Chambers: Accusations of systemic racism on campus aren’t proof it exists

Anecdotes do not equal evidence although they can point the way to more detailed study. Wider surveys and studies are more helpful in understanding the extent and forms of discrimination and bias.
Public service employment equity reports and surveys, now with disaggregated data, are good examples (although in my experience, are unlikely to convince many activists):
Accusations of systemic racism have become increasingly commonplace on university campuses, led primarily by anti-racist activists. With the return to classes in September we can expect more of this.
The activists consider racism not only to be a serious campus problem, but insist that university administrators publicly support this position. For example, at the University of Ottawa, activists have pressured administrators to address the issue on two notable occasions.

Source: Chambers: Accusations of systemic racism on campus aren’t proof it exists

Netherlands: University funding row raises Chinese influence fears

Not unique to the Netherlands:

The Free University of Amsterdam (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam or VU Amsterdam) in the Netherlands has said it will return Chinese funding for its Cross Cultural Human Rights Centre (CCHRC) after an embarrassing row over Chinese influence on academia when it emerged that several of the centre’s academics publicly denied China oppresses Uyghur peoples.

But the row in the Netherlands amid other recent controversies over Chinese funding of university centres and Confucius Institutes in Germany and the United Kingdom has also made university disclosure of foreign funding more urgent, academics said. 

In 2018, 2019 and 2020, the CCHRC at VU Amsterdam received a subsidy of between €250,000 (US$282,000) and €300,000 (US$339,000) from the Southwest University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing, China. 

According to documents obtained by Dutch broadcaster NOS, the Chinese university was the sole financial contributor to the CCHRC during those years, which has raised eyebrows. 

VU Amsterdam has said it would return the money it had already received from China for this year, NOS revealed last week. But the university only backed down after the damaging revelations prompted a public outcry and strong statements by the Dutch education minister and others condemning the activities of the centre. 

On Wednesday NOS said the activities of the Centre were being suspended, with all its lectures for students cancelled, ascribing the decision to the executive board and deans of the university. The Centre’s activities were already in doubt after the return of funds, making it dependent on the university or other donors for its continued survival. 

The row blew up just as the Dutch education ministry is due to present its National Guidelines on Knowledge Security on 31 January and to announce its ‘Government-wide knowledge security front-office’, which is expected to have an advisory role and support universities in identifying risks. 

It also followed the publication last week of the European Commission ‘toolkit’ for universities on how to deal with foreign interference. 

Dutch Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf responded swiftly and unequivocally to the report, saying he was “very shocked” that the funding arrangement signalled possible academic dependence. 

“It is urgent and sensible that the Free University now takes action quickly. Scientific core values such as academic freedom, integrity and independence must always be guaranteed,” he said in a statement. 

The minister added: “It is important that Dutch knowledge institutions are and remain alert to possible risks of undesired influence by other countries and that they take adequate measures to safeguard academic core values, especially when it comes to universal values like human rights.”

The centre runs an academic journal and organises conferences. Its mission, laid down in the financing agreement with the Chinese university, is to draw attention to a “global view of human rights”, and specifically to the way in which non-Western countries such as China view human rights.

University’s lukewarm initial response

After a lukewarm initial response when the university merely underlined that “as befits the Free University, the research of the CCHRC is independent, interdisciplinary, dialogical and socially relevant”, it added to its statement just hours later, saying “even the appearance of dependence is unacceptable” and announced that it was “taking appropriate measures”, including halting the funding from China. 

The university said it has not yet decided whether it will also refund subsidies from previous years, but it said it would first conduct an investigation to determine “whether the independence of the institute’s research has been safeguarded on all fronts”.

The CCHRC website noted in October 2020 that a delegation of people affiliated to the centre ‘recently’ visited the western Chinese region of Xinjiang. 

Western researchers estimate that over a million ethnic minority Uyghurs are being held in  ‘re-education camps’, widely regarded as a euphemism for concentration camps, in Xinjiang. Several countries, including the United States, have accused China of genocide against the Uyghurs. 

However, the CCHRC website noted: “The situation we encountered in the four cities in this trip did not reflect the grim situation as depicted in the Western reports. There is definitely no discrimination of Uyghurs or other minorities in the region.”

