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Housing costs have risen dramatically and this rise is especially problematic for parents. This talk reviews recent data on housing affordability and considers the implications of data for parents and caregivers with children.

Jennifer Jellison Holme is an associate professor of educational policy and planning in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy. Holme’s research focuses on the politics and implementation of educational policy, with a particular focus on the relationship between school reform, equity, and diversity in schools. Her research interests include school desegregation, currently focusing on inter-district programs; high stakes testing, including exit level testing; and school choice policy.

Each year, nearly 7.5 million students are chronically absent – missing 10% or more of the school year. How should researchers, policymakers, and educators address chronic absenteeism and its effects on students?

Panelists include Kevin Gee (UC Davis – School of Education and Center for Poverty Research), Shaun Dougherty (Vanderbilt University – Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations), Sarah Lenhoff (Wayne State University – Educational Leadership and Policy Studies), Bertha Arellano (Austin Independent School District), and Sonia Dominguez (E3 Alliance, Senior Director of Learning Networks).

Eight UT Austin undergraduates and their instructor are sitting in a circle in a classroom. Taryn, the day’s facilitator, introduces the guidelines: “Respect the talking piece, speak from the heart, listen from the heart, what happens in the circle stays in the circle, trust you will know what to say, say just enough.”

She placed each students’ values, like ‘courage,’ ‘trust,’ and ‘open-mindedness’ around the circle’s center-piece. She explains to the group that the talking piece, a stuffed animal, will signal who has the floor to speak. She chooses one of the values and explains why she honors it. She passes the talking piece to Sofia, who chooses the value of compassion, and on it goes before they start their next round.

The circle is an everyday part of the Restorative Practices in Education class that Assistant Professor of Practice Molly Trinh Wiebe teaches. It’s an education course within the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education, cross-listed with Steve Hicks School of Social Work, and open to any undergraduate and graduate on campus. The majority of students are education majors, but some, like Nicole and Norman, are majoring in subjects such as government and sociology.

According to Wiebe, the course highlights restorative practices’ roots and principles as they can be applied to schools and the larger community. The principles learned emphasize responsibility, accountability, respect, and restoration, and students learn how to facilitate restorative circles to build relationship and trust with youths, parents, peers, and the community.

Though Sofia had never heard of restorative practices or restorative circles before, she said she was encouraged to take the class by her aunt, who is a teacher in Austin. “I’d never really thought of something like this as an option in education,” she says.

D’Jon says the practices are similar to the circles he experienced as huddles on wrestling and basketball teams in high school, though they weren’t named as such. He later recognized similar practices when he was doing prison ministry. “We had 42 residents and six tables and we’d form a circle and get to know each other at the table and check in on each other. The practices teach us to value the whole person.”

The circle plays a comparable community-building role in this classroom. Says Wiebe, “When a student is absent, we all care to know that they are alright. We all know each other’s names and a bit of history about each other. We have built a relationship and trust among us. This is our community and we look out for each other.”

Restorative practices’ indigenous roots

According to Wiebe, restorative practices are rooted in indigenous traditions. Modern communities have used them in the criminal justice system to support individuals who have made the offense repair the harm that was done.

The practices also have been used to support those who were incarcerated reintegrate into society. Typically, those practices are called restorative justice. Within school systems they are called restorative practice so that students don’t feel penalized. “Restorative practice can play a role in disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline phenomenon, which zero-tolerance policies can serve to actively perpetuate,” says Wiebe. “Restorative practice is a humanizing approach toward education.”

Beyond classroom circles toward educational policy and practice

Joshua Childs, an assistant professor in Educational Leadership and Policy, adds that all spaces have the potential to be restorative spaces. “Beyond the classroom, the spaces students find as they walk to school and are out in the community can be restorative,” says Childs. He adds that such practices are a two-fold process. “Though it’s often focused on what’s happening with students, the adults or educators also have to be part of the restorative practice element. They should be considering how their practice as educators may be contributing to the school community and to trust.”

