Category: Education

Long Island educators seek to increase classroom dialogue surrounding racial issues

By Skyler Gilbert and Joshua Milien

Education experts want teachers in diverse Nassau County high schools to examine national current events and have classroom dialogue addressing the current social and racial climate.

In late August, walls of Syosset High School were graffitied with swastikas and gang tags, the latest in a string of similar incidents around the county in the last year. In an unrelated event in June, Oceanside seniors distributed T-shirts with racial slurs.

The uptick in these crimes has been caused by the Trump administration’s apathy and tolerance toward extreme right ideologies, Hofstra teaching professor Alan J. Singer said. But he sees the behavior as a learning opportunity for students.

“What we need to do is to engage kids in understanding,” Singer, an expert in social studies education, said. “I don’t see [the Syosset incident] as a major disciplinary act; I see this as an educational opportunity into the meaning of these acts and what the implications are for people.”

Last month, thousands of insurgent alt-right protesters marched at the University of Virginia campus, donning swastikas and confederate flags, in support of a statue of general Robert E. Lee. Members of the group chanted, “Jews will not replace us.” According to a recent Morning Consult poll, one in five Trump supporters have a favorable impression of white nationalism.

Singer pointed to New York City’s recent commission about what to do with area statues and place names as an opportunity for community involvement for 12th grade government students. Smithtown, for instance, is named after a 17th century slaveholder.

“This is a perfect opportunity to not just study, but engage the kids in civic activism,” Singer said. “It doesn’t take kids off the curriculum, it enhances the curriculum.”

One issue in public rhetoric has been the decrease in nuanced, sophisticated argument and a reliance on name-calling, Cheryl Greenberg, a history professor at Trinity College said. She believes the onus is on the educator to demonstrate these skills.

“We, as teachers, should model appropriate civic behavior,” Greenberg, who also chairs the West Hartford School District board, said. “Teachers need to model what using facts as evidence looks like, what making an argument looks like, what kinds of evidence persuasion requires, those sorts of things

Multiple educators from Nassau County acknowledged the importance of using present-day talking points in class dialogue, although they lacked specificity in the implementation.

“It’s incredibly important our students study current events,” Thomas Troisi, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at Valley Stream South School District, said. “We are supposed to be preparing young people for their place in the world. If we don’t, we’re selling them short.”

Following the Syosset incident, whose suspect is still at large, the district’s superintendent, Dr. Thomas Rogers, invoked the national trend in his denunciation of the actions.

“One need look no further than the nightly news to see that our nation’s broader commitment to tolerance is being tested,” Rogers said in a statement to the school community. “But I am convinced that Syosset’s dedication to diversity is not superficial. It was not created overnight, and it will not be easily undone by the overnight actions of a few.”

Long Island has great racial and political diversity in many of its school districts, particularly in Nassau County, according to data from U.S. News and World Report. Valley Stream South, for instance, is nearly equally divided across four races: 29 percent Hispanic, 26 percent black, 24 percent white and 21 percent Asian.

“It’s important we teach students how to work together,” Troisi said. “We have a very diverse student population and that foundation starts here.”

In a student body with political diversity, which stems from racial, ethnic and economic diversity, Greenberg said, racial dialogue and empathy are even more important.

“I think if you have a diverse classroom, regardless of what kind of diversity you’re talking about, you must talk about it, because they’re going to talk about it,” Greenberg said. “They have to understand the issues. That’s what school does; it educates us about issues.”

Rutgers cancels trip to Mecca despite executive ban appeal

Originally published at The Long Islander

The Center of Islamic Life at Rutgers University has cancelled an upcoming hajj, citing airport discrimination anxieties despite a federal appeals court refusing to reinstate President Trump’s executive travel ban.

The cancellation of the hajj to Mecca on March 11, considered a mandatory religious duty for any Muslim to carry out at least once in his or her life, is indicative of a greater trend among universities throughout the Tri-State Area. The schools are promoting cautious travel policy and citizens from the seven potentially banned nations have expressed travel timidity due to ambiguous status, as expressed by a number of university chaplains and students in the Greater New York Area.

“I don’t want to put students through an interrogation myself,” Kaiser Aslam, Rutgers’ Muslim Chaplain said. “I’ve been in one for six hours in previous years. We don’t want to put students through that and we’re not sure how they would react to it, so it’s causing us to halt our travel plans and our programming.”

He estimates that 200 to 300 Rutgers students have expressed general fears of prejudice at jama’ah, an Islamic congregational prayer. These anxieties played a part in the trip’s indefinite postponing.

“Honestly it’s leading to a cultural phenomenon where students are just giving up their travel plans because they don’t know what is going to happen,” Aslam said.

At least one Rutgers student studying abroad was barred from reentering the United States, although no specific names were disclosed due to ongoing legal proceedings and in order to preserve the wishes of the impacted student(s), Aslam and Yasmin Ramadan, former president of Rutgers’ Muslim Public Relations Council, confirmed.

Some schools, including Yale University, are recommending that students from nations who would be debarred if the executive order stands preclude themselves from any travel outside the United States.

“We have received a lot of personal e-mails from the dean and the president of the university and everything,” Mohamed Osman, a sophomore chemistry major at Yale and a Sudanese citizen, said. “They have been in very close contact with us, letting us know what’s going on.”

