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Our faculty in the College of Education is devoted to improving educational opportunities for marginalized groups, through research of inclusive learning practices.

Black students often face educational disadvantages that prevent them from achieving academic success. This is due in part to limited research that allows teachers to better connect with their students.

As we close out Black History Month, it’s an important opportunity to take a look at examples of the work our faculty have done to expand research and support the success of African American students at all grade levels.

Repository for Research into Education of Black Males

Photo of Dr. Louis Harrison and Dr. Anthony Brown

Professors Louis Harrison and Anthony Brown

African American males face many obstacles in education: disproportionate dropout, expulsion and suspension rates, overrepresentation in special education, and underrepresentation in gifted education.

So how can existing research be easily accessed?

Professor Louis Harrison and Associate Professor Anthony Brown have established The Black Male Education Research Collection to assist researchers, journalists, and policymakers with researching the issues of black males in education. BMERC is a collection of scholarly articles from peer-reviewed journals, interviews, reports, and monthly videos that cover a wide variety of topics from the nation’s top scholars on black male education.

Book Highlights Early 20th-Century African-American Education Intellectuals

Keffrelyn and Anthony Brown

Keffrelyn Brown and Anthony Brown

Associate professors Keffrelyn Brown and Anthony Brown answer questions regarding their book about three black education leaders’ ideas. “Black Intellectual Thought in Education: The Missing Traditions of Anna Julia Cooper, Carter G. Woodson, and Alain LeRoy Locke,” analyzes the contributions of these education leaders and a counternarrative for black students.

For Men of Color, High Academic Motivation Does Not Bring Academic Success

Composed of 453,000 student responses nationwide, the Aspirations to Achievement: Men of Color and Community Colleges was produced by the College of Education’s Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) to analyze the academic outcome for men of color in comparison to white male students. This study questions the negative effects of stereotyping and academic testing readiness among different races of men.

“Despite Black and Hispanic males reporting higher aspirations to earn a community college certificate or degree than their White peers, only 5 percent of those who attend community colleges earn certificates or degrees in three years, as opposed to 32 percent of White males,” says Kay McClenney, CCCSE director.

Caring for Black Male Students Requires More Than Good Intentions, According to Education Study

A student holds up a book in a classroom

Photo by Christina S. Murrey

Studies show that black male students are struggling in school because they lack a connection with their teachers. Assessing how to better engage with students is a beneficial way of encouraging learning.

Assistant Professor Sepehr Vakil describes the use of politicized caring, “when teachers acknowledge the ways schools reproduce racialized and gendered stereotypes. These teachers then cultivate relationships with marginalized students in ways that acknowledge their oppression and their developmental needs as children and as learners.”

In 2012, Cornell University researchers published a study that concluded that children between 8 and 11 years old would choose an apple over a cookie if the apple had a sticker of a popular cartoon character. Childhood obesity rates had skyrocketed across the United States, and this simple solution to help children make better food choices received a lot of buzz.

It turns out the findings were too good to be true. Last October, JAMA Pediatrics, the journal that published the study, was forced to retract the study’s findings.

The problem? Faulty data and faulty conclusions.

The College of Education’s Tiffany Whittaker wants students to learn to interpret data and statistics, so she designed a new educational psychology course: Statistical Literacy and Reasoning. Whittaker is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology.

The course is open to undergraduates across the university and is taught by educational psychology doctoral students. It’s designed to introduce students to statistical applications and their interpretations in daily life.

The course can replace a math requirement and introduces undergraduate students to coursework in educational psychology—which may have the extra benefit of enticing them to earn a minor in the subject.

Students often enter the course with a “blank slate related to statistical literacy,” says Molly Cain, a doctoral student who taught the class last fall. The students don’t have preconceived notions about statistics. But they also have no real facility with deciphering statistical data.

In a world teeming with numbers and stats to prove the validity of ideas and opinion and to influence public policy, “statistical literacy is critical,” Cain says. “We want students to become critical consumers of data reported in media. We want them to be actively engaged with what they consume and to approach things with a healthy dose of skepticism.”

Whittaker says, “We want students to ask: What’s going on behind the numbers?” Specific questions can help students think critically about what’s going on behind those numbers: How were the data gathered? What methods were used? Who conducted the survey? Was bias introduced? What do you know about the sample—such as its size or population? Are there lurking or hidden variables that might explain an association?

“Correlation does not equal causation,” says Whittaker. “For example, the number of children in a home correlates with a toaster being in the home. But the toaster didn’t cause there to be more children in the home.”

“Psychology studies are difficult,” Cain says. “Often, researchers will choose subjects who are convenient to study, like college freshmen, just because they are available.” But samples should reflect the actual population that researchers want to draw conclusions about, she says, and college freshmen may not be representative of the population they actually want to understand.

That was one of the problems with the apple vs. cookie study. It was conducted with 3 to 5-year-old children, but the findings were applied to 8 to 11 year-olds—a population likely to be less motivated to choose an apple with a sticker of Elmo over a cookie.