CCHRC Director Tom Zwart, who is also a frequent guest at Chinese state events and on Chinese state television, told NOS any similarities between the centre’s positions online and those of the Communist Party were “coincidental” and were not steered by any direct influence. 

Zwart described the CCHRC website as a place for “uncensored free thought”, ascribing the comments on its webpages to individuals “who do not represent the organisation as a whole”.

On 26 January CCHRC released a new statement on its website saying the website would be “temporarily taken offline” in order “to check whether a sufficiently clear distinction is made between statements made on behalf of the Centre and opinions and observations made in a personal capacity.”

It added: “[The] Centre explicitly endorses the conclusions of the United Nations regarding the systematic violation of the Uyghur human rights. In this vein, the Centre’s director, in the presence of members of the Chinese State Council and the Politburo, called on 8 April 2021 to respect and protect the rights of Uyghurs and stop repressive anti-terrorism policies.”

Is academic freedom compromised?

Ingrid d’Hooghe, an expert on China-Europe relations and senior research fellow at the Leiden Asia Centre, Leiden University in the Netherlands, said: “The director of the Centre said in an interview which was also on TV that they were fully independent, there was nothing that made them say what they were saying. But apparently it did not cross their mind that even if they are independent, it doesn’t look like it.”

Dutch academic Lokman Tsui, a researcher on digital freedoms and a former assistant professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said via Twitter: “Important to note: until this year, they [the university in Chongqing] were the only funder. Problematic, because it’s hard to be independent if your research centre relies on one single funder. Problematic also, because public universities in China are closely affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party.”

Tsui added: “But whether the research centre is independent or not is also beside the question. The more important question is: Why is the university allowing its integrity and its reputation to be compromised by accepting money meant to validate China’s atrocious human rights record?”

Andreas Fulda, associate professor at the University of Nottingham, UK, and an expert on Europe-China relations and academic freedom, said: “If they had also received funding from the Dutch government or from the EU or whoever else, they could say they are not dependent on just one funder. But if you’re completely dependent on one funder and you lose autonomy, you are more likely to bend your research in one way or another.” 

“A member of the Dutch public will not know whether this [research] is the genuine article or whether this is something that is deeply problematic – this is the area where we enter the field of idea laundering and reputation laundering [by China],” Fulda told University World News

Need for disclosure legislation

“We need legislation that universities have to make funding public,” Fulda said, pointing to Section 117 of the United States Higher Education Act which requires universities that receive foreign gifts of US$250,000 or more within a calendar year to file a disclosure report to the government. 

Other draft foreign influence bills, including the Senate Bill S.1169 in the US, are currently attempting to tighten those rules, including reducing the amount that has to be declared by institutions and individuals if the funding comes from certain countries such as China, after a number of universities failed to report substantial foreign gifts under Section 117

An amendment to the UK Higher Education Bill tabled on 12 January in the House of Commons would require disclosures of foreign funds of £50,000 (US$68,000) going back 10 years. 

“The question is, if the Dutch government or other governments in Europe issued new regulations where universities were forced to make these contracts public, whether it would change things, and I think it would,” said Fulda. 

Leiden Asia Centre’s d’Hooghe said: “There is no regulation that forces people to register somewhere what kind of collaboration they have. With new regulations in Australia and, to a certain extent, in the US and Canada, you have to become public with that kind of information. Not so in the Netherlands.”

“It’s not necessarily that people want to keep it a secret, it’s just not something that is done routinely. So at top levels in the university, but often even at the faculty level, the departments don’t have a good overview of exactly what kind of research is being done with whom, and how this is financed,” she said

The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) published a “Framework for Knowledge Security” in July 2021 that outlined risks and the need for monitoring research collaboration, as well as recommending that universities set up their own internal ‘knowledge security advisory team’ to include experts such as cybersecurity specialists.

The focus is on building risk awareness but does not go as far as requiring disclosure of foreign funding. Some universities have pointed out that they cannot ‘police’ research or researchers on behalf of the government. 

Who will investigate?

The Netherlands Inspectorate of Education has not indicated that it will carry out a broader investigation into China influence at universities in the country, saying in a statement following the VU Amsterdam row: “No other signals about Chinese influence are known to the inspectorate.”

Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that the Inspectorate of Education “would be wise to do more homework in this area”.

“In a decade of documenting Chinese government threats to academic freedom around the world, Human Rights Watch has found threats at universities from Australia to the United States, and proposed a code of conduct to help mitigate these risks. 