Osman attended high school at an English-speaking international high school in Khartoum, and struggles with the possibility that students there now — including his younger brother Khalid, now a high school junior — would not have the same opportunity he had: to attend an American university.

“The director of the school recommended that you don’t plan on going to the U.S.,” Osman said. “It is true that a lot of the people this year are not going to have the opportunities that I got two years ago, which is really sad in my opinion.”

Osman is the only member of his family that lives in the United States, and acknowledged that the ban would prevent him from seeing his relatives, either during the upcoming spring break or in the case of an emergency.

For Stony Brook sophomore Niloofar Sima, this anxiety has become a reality. Sima, who grew up in Mashhad, Iran, moved to the U.S. at age 14 with her immediate family, but all of her extended family still lives in the Middle East, including her grandparents, who helped raise her and her sister.

“[My mom] called me yesterday to tell me that my grandma is in the hospital,” Sima said. “And she was crying. She was like, ‘I don’t even care. I’m gonna go regardless. It’s my mother.’ I told her you going there is not going to change a thing. Whatever happens to her still happens.”

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Feb. 9 in a 3-0 decision not to reinstate the order. The future of the case remains up in the air.

A group of 17 prominent higher education institutions, including all eight Ivy League colleges, co-authored an amicus briefing Feb. 13 in support of the plaintiffs of a district court case relevant to the ban, Columbia University Assistant Chaplain Mouhamadou Diagne confirmed.

“The uncertainty generated by the Order and its implementation is already having negative impacts well beyond persons from the seven affected countries. People from all over the world are understandably anxious about having their visas prematurely canceled through no fault of their own,” the 33-page briefing stated. “Comments by high-ranking Executive Branch officials have suggested that the Order could be extended to other countries, heightening institutional anxiety.”

The president tweeted on Thursday, “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!” insinuating that he would appeal the case to the Supreme Court, but White House officials later said that rewording and reissuing the initial executive order is also an option.

Stanley discusses Stony Brook’s diversity plans at town hall

Originally published at The Statesman

President Samuel L. Stanley, Jr. vowed to make Stony Brook University a center for diversity and inclusivity on Wednesday afternoon, when he and eight other panelists presented the university’s Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Initiative.

“I don’t need to tell you that these are troubling times right now,” Stanley said to a crowd of about 500 at a town hall meeting in the Charles B. Wang Center. “Many people have concerns. I think it’s more important than ever that Stony Brook University be a place where we value all members of our community.”

Throughout the hour-long session, the panel stressed that not all discrimination is conscious and that efforts are underway to make the university faculty and community aware of implicit bias.

Robbye Kinkade, an African-American professor of health science, serves as the director for the Responding to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, or REDI, Project. The initiative educates the staff about implicit bias and provides the opportunity to take part in periodic diversity seminars.

“We are trying to broaden our definition of diversity,” Kinkade said. “It’s not just about race and ethnicity. It includes gender identity, sexual orientation, military status and so on.”

Stony Brook is looking to broaden its diversity, particularly among African American students, Stanley said. The percentage of black students at the university has decreased from 8.8 percent of the student body in 2005 to 6.5 percent in 2015.

The school will increase its efforts to encourage black students to attend Stony Brook, with outreach programs at regional high schools, especially in the Bronx and Brooklyn, Stanley said.

The initiative also seeks an increase in underrepresented faculty, to establish a culture in which “Stony Brook is the place to be,” for prospective employees, said Stella Tsirka, Ph.D., the co-chair of the initiative’s Faculty Working Group.

“We need to establish Stony Brook as a welcoming hub for underrepresented professionals,” Tsirka said. “A good way to do that is to establish workshops nationally … annually or biannually.”

The university has allocated between $750,000 and $1 million in funding for the diversity initiative, Stanley said. The president added that Stony Brook has created the new administrative position of chief diversity officer. A search to fill the position is underway.

At the undergraduate level, five subcommittees have been created as part of the initiative, Timothy Ecklund, Ph.D., dean of students, said. The committees are Recruitment and Admissions; Student Engagement, Involvement and Retention; Curriculum; Training; and Campus Climate.

The proposed programs Ecklund spoke about include a one-hour orientation course on diversity and gender for incoming students and the implementation of programs for international, non-English speaking students to aid with the acclimation process.

The forum featured two student speakers — senior Dwayne Moore and junior Sydney Gaglio — who spoke on behalf of the undergraduate body.

“The thing that really hits me deep in my heart was that it’s not just about diversity, but about inclusiveness,” Moore, the president of the Black Student Union on campus, said.

“It’s making sure that if you’re a woman who’s black and identifies as LGBTQ, and your major is dominated by white men, that you don’t feel different,” he continued. “You have to feel like you have the support of your staff, your classmates and your university to push you forward in your endeavors.”

At the event’s conclusion, during a Q&A session, an audience member asked Stanley specifically about President-elect Donald Trump and the discriminatory rhetoric that has come from some of his supporters.

“What we’re doing now has never been more important,” Stanley replied. “In a world that seems to be retreating in ideals more than ever, it is important that Stony Brook University stands — stands for what is right.”