Month: December 2017

Got a question? Just ask Trump.

A laugh for a cold, wintry Wednesday. I borrowed this from website commenter essmeier:

Trump knows a lot of things. How do I know this? He has told us:

“I think nobody knows more about taxes than I do, maybe in the history of the world.”

“I understand money better than anybody. I understand it far better than Hillary, and I’m way up on the economy when it comes to questions on the economy.”

“Nobody knows more about trade than me”

“Nobody in the history of this country has ever known so much about infrastructure as Donald Trump.”

“There’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am”

“I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.”

“There is nobody who understands the horror of nuclear more than me.”

“It would take an hour-and-a-half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles…I think I know most of it anyway.”

“In a short period of time I understood everything there was to know about health care.”

“I know more about renewables than any human being on Earth.”

“I understand the power of Facebook maybe better than almost anybody, based on my results, right?”

“Nobody knows more about debt. I’m like the king. I love debt.”

“Nobody knows banking better than I do”

“I think nobody knows the system (of government) better than I do.”

“I know more about (campaign) contributions than anybody.”

“Because nobody knows the (visa) system better than me. I know the H1B. I know the H2B. Nobody knows it better than me.”

Trump is a very smart man. Don’t believe me? Just ask him; he’ll straighten you out.


Why are all the black kids still sitting together in the school cafeteria?

Visit just about any racially mixed school and you will see black, white, Asian and Latino kids clustered in their own groups. Is this self-segregation a problem to address or a coping strategy?
Beverly Daniel Tatum, an authority on the psychology of racism, says straight talk about our racial identities is essential if we are serious about communicating across racial and ethnic divides.
Tatum first addressed the question in her landmark 1997 book, Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria? Now, 20 years later, with the national conversation about race becoming increasingly acrimonious, Tatum is back with a fully revised edition.
The update reflects the rapid demographic transformation that has reshaped our country, as well as the election of Barack Obama, the rise of Black Lives Matter and the early days of the Trump presidency.

What was the impetus for updating the book?

While I was serving as president of Spelman College I had the opportunity to travel and talk to people and think about some of the things I had written about in the book. I felt that 20 years later some of it needed to be updated.
When I retired as president in 2015, it seemed like the perfect post-presidential project to work on.

So much has happened in 20 years, but then you could also say that so much has happened since you wrote the prologue to this book in March.

Yes. This book goes a little bit past the inauguration of our current president. And there’s a lot that’s happened since then, of course—Charlottesville in particular. But I was happy that I was able to include information about the events leading up to the election and certainly the 60 days after the election.
Certainly the tenor of what’s happening in our country, I think, can be traced back to that 20-year period if not before.

You cite the statistic that every day the size of the U.S. population increases by more than 8,000 people, and nearly 90 percent of that growth consists of people of color—not just African-American but Asian, Middle Eastern, Latino and so on.

Certainly one of the things that I wanted to do was to expand the discussion of identity issues for populations of color that have grown significantly since that first book. 2014 was the first year that the U.S. population of school-age children was 50 percent children of color. And, as you’ve pointed out, that’s not just black kids.
When I’m using that phrase children of color I’m including the Latino population, which is the largest population of color today in the United States—close to 18 percent now. And the black population is about 13 percent. The Asian-American population—which includes people from China, South Asia, India and so on—is about 6 percent.
Every race and ethnicity in this country has a sense of identity, but you say that’s often lacking in the white population.

You describe a white girl who, when asked about her identity, replied, “I’m just normal.” Is that part of the problem?

It is a lack of awareness. But I want to say that the lack of awareness that white people often have around racial identity is similar to the lack of awareness that anyone in a dominant group is likely to have. When you are on the margin, you are more aware of that identity because people bring it to your attention.
So for white people, most of whom are still living in majority white communities and working in largely white settings, it’s no surprise that that dimension of identity goes unnoticed. If you are the only white person in a largely black environment, you’re going to be paying attention to it. One of the strongest tools is teaching by example.

You describe one effort—the Atlanta Friendship Initiative—to bring people of different races together. How does that work?

