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Example of an exercise in restorative justice

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

The band, Dawes

Photo courtesy of Magdalena Wosinska

And how can music be used to help counselors in training? According to Educational Psychology Professor Aaron Rochlen, more than you might think.

In his Counseling Theories class, Rochlen frequently connects complex psychological theories to media, movie clips, and song lyrics. In a recent visit to his graduate level course, several examples unfolded. He played a clip of LeBron James discussing why people enjoy when he loses as examples of “splitting” and “projection.” A clip from the classic movie Scarface, where Tony Montana tells others why they needed him to see him as the “bad guy” illustrated the concept of projective identification.

In another lesson, Rochlen shared a clip of the new Jim Carrey series Kidding, in which Carrey plays Mr. Pickles, a happy go-lucky TV character whose personality contrasts his depressed, grief-ridden, off-screen character. The scene was used to show the Jungian concepts of persona, shadow, and incongruence.

The class also talked about Tiger Woods, who made a recent comeback after a devastating personal scandal to win his first major tour in five years. Woods’ rise, fall, and return provide a case study for competing archetypes. Specifically, the class discussed the destructive power of what one could argue as Woods’ “hidden shadow,” which competes with his earlier good-guy public persona.

These in-class discussions gave the students the opportunity to apply what they learn about psychological theory and counseling. Says Rochlen, “Popular culture connects to and entertains us. But it’s often much deeper, more personal. In class, I try to make these connections and use these examples to facilitate an understanding of human distress and common life-challenges in a fun way.

It’s within this context that Rochlen introduced lyrics of one of his favorite bands, Dawes. Says Rochlen, “When I first discovered Dawes, I loved the music. After a while, I realized the lyrics offered ideal connections to concepts articulated by Freud, Jung, and existential authors. In class it became clear that my students were learning in different, creative, personal ways, and who doesn’t like jamming out in class?”

Some Dawes examples used for teaching stand out.  He played “Just Beneath the Surface” to illustrate Freud’s concepts of the unconscious, defense mechanisms, and Freudian slips.  He asked students to listen to “Something in Common” while prompting them  to reflect on the concept of “persona” and the unconscious message of dreams.

Professor Aaron Rochlen with the band Dawes

Professor Aaron Rochlen, center, with the band Dawes

After the listen, Rochlen typically asks students to describe what they’ve heard, including their emotional responses, with a particular connection to the lyrics. One student said that the Dawes line “All the best kept secrets are the ones I didn’t know I had” had a connection to the unconscious. Explained Nina Clinton, a student studying counseling education, “Freud saw the unconscious as having all of the deep hidden secrets or true selves hidden away, that in therapy he tried to recover.”

The lines, “The way that she remembers me is not the way I really am. But I’m hoping they’ve got something in common” reminded another student of “working with the shadow.” They explained “the persona and shadow should share some of the same qualities, so that a person does not become too conflicted … which leads to anxiety.” When a person’s outward persona and shadow have nothing in common, there can be hell to pay.

Taylor Goldsmith, lead singer and songwriter for the band, learned that Rochlen was using the band’s lyrics for class.  He said that it was “easily the highest honor of my career as a songwriter. It goes way beyond what dreams a songwriter like me could possibly have for his or her songs. When I met Aaron, he explained to me the ideas he used my songs to help illustrate. I wasn’t familiar with any of the terms or thinkers he was referring to, so that was definitely an added thrill … especially for someone who never got to finish college, which is something I hope I get to go back and do someday.

Says Rochlen, “A songwriter doesn’t need to be aware of the concepts to be impacted by them or communicate them.  It was clear Taylor has done plenty of introspection in his own life.”

Rochlen adds, “That’s part of why using popular culture is so powerful. It shows these concepts are an intrinsic part of the human mind and psyche. Each of us has the capacity to demonstrate the core concepts in our life, in healthy or unhealthy ways. Of course, although Freud, Jung and others wrote about all of this in different times, the prescience of their work remainsjust turn on the radio or television.”

