Thursday, February 3, 2011

Perpetuating Racial and Ethnic Divides?

Social scientists, particularly sociologists, have routinely analyzed data sorted by racial and ethnic variables to better understand social structures, discrimination, health, educational achievement, and differences in life opportunities for different social groups in our society.  “Skin tone” and phenotypes (observable physical traits) have also been used to differentiate among different social groups – both self-defined and those defined by others.  Sometimes this research has been motivated by an intent to document inequalities and processes of discrimination as a first step in determining policies that will reduce or eliminate race- and ethnic-based inequalities. 

Such research led to landmark legal decisions in the United States.   It was research by social psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark that was successfully used in the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision striking down “separate but equal” practices in public schools.    Showing children Black and White dolls, the Clarks found that the majority of both White and Black children pointed to White dolls when asked which ones were “pretty” or “nice.”    “Bad” was associated with Black dolls among both groups of children.   This clearly documented that separate but equal institutions had long-term negative effects of Black self-esteem. 

© P. Nyden 2007
However some research may be crossing the line from studying race and ethnicity itself to locking in or reifying racial or ethnic stereotypes themselves.   This is particularly the case with research studying skin tones and phenotypes.   Many of today’s researchers are examining fine and finer distinctions between “skin tone” and other physical traits that some perceive connected to race and/or ethnicity.   These researchers may be swimming against the popular stream where racial and ethnic distinctions appear to be of less importance and relevance to younger Americans.   In a typical class at Loyola, and most other universities, one may look around the room and make an assumption about someone’s racial or ethnic background.   In recent years, I have noticed that links between “looks” and a student’s identity have become more tenuous.   It turns out that the “Latino” student has a mother of Mexican heritage and a father from Poland.   Another student wearing a hijab and is assumed be “Middle Eastern” has an Egyptian father and a Norwegian mother.

            Is not the decoupling of physical appearance and identity a goal of much of the research on race and ethnicity over past decades?   Are there not demographic trends in the U.S. today that are blurring these categories that have been used to sort and discriminate?   According to the Pew Research Center “one in seven new marriages is between spouses of difference races or ethnicities.”    Younger Americans are more likely to be multiracial than are older Americans.     More than one in 20 children under age five are multiracial; while less than one in 100 Americans over age 65 are multiracial, reports demographer Reynolds Farley

In a January 30, 2011 New York Times article entitled “Black? White? Asian?  More Young Americans Choose All of the Above,” the multi-decades-long U.S. trend toward youth identifying themselves as bi-racial or multi-racial was underscored.   Reflecting on her membership in the University of Maryland Multiracial and Biracial Student Association one student said “The No. 1 reason why we exist is to give people who feel like they don’t want to choose a side, that don’t want to label themselves based on other people’s interpretations of who they are, to give them a place, that safe space….”

            In a positive trend, younger Americans are more comfortable with racial and ethnic ambiguities.   This is a step forward responding to the more complex, diverse, global society in which we function.    This is a positive outcome of decades of civil rights and human rights movements that has succeeded in moving towards a society, or at least sectors of a society, where children are notjudged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” and have fulfilled some of Dr. King’s dream.

All social scientists, myself included, need to take heed of the changing population landscape as documented by the U.S. Census. We need to make sure that our research is forward looking and does not intentionally or unintentionally attempt to reproduce dysfunctional ways of understanding the world around us. With an increase in multi-racial identity among younger Americans, social scientists’ focus on “skin tone” and phenotypes will hopefully fade into irrelevance. The alternative is to continue to fine tune our methods of distinguishing between racial groups and ethnic groups.    The Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. has some of these calibration instruments used in decades past.   Jewelry cases with different colored locks of hair and different colored glass irises used in Germany are on display.   I do not think these are tools that we want to take out of the display case and use in our research.