It was the brainchild of a white man in Atlanta named Bill Nordmark, and he sought out a relationship with a black man he knew only casually, John Grant. But he explained his idea to John and asked John if he would be willing to work with him on it, and John was very enthusiastic in his reply.
They set out to identify pairs of people who would be willing to make a commitment to get to know each other across lines of difference. Today there are more than 200 people participating, but the list is growing all the time.
The people who are asked to participate basically agree to do two things. One is to meet with your partner four times a year, once a quarter. And then have some gathering of your family and that person’s family at least once a year.
So really it is about developing friendships, but friendships with people you probably wouldn’t know otherwise and who are different from you in some significant way.
And as the Friendship Initiative has gotten more visibility, people from other communities have been contacting the founders to say, “We really like this idea and we’d like to try it in our town, how would we do that?”

Can something like that take place in a K12 environment?

Well, the idea behind it is that when you bring people together there’s a basic social/psychological principle operating. Bringing people together on equal footing and asking them to engage in a cooperative activity that is sponsored or sanctioned by authorities tends to improve inter-group relations.
Sports teams are the classic example of that. Everyone on the team is there because they know how to play. So in that sense they’re all equal. They’re asked to do something cooperatively.
I always think of former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley, who really had a good understanding of racial relations. He often attributed that understanding to his experience playing professional basketball, because he got to know black players and got to see the way in which they were treated differently than he was.
That opened his eyes to the issues of racism.
This is to say that it is certainly possible in a school setting to bring children together and ask them to work cooperatively toward a common goal in ways that can encourage better understanding and improve group relations.
Part of the challenge that we have in schools is that children are not being brought together on equal terms. They’re being separated, with some groups being labeled as smarter than other groups. And we know that there’s a high correlation between racial group membership and where you get placed.
There are things that schools can do structurally that certainly can help young people get to know each other and have positive relations. And when schools do those things you are much less likely to see the kind of rigid separations in cafeterias that we were talking about at the beginning.

You end the book hopeful but, again, that was before the administration rescinded DACA, threatened the Dream Act and instituted a travel ban. Is your hope still as strong?

Well, it does worry me, because progress is rarely linear. It’s usually two steps forward, one step back—you make progress, then there’s resistance to that progress and a backlash against it.
We can lift up the example of the election of President Obama in 2008—whether you liked him or not—as symbolically significant that the United States elected the first African-American president.
That said, immediately following his election there was the backlash of growth in white supremacist hate groups and also concerted efforts at voter suppression. We see two steps forward and sometimes a step or a step-and-a-half backwards before we move forward again.
I think there’s widespread agreement that we’re now in a backward moment. I do believe it’s possible to move forward again. But that’s not going to happen without a concerted effort. If there’s a message to the reader, it is that we all have to take responsibility for that forward motion if we want to see it happen.

Let’s talk about sex

If there’s one thing clear from Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power and Consent on Campus (2017 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), it is that what you think you know about sex on campus is probably wrong.
Vanessa Grigoriadis embedded herself in the campus environment, speaking candidly with students and administrators to find that the definition of sexual assault itself is anything but clear-cut. And therein lies the problem.
She says there is no consensus about what constitutes sexual assault on campus, how common it is or how it should be prevented. The book is a sometimes brutally frank examination of the world of campus sexual activity and how the idea of consent has changed and continues to change.
Grigoriadis, a contributing editor at The New York Times Magazine and Vanity Fair, profiles not only victims of assault but also those whose lives have been turned upside down by false accusations.

You wrote, “Society has morphed and sex is different than it used to be.” How so?
Hooking up on college campuses has been around in a real way since the 1990s. The way that sex happens now is divorced from not only dinner-and-a-date, but sometimes also from real emotional yearning.
This is also the situation for a lot of Gen Xers and Boomers—it’s coming from the precepts of online dating, of social media that requires that you broadcast your sexual availability if you’re single.
Our 18-year-olds may not be prepared for college, but they’re pretty good at flirting over text message. They know what they’re doing.

You say we’re redefining what sexual assault is. There are many things—a comment, a perceived inappropriate touch—that can now be considered sexual assault.
One of the key takeaways from my research was that a physically violent rape that leaves bruises and blood and evidence is not the exception on college campuses, but it’s definitely not the rule.
On the other hand, a story like Rolling Stone’s University of Virginia story, which was proven to be false, is also an exception to the rule.
What I learned in my research is that most of the time the two partners agree on what happened in the bedroom—the kind of distinct actions and sexual behaviors that occurred. What they don’t agree on is whether that was sexual assault or not.
The other thing I should definitely mention is that residential college campuses certainly have a problem with rapes that happen when one partner is blackout drunk or passed out or maybe very drunk.
Colleges are interested in reducing liability, so they have broadened the definition of “incapacitation”—which is supposed to mean you’re totally passed out or unable to consent—to include very drunk students.
I don’t want that to be lost in my description of moral relativity.
The research shows this is a serious problem at residential colleges. There are a lot of guys who go out at night with the intent of having sex, and not really caring if the girl can’t speak English as long as he can get her to follow him out of the frat house.

