Students expressed their desire to define their racial identities on their own terms at “OTHER: A Multiracial Student Photo Gallery,” which opened in the Student Organization Center at Hilles on Sunday.
Amanda Mozea ’17, who organized the exhibit, described it as an attempt to highlight the struggles that many multiracial students at Harvard face.
Students study the portraits on display at “OTHER: A Multiracial Student Photo Gallery” at the exhibition’s opening on Sunday afternoon.
The exhibit features more than 50 models who identify as multiracial, each of whom posed for a portrait and answered a series of questions displayed in a written transcript. The questions included, “How does the government define your race? How do others define your race? How do you define yourself?”
The portraits were candid shots that omitted any jewelry or “distractions” that would detract from the message of the photographs, organizers said.
“Every model you see—the only thing looking out of the picture is themselves,” Mozea said. “And so it is that in the purest sense, that person is looking out at you and you are looking back at them, and the hope is that you will form a connection, maybe in a little way.”
Mozea mentioned her interaction with a black cultural organization during her freshman year as the inspiration for the project.
“A girl came up to me and said, ‘Well, at least you have a little black in your face,’ as if my only right to be in that space was that I have slightly phenotypically black features,” she said. While the exhibit began as an outlet for her anger, Mozea said that “it became more of a cathartic experience.”
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, who stayed for the duration of the opening, said he was particularly interested in the exhibit’s statements about personal identity.
“I think this exhibit speaks to our understanding of who we are in terms of its social and personal transformation—which is so critical in our own lives—but also raises important questions,” he said. “On an intellectual level, the exhibit asks how does ethnicity or identity get developed as a person, versus how is it socially constructed by the state?”
Breeanna M. Elliott ’14 discussed the relevance of the exhibit in the context of student organizations at Harvard.
“There are communities and clubs that exist for one community versus another, so I think this opens up the conversation that there are mixes of identities and that it’s very difficult for certain individuals to define themselves by one thing versus another,” she said.
This Thursday, a follow-up panel will be held to serve as a “reflection on what people have seen in the gallery and what the implications of being multiracial have on how we identify as multiracial, not just biracial,” said William A. Greenlaw ’17, a partner in the production of the exhibit and an Undergraduate Council representative.
Steve Osemwenkhae, a Boston-based photographer, took photographs pro-bono for the exhibit. Mozea completed the project with the support of her race relations tutors in Pforzheimer House, the SOCH team, the Asian American Association, and the UC.
Hi! My name is Tristian Turkey and I am honored to be invited to share my story with all of you at Project RACE for this week’s Famous Friday. I live on a beautiful farm in Plymouth, Massachusetts where my ancestors have lived since the 1600s. My great great great great grandmother came from England with the Plymouth colonists and my great great great great grandfather was raised by a Wampanoag Indian chief. They met in 1621 when the colonists invited the Wampanoag to share an autumn harvest feast. My great great great great grandparents went to the celebration, which is known as the first Thanksgiving. It was there, under the table, eating the crumbs of lobster, seal, swans, venison and berries that they met. It was love at first sight. She thought that he was strong, honest and funny. He thought she was beautiful, kind and smart. No one cared that she was an English Turkey and he was a Wampanoag Turkey, because everyone understood the obvious, turkeys are turkeys no matter what their heritage. My grandparents married and had 14 children. Every year, all my ancestors went along to enjoy the big Thanksgiving feast. It became the Turkey Family Reunion for over 200 years. But then everything changed!
An American writer named Sarah Josepha Hale, who wrote the nursery rhyme Mary Had a Little Lamb, started a campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. She also published recipes for pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing and … TURKEY!! TURKEY! Can you believe it? Yes, we always came to the Thanksgiving feast, but we came to celebrate our family history. We came to celebrate how our ancestors from two different backgrounds came together and became one awesome turkey family. We did NOT come to be cooked and eaten!!
So now, as the final Thursday in November nears, you will not find my family and me celebrating. No, we hide in November, but we thankfully celebrate our rich and wonderful heritage the other 11 months of the year!