 

 

 

 

Two girls participate in a writing exercise

Young Latinas infuse culture, tradition, and family into their writing

“My students and their families have important stories to share,” says Assistant Professor of Language and Literacy Tracey Flores, “and writing has the power to build community and solidarity.”

That’s why Flores began an afterschool bilingual family writing workshop while she was a second-grade teacher in Arizona. In the workshops, students met in her classroom for 12 weeks to draw, write, and tell stories from their lives.

Tracey Flores works on writing with the students

“At the workshops, I modeled my own writing, we read mentor texts for inspiration, and used writing, drawing, and oral storytelling as tools to share ourselves and connect with one another,” says Flores. “Each week parents sat alongside their children at Con Mi Madre—each penning their own personal stories and working together throughout the entire writing process. In the classroom, students wrote more, began to integrate some of the strategies we practiced at workshops and, for the first time, many infused Spanish into their personal writing.”

Flores continues this work at the University of Texas at Austin. In fact, this summer, young Latinas and their families from across the Austin area participated in a Somos Escritoras writing camp on campus.

The work of infusing the students’ and their families’ culture, traditions, and language into their writing is important, says Flores, because many of the Mexican and Mexican American students in her Arizona classrooms were viewed as deficient and placed in English Language Development classrooms in which they received a different curriculum, a restrictive language and literacy curriculum, than that of their English-speaking peers.

Photo of Fabiola

Fabiola

“As I worked within and against these oppressive and racist structures, I saw how these mandates were silencing and controlling the voices of my students,” says Flores.

Flores says that she’s learned from the girls in this summer’s Somos Escritoras performative space “more about the concerns that are most important in the girls’ lives and the ways that they are defining themselves and naming themselves, through writing, theater, art and other performative acts. This work will inform future workshops for girls and will inform the ways that I plan and facilitate my Language Arts and Community Literacies courses for pre-service teachers.”

Photo of Genevieve

Genevieve

Says Fabiola, a 12-year-old girl who participated in the camp, “I wanted to find a place to fit in. I write a lot of poems in my free time, but I was afraid to share them. I feel more confident in myself as a Chicana and was able to share my stories with everyone. I have been sharing what I do in camp with my family, and they are really proud of me and that makes me proud of myself.”

Genevieve, a 7th grader, appreciated the sense of community the camp provided. “It’s been really nice to have a group that’s so open. I didn’t really get to have that in other places. This place makes me feel comfortable. We are each unique, but we have a lot in common. We were able to talk about both the discrimination we face and our triumph as Latinas. I really like hearing about others’ experiences and relating them to mine.”

Nathaly S. Batista-Morales is a doctoral student who works with Flores. She says that participating in Somos Escritoras fit into her education in the field of Bilingual and Bicultural Education because it offered her a model to see research in a new light. She says, “It showed me how to build relationships in the community, how to conduct research with the girls, and how to design opportunities that benefit my community now rather than later. Additionally, it fit well with my research focus on critical literacy, since the core of the program was reading and writing to speak back to issues of injustice, language, ethnic identity, and sexual orientation as we decentered notions of what young Latina women should look and be like.”

Says Flores, “The end goal is to engage my pre-service teachers in considering the practices of Latina girls and the work of spaces like Somos Escritoras, to privilege marginalized voices specifically, and Latina girls particularly, in their own future classrooms.”

Tracey Flores is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction within the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin.

Tracey Flores with workshop participants and graduate students

Kinesiology and Health Education junior Vida Nwadiei and Educational Psychology Professor Kevin Cokley will travel to Ghana this summer as part of a new research project, The Color Complex. The project, which received the President’s Award for Global Learning, is a cross-disciplinary look at colorism, both in Ghana and here at the University of Texas at Austin, in order to mitigate its harmful effects.

Colorism is discrimination based on skin color or skin shade. Dominate groups can prefer people with lighter skin shades, and the preference can also occur within communities of color. In some cultures, the preference for lighter skin causes people to use harmful skin bleaching creams in order to lighten their own tone.

