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Race, Ecuador, Education: A Race Researcher’s Perspective

In Uncategorized on June 22, 2013 at 9:15 am

ImageI was going to write about my perceptions about the student experience for post number 3, but race has been strongly whispering in my ear to be written about and sometimes it is just best to invite the muse in and play with it. So for this piece, I will explore this some more.

Because my research interest is broadly on the role of race and racism in shaping higher education, many of my questions pertained to this very issue.  Most of my questions began like this: “I noticed that many of your administrators are not Ecuadorian, and mostly white…”  or “How do you attract non-White students to your school/program?” It usually ended with some visible discomfort from people we spoke with this week and even from some of my colleagues.

My friends remind me that my knowledge about race often makes me speak from this issue with authority and confidence that can often be misconstrued as harsh.  In my head, there is no way to soften the words “White” or “White Supremacy”  – in fact, I no longer whisper these words or decide not to tackle them because the power of Whiteness is not something that I am afraid of addressing and I haven’t given it power to do so in my research.

But I am often surprised at how isolating it is to discuss race from a researcher’s perspective with people who do not deal with it or do research using it as a lens. When I do make this point, I am often told “It’s just that you are so harsh” or “I’m just not used to the way you ask questions”.

I was reminded about the complexities of discussing race with non-race-researchers. I was reminded that sometimes I have to tread this racial terrain carefully.  I realized how important my core group of race researcher friends are to my sanity. Image

Probably the best answer I heard when I asked questions about the racial composition or dynamics of the institution was from a teacher and administrator from the Liceo Internacional. We were discussing some elements to their success and when we came to the student-teacher relationship, I asked about the diversity among teachers as related to the racial diversity among the students. In the U.S. about 90% of all teachers are White, and for many students of color, having a white teacher in the classroom is a normal experience, but an isolating one, sometimes. I was thinking about research that points to importance of race among teachers, professors, and even counselors for people of color.  I asked: How can you educate Ecuadorian children by employing a white faculty?

The administrator, who was White and from the US herself, looked a bit taken aback, but shook her head vigorously. She said it was an issue that they grapple with all the time and that she hopes to improve.  She realized the importance of attracting an Ecuadorian faculty but still hopes to balance this with more international teachers so that students may be ready for more international and global experiences after they leave the 12th grade. The founder of the school added the following: “No matter how international of a school we become, our mission is to remain an Ecuadorian school. We believe that students must know about Ecuador and must feel proud about this. We want to give them roots before they develop wings.” Indeed, this statement was felt all over the school. Pictures and drawings from students themselves were all around the hallways demonstrating Ecuadorian pride.  It was probably one of the few, if not only, times I have seen this done intentionally.

This was also the woman who (when talking alone with her) asked me where I was from. I told her that I was from New York but my family is from Ecuador.  Her family is from Czechoslovakia but she was born in Ecuador.  She told me she has gone a couple of times and was happy to hear that I took this trip. She said, “Welcome back. Isn’t this like you are visiting the ghosts from the past.”  This sounded more like a statement than a question.  She knew exactly what I was talking about perhaps because she knows this experience intimately. When you are born in a different country from your parents, you are haunted by these ghosts. You wonder why you look a certain way apart from what you see on television.  You wonder why you sound differently, why your language is spoken so differently from your parents and their siblings. Getting to know these ghosts is the only way to get answers.

I wonder how similar or not this is to the teacher-student relationship when the teacher looks so differently from his/her students. This itself could be a great experience if the teacher is competent and not color blind to these differences.  But, when White Supremacist values in the classroom are not checked, teachers and administrators may not understand the damage they may be doing.

One example of this actually happened to me while here.  After asking an administrator about the number of Ecuadorian students they were able to bring back to their school via an exchange program, and of course, how many of their total student population was White, he said that many Ecuadorian students from the US are not interested in coming back to Ecuador to study in their schools. I suggested that perhaps a plan should be developed to attract Ecuadorian American students to Ecuadorian universities and he said this was a good idea.  Our conversation transitioned from that to formally introducing ourselves and when I said I was from New York but my parents are from Guayaquil, he jokingly said “Watch out for her. She’s tough”.  While there are several microaggressions rolled up in that statement, many of us who recognize them and have experience confronting them, pick and choose our battles and this was not one I wanted to engage in. But the bigger blow came when the same administrator told a white colleague that she was “very Latina” because she hugged him.