This year, for the first time, there will be more minority students than white students in the U.S. public school system, according to federal government projections. A look at how the numbers break down for public schools from 2014-19, according to the projections from the National Center for Education Statistics:
Below is an article that appeared in Education Week about the fiftieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka involving school desegregation and discrimination in education. That, along with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, allowed the U.S. Department of Justice to sue states and school districts. One of the major reasons the schools and federal Department of Education collect racial and ethnic data is to help accurately prove or disprove such law suits and complaints.
What could possibly be wrong with that? Nothing, except that a multiracial person cannot prove they were discriminated against because they are multiracial. They do not exist in schools, so how can they be discriminated against? If you were a multiracial student whose school principal told you that your parents made a “mistake” when they conceived you—a true story—they could get away with it. Although, if you said you were only one minority race, you would probably win a discrimination case.
In 2000, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) advised the Department of Education that it was perfectly fine to re-tabulate multiracial students. They even gave some examples in their “Final Guidance on Maintaining, Collecting, and Reporting Racial and Ethnic Data to the U.S. Department of Education.” Some of those examples are as follows:
Example 1: A respondent self-identifies as Hispanic/Latino and as Asian.
This respondent is reported only in the Hispanic/Latino category.
Example 2: A respondent self-identifies as Hispanic/Latino and as Asian and Black or African American.
This respondent is reported only in the Hispanic/Latino category.
Example 3: A respondent self-identifies as non-Hispanic/Latino and as Native Hawaiian
or Other Pacific Islander.
This respondent is reported in the Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander category.
Example 4: A respondent self-identifies as non-Hispanic/Latino and as American
Indian or Alaska Native and White.
This respondent is reported in the two or more races category.
So, as we can clearly see from the examples, first, they are grouping race and
ethnicity together. This is after years and years of making sure everyone knew that
race and ethnicity were two distinctly different things. Then they make sure that
Hispanic trumps everything (see examples 1 and 2). In other words, if you are ethnically
part Hispanic then you become only Hispanic. It sure sounds like the old one-drop rule to me,
just for another group. The old one-drop rule stated that if you had one-drop of black blood,
you were black. The new one-drop rule is that if you have any “Hispanic/Latino blood,”
you are “Hispanic/Latino” by default or at least by the crazy math of the OMB and
Department of Education. That would be our United States Department of Education.
But wait one minute and read example numbers 3 and 4! If you are not Hispanic at all,
but you also identify as American Indian or Alaska Native and White, or Native Hawaiian
or Other Pacific Islander, then you can be in the “two or more races” category,
which we call “multiracial.” That would be if there even is a category
for “two or more races.”
Actually, none of this really makes sense, especially for something as important
as civil rights. Federal enforcement may be key, but it’s also very scary if
Fifty years ago—a decade after the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka—there still had been little real progress in desegregating the nation’s schools.
In 1964, only 2 percent of black students were attending formerly all-white schools in the states of the former Confederacy, according to a 1966 report by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
Then came the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the landmark legislation signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson that is best known to many Americans today for its prohibitions on discrimination in the workplace. But several key provisions of the statute provided a jump-start to the desegregation process.
The Civil Rights Act authorized the U.S. Department of Justice to sue states and school districts to compel desegregation. Another provision allowed the department to intervene in existing civil rights lawsuits being pressed by private parties. And the law’s Title VI prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in federally funded programs.
“There is no doubt the Civil Rights Act gave a big boost to desegregation,” said James E. Ryan, the dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and an expert on education law. “Having the weight and the resources of the federal government behind these cases was a very big deal.”
The civil rights statute and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which provided federal aid to schools on a large scale, gave the federal government carrots as well as the stick of litigation to pursue desegregation goals.
(President Barack Obama honors Sylvia Mendez with the 2010 Medal of Freedom at the White House on Feb. 15, 2011. As a child, Ms. Mendez was a key figure in a seminal school desegregation case.)
With further help from the Supreme Court, real progress was made in desegregating Southern schools, and some in Northern cities, too.
High Court’s Shifting Stance
But the high court, so central to prodding the nation to end legal segregation of the races in its schools, hasn’t decided a desegregation case in nearly 20 years. In its last such case, justices expressed impatience with continuing judicial supervision of schools.
Today, the Justice Department remains among the country’s most vigilant activists for reaching desegregation goals. The department was once a party to or an intervenor in hundreds of desegregation matters, and it still has 184 active cases on its list.
