What not to say in college

Clark University students during the first week of classes in Worcester, Mass. Photo: Kayana Szymczak/New York Times

New college students are learning about “subtle insults” — aka microaggressions — reports Stephanie Saul in the New York Times.

The story starts at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.

A freshman tentatively raises her hand and takes the microphone. “I’m really scared to ask this,” she begins. “When I, as a white female, listen to music that uses the N word, and I’m in the car, or, especially when I’m with all white friends, is it O.K. to sing along?”

The answer, from Sheree Marlowe, the new chief diversity officer at Clark University, is an unequivocal “no.”

Marlowe warned students to avoid “comments, snubs or insults . . .  targeted at people based on their membership in a marginalized group,” reports the Times.

Among her other tips: Don’t ask an Asian student you don’t know for help on your math homework or randomly ask a black student if he plays basketball. Both questions make assumptions based on stereotypes.

“You guys” is out too. It could be interpreted as excluding women.

Microaggressions can be silent.

“What’s an environmental microaggression?” Ms. Marlowe asked the auditorium of about 525 new students. She gave an example. “On your first day of class, you enter the chemistry building and all of the pictures on the wall are scientists who are white and male,” she said. “If you’re a female, or you just don’t identify as a white male, that space automatically shows that you’re not represented.”

A nonverbal microaggression could be when a white woman clutches her purse as a black or Latino person approaches.

Another subset of microaggression is known as the microinvalidation, which includes comments suggesting that race plays a minor role in life’s outcomes, like “Everyone can succeed in this society if they work hard enough.”

I’d call that an opinion.

BTW, a biological male can “self-identify” as female, but a white person can’t self-identify as black, according to Marlowe. Students seemed confused, writes Saul.

Community college students need structure

With weak academic skills and little “college knowledge,” community college students  need structure, block scheduling and better teaching, writes Aspen Institute’s Josh Wyner.

“Student success” courses, also known as College 101, need to improve to have long-term impacts on students’ persistence, concludes a new study.

More California Latinos are college grads

More California Latinos are earning college degrees, but the college gap remains wide.

Also on Community College Spotlight: Many recent high school graduates who go on to community college skip orientation, don’t meet with an adviser and flounder.

For-profit floats idea of money-back guarantee

Under federal pressure because so many students are defaulting on loans, Kaplan University’s CEO has told Education Secretary Arne Duncan he’s willing to give students their money back if they’re not satisfied with introductory courses. University of Phoenix is piloting a free, three-week orientation so students can make sure they’re ready for college before they pay tuition and take out loans. So far, 80 percent of prospective students who take the orientation go on to enroll.

Also on Community College Spotlight, Accenture’s CEO champions community colleges. A plumber’s son, he got his start at a two-year college.

Colleges tell parents to go home

It’s hard to get parents to go home again once they’ve dropped off their kids at college, reports the New York Times.

In order to separate doting parents from their freshman sons, Morehouse College in Atlanta has instituted a formal “Parting Ceremony.”

It began on a recent evening, with speeches in the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel. Then the incoming freshmen marched through the gates of the campus — which swung shut, literally leaving the parents outside.

When University of Minnesota freshmen move in at the end of this month, parental separation will be a little sneakier: mothers and fathers will be invited to a reception elsewhere so students can meet their roommates and negotiate dorm room space — without adult meddling.

Grinnell College gathered students on one side of the gymnasium bleachers, parents on the other.

The president welcoming the class of 2014 had his back to the parents — a symbolic staging meant to inspire “an aha! moment,” said Houston Dougharty, vice president of student affairs, “an epiphany where parents realize, ‘My student is feeling more comfortable sitting with 400 people they just met.’ ”

Then the parents were urged to go home.

Colleges officials talk of “velcro” parents.