Let me explain why this is highly disturbing. I often hear people of color tell white people who they think are cool that they are not really White.  Or that they are in fact, Black or Latina.  The problem with this is the following: White people often get the more positive and desired stereotypes that shape people’s perceptions of who people of color are. In other words, what you like about Black and Latino people will often be used to describe “cool” White folks.  Meanwhile, those of us who are Black and Latina, still get the less desirable stereotypes. What does this mean: racial diversity interaction, even in the social arena, is still more positive for White people than it is for People of Color. And, if a color-blind White person doesn’t recognize this, they find being called “not really White” a privilege. Thus, building on and amassing the privileges they already have.

What a mess. This White Supremacy thing.

I have been told by some folks that I am really Black, not Latina. I always shake my head.  As a light skinned Latina woman, to accept the more positive Black stereotypes on this light-skinned body, while allowing for my Black brothers and sisters to be demeaned and discriminated against only reinforces White Supremacy.  I may have roots, but the privileges I amass because of my light skin is something I am aware of every day. I am a race worker, a race researcher, not a tool for White Supremacy.

White Supremacy is a helluva drug y’all.

Race workers, race analysts, race researchers often find themselves isolated because we understand race the way Will Hunting sees Math – we dissect it, we try to make sense of it the way we do rubix cubes, we flip it, in essence, we are the ones to help make plain this very difficult concept of race, only made more difficult in societies that are color blind and color mute, those who do not want to see it or speak it. But it is often in the “making race plain” discussions that we find ourselves confronting very harsh opinions about the non-existence of race. And, most of the time, I confront these opinions, making me look like the one who “always” brings up race. When I don’t immediately confront it, I write about it, as I do now.  Racial justice is a part of my core values in the same way honesty is for someone else. But because race is thought of as non-existent or “too much to deal with” racial justice as a value is not explored and not valued. 

Perhaps, the more difficult the task, the stronger its bearer has to be.  But at what cost? 

My hope is that the cost brings about hope. And, perhaps some change.

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Quito, Day 2: Ecuadorian Higher Education Reform and its Discontents

In Uncategorized on June 16, 2013 at 5:40 pm

image copyAs luck would have it, I had a draft written out last night. In my blurry-eyed sleepiness, I must have pressed a button that caused for all my work to disappear.  Hence, the tardiness of this post.

The further removed you are from a memory, the more you forget.  So I will try to write this quickly.

We had four visits during Day 2, at three different institutions.

The first was with Secretaría Nacional de Educación Superior, Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación (SENSCYT), where we met with several people to discuss community colleges in Ecuador and history of the reform.image-2

The conversation began by providing a historical account of the higher education reform policy they are currently working under. Here are some facts: we were told that 30%  of the Ecuadorian population who are between  the ages 18 and 24 are in college and 38% of the Ecuadorian population who are over 18 are enrolled in some form of postsecondary education.

One presenter explained that in 2007 and 2008 there were various meetings to discuss changes in higher education policy that was in practice at that time. According to the constitution then, there existed two main tenets: the first was that everyone deserved a free public higher education.  Unfortunately, public higher education was only practiced in theory; students were charged different types of fees at different institutions, which the government wanted to curtail. Additionally, not all students actually were able to access higher education despite the low costs.  Secondly, the constitution also mandated assessment and evaluation of the higher education system which they were not conducting.

In 2009, reforming higher education in Ecuador was an agenda item for President Correa and his government.  According to our presenters, the reform was guided by the following principles:

1. In order to transform higher education, higher education needed to be recognized as a public good. In doing so, the government was able to gain authority over the higher education system. We were told that this does not mean control, this means “regulation and overseeing” not controlling.

2. Democratization of access. To ensure that everyone had access to public higher education, the government implemented a national exam in 2012, which they believe evaluates aptitude. Troya emphasized that this exam does not discriminate against students who attend poorly resourced high schools. They also found that the exam provides more access to indigenous and Afro Ecuadorian populations. In fact, Troya says that in addition to increasing those populations in higher education, the net enrollment rate of low income Ecuadorians in higher education is now boasts the highest enrollment of low-income people for all of Latin America. She credits these enrollment rates to the national entrance exam to access higher education.