Anurima Bhargava, the head of the educational opportunities section of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said in a rare interview that the job the nation embarked on 60 years ago is still a top priority for the federal government.
“The goals remain as they have for a long time,” said Ms. Bhargava, a political appointee who formerly headed the education practice for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “How do we address the vestiges of segregation?”
The role of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in the nation’s desegregation saga has been somewhat underplayed over the years, scholars say.
Even with ground-shifting demographic changes, many public schools continue to be highly segregated 60 years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the principle of “separate but equal” education, but those shifts have also created opportunities to approach diversifying schools and classrooms in new ways.
This special series includes reporting on the state of school integration today, video profiles, national data on school desegregation, a timeline of landmark desegregation cases, Commentaries on integration, and more.
Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law and political science at Yale University, argues in a new book that the statute broke a 10-year impasse over desegregation progress since the Brown ruling by giving the federal government the tools to get involved.
“By authorizing the Justice Department to bring its own lawsuits and to intervene in those brought by others, the act greatly increased the courts’ capacity to transform Brown into a living reality,” Mr. Ackerman writes in We the People: The Civil Rights Revolution.
Until passage of that law, “the NAACP Legal Defense Fund had been the only actor” filing desegregation lawsuits, Mr. Ackerman added in an interview. Although the private organization—led for a long time by Thurgood Marshall, a future U.S. Supreme Court justice—had filed some 500 desegregation suits, “there were vast areas of the South where there was not even a pretense of desegregation,” Mr. Ackerman said.
He and other legal scholars agree on another important development stemming from the Civil Rights Act. What was then the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare issued guidelines—tepid at first in 1965, but stronger a year later—that set desegregation goals that schools receiving federal aid should meet.
“The ESEA put a lot of money on the table, so the threat of withdrawing federal funds” based on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act now had some power behind it, Mr. Ryan of Harvard said.
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, in 1951.” border=”0″ height=”438″ width=”305″>
(Linda Brown, 9, is shown in this 1952 photo. Now Linda Brown Smith, she was a 3rd grader when her father joined the lawsuit that bears their family’s name, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, in 1951.)
The guidelines also gave local school leaders some political cover to begin desegregating in earnest, and the guidelines were embraced by federal district judges who were formulating decrees, Mr. Ryan said.
The Supreme Court itself “got back in the game,” he pointed out, with its 1968 decision in Green v. New Kent County School Board. That case was based on a lawsuit against a small Virginia district in 1965, in which a lower court had upheld a type of “freedom of choice” plan that was widely adopted by many Southern districts as a token effort at desegregation.
The high court said a freedom-of-choice plan was not acceptable where other desegregation tactics were available to provide a speedier, more effective result.
“Integration is starting to work by this point, and Justice [William E.] Brennan [Jr.]”—the author of the opinion in Green—”can say the days of ‘all deliberate speed’ are over, and we want integration now,” said Mr. Ackerman.
By 1970, one-third of black students in the South were attending schools where a majority of students were white, according to a 1999 report by the Civil Rights Project, which was then based at Harvard University and is now at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The federal role in pressing school systems to purse their desegregation goals became entrenched over the next quarter-century, even as the Supreme Court’s commands evolved.
In 2007, the Civil Rights Commission issued a detailed report examining Justice Department enforcement of school desegregation. The report noted that Supreme Court decisions in 1991 and 1992 had made it easier for school districts to be declared unitary—meaning no longer operating a dual system—and thus be freed from court supervision.
The number of cases involving the Justice Department had declined from 430 in 2000 to 266 by 2007, the report said. The commission’s key finding was that the increase in jurisdictions obtaining unitary status had not had an adverse effect on actual levels of racial integration in their schools.
Still, “many of the original desegregation orders have been in place for decades,” the commission observed.
Many of those orders now are gathering dust because the cases are largely inactive. Others still bind districts on matters such as student assignment, attendance zones, and faculty-diversity goals.
(The first white students to attend West Charlotte High School are directed to classes by Assistant Principal Leroy Miller in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 9, 1970, as Charlotte-Mecklenburg County schools open under a court-ordered desegregation plan.)
Allison Brown, who was a career lawyer in the educational opportunities section of the Justice Department’s civil rights division under the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said in an interview that the department has been able to bring about agreement on certain modern-day concerns in some districts.
