or maybe 40 pages on a good day. It was just that dense.

I struggled to the finish line. And I like Kahneman. A brilliant man whose work has ultimately, if indirectly, changed my life and that of many others.

But this is much more of a reference book than a book you can really leaf through or apply to your life from moment to moment.

The other books I’ve given capsule profiles in this space wouldn’t exist were it not for this book and its author, so it had to be covered.

It’s certainly very informative. And it’s not written in jargon or anything of the sort. It’s just not exactly pleasant to try and read. Quite an accomplishment to make it through and you’ll be all the better for it, but I would point you towards the others – and more I’ll talk about later – if you want a more accessible entry point into behavioral science.

I’m glad I finished it. I can just keep it on my shelf and point to it now!

Behavioral Book Breakdown: “Invisible Influence”

Carrying these posts over from my personal site, as I believe that behavioral science can have a great impact on the public sector, especially given the relative lack of funding. Behavioral science can generate low-cost solutions to entrenched problems, and so I’ll occasionally describe books I’ve read on the subject.

Year: 2016

Author: Jonah Berger

Whereas “The Power of Habit” was the first behavioral book I sunk my teeth into (or, fitting for the subject, sunk its teeth into me), “Invisible Influence” is one of the more recent I’ve come across, looking around for a book to chew over on my commutes to and from work and finding it pleasant, if a bit short. It’s 232 pages, but a lot of those pages are cut in half by titles and such. It’s written by a marketing professor, and many (most) of the examples used are from real-life business decisions and other such accessible subjects. I complained about it being slight, but on the other hand, accessible though it may be, something like “Thinking, Fast and Slow” (which I’ll get to in this series, eventually) is nearly 500 pages of dense (though engaging) writing, and you and I both know that most people don’t bother with that sort of thing. And even if they do bother, they skim, or give up.

So there is a place and a purpose for a slimmer tome.

Berger’s argument is essentially that we must not deny the fact that our behavior is rarely something we fully choose for ourselves, much as we headstrong Americans like to think we’re independent. Of course, one of the principles of behavioral science is the fact that we tend to deny or ignore facts that don’t fit our worldview, so, paradoxically, the people who most need to hear this sort of thing would have the hardest time accepting it.

Some of the fun examples here include the fact that many successful athletes have older siblings (that they wanted to keep up with and then, eventually, defeated), why expensive products have barely visible logos, why running with people slightly faster than you can improve your own speed, and, sadly but importantly, why many black students have their academic achievement impacted by the spectre of “acting white.”

It’s essentially a series of vignettes – there’s a lot of Gladwell in it – but plenty of the real data to back it up. And, hilariously, it uses examples from my own eating club in college, Terrace, and how people can tell we belonged to the club by what we wore.

It’s not the “I’m trying to make this dense subject palatable” hard-hitting work of a “Power of Habit” or a “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” It’s more like tying together narratives that appear disparate but aren’t. And I think one thing that fascinates me about this topics is that it can be both a science that needs to be made accessible AND a bridge that brings groups of stories together.

Berger also usefully concludes each section with ways that the various stories and studies he has just mentioned can be used. This is a key, and it’s one thing that’s similar to “The Power of Habit.” None of this stuff is valuable if we can’t take it and use it.

And that’s my goal here, to encourage you to go out, learn more, and use it. It’s interesting and fun and all, but ultimately, if it’s not practicable, it’s pointless.

Behavioral Book Breakdown: “The Power of Habit”

Carrying these posts over from my personal site, as I believe that behavioral science can have a great impact on the public sector, especially given the relative lack of funding. Behavioral science can generate low-cost solutions to entrenched problems, and so I’ll occasionally describe books I’ve read on the subject. Here’s the first one.

Year: 2012

Author: Charles Duhigg

This one, this is how it all started. I received this for my birthday in 2012, just as I was getting into running, and it helped me focus and really believe I could improve in my fitness, in my relationships, in my career. I have often referred to this book as my bible, but it’s more like my amazing grace, as I once was lost, and then, after this book, I was found.

But what does it actually say?

The main concept is that every thing you do regularly consists of a three step process. A cue, a routine, and a reward.

The cue is what it sounds like – maybe that’s your alarm waking you up – and the routine is the actual process – perhaps that’s dragging yourself downstairs to run across a bridge – and the reward is what you get for it – in my case a sense of satisfaction at achieving goals.

Setting up cues isn’t very hard, and most can do so. And it’s pretty easy to envision rewards. But sticking with the routines is the challenge, and what trips most of us up. How many times have you decided you were going to lose weight or gain a new skill or save money and then fallen short? Even just this year, the very focused version of myself failed at learning to program because I couldn’t figure it out without an instructor’s guidance.

So the key is to make that routine different, and then to stick to it. Easier said than done! But necessary.

Learning to delay gratification is a great way to build willpower, even if it’s for something minor. Not being allowed to skip the routine in the middle to get to the reward can change anyone’s behavior. Even if you have to metaphorically tie a hand behind your back, do it.

For me, I used to always skip runs for dumb reasons. Or slack off on schoolwork. For running, instead of just running however much I felt like, I put it on my calendar, and that blaring reminder got me out the door. I got better clothes and shoes. And I didn’t bring a metrocard so I couldn’t cut it short. And over time it just became harder NOT to run than it was to run.

Make your cue strong, find a way to get through your routine, and then reward yourself for achievement.

“The Power of Habit” was the first book about behavior that reached me. You should read it if you want to learn about it yourself.