3. Pertinence is another principle guiding this reform. In other words, the university must fulfill national needs and in this era, this means more specifically, the STEM fields.

This is all part of the a project called the “Good living ” – Buen Vivir  project, a plan that the government is currently implementing that specifies higher education must address the needs of Ecuadorian society. Part of these needs include a push for more students in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields.

How is this higher education reform currently being implemented?

One way they plan to implement all of this is by providing more scholarships to Ecuadorian students, more than any other government has in Ecuador. Scholarships are for students who earn a certain score on their national exam.  The score and these scholarships are supposed to guarantee a student’s acceptance into some of their top universities, private or public. In an effort to improve universities, the Ecuadorian government has closed down fourteen colleges and universities. We heard on Day 4 how this affected some students and will recount on the next post.

Another way the Ecuadorian government has implemented this new reform is by offering scholarship money for those who want to study abroad. The deal is that students who wish to study outside of the Ecuador must spend double the amount of time in Ecuador (after they graduate) as they spend abroad. They have a scholars network to keep these scholarship students connected to each other and by helping them find jobs after they come back. So far they have a 1000 graduates who have returned to Ecuador.

A third way the government is implementing this reform is by creating community colleges. Currently, the Ecuadorian government is engaged in a 308 million dollar project to build community colleges. These colleges are mainly geared in the STEM fields and are guided by the country’s needs.

Forty institutions will be converted into community colleges by 2016. The goal is to increase the number of community colleges from 12% to 25%. They are hoping to graduate 31, 000 students by 2017. The government wants to build community colleges that are major specific in areas of the country where there are no institutions of higher education. The philosophy for the students in these community colleges is that they will undergo a “dual formation” between an academic instruction and labor orientation.

All the professors, administrators, and students we heard from seem to question the implementation of this new reform.  Much of these plans sound great in theory but I did not hear how these plans are connected to theory, evaluation, or assessment. One example is the creation of major specific community colleges in areas where there is no postsecondary institution.  It is not quite sure how SENESCYT actually know that people living in these areas will actually want to attend these community colleges in their neighborhoods.  We were told that they have to work on changing the mentality and attitudes of the Ecuadorian people in order for these reforms to work but it is not certain how they plan to do this.  We were also told that if someone who wants to study a specific major not found at their local community colleges, they have to travel to one that does.  And to me, this defeats the purpose of the community college. Additionally, the reform states that all professors must hold PhDs in order to teach. In a country that only has 250 PhD holders, this seems like it will be an enormous feat to beat if they hope to build all these extra community colleges.

It is interesting to see how the government seems to be pushing very hard for vocational training while the professors we spoke with are not content with the brain drain, the lack of liberal arts training, and the lack of knowledge being produced and exported from Ecuador. The government seems to be working on these issues as well and I would have liked to have heard more about this. Also left unclear to me was how this reform will be studied or assessed.  I am not sure how they plan to gather professors, administrators, and students’ perceptions of these reforms.

Day two consisted of more meetings with administrators from an American high school in Quito and a visit with student affairs professionals in la Universidad de las Americas (the only one in Quito higher education and maybe even the country).  We also met with one of the only disabled professors in Quito higher education.  This professor helped transform the Universidad de las Americas by making the campus friendlier for physically disabled people by creating ramps and elevators for those individuals who are in wheel chairs.

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Day three and four were filled with narratives from Ecuadorian people who were or continue to be college students here. These were powerful stories filled with struggle for the desire to continue higher education given many structural and political roadblocks that were created by the government. I will write about that for my next piece.

In all, there seems to be a disconnect between the government and the higher education community.  Each group (professors, students, administrators)  has their own set of problems with the government’s higher education reform.  Indeed, it doesn’t seem that complete governmental authority over higher education is working; we are in the midst of watching change occur and no one knows yet how this will affect Ecuador’s most valuable treasure: its people.