In the 6,000-student Meridian, Miss., school system, for example, the Justice Department, the district, and the private plaintiffs who first sued to desegregate the system in 1965 agreed on a consent decree last year addressing student discipline. The decree was meant to settle an investigation into charges that the district disproportionately subjected black students to suspensions, expulsions, and school-based arrests, often for minor infractions.
Ms. Brown, now an education law consultant based in Washington, said lawyers in the educational opportunities section often confronted the mind-set that desegregation work was something out of another era.
“That was something we battled a lot,” she said. “But desegregation, to us, still felt like a very real tool for changing that mindset.”
Justice Department Enforcement
Ms. Bhargava, who took over in 2010 as the head of the educational opportunities section, said in the interview that of the 184 active cases involving the federal government, “there is a subset of those where we haven’t seen a lot of activity.”
The Justice Department initiates case reviews of some of those dormant decrees, while in other cases federal district judges may say, “Hey, what’s going on with this case?” she said.
A bid for unitary status by a school district, which usually comes from the district, also brings about a review by the department.
“Moving the desegregation cases to close is not my number-one priority,” Ms. Bhargava said. “The question for us is, what can we do within the context of our desegregation orders?”
(Black and white students at Smiley Junior High School in Denver walk by their school on Sept. 22, 1971. Tensions mounted in that city in the wake of an order requiring some students to be bused for desegregation. A later Supreme Court ruling in the Denver case set several precedents.)
That issue was underscored recently when the Justice Department filed a motion under a decades-old statewide desegregation case in Louisiana to ask whether the state’s expanded tuition-voucher program was upsetting the racial balance in schools in several districts still under court supervision.
In April, a federal judge in New Orleans ordered the state to provide the Justice Department with regular data reports on the students accepting vouchers so the program’s effects could be monitored. Both sides claimed victory in the outcome.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Mississippi, the department is challenging the adequacy of desegregation efforts of the 3,600-student Cleveland district, another case that has been around for nearly 50 years. (See related story, Page 18.)
Chinh Q. Le, a Washington-based civil rights lawyer who wrote about the federal role in desegregation in 2010 in the North Carolina Law Review, said in an interview that there is a bit of irony about the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools curbing voluntary consideration of race.
“It has turned out that if there is going to be hope for many school systems” to achieve their desegregation goals, he said, “their strongest tool may be that they remain under court supervision.”
Doing so allows them to still consider race in ways that districts that aren’t under court order may not, said Mr. Le, who once worked at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
“People might perceive that school desegregation cases, as we understand them, may seem passé,” Mr. Le added. “But the notion that many Americans want school systems that are truly racially integrated is as strong and alive as ever.”
Our post last week on minority enrollment and diversity at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor sparked a lively debate in the comments section about demographic data and diversity.
“I must admit that I am scratching my head,” one reader, Candis Best, wrote in response to the post. “Minority enrollment is down, but the school isn’t less diverse?,” she asked. “Diversity isn’t about statistics. It is about relationships.”
Ms. Best is, of course, correct that diversity is more than percentages and bar charts. “Diversity” includes identities that cross genders, cultures, and other ways people define themselves. A diverse campus involves interactions among students and faculty and staff members, all trading and sharing points of view and gaining understanding as they learn from others’ backgrounds.
Nevertheless, data and statistics are able to provide some insights into the makeup of a population and the degree to which that population consists of people associated with various groups.
Before we explore some different ways of measuring diversity through data and statistics, it’s worthwhile to look first to the demographic data themselves. What do the data show? What can’t they measure? And what are some of the complications and pitfalls of using such data to measure racial and ethnic diversity?
Categorizing Race and Ethnicity
The first factor that complicates any discussion of race and ethnicity is how to categorize a person’s race in the first place. Before the 2000 Census, people were asked to check a box indicating their race. The selections were mutually exclusive. You were either white or black. Hispanic or Asian. By 2000, though, a cultural shift had caused people to think about racial categories not as distinct groups but as elements that can combine to form a person’s identity. People could now check multiple boxes.
Yet that shift didn’t affect the Department of Education’s data collection for nearly 10 years. In 2009 the National Center for Education Statistics, for the first time, made it possible for colleges and universities to report students as members of two or more races. (Colleges could still opt for the old method, which did not allow multiple selections. But in 2010 that option was no longer available.)