-Phil Nyden
Director, Center for Urban Research and Learning and
Distinguished University Research Professor in Sociology

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Students with DREAMs

For many individuals who come to the United States, an important part of the American Dream is for their children to attend college. Unfortunately, for many of these children who were born in a foreign country, it is a dream that is not easy to reach. It is estimated that in the United States, about 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school every year[1]. In ten states, these students can qualify to pay in-state tuition rates at public universities should they choose to attend. However, in the remaining 40 states and at private universities, these students must apply as international students and pay full out-of-state tuition costs, currently averaging approximately $27,000 a year[2].
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (“DREAM Act”), a piece of bipartisan legislation which has been proposed on several occasions, would provide a mechanism for undocumented students to obtain legal residency if they have lived in the United States most of their lives. Since 2001, the DREAM Act has been introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives several times. Several versions have emerged, but overall, the purpose of the bill is to allow those students who brought to the U.S. by their parents as children, and who have successfully completed their secondary education, the ability to pay in state tuition and apply for government loan programs so that they may be able to afford a college education.
Under the proposed DREAM Act of 2009, DREAM Act beneficiaries must[3]:
Have proof of having arrived in the United States before age 16;
Have proof of residence in the United States for a least five consecutive years since their date of arrival, compliant with Selective Service;
Be between the ages of 12 and 35 at the time of bill enactment;
Have graduated from an American high school or obtained a GED;
Be of "good moral character"[3]
If a student meets these criteria, they are granted “conditional” residency status for six years. During this time, they would be required to graduate from a two-year community college, complete at least two years towards a 4-year degree, or serve two years in the U.S. military. During this six-year period, students would not be eligible for federal higher education grants, but they would be able to apply for private loans. After meeting all of the requirements during the six-year “conditional” period, the student can then apply for legal permanent resident status, and eventually citizenship.
For Marisa, a DREAM student, the passing of the DREAM Act would have allowed her to attend college. Marisa had lived in Chicago with her parents since she was three. Her parents, two hardworking immigrants who had to maintain several jobs for many years to put food on the table for their three children, had come to the United States to seek better opportunities for their children, like millions of people have in the history of the United States. When Marisa was in grade school, however, her older brother and sister had to move back to their parents’ hometown in Mexico to continue their education after high school. For both of them, it was not financially possible to attend college in the United States. During Marisa’s junior year in high school, she become aware of her situation and became part of the national movement of DREAM students and fought for the passing of the DREAM Act. Unfortunately, the DREAM Act did not pass and Marisa moved with her family to her parents’ hometown the summer after her high school graduation. It has been more than two years, and because of the differences in the educational systems, Marisa has been unable to register at a university that accepts her credentials.
Marisa’s story is not unique. Every year, DREAM students are forced to begin working jobs for which they are over qualified because they simply cannot afford to continue their education. The benefit provided by our publicly subsidized educational system is wasted, and the potential for further productivity in our society is hampered.
Enactment of the DREAM Act would be recognition of the American values of hard work and perseverance, which have defined the U.S. immigrant experience. For these children, the opportunity to go to college would validate that their hard work in the classroom and their eventual contributions as productive members of society are just as valuable to society as that of their peers, who differ from them in nothing more than their place of birth.
Recently, under the lame duck session of 2010, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) has stated that he intends to propose the DREAM Act in Congress once more. This gives DREAM students hope that their hard work and perseverance will prove fruitful.
~Maria Guzman
Since 2007, Maria Guzman has been a senior researcher at CURL and has been part of the advocacy efforts to pass the DREAM Act, both on a city-wide and national level. During her time as Assistant Director of the Youth Options Unlimited program at Erie Neighborhood House, she worked with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and a group of youth to support the enactment of the DREAM Act. At CURL, Maria continues to be actively involved in the passing of the DREAM Act and standing up for undocumented youth who wish to pursue post-secondary education and be active and contributing members of society. Recently, the Ford Foundation has funded Loyola University Chicago (through CURL), Santa Clara University, and Fairfield University to survey the social and legal context and current practices and attitudes at the three universities and in American Jesuit institutions in general regarding undocumented students. More specifically, the focus will be to investigate the pathways set up for undocumented students who attend Jesuit post-secondary institutions in the United States, as well as document these students’ experiences when seeking post-secondary education.

[1]College Board Press Release (2009). “Young lives on hold: The college dreams of undocumented students- Why we need the DREAM Act.”
[2]College Board Advocacy & Policy Center (2010). “Trends in College Pricing, 2010.”
[3]National Immigration Law Center (2010). “DREAM Act: Summary.”

