an op-ed by Tia Nguyen
tw// sexual assault
Dear Asian Youth,
Maybe you have rewatched the Harry Potter series a thousand times, have a Pinterest board dedicated to long blazers and turtlenecks, or even an obsession with gothic libraries. The dark academia aesthetic is rising in popularity. While it is obvious that the glorification of the aesthetic excludes academia itself, as we began entering these new environments, it is important to be aware of the bigotry that is still rampant within academia.
We often associate higher education with progressiveness, but in reality it was designed in an era of racism and sexism. Thus, creating a lack of diversity in higher faculty and senior positions that enables others to get away with their actions because the system is embedded heavily with nepotism. In fact, this association is often problematic in itself. For example, during election season people would say something along the lines of, “notice how all the red states are lowly ranked in education?” Although this ties into voter suppression, which could be another article entirely, statements like these demonstrate the inherent classism of education that even those leaning left seem to overlook and participate in.
The whole STEM and pre-med mentality of “weeding students out” discriminates on those who came from less prestigious schools with less access to tutors and material. As a result, society often shames people for attending community college instead of a university. Furthermore, higher education is sold to us as a means to escape poverty, except first-generation college students are put at a severe disadvantage. In return, students of lower economic status struggle with student loan debt, especially since a diploma does not guarantee a job, and repeat the cycle with their children. For example, the National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) found that students of low and middle socioeconomic status (SES) “who went on to complete a bachelor’s or higher degree by 2012 (2 percent or less) were smaller than the percentage of high-SES students (12 percent) who were not enrolled in 2006.” Even doing the research for this article demonstrates the inequity, as you have to pay to access scientific articles. According to journalists Brian Resnick and Julia Belluz on the "The War to Free Science," even academics, “often have to pay fees to submit articles to journals and to publish” (Vox 2019).
Even getting to college requires taking standardized exams such as the SAT and paying application fees. Economically disadvantaged students may not have the time or money to dedicate their time studying or applying to numerous colleges at once.
Due to systemic racism, class and race are intertwined. The Trump administration believed in reversing affirmative action policies and more “race blind” admissions, which disadvantages BIPOC by ignoring race inequities. In addition, the Washington School District ruled Asians as non-students of colors which feeds into the model minority myth.
With the Black Lives Matter movement, many university students were found to openly post and say racist things; such discriminatory behavior discourages students from attending certain universities. Why should Black people have to work around the racism they face instead of institutions punishing and preventing racism?
Professor James Johnson Jr. from the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler in the “Reflections on systemic racism in higher education” discusses how his fellow Black colleagues and him are used to being denied higher leadership roles from unanimous committee votes, only to find out it was offered to a less-qualified, white colleague. Additionally, Professor Johnson shares his experience “listening to a white member of a tenure-review committee characterize a Black colleague’s research on class differences within the African-American community as “ghetto sociology” unworthy of a positive tenure vote because the research did not include a white sample.”
In the “What Happens Before?” study, Milkman, Akinola, and Chugh reveal that “faculty were significantly more responsive to Caucasian males than to all other categories of students, collectively, particularly in higher-paying disciplines and private institutions.” Furthermore, they conclude that there was not a correlation to higher representation and lower discrimination. Thus, despite higher education’s seekment for diversity, they are failing to address and prevent such bigotry in their environment.
Misogyny in higher education is unfortunately not surprising. We joke around all the time about women in STEM and have accepted the mansplaining/not being taken seriously because we know it is one of the “less problematic aspects” of being a woman in academia, which in itself is sad that we are just used to it. As evident by Hollywood and the Me Too movement, power dynamics breed predatory behavior. In the Lansing State Journal’s investigation into Michigan State University, they found that “49 faculty and staff have been found in violation of policy since 2015,” eleven which still remain at the institution. Therefore, due to politics in higher education, reports do not mean anything when they don’t believe the victim or care.
Even when colleges do end up taking action, the survivor often faces backlash and consequences. After ex. Professor Polygerinos at Arizona State University was investigated for sexual harassment, he later left and resigned from the university. However, the student that accused him faced retaliation from her own classmates; the remaining lab members “allegedly took over her lab equipment, kicked her off projects and otherwise sought to turn the lab she spent so much time into a kind of hell” (Inside Higher Ed, 2019).
So what does pursuing higher education mean as a woman? According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS), “nineteen percent of the women reported experiencing completed or attempted sexual assault since entering college” (2007). Additionally, they also found that only 12% of student survivors report to the police. Thus, pursuing higher education means being aware that almost 1 in 5 of us will have to be weary of and face sexual assault. There is always talk about how it will ruin the assaulter’s career, but what about ours? The trauma and PTSD that comes with surviving such horrific events, as well as the potential retaliation aftermath, can delay our careers, thus demonstrating how race, class, and gender are intertwined since help for healing (e.g. therapy) is expensive and not accessible to everyone.
Overall, disparities in academia perpetuate a cycle creating hostile environments for people from a low socioeconomic status, BIPOC, and women by allowing problematic individuals to not be held accountable for their actions and feigning ignorance in order to not create equity. As I head off to college in six months, I am worried that I too will become a statistic. Ironically, the only thing we can do is to educate others. Bringing awareness and forming solidarity can help guide these institutions in fixing the dark side of academia.
- Tia Nguyen
Cover Photo Source: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/357/6347/222