“One key step: universities should publicly disclose all direct and indirect Chinese government funding and a list of projects and exchanges with Chinese government counterparts on an annual basis,” she said.

“In showing its permeability to Chinese government influence, the Free University shouldn’t limit its response simply to returning the funding. It should urgently assess whether students and scholars of and from China on its campus are subjected to harassment or surveillance,” which she noted had been well documented elsewhere, notably in Australia, Canada, the UK and the US. 

“University leadership and scholars should assess whether censorship and self-censorship have eroded the curriculum or classroom debate,” Richardson added. 

“The Free University should also join forces with counterparts across Europe – from Berlin to Cambridge to Budapest – who have faced similar problems, and agree to share information and adopt common standards with the goal of collectively resisting Beijing’s efforts to curtail academic freedom. The list of potential participants – supposedly ‘free’ universities – is disturbingly long.”

EU toolkit for universities: will it make a difference?

The EU issued a toolkit for universities on 18 January. Although it is comprehensive, d’Hooghe noted that “these rules are not binding because the EU has no competence in the area of education”. Universities are outside Brussels’ remit.

She saw it more as a “service to EU member states who still don’t have national rules, who find it very difficult to develop them or don’t have the capacity to develop them”.

While many ongoing collaboration projects with Chinese universities continue, despite academics and researchers being unable to travel due to pandemic restrictions, d’Hooghe said she knew of many who “are staying away” from starting new projects with China, in part due to risks, including reputational risks. 

But she noted that legislation on a national level regarding foreign influence could be tricky. “University autonomy is regarded as an important value and very important for science to advance, so universities are very reluctant to be limited by binding regulations.”


China mounts anti-US campaign in Xinjiang universities amid genocide declarations

Not surprising.

The Chinese government has begun a large-scale propaganda campaign in its far-western Xinjiang region directed at Western countries led by the United States over their condemnation of Beijing’s human rights violations and genocidal policies targeting the Uyghur minority.

In mid-December, authorities began mobilizing instructors and students from universities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, home to about 12 million mostly Muslim Uyghurs, to participate in the propaganda efforts, according to China’s state-run media. They included faculty and students from Xinjiang University, Xinjiang Medical University, Xinjiang Normal University, and Kashgar University.

Authorities are trying to make sure that charges of genocide and the use of forced Uyghur labor in Xinjiang are rejected in meetings and discussions at the universities, the media reports said. Western countries, under the direction of the U.S., and international human rights organizations have been branded “anti-China forces” and attacked.

Instructors and students who have provided testimony have said in their speeches that the U.S. has led other Western powers in fabricating false accusations of genocide and forced labor, according to the media reports. They also say that peoples of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang enjoy equal work opportunities under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and are living “happily.”

The U.S. and legislatures of some European nations have declared that China’s abuses against the Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang amount to genocide and crimes against humanity. They have also imposed targeted sanctions on those deemed responsible for the repression.

This propaganda campaign targeting Western democratic countries led by the U.S. has grown stronger following these designations, said analysts and Uyghur rights advocates.

The recent passage of the U.S. Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act with near-unanimous support from lawmakers has forced the Chinese government to undertake the large-scale propaganda campaign in an attempt to claim innocence, they said.

The impact of propaganda

The Chinese government’s goal is to confuse the international community by publicizing that it has the support of the Chinese people for its policies toward Uyghurs,” said Hu Ping, a China analyst based in the U.S.

“Even more to the point, this is about them trying to convince people domestically that their policies are right,” he said.

“In the eyes of the Chinese government, if they can force intellectuals and cultural leaders from among Uyghurs in Xinjiang to do propaganda like this, the impact of the propaganda to convince will be even greater than propaganda done by Han or by Communist leaders,” said Hu.

Forcing intellectuals, particularly professors and students, to testify against the U.S. whenever the Chinese government is on the defensive is a propaganda tactic held over from the Mao Zedong era, he said.

During the decade following Mao’s death in 1976, China’s notion that the U.S. was an enemy lessened as a relatively open environment took shape. But Beijing’s anti-American propaganda began anew following the violent suppression of student protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989, he said.