Students who checked multiple boxes on their college applications were grouped by the Education Department in a single new category: “two or more races.” (That differed from the Census Bureau’s method, which put people into any of the groups with which they identified.)
The Education Department’s approach means that someone who ticks both the “white” and “Asian” boxes is grouped in the department’s database with someone who ticks the “white” and “black” boxes. Meanwhile, anyone who selects “Hispanic,” whether or not he or she selects another racial category, is counted in the Hispanic category.
The change that occurred in 2009-10 makes it difficult to track trends in demographics from before that time through to more-recent years.
Before 2009 someone with one black parent and one white parent would have had to select either black or white. The same student, applying to college in 2010, now had the option of selecting two or more races.
So a drop in the number of black students reported at a university from 2009 to 2010, as we noted at the University of Michigan, doesn’t necessarily mean that there were actually fewer black students. It could also mean that some of the students who would have been counted in the black category before 2010 were instead counted in the two-or-more-races category under the new reporting methods.
It’s also likely that some racial and ethnic categories appear to include fewer students than they really ought to. That’s because the Department of Education also includes a nonracial category in its race and ethnicity data: immigration status. As a result, someone who selects “non-U.S. citizen” is pulled out from any other category and placed into that one.
While that methodology has remained consistent over the years, it nevertheless stands to reason that separating those students from the ethnic groups would lower some of the numbers—probably Hispanic and Asian students in particular—more than others.
It’s easy to see how those racial and ethnic classifications—and the changes that were made in them—would complicate efforts to use the data to measure racial diversity on campuses.
Knowing about the pitfalls of the data, though, can help us determine and evaluate different ways of measuring racial diversity on a college campus—something we’ll explore in our next post.
Race discrimination in universities still a problem, reports survey
Nearly 60 per cent of black and minority ethnic higher education staff and students questioned for a survey feel they have been discriminated against
According to the Race Equality Survey, undertaken by the group Black British Academics, 56 per cent reported discrimination, while almost three quarters (73 per cent) said they would rate their institutions’ performance on race equality as “poor” or “very poor”.
Many of the 100 respondents criticised institutions’ recruitment and promotion practices, with comments complaining of “closed doors”, “differential treatment” and being “cold shouldered”.
“You are not taken as seriously and it is as if you have to do more/owe more in order to receive the same as a white British individual,” says one respondent.
“In an employment capacity, I and other members of staff of colour are often the last to hear about departmental developments,” another claims. “Information is passed along informally to others beforehand.”
The report states that although positive action on recruitment is an option under equalities legislation, there is little evidence of its use across the higher education sector. A 2013 poll by the same organisation found that 77 per cent of respondents favoured positive action targeted at the most under-represented ethnic groups.
Other respondents complained of overtly racist behaviour by their colleagues.
“Black staff are treated with contempt and disgust and career progression is almost non-existent among our demographic,” reads one comment, while another lists some of the “numerous situations” in which they have encountered racism in academia.
They include “negative stereotypes of what to expect of black people (jokes about mugging, rioting, capacity to understand complex ideas, ability to develop creative ideas)” and “constantly being challenged by students and staff who have low expectations with regards to receiving a high level of education from a black female”.
“Our survey shows that black and minority ethnic staff are frustrated by racial inequalities that block their path to senior positions and feel positive action is the most effective strategy to address their under-representation and low progression to senior levels,” said author of the report, Deborah Gabriel, who is also the founder and chief executive of Black British Academics.
Of the 100 respondents to the survey, 91 worked or studied at UK higher education institutions, with the remaining 9 working in related areas including schools and the early learning sector.
California will not solve its higher education diversity problems by bringing affirmative action back into the admissions process.
Racial diversity and minority underrepresentation in California’s schools has been a hot-button issue for half a century, but a proposed amendment to California Proposition 209 that would lift the ban on “affirmative action” in UC and CSU admissions has stirred up quite the controversy.
Proposition 209 was originally signed into law in 1996, and effectively banned state institutions from discriminating based on “race, ethnicity, color, sex or national origin” when considering candidates for employment or education admissions. Officially, this would mean that college admissions officers could not prioritize these criteria when considering candidates for admission. Senate Constitutional Amendment 5, which has already been passed by the State Senate, seeks to exempt state universities, like the UC system, from those rules in an attempt to increase the proportions of students from underrepresented minority backgrounds. In a system that had 4.2-percent black admissions and 27.6-percent Latino admissions in spring 2013, this would likely mean higher enrollment for students of these backgrounds.