“Adults have to shift their practice so that they aren’t always leading with something punitive,” says Childs. “Schools can take into account what’s happening in students’ lives—such as their home life, their walk or commute to school, their physical and mental wellness—and look at how school policy adapts to that. When they institute nonpunitive dress codes and decriminalize attendance, they are using restorative practices rather than punitive, deficit practices,” says Childs. (For more on how school policy can interrupt cycles of chronic absenteeism, see Childs’ Discovery Minute.)

Norman, a student in Wiebe’s restorative circle, agrees. “Whenever a student is doing something that is against school rules, it usually means something is preventing them from doing so. It’s possible that something happened in their family or they got into an accident. There’s always a reason why.”

He adds that restorative practices don’t have to be complex. There are simple things educators can do. “A teacher can allow two to three absences because they understand that life happens. They can give out tokens to use for deadline extensions or revise essays,” says Norman. “Restorative practices build flexibility.”

-Photos by Christina S. Murrey

Medical schools have a long history of using race-conscious admissions practices as a starting point in addressing racial health inequities that are present in the United States. When compared to their white peers, racially and ethnically diverse medical school students are more likely to go on to serve in communities of color or be sought out by patients of color, thus improving access to and quality of medical care for underrepresented populations. For example, a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that black males received more effective care when they were treated by a black doctor.

However, race-conscious admissions policies have recently come under fire, leading to policymakers banning them in eight states – including Texas from 1996 to 2003.

Liliana Garces

Liliana Garces

Liliana Garces, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy, has researched how these bans are diminishing the proportion of students of color who are enrolling in medical schools.

In this study, Garces and her co-author examine whether the enrollment drop can be attributed to a decline in the proportion of applications received or a drop in the admission rates of students of color.

The study, Addressing Racial Health Inequities: Understanding the Impact of Affirmative Action Bans on Applications and Admissions in Medical Schools, found that the enrollment drop was driven by admissions, not applications, showing that the bans influenced changes in behavior on an institutional level, not the student level.

Admission rates of underrepresented students of color faced a larger rate of decline than the proportion of applications received from these students, showing that the changes in behavior were on an institutional level, not the student level.

“Prohibiting race-conscious admissions hurts efforts in the field of medicine to become more racially and ethnically diverse and that, in turn, has very negative consequences for the field of medicine’s ability to address health disparities in our society, to improve quality of care, to provide better treatment, and to have healthier populations,” says Garces.

While some universities have attempted to minimize the effects of these bans by expanding outreach efforts for students of color, Garces explains that medical schools could increase consideration of race-related factors such as socioeconomic status or demonstrations that a student has overcome adversity. They could also decrease emphasis on factors that don’t fully predict academic success, such as MCAT scores, to counteract the impact of these bans.

Liliana Garces’s extensive work related to race-conscious admissions policies also includes an op-ed in Science Magazine, a co-authored amicus curiae brief supporting Harvard University’s use of race-conscious admissions, a co-authored report on the recent challenges to affirmative action policies, and co-authoring of an article that examines policy guidance given from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights during the Obama Administration.

What is college like?

The media, specifically television and movies, are one way we receive messages about college, college-going, and the experiences and value of college. These images and depictions are created by people who have and haven’t experienced college life. Yet, those similar and repeated images contribute to perceptions of college for the general public.

This summer, Educational Leadership and Policy Assistant Professor of Practice Beth Bukoski and doctoral student Alden Jones created and taught Pop Culture in Higher Education.

Here, they’ve written about what pop culture gets right, as well as where those depictions fall short of reality.

Professors are stuffy, cold, or too lazy to actually teach.

There are, according to TV and film, only a few types of professors. They are generally portrayed as stuffy, mean, out of touch, or silly. They are the background noise to student college experiences in most representations—and most of those representations are of White cisgender, able-bodied, heterosexual men.

Bukoski teaching graduate students

Bukoski teaching graduate students

There they are up at the board, tweed jacket back to the room, lecturing on some obscure mathematical concept. Or maybe they are saying something nonsensical for a laugh. Meanwhile, the range of characters available to students at a university (and it’s almost always a university) is broader—but certainly nothing near exhaustive.