Quito, Day 1: Context for Knowledge Production in Ecuador

In Uncategorized on June 14, 2013 at 1:04 am

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A little less than one percent of the world’s knowledge production or research comes out of Latin America. When Dr. Raul Leon provided us with this statistic, all our jaws dropped. How can that be, we wondered.

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We met Dr. Lucas Pacheco Prado who holds a Ph.D in Economics. He primarily studies political economics and Ecuadorian higher education. He has influenced the way Ecuadorian higher education is evaluated and studied.  Dr. Pacheco Prado’s main concern is that the system largely focuses on vocational training and not the production of knowledge. A system that offers over 2000 types of degrees, he finds that it is not concerned with producing research and continues to push careers and certificates that often lead to no knowledge production. This is one possible reason for the statistic mentioned earlier.

Dr. Pacheco Prado is in the process of writing a book on the history of higher education in Ecuador. He is eager to work with higher education researchers who are interested in understanding and researching Ecuadorian higher education. Interestingly, he is the first to coordinate symposiums and conferences about the study of higher education here. His passion for this subject seems to be deeply rooted for his love of research and his country. He was really inspiring and his desire to contribute to knowledge production in Ecuador was infectious.

Below are some pictures of some of his publications.

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We met Dr. Enrique Ayala of the Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar. He is a historian by training. This institution is interesting for many reasons: one, it is the only institution in Ecuador to educate and train graduate students, master’s level and higher. Secondly, you will note that “Andean” is part of the name of the university. This designates the inclusion and partnership of students from neighboring countries from the Andes region. Dr. Ayala is very proud that in addition to a university it is also an international organization, one that opens its doors to international and regional students with great facility.

When I entered the university, I was struck by the abundance of artwork that hung outside of the university and within its walls. The artwork in the university is impressive. Dr. Ayala made himself in charge of beautifying the institution and calls himself a “frustrated architect” because his hand is in much of the design and artwork that one sees immediately upon entering its halls. I believe that this also immediately brings a type of cultural capital to students.  At some point, one would have to wonder: who are the artists, what is the artwork about?  Much of the artwork was related to Simon Bolivar, but I think the art is also made primarily by South Americans, mainly Ecuadorian artists.

Its library is special, too. Because the institution only offers education to students seeking masters and doctorates, every student’s work, theses and dissertations, are digitized and housed within the library.  Every student!  They believe that as an institution that is committed to the production of knowledge, this is an important part of knowledge building in Ecuador.

The institution is also one of the only colleges in Quito to build dorms for their students. Because of the large amount of international and regional students, they felt it necessary to build these dorms. This is another source of pride for the college.

We met three of his colleagues, all who hold PhD’s and most educated in the US. We were also informed that only 250 people hold PhDs in Ecuador….
Below are pictures from this university.

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Both gentlemen gave us some context around the 2009 higher education reform which stated that all professors must hold a Ph.D. This legislation also suggests that all professors must have it done within seven years of the reform.  Dr. Ayala also offered interesting insights about this: he believes that while some reform is necessary, expecting for great professors who have been working over 30 years and are now n their 60s to obtain a Ph.D. is criminal and will cause an even further strain on its colleges and universities.

I am still absolutely struck by how little knowledge is being exported out of Latin America. Perhaps it is why the Ecuadorian government has been taking control over the higher education system there. We also learned how upset higher education officials are about the amount of control the government is taking given that it was once completely autonomous.

Interestingly, we heard from our first speaker that the changes has racial implications but we ran out of time before he could explain. But definitely one issue that I will be on the look out for…

Finally, growing up Ecuadorian American often means that we have very little access to who are the knowledge producers, the writers, the artists, the poets, and so on… I grew up with a constant wonder about the knowledge that came out of Ecuador. Understanding it’s history a little more today helped me understand why I knew so little about this country and why it continues to be so today.

This can’t end here. There is a need to support the efforts of the knowledge creators in Ecuador; they are working under a system of education that for years has pushed vocational and career training. Could there be room for both? What are the incentives of reforming a system of vocational training to a system that produces knowledge?

Time to revisit W.E.B DuBois and Booker T. Washington. The debate continues….

Below are more pictures from today. More to learn tomorrow! So much more to learn, so little time.

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<img src=”https://raceworkracelove.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/

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