Nwadiei, Cokley, and a team of students and faculty across campus, will investigate how businesses can stop the promotion of conventional “fair and lovely” beauty standards to young women of color. The team will conduct a qualitative study about the perceptions of skin bleaching and use their findings to create a campaign that educates people on the dangers of the practice.

–Videos by Christina S. Murrey

Discussion during APA Conference

In July, the College of Education’s Educational Psychology Department hosted the 5thBiennial American Psychological Association Division 45 Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity, and Race Research Conference. It is the only psychology conference that focuses entirely on culture, ethnicity, and race and the biases present because of these factors.

“In the current climate, it is imperative now more than ever that psychological research is utilized to help communities of color address these current issues related to immigration and the increase of racial tensions,” said Professor Kevin Cokley, who co-coordinated the conference with fellow College of Education Associate Professor Germine Awad.

Interdisciplinary Collaborations Help Address Complex Problems

The pre-conference opened with a panel presentation and discussion, Fostering Effective and Impactful Interdisciplinary Collaborations. College of Education Assistant Professor Sarah Kate Bearman, a clinical child psychologist, presented.

Bearman’s research focuses on effective interventions for underserved children and their families. She explained how her work within a transdisciplinary space—which involves basic science, translational and intervention research, as well as organizational science, interaction with doctors, nurses, care givers, and health communicators—leads to better outcomes.

“The best way to solve complex social and health problems,” said Bearman, “is a participatory team science framework, which is a collaborative effort.”

This interdisciplinary approach helps her create and implement culturally responsive health care interventions for children and families, such as an e-health parenting intervention that can be delivered during routine well-child visits in pediatric primary care clinics. Bearman stressed that team science and community-based participatory research involves continual input from the community. “The research is done with the participants, rather than on them.”

Racial Biases Create Health Disparities

Keynote speaker Lonnie Snowden kicked off the conference. Currently a professor at University of California, Berkeley, he teaches in the Health Policy and Management program in the School of Public Health.

In his address, The Affordable Care Act (ACA), Racial Bias, and Behavioral Healthcare for African Americans, Snowden discussed how policy has impacted ACA expansion, increased access to and quality of behavioral healthcare for minorities, and how biases and stereotypes have negatively impacted Medicaid expansions.

The current combination of biases, both implicit and explicit, and stereotypes surrounding African-Americans and Medicaid recipients has created the concept of the “undeserving poor,” those who supposedly do not deserve healthcare Keynote Speaker Lonnie Snowdencoverage due to their income, race, employment status, or a variety of other factors, said Snowden.

He explained how the concept of the undeserving poor and misconceptions about Medicaid participants has created consequences for public health, healthcare delivery, and employment. This merging of stereotypes has exasperated underlying racial biases in healthcare policies and has led to coverage gaps.

Snowden encouraged psychologists to increase their roles in policy, stating that “what happens in policy creation and implementation can have either a positive or negative impact on people’s lives. The things that we study effect a lot of people, they matter.”

Psychologists of Color and Public Policy

In addition to presentations of findings and networking for practitioners, researchers and students, a plenary panel presented Using Psychology to Impact Public Policy: The Role of Psychologists of Color.

Rice Academy Affiliate Fellow Luz Garcini discussed how her background as a 16-year-old undocumented immigrant impacts her research. She shared with the audience how she frames the issues surrounding undocumented immigrants in terms that can affect public policy, particularly by focusing on the unaddressed health care needs of the population and the subsequent toll those needs take on them and the larger society.

Awad discussed how her research about how Americans of Middle East, North African descent has helped inform policy discussions of categorization of this population within the 2020 Census. All of the panelists stressed that though policy work is difficult and time-consuming, psychologists of color, and those who address issues related to people of color, need to be in the room in order to improve the health and well-being of diverse populations.

This was the first time the conference has been held at the University of Texas at Austin. Previous conferences were held at the University of Michigan, where it was founded by Professor and VP of Diversity Robert Sellers; the University of Oregon; and Stanford. 