Regardless of the type of professor, the thing to know is that yes, there are those professors at a real college. But they aren’t the norm. Most professors are regular people, trying to do good work. Professors are whole people. The sentiment underlying these portrayals is part of what scholars Tobolowsky and Reynolds call anti-intellectualism. These images, repeated often enough, form a perception of faculty that “devalue scholarship and intellectual endeavors.”

This perception has real effects on what the general public thinks about college, who should go to college and why, and how higher education should be funded.

Students as represented by popular culture, without fail, drink to excess out of red solo cups at a fraternity house with a hard-partying reputation.

UT students enjoying a night, sans alcohol

UT students enjoying a night, sans alcohol

In show after movie after film after episode, college parties are depicted. We see them in Van Wilder, Old School, and Pitch Perfect. And lest we forget, the “quintessential” college party movie is Animal House. In fact, Animal House has become such a touchstone and influence on how students behave that a poster of John Belushi in a shirt that says “college” is still a best-selling item. This poster, however, leaves out the context of the film, which was a critique of the fraternity and sorority system.

Some college students drink, so do non-students. Some college students party, so do non-students. And some college students don’t do any of these things, and neither do non-students. The point is that this stereotype, while based in some students’ reality and experience, is not every student’s reality and experience.

In fact, researchers Lewis and Neighbors concluded that students over-estimated the drinking behaviors of their peers, sometimes by a whole six-pack!

College is just like high school with jocks at one table and nerds at the other.

Revenge of the Nerds and even Monsters University tell us college students fall into several separate groups. Similar to the way high school cheerleaders and jocks might sit together, and the band geeks and artistic types sit together, and the nerds keep to themselves, the portrayal of college students is that they also “stick to their own.” In Higher Learning one character identifies all the groups on the quad, who are grouped by race. For example, “Disneyland” is the group of white students who come from an upper socioeconomic status background. (Not a compliment, but also not inaccurate.)

Two UT students enjoying a coffee break

Two UT students enjoying a coffee break

Researchers Astin and Pascarella and Terrenzini all highlight the importance of one’s peer group in college. In fact, one study (Antonio, 2001) noted that friendships between groups were common, but those students who had interracial or interethnic friendships saw themselves as outliers instead of the norm. Thus, campus is perceived as more segregated than it actually is. We can apply similar assumptions to intergroup friendships between fraternity and sorority members and “nerds” or the debate team and the basketball team.

Making different kinds of friends, living or working with people different than one’s self can be one of the benefits of college. Sometimes this makes it to the screen. “Unlikely” friendships show up in Felicity, Scream 2, and Grown-ish. And that’s our point: they are presented as unlikely rather than common. Yes, college students generally find a group of friends similar to themselves; however, they also make friends who are different from whom they are used to interacting. There is, after all, no one single way to “do” college.

Rape culture is highlighted, but not critiqued.

In media, college women are present for only a few reasons, mostly sex-related: to prop up or propel a man’s storyline (PCU), be an object of lust (Neighbors 2), or to be a prize to be won (see all the Revenge of the Nerds films). Even when women are central characters, their lives are still defined in part or whole by whom they date or have sex with (Legally Blonde; Pitch Perfect) or their lives are not complete until they have come to realize their feminine powers (The House Bunny). These portrayals depict aspects of rape culture, which permeates even the frothiest of media, and few media critique it in any way.

In the most graphic depictions (horror), women are punished for their sexuality and usually only the virgin gets to live to the end (Scream Queens; Scream 2). Let’s note that lesbians are usually portrayed as benign “predators” looking to turn sweet straight girls to the “dark side” of sexuality (Higher Learning; Pitch Perfect).

While few television shows or movies take up rape as explicitly as in Higher Learning, there is a clear message that women are not safe on college campuses. And the reality is that women aren’t particularly safe anywhere in American society. According to RAINN, 23 percent of all women experience rape or sexual assault. But about 5 percent of males experience it, too. And while 18- to 24-year-old women are more likely to be the target of sexual assault compared to all women, non-students are more likely than college women to be targeted (four times vs. three times).

So while documentaries like The Hunting Ground are pretty accurate in portraying the complexities surrounding how rape culture plays out on college campuses, portrayals can also mask how endemic rape culture is to U.S. society as a whole.