But as much as we support diversity and advocate equality in admissions, we don’t think that bending admissions standards to prioritize underrepresented groups will deal with the underlying problems in higher education. While the intentions behind SCA-5 are good, the Universities of California should not reject qualified candidates in favor of meeting race-based quotas.
Under the UC system’s current admissions protocol, dubbed “holistic review,” an applicant’s race is not the primary determinant of their chances, as it is in the affirmative action system. Admissions officers assign each student a score, to which the circumstances associated with a student’s race or background contributes, along with the usual academics and extra-curricular activities. While this might be helpful in deciding between two nearly identical candidates, the purely race-based admissions methods that SCA-5 will give way to are steps in the wrong direction.
Arbitrarily boosting minority candidates’ applications tends to hurt the very students that the policy is intended to help. Graduation rates for underrepresented groups in state universities show that putting students with low high school performance into a rigorous academic environment will not help them succeed. Statistics from California’s Postsecondary Education Commission show that black and Latino men and women are, on average, 10 percent less likely than their counterparts to complete their degree over a 4-to-6 year period. While there are certainly thousands of high-achieving students from minority backgrounds, it seems as though students who have been accepted on the basis of their ethnicity may end up struggling. We feel that these students would be better served and more likely to earn their way into prestigious universities if California took the initiative beginning with early education to help them succeed.
Statistics seem to show, in fact, that the education inequality gap emerges earlier in education. According to the California Department of Education, Hispanic/Latino children make up just over 52 percent of California’s K-12 public school student demographic but constitute only 30 percent of applicants to the UC system. In contrast, Asian-American students make up around 11 percent of the K-12 population but 44 percent of applicants to the UC. The problem doesn’t lie in admissions to the UC, which proportionally have a fairly close correlation to applications. The problem is the lagging number of minority high school students applying to colleges.
Accordingly, investment in primary and secondary schooling for underrepresented minorities may hold the solution. The UCSD-run charter Preuss School, which exclusively admits would-be first-generation college students, turns out high school graduates that are accepted to four-year colleges, including prestigious universities such as Harvard, Yale and MIT. School programs should focus on motivating the many talented but underrepresented children who come through their doors. With a supportive environment and an interactive curriculum that could include anything from the arts to robotics, schools can take steps to ensure that these students can apply to college with the same academic background as their white and Asian-American peers.
Thousands of highly qualified students from other ethnic backgrounds are already turned away from the UC system every year, and the number is only expected to increase if the bill passes. Accepting more minorities is all very well, but every seat given is one taken away from another potential student. The highest-achieving college entrants systemwide have historically been of white and Asian-American ethnicity, and we feel that is unfair for academically stellar students to be passed up because of their race alone.
While we appreciate the efforts of those in the state legislature to try and level the playing field for students of all races, we suggest that they look to alternative methods. Engaging and improving primary and secondary education can help bright, underrepresented minority students get the academic experience they need for success without suggesting they need special accommodations to get there.
NAKAGUSUKU, OKINAWA – Melissa Tomlinson doesn’t have very happy memories of elementary school. As an 8-year-old, she “never had a chance to eat lunch normally — the other kids put something in it, or they mixed the milk and soup and orange together and told me to eat it.”
Like the three or four other mixed-race children in her class, Tomlinson was bullied on a daily basis. Now a 26-year-old high school English teacher, she still recalls how “they told me to go home to America, and they talked bad about my mom.”
Her teachers did little to stop the abuse — indeed, some, wittingly or not, even contributed to it. Every summer, on the anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa — the three-month assault in which around 100,000 Okinawan civilians perished — Tomlinson would become the focus of the class. “The teacher always said, ‘Melissa, can you stand up? So, you are half-American, what do you think about this?’ For me, I was like, ‘I grew up here, I don’t know about American things.’ ” Tomlinson had no memory of her father, a U.S. serviceman who’d split from her mother when she was still a baby.