China’s criticism of Western democratic countries has grown in the era of increased assertiveness and authoritarianism under Xi Jinping, who has served as president since 2012, gathering steam with mounting accusations of genocidal policies in Xinjiang, Hu said. As a result, propaganda about the “American enemy,” with its roots in Chinese nationalism, has reached new heights in China.

But Hu believes that the latest propaganda campaign using professors and students at universities in Xinjiang will backfire.

“Given that the outside world has a good understanding of the latest developments in Xinjiang, it will be impossible for scholars and cultural figures to play the roles expected of them by the Chinese government,” he said.

China’s credibility is ‘zero’

Because Western democratic countries, including the U.S. and United Kingdom, have taken tangible measures against China in response to its repression of the Uyghurs, the Chinese government is now increasing its propaganda attacks against them, said Rushan Abbas, executive director of the U.S.-based Campaign for Uyghurs.

An independent Uyghur Tribunal in London found in December China committed genocide against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang region and that Xi Jinping shared primary responsibility for the atrocities. The people’s tribunal, which had no state backing, based its findings on testimony from dozens of witnesses, including formerly jailed Uyghurs and legal and academic experts on China’s actions in Xinjiang. Beijing angrily denounced the panel and its determination.

The recent passage of the U.S. Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act with wide support from lawmakers made the Chinese government deeply uncomfortable, Abbas said. For this reason, it has further increased propaganda about the U.S. as the enemy and made universities in Xinjiang the front lines in its propaganda war.

“By targeting of intellectuals and students in universities in the region and undertaking propaganda with them, by brainwashing them, by pressuring them into speaking, the Chinese government is attempting to hide what is really happening in the Uyghur region — its crimes such as genocide and using Uyghurs as slaves,” she said.

“By forcing Uyghur elites, intellectuals, and students to speak, it is working hard to increase the convincibility of its own lies, its own false propaganda.”

China’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang have become “absolutely irrefutable,” Abbas added.

The Chinese government is trying to damage the image of the U.S. and other Western countries in the eyes of the public by forcing Uyghur intellectuals, particularly university professors and students, to speak out against them, said Memet Tohti, director of the legal committee at the World Uyghur Congress.

“People are now being mobilized to do propaganda for China,” he said. “They’re forcing people to give testimony in line with the political propaganda of the central government of China. They’re responding to the political and legislative developments connected to Uyghurs in the United States and the West.”

But these activities, like earlier propaganda campaigns by China, will ultimately end with no results, Tohti added.

“No matter what the Chinese government does to force Uyghur intellectuals to speak out, no matter what other methods it attempts to use, the most important thing is that the Chinese government’s credibility in the world has now fallen to zero,” he said.

‘No matter what they do, they will not be able to raise their credibility, so there is no value in this.”


Canadian universities, colleges sign charter to address anti-Black racism

Of note:

A group of universities and colleges from across Canada are signing a charter to fight anti-Black racism in post-secondary institutions.

The 22-page document requires those signing it to respect certain principles as they develop their own action plans to foster Black inclusion.

Referred to as the Scarborough Charter, the document was drafted by an advisory committee that emerged from an event hosted by the University of Toronto last year as anti-Black racism was in the international spotlight.

“There was an opportune moment for us to say, ‘well, there are a lot of statements being issued, but this may be the time for us to come together and do this together,” charter committee chair Wisdom Tettey said in an interview.

The committee asked universities and colleges for their feedback to refine the charter and met with several organizations and groups, including Universities Canada and the parliamentary Black caucus, said Tettey, vice-president of the University of Toronto.

Forty-six universities and colleges, including the country’s largest post-secondary institutions, are signing the charter virtually on Thursday.

They include the University of Toronto, McGill University, York University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Calgary and the University of Waterloo.

Tettey said more universities and colleges are expected to sign the charter in the near future. There are 96 publicly-funded universities and 139 publicly-funded colleges in Canada.

“We expect each partner institution to commit to the principles of black flourishing,” Tettey said.

“The idea of black flourishing is to make sure that our institutions are places where Black people, faculty, staff, students and community members can feel a sense of belonging, can see themselves in our mission and can be supported to flourish.”

At the University of Toronto, part of the school’s plan to remove barriers faced by Black students includes providing better mental-health support for them, Tettey said.

“We’re making sure that we have counsellors that understand and come from Black communities,” he said.

The university is also reviewing curriculums to ensure Black knowledge is reflected, and is supporting Black students through scholarships and access programs.