“Data can generally be trusted if you use the correct techniques and methods,” Cain says, adding that correct interpretation is also a must. “Knowing how to analyze data will help you in any discipline. Even a rudimentary understanding means you are light years ahead.”

 

Valentine’s Day can be challenging for those without a partner to shower them with tokens of affection. The holiday also sets up expectations for those in romantic relationships—expectations that may backfire.Kristin NeffProfessor Kristen Neff in Educational Psychology., associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education, studies the impact of self-compassion on people’s emotional and psychological health. She says that Valentine’s Day can present a terrific opportunity for people to show themselves self-compassion, which can lead to greater emotional satisfaction and actually improve intimate relationships.

According to Neff, people who are not partnered can “ask themselves what they need and want from a partner. They may come up with answers like love, being heard, being seen for who they are. They can make a list of those things, and they can give those things to themselves.”

She recommends that people also give themselves validation and appreciation verbally.  A person can say to themselves, aloud, “I’m here for you. I care about you,” and meet that need for themselves.

Research also shows that self-touch impacts the body and mind positively. “The warmth of human touch has a positive impact, even if that touch is from your own hand,” says Neff. She recommends placing your hand over your heart while speaking words of kindness to yourself. “Doing so can help ease the sadness a person may feel about not having a partner.”

People often have high expectations of days like Valentine’s Day. Neff recommends letting go of those expectations. “A supportive and open-hearted attitude for the particular situation can be especially helpful,” she says. “And if a person is not in a relationship and wants one, it’s important for the person to accept that desire, have compassion for the struggle, and also remember that relationships can bring both joy and pain.”

In the end, says Neff, “Meeting your own needs and showing yourself compassion, acceptance, and kindness are important activities that also lead a person to be more kind and supportive to their sweetheart too.”

Self-compassion, she says, “is not only good for individuals, it’s also good for relationships too.”

–Photo by Elijah Macleod on Unsplash

Valentine’s Day is a day for romance—cards and chocolates, flowers and dinner dates. It’s a day to celebrate love and affection.

But are men really that into it? Or are they just going along to keep their partners happy?

Aaron Rochlen researches men and masculinity, with a focus on men’s mental health. He’s a program director and professor in the Department of Educational Psychology in the College of Education. He offers his perspective on how Valentine’s Day is perceived by many men who identify as heterosexual. He also discusses why it may be hard for some men to express their feelings openly.

Is Valentine’s Day an Obligation?

“Speaking in broad generalizations, women in relationships are perceived as embracing the romantic element that Valentine’s Day reinforces,” says Rochlen. “Women may be seeking an emotional connection they don’t always receive, or at least not as much as they’d prefer, from their male partners.”

“My sense is that men have this same emotional capacity, but accessing and expressing emotions may be more difficult to many guys,” says Rochlen.

The pressure to express that emotion may add to a sense of obligation some men feel about making a big deal about Valentine’s Day.

Rochlen says that personally, he’d rather not be on a timeline for expressing closeness and generosity. “When men feel there’s a specific date to express emotions—like Valentine’s Day— hanging over them, it’s tricky. Many guys would rather take out their partners for dinner or be romantic at other points in their relationship, when it comes more naturally or spontaneously, instead of being dictated by a calendar.”

Rochlen says he’s seen that pressure from family, friends, and even significant others can influence a man’s perception of masculinity.

“Men often are reinforced by culture to equate love with sexuality versus relational closeness and affection,” says Rochlen. “Men are socialized in troublesome ways to be sexually dominant and demonstrate power over women.”

There’s Hope

Yet men may feel that they scorned for being too masculine, but ridiculed for not being masculine enough. This Catch-22 can influence how they see Valentine’s Day.

However, Rochlen says he’s noticing a cultural movement that’s redefining masculinity—it’s becoming more acceptable for men to express their vulnerable side, even with each other. “There’s a shift toward men deciding ‘let’s embrace each other—metaphorically and literally.’”

Rochlen’s op-ed in Psychology Today, “A Positive and Refined Masculinity,” takes a look at how physical and emotional contact among men is changing. He references the NFL’s 2018 Super Bowl commercial featuring Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, Jr. “It shows us a different message of masculinity — one of playfulness, creativity, closeness with other men.” The NFL wouldn’t have considered airing an ad like this even five years ago.

Photo of Aaron Rochlen

Aaron Rochlen

Rochlen says the NFL may be opening up a new playbook on masculinity that a lot of men could follow.

Are we seeing men’s perceptions of Valentine’s Day changing? Maybe.

As more men begin to think it’s acceptable to express vulnerability and care, maybe their perception of Valentine’s Day will shift too. Says Rochlen, “And that would really be something to celebrate.”

 

Join Educational Psychology Associate Professor Germine Awad as she discusses both the ramifications of classifying people of Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) descent as white on the U.S. Census form and the necessity of giving them their own designation.

Awad’s research focuses on topics related to prejudice and discrimination, identity and acculturation, and body image among women of color. She has focused primarily on Arab/Middle Eastern Americans and African Americans.

Discovery Minute is a video series that highlights and introduces various topics that are researched by faculty at the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin. Our faculty explore topics that have a direct impact on education, policy, health, and our community.