Tomlinson’s story is far from unique. Since 1946, many children here have been born to U.S. military fathers and Okinawan mothers. Sometimes (and especially when the fathers are deployed elsewhere) the mothers are left to bring up the children by themselves, and, like Tomlinson, those children don’t always have an easy time at school.
When five single mothers set up a school for their own “Amerasian” children in Okinawa 15 years ago, they were not so much worried about bullying as concerned about getting their kids a bilingual education. The only one of the women still involved with the school — the current principal, Midori Thayer — explains: “Our children needed to learn both languages because of their two different heritages. They had to be themselves.”
Because the children couldn’t get such an education at public schools, weren’t eligible to attend schools on the U.S. bases, and simply couldn’t afford the existing private international schools, the women felt they had no option but to go it alone. The local board of education was persuaded to sanction the project, which at first involved just one American teacher and 13 pupils meeting in a regular house.
Today, the AmerAsian School in Okinawa (AASO) has 78 students, 12 full-time teachers, eight part-timers and a host of volunteer tutors. They have a modern, bright facility in Ginowan, which they get to use rent-free, thanks in large part to Thayer’s powers of persuasion. (She managed to secure a promise of support from then-Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi when the pair met in Okinawa in 2000.)
It is not a school, Thayer says, for the “trendy” Japanese middle class who want their kids educated bilingually. “There are trendy schools out there. This school is for not-wealthy parents.” In any case, monoracial Japanese children are prohibited from attending by the board of education — unless they can’t speak Japanese. While the majority of AASO pupils are Amerasian, there are others of Filipino or European extraction.
Thayer, whose background is in pharmacology rather than education, runs the school with Executive Director Naomi Noiri, a sociology professor from the University of the Ryukyus. Noiri has been closely involved with the AASO from its inception and receives no payment for her work there.
A fervent believer in the school’s mission, Noiri recalls how one “double” (as she calls mixed-race children, in preference to the more commonly used “half”), an Okinawan/African-American child, arrived at the school with very low self-esteem. “He’d asked his mother, ‘Which soap is good to wash off my color?’ But once he was here, he started to help his classmates in Japanese class, and in English class the classmates helped him. He began to think, ‘I’m OK, I’m popular, I’m happy with myself.’ And that’s our goal.”
A quick look at the school’s Facebook page shows more warm words from former students who were able to escape bullying by attending AASO.
The AASO story, however, is not an unqualified success. There have been ongoing funding difficulties and rumblings of discontent from former insiders.
In some ways the school does not even exist. Its students are registered with local schools, from where they are then seconded. Also, the school receives virtually no public funding, aside from its arrangement with the rent. Two of its Japanese teachers do receive their salary from Okinawa Prefecture, but all the other running costs come out of student fees — ¥30,000 a month — or donations. And because it doesn’t receive any state money, the state has no say over how the school is run, leading some to query its accountability mechanisms.
In writing this article, I interviewed three people who had taught at the AASO at different times over the past six years, as well as the parent of a current student. All agreed that there are excellent teachers at the school and that many pupils thrive there. However, they also shared some very similar misgivings.
One issue was the relatively high turnover of staff, something which the school acknowledges. “It’s out of our control,” says Noiri. “Many of our American teachers are the wives of military personnel and they need to move on, and it’s very difficult to find a teacher who can stay with us more than three years.” Often, it seems, they stay shorter — one teacher recalled that in his two-year stint, he saw around 10 teachers come and go.
At just ¥170,000 a month, perhaps the wages are part of the reason. Noiri disagrees, arguing that the pay is comparable to that at both commercial language schools and international schools. She also rebutted a suggestion that not all the teachers were fully qualified. “I think only one teacher is in the process of getting a degree, but the majority of teachers have a teaching license.”
Another concern was the wide spectrum of ability within classes. It wasn’t just that the level of English (and Japanese) varied greatly from one student to another, but that some pupils also had learning difficulties. Again, Noiri agreed this was an issue. “At the moment we have several learning-difficulty students and we have been dealing with that.” While they could not afford classroom assistants for these children, Noiri went on to explain that a counsellor was available to advise staff. “Most of our teachers can deal with that situation. And our teachers could ask how to do (that), to the counsellor and to the principal.”