Ananya Mukherjee Reed, the provost of the University of British Columbia, said Black students face the same barriers at post-secondary institutions that exist in society at large.

“They go to a class and they feel alone. They’re either the only black student or one of the very few black students,” she said.

“They don’t always feel that they have a voice and when they sometimes express the voice or they would point out something in relation to the Black experience or Black history, they’re not always heard. They often feel dismissed.”

Curriculums in many universities don’t reflect Black experiences or Black successes, she said.

“Black authors are often absent from curriculum and that creates a sense of alienation when you are alone in a classroom, and then you are studying something that you feel is missing a perspective.”

Malinda Smith, the vice-president of the University of Calgary, said there are also few Black scholars in the faculties of Canadian universities.

Statistics Canada census data from 2016 and data from a 2019 Universities Canada report indicate six per cent of undergraduate students, 6.1 per cent of graduate students, and three pre cent of PhD graduates are Black, while 1.9 per cent of the professoriate at universities and 0.8 per cent of universities’ leaders are Black, Smith said.

“There’s a significant underrepresentation. I’m the only Black senior leader at the University of Calgary,” she said, adding that universities need to deal with barriers and biases that may prevent Black scholars from being hired.

“We have to recognize systemic racism, and we have to recognize racial biases.”

Robert Summerby-Murray, the president of St. Mary’s University in Halifax said engaging local Black communities in research conducted by universities is also an important step to address anti-Black racism.

“Part of what we have done in the charter, I believe, is acknowledge a set of Eurocentric and colonial processes inside the academy,” he said.

“Here in Nova Scotia, we have a very important historical African Nova Scotian community … that has been in this province for hundreds of years. And these communities need to be engaged as partners in research.”

Source: Canadian universities, colleges sign charter to address anti-Black racism

USA: The crisis in black university enrolment and graduation

Of note. Curious to know if there is disaggregated data for Canadian university admissions and enrolment to see whether different minority groups have been affected differently post-COVID:

Like so much else related to the COVID pandemic, the disruptions caused to important high school events such as university open houses and access to guidance counsellors has hit African American students thinking of going to college or university especially hard. 

The school shutdowns meant that these students, often the first in their families to even consider going on to higher education, had to fill out unfamiliar forms on kitchen tables. Sometimes, as was the case for those applying to Old Dominion University (ODU) in Virginia, they had the aid of online tutorials or Zoom sessions. Then there was the financial aid process and its complicated forms.

“These students don’t know what they don’t know,” says Dr Don Stansberry, vice president for student engagement and enrollment services at ODU. “This is true for many students, but it is disproportionately true for our black and African American students. 

“I think this is indicative across most college campuses, you see [this year] a drop off in the number of black and African American applicants and their numbers in this year’s intake because they didn’t follow through with the rest of the process, such as financial aid.”

Overall, there were 603,000 fewer students enrolled in colleges and universities in the spring of 2021 as compared with 2020, a decline of 3.5%. Figures released by the Virginia-based National Student Clearinghouse Research Center in early October showed that since the start of the pandemic the numbers of black freshmen have declined by 22.3%, while the overall drop was 12.3%.

Historic under-representation

Even before the COVID-caused decline in blacks going on to higher education grabbed headlines, they were faring poorly in relation to college and university. 

Prior to COVID, 55% of college and university students were white, while blacks made up 9.6% of the students in higher education, almost 4% less than their numbers in the general population. 

In the decade after 2011, the percentage of blacks in the student population declined by almost 11%, reversing a trend that had begun in 1976, which saw the percentage of black students in college and university rise by just under 40%. Over the six years ending in 2017, 55% of blacks dropped out of college as against 33% of whites.

At public colleges and universities, the figures are even more dire. According to a paper prepared by Olivia Sanchez and Meredith Kolodner for the New York-based Hechinger Report, released in early October, at public colleges and universities, a white student is 2.5 times more likely to graduate than a black peer.

Taking account of both public and private colleges and universities, according to figures from the National Center for Education Statistics, in the last cohort to graduate before COVID, 61.3% of white males graduated as compared with almost 35% of black males; the figures for women were 67.3% to 44.8%.

There are a number of reasons for this gap. One of the most often cited is college readiness. A disproportionate number of black students attend under-resourced and poorly equipped high schools that leave them underprepared in reading, writing and maths. 