Cokley is the Oscar and Anne Mauzy Regents Professor for Educational Research and Development. 

China’s former One Child Policy had profound effects on the parenting of children in the country. As China promoted the policy, extolling the benefits of “high-quality” only children, parents began to devote extraordinary time, attention, and resources to their single child. The children also felt pressure to be the “great” offspring that their parents and country expected them to be.

It was thought that such inordinate attention to and pressure on only children would create generations of “Little Emperors,” children with an exceedingly high self-regard, leading to egocentric character traits considered negative, especially in Chinese society.

Educational Psychology Professor Toni Falbo has spent much of her career studying the effects of China’s One Child Policy on children. Her latest study evaluated research previously published about China’s only children through a new lens that included what has been learned in intervening years.

Head shot of Professor Toni Falbo

Toni Falbo

Falbo’s research compared how only children saw themselves and how they were seen by others, such as the parents and classmates. The results show that singleton boys had a high regard for themselves, a high level that did not match the assessment others had of them. Meanwhile, singleton girls assessed themselves as others saw them.

Says Falbo, “Gender seems to moderate the self-enhancement attributes of the only children we studied. Whereas the boys described themselves more positively than did their parents and peers, the girls described themselves as positively as their parents and peers.” In fact, says Falbo, the girls’ self-assessment was comparable to the self-assessment of girls with siblings.

“While China’s One Child Policy caused parents to favor boys with some negative consequences regarding their egocentricity, it had a positive impact on girls,” says Falbo. She believes that this is because parents devoted resources and attention to girls in a manner that they would not have prior to the policy. “The One Child Policy opened up opportunities for girls, which created a positive effect for female only children.”

To read more, download “Evaluations of the behavioral attributes of only children in Beijing, China: moderating effects of gender and the one-child policy” and listen to a BBC story about only children that features Falbo’s research.

-Feature photo by Lau keith on Unsplash

College of Education alumna and advisory council member Jeanne Klein, B.S. ’67, is passionate about public education and is one of Austin’s staunchest supporters of social and emotional learning (SEL). It started in 2005 at an advisory council meeting, when she heard then-Ph.D. student and UT Elementary Principal Ramona Trevino, M.Ed. ’86, Ph.D. ’06, speak about her research topic: SEL in K-12 education.

Through SEL, children and adults learn and apply the skills to understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.  “Teachers spend more time with kids each day than their parents do. Kids could be experiencing childhood trauma, including issues such as not getting enough to eat, not having clothes, dealing with parents’ divorce, or not having transportation. Meanwhile, teachers are understandably focused on academics,” Klein says. “But teaching kids that they have emotions and how to manage those emotions, teaching them options like using their words and tools to calm themselves are skills that may be just as important as academics,” Klein says.

Partnership-Driven Effort

Klein became involved in helping Trevino implement SEL into the curriculum and programming at UT Elementary. Trevino introduced the Kleins to Betsy Abell, who had introduced SEL to Austin’s St. Andrews Episcopal School in Austin, and to Carmel Borders.

The women are active volunteers in Austin and philanthropists who support education. “From then on,” says Klein, “it was the three of us supporting SEL at UT Elementary: Ramona guiding us with what was needed, and the three of us contributing to help get it there. We hired someone to write curriculum, hired a new counselor specifically for SEL, and hired a coach.”

In 2012, SEL began to spread when Trevino was offered a position at Austin Independent School District (AISD), specifically to infuse SEL programming into AISD. Says Klein, “Betsy thought it sounded fabulous because we could grow from impacting 300 kids [at UT Elementary] to 84,000 kids across the district. At AISD, we started with three vertical teams, each of which had to apply in order to demonstrate their commitment. Now all kids throughout the district have at least been exposed. We have learned along the way, and what we were able to do at a small school, we are now working to perfect in a large urban district.”

Infusing the Curriculum

The work led AISD to create a position of director of social and emotional learning, which has now expanded to an entire department. It also led to further evaluation of the teacher preparation program in the College of Education.