I also heard grumblings about how the staff were sometimes managed. “There’s always been a lot of politics and turmoil there. From what I saw, there wasn’t much room for constructive criticism or other ideas,” said Akemi Johnson, a former teacher and researcher at AASO. When I put the criticism to Thayer, she responded: “We are a nonprofit organization. We are not getting any government support. We run ourselves. Of course we have to protect our children — of course we have to protect ourselves.”
There was no mistaking the embattled tone. No doubt it is a measure of how deeply Thayer and Noiri care about their pupils — and the fact they have so little official support — that they sometimes come across as defensive. It probably also explains why, when I started to ask about the departure of a handful of former teachers (whom I didn’t interview), they cut short our interview. [Ms. Noiri maintains that the tone of the interview was antagonistic.]
Of course, professional disputes and personality clashes happen in every workplace. On those occasions when grievances can’t be resolved, teachers in other schools can appeal to governors, boards of education or even the ministry of education. So what’s the situation at the AASO? Noiri said teachers were, of course, free to air any grievances at faculty meetings: “If a teacher has a problem with Ms. Thayer they can come to me, same as a normal school — a principal and a board, Ms. Thayer and me.”
Reservations aside, most of the people I spoke to felt that Amerasian children benefitted from attending the school. One was particularly positive: “The overall objective is really good — their hearts are in the right place, but there are just some little kinks.”
One way to deal with those kinks might be for the government to step in and take over the running of the AASO, says professor Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, of Stanford University. Himself an Amerasian, he has written and researched extensively in this field for more than 20 years. “The Japanese government is too willing to segregate minority groups and allow them to have their own education, but I think they need to learn how to integrate children who are different.”
He says the school has undoubtedly been good for two kinds of Amerasian children — those who were bullied in state schools and those English speakers who returned from America, usually following marriage breakdowns. But he wonders if the school is appropriate for the majority of Amerasians who don’t fall into these categories.
“I think the school really does serve well those kids who need their education in English, but for kids who want their future to be in Japan, then the school needs to have a strong Japanese language curriculum,” he says. At present, 80 percent of the curriculum in the elementary portion of the school is taught in English, while the junior high school lessons are divided equally between English and Japanese. There is no high school, so most students transfer to public high schools at the age of 16.
One AASO graduate — Eduard Thayer, now 24 — wonders if he wouldn’t have been better off going to a regular Japanese school from the start. “I sometimes question if I would have had better opportunities if I spoke the language better, but (on reflection) I would rather speak both languages because it has brought me to a global or international world — it makes you more open to other things.”
One of Principal Thayer’s three children, Eduard admits he did have linguistic difficulties when he entered high school. “Even now I’m not really good at expressing myself in Japanese — I do speak fluent Japanese but I sometimes have difficulty expressing myself.”
There is little doubt that, proportionally, there are more biracial children in Okinawa than elsewhere in Japan, thanks largely to the presence of some 25,000 U.S. military personnel. Current statistics are hard to come by, but in 2007, 63 percent of all biracial children born in Okinawa had American fathers. The corresponding figure for mainland Japan was just 7 percent.
So what about Tomlinson, whom we met at the beginning of this article — in hindsight, would she have been better off going to the AASO? “No,” she says emphatically. “I know I had bullying and it was really hard, but I survived and now I’m really happy”.
For Eduard Thayer, though, the AASO was a valuable experience, as was his time at a Japanese high school. Both helped him become comfortable with his own identity, he says. “When I was in my senior year, I finally understood that it didn’t really matter if I was Asian or American — it just matters that I act myself.”
The number of students from multiracial families has topped 50,000 for the first time ever, accounting for 0.89 percent among the total number at primary and secondary schools across the nation, the Ministry of Education said Sunday.
According to the ministry, the number stood at 55,767 as of April 1, up 8,813 or 18.8 percent from last year, and a six-fold increase over seven years compared to 9,389 in 2006 when the government started compiling data.
The government statistics didn’t cover children attending foreign schools.
By school, the number of elementary school children was 39,423 or 71 percent, those at middle schools were 11,235 or 20 percent, and those at high schools were 4,827 or 9 percent. According to the statistics, 45,674 or 82 percent of children are from interracial couples, born in the country, and 4,931 ones or 8 percent were born overseas and came to Korea.
The number of children from foreign families stood at 5,162 or 9.3 percent.
The ministry set up 50 pre-schools where children from multiracial families can learn Korean language and culture before they enrol at regular schools.