In 2016, the Center for American Progress (CAP) in Washington DC, reported that more than half (56%) of blacks are placed in remediation classes in contrast to 35% of whites. Citing a number of different studies, CAP says fewer than 10% of students in remedial programmes graduate in the six-year window that is used to define successful completion of four-year degrees.

It is certain that few students placed in remedial courses know of the 2009 study by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, “Referral, enrolment, and completion in developmental education sequences in community colleges”, that shows that students who were placed directly into regular college courses stood a better chance of graduating than did those placed in remedial courses. 

Yet, they don’t have to. For, as any professor who has ever taught students who have been in remedial courses, being in them has a negative impact on a student’s academic self-perception.

When I asked Dr Wil Del Pilar, the Education Trust’s vice-president of higher education, about how these courses impacted black students in particular, he said: “You took this course in high school. Now all of a sudden you take a math or English placement test, and it places you, say, three levels below the courses you are getting college credit for. This has a significant impact on academic self-perception and self-efficacy.” 

Since taking remedial instead of credit-bearing courses takes extra time and delays a student’s graduation – in addition to making the student ask the self-defeating question, “Am I ever going to complete this credential or degree?” – it creates a financial crisis that is disproportionately experienced by black students, Del Pilar says.

The financial crisis arises from the fact that, while remedial classes do not count as credit hours (course time toward graduation), there is no reduction in tuition fees. 

In other words, a student who is taking three hours of remedial English and three of maths pays the same tuition fees as a student who is taking a full 16-hour load even though the student in remedial courses is taking only 10 credit hours. 

To accumulate the 120-130 credits that most colleges and universities require for graduation, students who take remedial courses either have to take courses during the summer to make up for the missing credits or have to stay in school an extra semester or more. 

In either case, the student has to pay extra tuition fees (and often room and board costs). As well, the student who goes to summer school or stays for extra semesters forfeits a certain amount of income. These extra semesters are one of the reasons blacks graduate on average with US$25,000 more debt than white students.

According to Del Pilar, neither Pell Grants (a federal grant given to the most financially disadvantaged students) nor most other financial aid programmes are geared to students who spend extra semesters in college or university.

“You end up using your eligibility on these courses that don’t earn you credits toward your degree. So, when you get towards the end of your course, your credential or degree, you run out of eligibility for Pell Grants or other types of aid.”

Though it is not directly related to these students’ college or university career, Del Pilar emphasised to me, it is important to understand that America’s racial wealth gap means that more black students live on a financial knife edge than do white students. A US$800 car repair bill, for example, could be too much, causing a student to drop out of school and lose eligibility for aid.

Alienation on campus

As do many Latinx and other minority students, African American students can find being on campus an alienating experience that differs from what their white peers feel. 

While formal segregation is outlawed, de facto segregation exists in many parts of the country; instead of there being separate schools for blacks and whites, housing patterns separate the races and, thus, most district schools, for example. 

Accordingly, a large proportion of blacks attend majority black schools. Save for the historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) like Howard University in Washington DC and inner-city public universities in places like Newark, New Jersey, New York City and Chicago, most African Americans who go to college find themselves a member of a minority community on campus and, thus, find themselves in a more alienating environment than white freshmen do.  

At the University of San Francisco, for example, 349 of the school’s full-time enrolment of 1,738 is black. 

Even though he chose ODU because he wanted to go to a school that was not majority black, as was his high school in Highland Springs, a small town (population 16,500) that is 73% black, Montae Taylor, who graduated in 2018, told University World News that despite being friends with a number of international students, he still found the school alienating.

In part this was because Taylor and many of his black classmates were the first persons in their families to go to college. The pride they felt was in tension with the fact that their families did not understand how much work is required to succeed in university. Students who are the first in their family to go to a higher education institution commonly report that their families tell them, “If you’re in class only 16 hours a week, then you can get a job and work a full week.” 

“Nobody in our families had been this far in education before. They really don’t understand the work requirement that we’re under or anything of that nature. So, it’s hard to find somebody [in our families] that can really push you and motivate you to excel academically,” says Taylor.

In part, Taylor also felt alienated in class, a condition he told me was shared by his black peers. 