Says College of Education Interim Dean Sherry Field, “We inventoried our classes in our teacher preparation program to see what activities, readings, and experiences already incorporated SEL ideas and principles. We received a phenomenal response from faculty. We had been very intentional about talking about it in our courses, and elements of SEL had always been part of the curriculum. This expansion in AISD allowed us to refocus our efforts and led to the development of a daylong workshop for students in their final semester, to ensure they are well-versed in the theory and ideas,” she says.

Angela Bailey, ‘B.S. ’04, is an SEL specialist at AISD. “SEL is a huge priority for our district and being able to articulate the importance of SEL skills and how to implement them in a classroom is necessary when applying for teaching positions,” she says. For Klein, this holistic approach is key to SEL’s success. “We want infusion of SEL throughout. We teach the kids, the teachers, the staff, and the principals. Social and emotional learning is about culture change. To change the culture, we need to teach everybody.”

Adds Field, “The University of Texas challenges alumni to change the world. This is a great example. This is transforming education in AISD. It wouldn’t have been possible without the advocacy, leadership and support of Jeanne Klein, Betsy Abell and Carmel Borders.”

“Eating food you have prepared is a great way to ensure you are getting good nutrition without a lot of added fats, sugars, or additives,” says Brittany Crim, lecturer in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education. “Regular grocery shopping is a great habit to help ensure you are equipped with what you need to prepare your own meals. Knowing how to navigate the grocery store and choose items that are nutritious is a good way to help you stick to a healthy lifestyle.”

These quick research-based tutorials can help guide you and ensure that your next grocery store run leads to a healthier diet.

Bonus: Read Senior Lecturer Dixie Stanforth’s research about how social influences can undermine diet and exercise decision-making.

–Videos by Hannah Lerner

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!

Cervantes-Soon’s Juarez Girls Rising provides a counter-narrative to popular conceptions of Juarez, Mexico, and a guidepost for school communities who want to foster agency and resistance in the face of violence.

Claudia Cervantes-Soon, assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, grew up in the border town of Juarez, Mexico. Described on this side of the border, often sensationalistically, as a drug den and killing field, especially of young girls, Juarez also is a place that Cervantes-Soon understands as so much more. As she says, “to many Mexicans, Juarez  … [was] a land where they could get a chance for survival in the global capitalism that had swallowed their country.”

Claudia Cervantes-SoonCervantes-Soon is a faculty member in the bilingual and bicultural education department within the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education. She’s interested in ethnographic approaches to studying, in part, what’s taught in the classroom and how identities are used, navigated and presented, particularly among culturally and linguistically diverse learners and young Latina/Mexican women.

Her book, Juarez Girls Rising has recently been selected by the Society for the Study of Social Problems as one of five finalists for the 2017 C. Wright Mills Award. In the book, Cervantes-Soon presents narratives of 10 high school girls coming of age within the backdrop of Juarez. Through their stories, the reader gains insight into how the unique educational experience the girls have in their schooling environment offers them tools, agency and voice that they can use for survival, renewal and resistance.

The girls in Juarez Girls Rising attend Prepatoria Altavista, an urban school founded on social justice principles in the late ’60s. The curriculum of the school is guided by a philosophy called autogestión, “a holistic and dialectical approach to individual and collective identity formation rooted in students’ experiences and critical understanding of their social realities.” This “self-authorship” empowers the young women to overcome barriers and develop meaningful identities within an overarching atmosphere of oppression and violence.

One has only to consider the protests against gun violence all across the United States to see how the stories and resiliency of these young girls, who are soon to be women, translates across and beyond the border on which they live. And, says Cervantes-Soon, “the teacher movements going on around the United States ask us to reflect on the meaning of education.” In that light, Juarez Girls Rising provides a guidepost for educators and students in creating transformative and empowering school communities that foster the strengths, identities, and agency of marginalized students in a complex world.

Cervantes-Soon is currently conducting research into black and Latino coalitions in dual-language programs in Austin-area schools. The project has been awarded the National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship. Read more about it on the College of Education website.