College is mostly for White people

College is for White people between 18 to 22 years old who live with roommates and don’t do much other than party, occasionally show up to class, and play hacky-sack on the quad. Almost all of the examples we’ve given so far feature mostly White casts with a few exceptions (Higher Learning), so student bodies are White bodies. And while there are contemporary and complex portrayals of Black experiences in college (A Different World, Dear White People, Grown-ish, Drumline, Stomp the Yard, etc.), portrayals of Asian or Latinx characters in college are usually reduced to caricatures at worst (Revenge of the Nerds) and stereotypical support characters at best (PCU, Pitch Perfect).

UT students at graduation

UT students at graduation

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, as of fall 2016, White students comprise about two-thirds of the college population, 19 percent are Latinx, 13 percent Asian, 13 percent Black, 1 percent Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 2 percent Other. Pitch Perfect illustrates the issue well. There are 10 Bellas: seven are White, one Black, one Asian, one Latina. While the film provides back stories of over half the White characters, the three ethnic minority women are reduced to tropes: an oversexed lesbian who happens to be Black, a quiet Asian, and an English-language-learning Latina. Even when representation looks about right, non-White students get to show up, but they don’t get a storyline or a realistic personality, and their struggles and achievements are made invisible. The rare exception to this is Ronny Chieng’s sitcom, Ronny Chieng: International Student, which portrays Asian college students attending an Australian university.

Community does this as well but the characters are fuller, which is to be expected in a long-running sitcom with an ensemble cast. This show actually portrays a community college, which is rare as most representations are of four-year universities. Community colleges have about 45 percent White students and tend to be more diverse than their four-year counterparts in other ways as well (first-generation students, veterans, English language learners).

What do these portrayals reveal?

Some truths for sure. Yet those truths, if anything, reveal issues that institutions of higher education are trying to solve, including issues of access, inclusion, diversity in the professoriate, and sexual assault.

But the most important take away is this: while White students can see themselves in college through multiple TV and film portrayals, and Black students can look to some (still limited) portrayals, students with other minoritized identities (Asian, Latinx, indigenous students, yes, but also veterans, English language learners, adults returning for certification or a degree, LGBTQ students, etc.) have few to no possible models that are anything other than a stereotype. And that needs to change.

America is only becoming more diverse, and portrayals of higher education in media influence potential students, shape the attitudes of those with and without college experiences, and may even impact the way politicians view and fund higher education. The purpose of higher education is to be a public good, to produce educated citizens ready to participate in a robust democracy. In this day and age, this mission is more important than ever, despite the red solo cup often portrayed in film and TV.

Bukoski and Jones were featured in a podcast about their research on the socialization of transgender and queer graduate students. Listen in!

Victor Sáenz began his tenure as chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy in June. He discusses how changing the department’s name from Educational Administration better reflects the dynamic field, and what’s happening within the department and in the educational leadership and policy arena.

You have said that changing the name of the department reflects an evolution that aligns with changes in education. What are the most critical changes in the field right now?

The new department name reflects immense changes in the field of education, brought on by innovations in school leadership and management as well as shifting policy priorities. Issues such as school choice, demographic change, the rights of undocumented students, state divestment of public education, the compounding effects of poverty on school systems, and innovations in technology are re-shaping the education landscape. We need to train our school leaders and policy researchers for contemporary K-12 and higher education contexts, and our current faculty are engaged in research and practice that informs these new educational realities.

The department has a history of graduating principals and superintendents who go on to lead schools and districts not just in Texas, but across the country. What sets your graduates apart from other public education leaders?

Our department has built a national reputation for producing award-winning educational leaders and policy researchers. To ensure this legacy continues, we must be proactive and stay ahead of new educational leadership and policy challenges. Our department has a strong core of senior faculty with years of executive experience in training leaders and scholars, mid-career and junior faculty who employ cutting-edge methodological training in their expansive research agendas, and clinical faculty who possess years of professional experience that they bring into their classrooms. This balance is a key asset for our department and our students, and it must be carefully supported as our educational systems are disrupted by technology, curricular innovations, and shifting educational policy priorities.

What is the role of leaders in today’s educational arena?