Unlike his white classmates, Taylor and the others in his pre-law courses had trouble negotiating and understanding the texts they were given to read in class. He watched as his white classmates “could just sit there and read a passage one time and right then and there they understood exactly what it meant, exactly what the person was getting at”.

As Taylor spoke, I couldn’t help thinking back on my 30 years of teaching English at college and university, and being impressed with his and the other students’ self-analysis. 

On their own, Taylor and his black classmates realised that to bridge the gap of understanding, they had to engage the texts differently. They had to take account of (what phenomenological psychologists call) their “horizon of expectations”, formed by the totality of their lived experience as young black men in America. 

Then, rather than try to bracket that experience, as if it did not exist, they judge the distance between it and what they had been told in class and knew of the white authors, before engaging in an iterative process that brought them to an understanding of the texts.

“We had to read it, talk about it to each other and have a little debate about it for us to come to a full and complete understanding because we might be looking at it from our point of view, which is a black man’s point of view,” says Taylor, who is now a businessman in Texas and Virginia, and was state president of Virginia’s Youth and College Division of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

In 2018, Taylor was one of the key student organisers in establishing a chapter of Brother to Brother at ODU. It differs from other clubs and honour societies on campus that helped students attach to the university. 

“In this programme,” says Stansberry, “black and brown upperclassmen come together to support other black and brown males in their academic journey. They partner with our first-year students and help them navigate the college campus and their own journey.”

In addition to providing ODU’s black students with a place to gather and talk with people who look like them (something which became all the more important, Taylor said, after the election of Donald Trump as US president), Brother to Brother serves two other very important functions. 

According to Dr Johnny W Young, the associate vice president for student engagement and enrollment services at ODU, Brother to Brother provides a place where ODU’s black students can support each other and counteract the negative stereotypes about black men. 

One stereotype that is especially damaging for university students, Young says, is that back where the students come from, excelling academically is not necessarily a point of pride: “It’s sometimes seen, for lack of a better word, as ‘nerdy’.” Equally pernicious is the stereotype that black men are prone to violence and that where they live is violent.

Even if a student does not have direct experience with these stereotypes, they know the stereotypes from the media and, sometimes, from family stories. “Having those young men talk about things they face, that their fathers faced, that their brothers faced growing up as young men of colour,” says Young, “helps them deal with the stereotypes and reject those untrue narratives. Sharing stories can be a source of inspiration for these young men.”

Brother to Brother also serves as the base from which students form study groups. Further, the organisation acts as something of a coach. 

During the summer when Taylor was vice president of ODU chapter, they heard that a large number of black students had not completed the paperwork to return in September. Members of Brother to Brother called these students and asked if they needed help organising themselves for the upcoming school year. 

Taylor found that of the calls he made, around 85% of the students who originally said they were not coming back had changed their minds. 

“Sometimes it was as simple as helping them find the proper resources they needed that would make them feel supported in finishing the process of education,” he said.

In the last year before COVID, there were 194 students in the Brother to Brother programme; approximately one-third of ODU’s enrolment of 23,655 is black. 

According to Dr Young, the students in the Brother to Brother programme had on average a grade point average 1.5% higher than did similar students not engaged with the programme. 

Though ODU’s data does not support making predictive claims and recognising that the group is self-selected, Young was willing to hazard a few statements. 

“We think there are a couple of things going on. First, the Brothers appear to attract young men who want to be leaders, who want to excel. But we also see that some men join who perhaps needed that extra push. Being around young men who want to excel can make you want to do very well. That can rub off on them, for lack of a better word.”

To help all black students celebrate their identity and attach to the university, ODU sponsors an annual Sankofa Dinner. Sankofa comes from Akan Twi and Fante languages of Ghana and means ‘retrieve’ and is symbolised by a bird with its head turned backward; its feet face forward, and it carries a precious egg in its mouth. 

This year’s Sankofa event featured a seven-person panel of graduates among whom was Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Ernest, MD, who graduated in 1999. He was the first African American male to graduate from Eastern Virginia Medical School and is presently chief of urology and director of surgical simulation at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. 

Another panellist was Sade Seaborne, a 2010 graduate who has worked as a technical project lead for the Department of Justice and is now a product manager for the finance company Capital One.

“The attendees,” says Stansberry, “were all African American students but it was an event that was designed to be a chance for them to celebrate their own identity.” 

