Friday Reading List: The Higher Ed Gap in Rural America and a Real-Time Reassessment of Consent in Our Culture

Matt Krupnick is in The Hechinger Report, looking at the college attendance rates of non-white students in rural communities:

Overshadowed by attention to the challenges faced by nonwhite high school graduates in cities, low-income black, Hispanic and native American students in rural areas like this are equally unlikely to go on to college. Factor in the higher dropout rate among nonwhite students in rural high schools, and the odds that black and Hispanic students from areas like this will ever earn degrees are just as low as for their urban counterparts ... Rural students overall are more likely than the national average to graduate from high school in four years — 87 percent, compared to 83 percent nationwide. But rural Hispanics, blacks, Native American and other nonwhite students graduate at lower rates than the national average.

A few things struck me about this piece. First, rural schooling gets less attention than its urban and suburban counterparts, which is a product of the social biases of policymakers and journalistic influencers. As a result, most of the news I consume vis-a-vis the rural context contains a heavy deficit narrative. The job of journalism is to articulate challenges, but it's worth keeping in mind that no single story of rural American schooling can possibly be sufficient, and that we shouldn't get caught in assessing deficits alone.

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That said, Krupnick indicates that the challenges of rural schooling are in the process of compounding, due in part to language barriers. Linguistic and cultural diversity can be huge advantages for kids and their schools, but if teachers and administrators are unable to communicate with children and their families, these assets are squandered.

The last thing I hope that people take away from this article is that not everyone in rural America is the euphemistic "white working class" Trump voter. We all have blind spots, and I know that my audience skews heavily towards younger people with advanced degrees who live in, or near, cities. Our perception of rural American experiences is colored by the "bubble" in which we live, and articles like this do much to expand our notion of the actual demographics of rural America.

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In other news, Lena Felton of The Atlantic looks to higher education to find the roots of the #MeToo movement:

... for [higher ed officials] and students, the perceived uptick [in claims of sexual misconduct] only reaffirms what they already knew about sexual assault; higher-education institutions have for years been aware that such harassment occurs at high rates on their campuses. In a 2015 Association of American Universities survey on sexual assault and misconduct, just over 23 percent of undergraduate female respondents reported having experienced sexual assault or misconduct while in college. It’s difficult to say how accurately the AAU’s findings reflect reality—the survey relied on voluntary responses from 150,000 students across 27 universities—but they do offer a previously nonexistent window into a very real problem.  

Felton points out that the discussion about sexual assault in colleges has been necessary, albeit circuitous, messy, and not-at-all straightforward. She argues that these conversations on campuses, and in the broader culture, "have exposed the need for some sort of collective change—some sort of redefinition of standards, some sort of reshaping of policies, some sort of reassessment of culture."

That "reassessment" has been happening in real time across this country, in a very public way. This week, the internet lit up after Katie Way of babe published the account of one woman ("Grace"), who had a negative experience with comedian Aziz Ansari.

As a man, I have resisted the urge to share my half-assed ideas on this topic, and instead have spent the week reading the perspectives of women. No two takes are alike, and I encourage the men who read this blog to read the original piece, then read a cross-section of the reactions. The conversation, while messy, helps to illuminate the gray areas that are most in need of examination. I particularly liked Danielle Butler's summation at Very Smart Brothas:

Grace’s account—one that toggles between acquiescing to certain sexual acts and withdrawing from others—is a pervasive experience ... The takeaway from Grace’s anecdote isn’t that we should consider every regrettable or uncomfortable sexual interaction as assault ... This isn’t about bad sex. It’s about examining how dysfunctional our sexual socialization is for us to read that instance and chalk it up to merely being a “normal” and clumsy sexual experience. There should be nothing “normal” about leaving a date in tears because you feel violated, and we shouldn’t be so content and flippant with characterizing it as such.

There's so much to consider here, and I hope that the men I know will take the time to understand the range of perspectives on this issue. After internalizing the discussion, I encourage men to reflect upon their past and present behaviors, then make adjustments. We all have work to do.

Have a great weekend!