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Formerly homeless trapped in a state of dependence by U.S. housing policy

Housing First is a homelessness intervention strategy that provides permanent supportive housing for individuals who are chronically homeless and have been diagnosed with both serious and persistent mental illness and a substance use disorder. This new model seeks to provide stable permanent housing as a first step in addressing other persistent problems—problems often caused or perpetuated by unstable living arrangements such as substance abuse, mental illness, physical illness, and unemployment. The Housing First model was first developed in 1992 by Pathways to Housing in New York. Since that time, the model has spread throughout the United States and has become the cornerstone of a paradigm shift in the homeless service system.

The logic behind this shift in strategy is that individuals who are homeless need to have their basic human needs—shelter, food, security—met before they can successfully begin to address other problems in their lives such as substance use and mental health treatment adherence. As their mental health and substance use improves, the model assumes that program participants (clients) will develop higher levels of independence, relying less and less on the supportive services offered to them. The theory that the model leads to greater independence of program participants has been supported by several studies.

However, research we are conducting in Chicago has demonstrated that there are at least three significant policy barriers, created by government regulations themselves, that can have significant negative effects on the development of greater independence among program participants. The first barrier to fostering independence is a funding mechanism offered by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) known as Shelter Plus Care (S+C), which requires participants to engage in supportive services (for example, case management, psychiatric care, psychotherapy, or employment services) to receive funds for housing. While not all agencies or agency programs receive funding from S+C, those that do are required to match funding for rental assistance with equal funding for supportive services, which incentivizes programs to pressure participants to engage in community services whether or not they want or are in need of them.

A second barrier exists when an agency uses Medicaid funding to support internal services for participants. Agencies are able to use this funding option when they house Medicaid eligible participants and they have staff that provide Medicaid reimbursable services (physicians, licensed social workers, and licensed therapists). These agencies fall into a trap of having to maintain participant dependence on services if the agency is to protect its funding for staffing and services. When using the Medicaid strategy, the agency does not receive money for staffing unless participants are utilizing billable services. Therefore, participant success and increased independence (less need for services) means the loss of funding.

While well-meaning policies, these regulations are creating all-or-nothing funding situations where participants cannot be gradually moved to full housing and service independence. While the spirit is toward creating housing and providing needed counseling services, the regulations have created a dependence perpetuating situation for participants and agencies alike. Both of these funding mechanisms place agencies in situations where they have to decide between building participant independence and maintaining current levels of funding. This is problematic if participant independence means less reliance on supportive services.

The third barrier is the requirement that participants be homeless at the time of intake if they are to be eligible for HUD housing services. This is particularly problematic when agencies have tailored programs that have specialized services to address the needs of participants with specified levels of functioning. For instance, an agency might have a program designed for participants with lower levels of functioning, where they are not allowed unsupervised access to kitchen equipment because of the dangers that access to a stove might impose for themselves and/or others (threat of fire). The same agency (or another agency) may have another program that is targeted for higher functioning participants whose unsupervised access to kitchen equipment is not as risky. However, when a participant is ready to move to the higher functioning program, they would not be eligible for entry because of HUD’s requirement that they be homeless to qualify for funding. This can trap the participant in the first programming, effectively blocking his or her progress toward greater self-sufficiency.

Curiously, one solution to this third barrier is to assure that participants who have improved in functioning are homeless at the time more appropriate placements become available. This might mean moving the participant from their current program to a homeless shelter while waiting for a unit to become available in a program for higher functioning participants.

This rather convoluted bureaucratic “solution,” is not always in the best interest of the individual receiving treatment. A government policy that encourages moving at-risk individuals to homeless shelters can derail an individual’s path to independence. The stigma and stress associated with moving to a shelter can negatively affect individuals who have demonstrated improvements, threatening this progress. Providing stable housing opportunities and elimination of the homeless shelter detour could go a long way to stabilizing the lives of many formerly homeless individuals and creating independent, contributing citizens in many of our nation’s communities.