Our leadership program’s goal is to achieve equity and excellence in academic outcomes for all students. As demographic changes portend more racial and ethnic diversity in the coming decades, especially in urban contexts, it is imperative that our educational leaders have a bold vision to promote the way in creating greater access to meaningful education opportunities for all students. We train educational leaders to have a strong grounding in research and best practices, to focus on improving teaching and learning, and to utilize inquiry-based, data-savvy, and strategic-planning skills. Training strong and effective educational leaders then leads to strong and effective schools, and this is how we aim to achieve our goal of equity and excellence for all.

How do faculty and students in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy work together to address pressing policy issues?

Our department has a rich legacy of students and faculty working collaboratively across sectors to address key policy issues in education. It begins with a group of faculty committed to working with students to provide meaningful experiential and field-based experiences that enrich learning in and out of the classroom. As a result, some of these opportunities have led to real policy impact. Our students emerge from our programs equipped to not only navigate multiple policy arenas but also to effectively influence and impact key policy conversations in education spaces.

What are your recommendations for anyone considering a career in educational leadership and policy?

Prospective students interested in applying to our educational leadership and policy programs should consider our strong legacy of training equity-minded scholars and practitioners. We train policy scholars who address emerging education policy issues and are committed to researching inequities in schools for all students. We prepare school leaders who anchor their practice in social justice and anti-racist leadership. We provide powerful learning experiences that are deeply grounded in fieldwork within schools and communities. These experiences launch our master’s and doctoral students into meaningful careers as scholar-practitioners with an optimal blend of theory and practice.

Victor B. Sáenz is chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy and is an associate professor in the Program in Higher Education Leadership. In 2010 Sáenz founded Project MALES (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success), focused on advancing success strategies for male students of color across the education pipeline.

Join Educational Policy and Planning Assistant Professor Joshua Childs as he discusses chronic absenteeism, a K-12 problem hidden in plain sight. Childs illuminates four zones that affect students’ lives and school attendance and shares what educators can do to address the problems that impact school attendance.

Childs’ research examines collaborative approaches involving community organizations and stakeholders that have the potential to improve academic achievement and reduce opportunity gaps for students in urban and rural schools. He is an RGK Faculty Fellow and a faculty fellow with the Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis.

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.

Janelle Scott is an associate professor at UC-Berkeley in the Graduate School of Education and the Department of African American Studies. Her research explores the relationship between education, policy, and equality of opportunity. It centers on three related policy strands: the racial politics of public education, the politics of school choice, marketization and privatization, and the role of elite and community-based advocacy in shaping public education.

This August, Victoria M. Defrancesco Soto, currently a professor at The University of Texas at Austin, where she teaches in the Department of Mexican-American and Latino Studies, gave the keynote address for the 8th Annual Texas Higher Education Symposium. The symposium was hosted by the College of Education’s Educational Leadership and Policy Department (ELP) at The University of Texas at Austin.In “Bridging the Political Divide: Educators on the Front Line,” Soto spoke directly to over 100 educators in attendance about how what happens in their classrooms can help bridge a widening political and societal divide.

“In classrooms,” said Soto, “diverse groups come into contact. Shared contact can stem in-group/out-group divisions.” That intergroup contact, the very presence of others, starts the process of bridging.

To facilitate bridging, she explained, certain components are necessary: equal status of individuals, cooperation, common goals, and support by institutional authority. “Schools are ground zero for this,” she said.

“Education reduces prejudice through the social norms that are introduced,” said Soto. “For example, a person with a preference unlike yours deserves respect, and you may have other things in common. Smalls steps inoculate against polarization.” In addition, she said, “Learning about the history and lives of others also helps humanize them.”

Soto urged educators to help their students “get uncomfortable. Help them talk about different views rather than retreat to enclaves with pre-established conditions and content. Let things get uncomfortable, and moderate as an educator.”

“You as an educator have more power than almost any other profession to bridge the cultural divide.”

This was the second year that the ELP department hosted the Texas Higher Education Symposium, which brought together several hundred educators from public, private, and two-year colleges around Texas.

Photo by Carmelo Paulo R. Bayarcal from Wikimedia Commons