There are a variety of anti-sexual assault campaigns on campus, but you say most of these programs don’t work. What does work?
Well, physical self-defense on its own hasn’t been proven to stem assault. It has to be part of this complex buffet of offerings called “empowerment self-defense,” and this is teaching girls in particular—but boys also—how to physically resist an assaulter, but also how to remove themselves from a situation before an assault occurs.
Identify the dangerous situation and don’t put yourself in it, because we know that girls have a very hard time saying no, and sometimes they’ll just give in.
But putting a bunch of posters on a campus that say, “Consent. Please get it,” and telling your kids to click boxes on a webinar to say, “Okay, I understand. I won’t have sex without consent”—it’s just not really going to do it.

We’ve heard, at least anecdotally, that some schools underreport sexual assault incidents.
Right. That’s partly because we can’t even agree on terms. The topic of sexual assault on campus is complicated and there’s so much misinformation out there, and each of us brings our own biases about what sexual assault is.
If we can’t agree on what sexual assault is then how can we agree on how to stop it? How can we agree on how to prevent it? How can we agree on how to punish it?
To me, the question of what the universities are doing and how well they’re doing it is unanswerable, partly because of FERPA.
No university is allowed to talk about individual cases publicly, so when a normal consumer reads an article about a university abrogating its Title IX responsibilities in a specific case, the university is never going to be able to defend itself publicly over that.
But when you’re dealing with a prestigious private or state university that has had a ton of bad PR around this issue, you know they’re going to be trying their best right now. A university would have to have a death wish not to at least be trying.

Secretary DeVos recently reversed the Obama administration’s “Dear Colleague” letter. I get the sense from your writing that schools are looking at that with wary eyes.
Sexual assault is one of the top 10 issues as we move further into the Trump era. As long as we have that progressive platform of kids on campus who are interested in the anti-Trump movement and Black Lives Matter and combating xenophobia and combating sexual assault, it will continue to be.
They will continue to talk about sexual assault openly, not be ashamed if it happens to them, share it with their friends, and try to change the social norms around it. And, to your point, of course we know that most universities just spent millions of dollars and a lot of manpower to rewrite their rules to be in line with Obama’s directives.
They may be looking at this, again, partially from an ethics and safety standpoint, but also from a pragmatic standpoint thinking, “Okay, well, we’ve got three more years of this Trump administration, and we don’t know what is going to happen after that. The ball could bounce right back to where it was under Obama. Are we really going to undo what we’ve just done?”
There definitely will be a legal challenge to DeVos, too, so we don’t even know where this is going to end up. I haven’t spoken to anyone who has said, “Great. We love what she said. Can’t wait to change everything tomorrow.”

You suggest some proactive strategies that schools can take to minimize sexual assault. For example, you said you would like to see an end to the current Greek society.
Yes. I think we’re well past the time where a single-sex-oriented Greek system that cements gender norms should have a Title IX exemption on campus.
I want to be really clear here that I’m not saying that most fraternity members are assaulters. But the universities, in their haste to get drinking off campus, have pushed it into unsupervised basements of fraternity houses. These houses are run by men, the drinks are poured by men, and how stiff they are is determined by men.
There are a lot of unsavory characters hanging out at those parties.
The most typical scenario that I heard from freshman girls—and the majority are freshmen—who were sexually assaulted at a frat party is, they meet a guy at the party who says, “Oh, the beer’s all out. Come to my apartment. I live just a few blocks away in an off-campus apartment.”
And the girl, who is drunk or maybe has little experience being drunk, thinks the guy is somebody to be trusted, even though if such a person approached her in a Starbucks and said, “Come to my house,” she would never follow him. But here, she thinks, “Oh, this is a fellow classmate. This is safe.”
The risk is not on campus in the dark, the risk is the indoor lit places, like an off-campus apartment, and alcohol is connected to sexual assault. We need clarity on that. Universities are going to have to address the fundamental structure of the campus and the way that drinking happens on a campus.