-Dennis Watson
University-Community Research Coordinator

Friday, April 23, 2010

Education: The Real Stimulus Package

The knee-jerk reaction by elected officials facing the challenge of stimulating the economy is to pump money into construction. The argument is that this will produce valuable assets such as roads, improved transportation systems, government buildings, hospitals, and other tangible investments with use values that can go on-line in two or three years. It is expected that these projects will employ construction workers and related support staff who will pay off mortgages, spend money in local stores, and provide financial stability to their families and communities. I am not criticizing this as one strategy for stabilizing our economy and local communities. However this is just that, one strategy.

Investment in education—particularly investment in teachers--should be as popular an economic stimulus strategy as construction investment. This investment also employs workers who provide financial stability to their families and broader communities. But it provides even more; it is a long-term investment in the productive and creative capacity of our nation. Whether it is providing quality pre-school education for all children, maintaining high quality public schools, insuring that we have affordable higher education, or reacting quickly to provide retraining for adult workers, education is essential for our nation’s long-term health.

Education is a long-term investment. Unlike pouring concrete to make a new six-lane highway, education is not something poured into a student’s head to be used immediately. It takes time.

Unfortunately, the mind-set of elected officials is how to show results before the next election cycle. Something that takes 18 or more years to show productive results is a very unattractive option to many politicians.

Projections are that local and state budget crises will result in the lay off of 17,000 public school teachers in Illinois, 22,000 in California, and similar numbers in other states. Where schools have not been shut down, class sizes will increase to 45 or more students in some cases—not a setting where effective elementary or high school education can take place.

We are producing an educational crisis deeper than that which jolted this country in the late 1950s, when we were shocked by the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik and this country’s lag in science and math education. We need to stop the bleed in education funding and dramatically enhance educational funding as we did 50 years ago.

In recent months we have been pumping money into Wall Street firms, banks, automobile companies, where the “Best and the Brightest” leaders led us to a colossal crisis. Perhaps it has been more greed than lack of intelligence that has led us into this crisis, but it is time to diversify our investment and pay attention to millions of children in our schools.

One politician who has the benefit of a longer-term time line agrees. Last week at Erie Neighborhood House’s annual fund raising dinner, Mayor Richard M. Daley – the twenty-year plus executive of the third largest city in the U.S.—made an emotional case for substantial additional investment into public education as the nation’s number one priority. Through much of CURL’s work with community partners it has been clear that education is central to addressing equal opportunity, community development, reduced crime, and stable employment. Once built, buildings do not create new opportunities, once educated, youth and young adults continue contributing to a healthy and creative society.

Phil Nyden
Director and Professor of Sociology

Friday, March 26, 2010

Welcome to CURL Perspectives

In its 15th year, the Loyola University Chicago Center for Urban Research and Learning (CURL) is an innovative, non-traditional, interdisciplinary research center that engages community partners in all aspects of our research from conceptualization of research projects to research design, data gathering, report writing, dissemination.

CURL seeks to promote equality and to improve people's lives in communities throughout the Chicago metropolitan region. We pursue this goal by building and supporting collaborative research and education efforts. These partnerships connect Loyola faculty and students with community and nonprofit organizations, civic groups, and government agencies. Such collaborations link the skills and wisdom present within every community with the specialized knowledge and academic discipline of a vital urban university. Working together, community needs are addressed and the academic experience is enriched.

At any one time more than 50 faculty, community partners, undergraduate students, graduate students, and CURL staff are engaged in research teams related to more than 15 collaborative university-community research projects. We are always developing new projects as a result of our ongoing partnerships with a variety of organizations throughout the city and suburbs. More information on CURL and its past and present projects is available at our main web site:

The purpose of this blog is to provide a forum for CURL research team members and affiliated Loyola faculty to share emerging research outcomes with broader audiences, comment on the implications of past or present CURL research on developing policy debates, and invite comments on emerging community-based research ideas. We hope this will be an active and useful forum that complements our archive of research reports, our e-journal, Gateways, our Friday Morning Seminars, and other activities aimed at linking “university knowledge” with “community knowledge.”

-Phil Nyden

Professor of Sociology and

CURL Director