Other events, like homecoming, fulfil what Stansberry told me was the number one reason that students choose to come to ODU. “One of the things they are most proud of is the diversity we have on campus and the opportunities they have to interact with students that are different from themselves.”

Old Dominion University’s efforts to help black students attach to and thrive at the campus in a city, Norfolk – which is home to the largest naval base in the world and which, at the start of the Civil War, was in Confederate hands – have been successful. 

Whereas on average in public universities white students graduate at a rate 2.5 times that of black students, ODU, which is a public university, has bucked the trend: the graduation rate for African American students who started in 2015 is almost the same as the overall graduation rate. 

Forty-four percent of African American men graduated as against 45% of the school’s overall male population, while the percentage of African American women graduating was 1% less than the overall female rate of 52%.


Wave of Black studies programs at Canadian universities a long time coming, scholars say

Of note. Unclear, however, whether this will increase the overall rate of Black Canadians with a university degree. An equally important issue is of course the relative under-representation of second generation Black Canadians in STEM fields compared to the humanities.

A further challenge is the degree to which these programs will include diverse perspectives within faculty and students (e.g., people like John McWhorter):

A new Black studies minor will be offered to students of Ryerson University in the Fall 2022 semester — and other similar programs are in the works across the country, filling what scholars are calling a longtime curriculum gap at Canadian universities.

A successful program at Dalhousie University, launched in 2016, marked the beginning of a new era in academic institutions. But Black studies scholars and academics say that this new wave has been in the works for a long time.

By all accounts, students are leading the charge for Black studies curriculums at Canadian universities, and have been for years, with the support of faculty.

“I’m happy, but I’m not grateful. Let me put it that way,” said Afua Cooper, a Black studies professor at Dalhousie University.

“Because if it took white society and academia so long to recognize that, you know, the Black experience is … worthy of scholarly inquiry, then I’m kind of like, ‘Hmm.'”

Students wanted new curriculum, prof says

The push is “coming from Black students who are having an increased access to post-secondary education, something which many people take for granted as a result of systemic barriers and racism,” said Melanie Knight, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Ryerson University.

“Our classrooms were not made up largely of Black students.”

The university’s new Black studies minor is interdisciplinary, huddling courses from different departments and schools together into one program — with more to come as the curriculum expands. These efforts took time as the school focused on hiring Black faculty to administer relevant courses.

“It would be odd to have it housed in one department,” said Knight, who was part of a working group that included professors Cheryl Thompson and Anne-Marie Lee-Loy. “That wouldn’t actually speak to the history and the lived realities [of Black people].”

In her 2010 book Ebony Roots, Northern Soil: Perspectives on Blackness in Canada, Canadian scholar Charmaine Nelson wrote that the field of Black studies in this country was absent compared to its American counterpart. Historically, much of Black studies in Canada has taken the form of research centres and other “under-funded structures,” Nelson wrote.

With that in mind, it’s significant that in the last few years a number of Canadian universities — led by Black scholars, students and faculty — have successfully implemented formal programs in Black studies, Black Canadian studies and Black diaspora studies.

Mir Asoh, a fifth-year student at Ryerson University — which he calls X University, given Egerton Ryerson’s involvement with residential schools — said that he would like to see courses taught by a diverse group of Black faculty members.

“If the Black studies minor is only taught by Black cis-gender, neuro-typical and/or non-disabled folks, then it is incomplete and lacking much needed perspectives,” Asoh said.

Knight noted that the pursuit of Black studies is a new opportunity for this generation of students.

“Many students have gone through these educational systems not having had this. Most, including myself,” Knight said. “And I think you get discouraged coming out of it.”

Dalhousie, York led the way

In the last five years, four Canadian universities have announced Black studies programs with at least two more in discussion.

York University offers a Black Canadian studies certificate, which can be pursued independently or as a companion to an undergraduate degree. Since the program was announced in October 2018, it has graduated 7 students and 46 students are currently enrolled, according to the program coordinator.

Two years earlier in 2016, Dalhousie University put forward its Black African Diaspora minor, allowing students to concentrate on history, culture and sociology courses about Black people in Canada as well as the African diaspora.

That program was the first of its kind, according to Cooper, who is also director of the Black People’s History of Canada project, a government-funded initiative that aims to close gaps in the study of African Canadian history.

Cooper noted that many Canadian universities have been teaching individual courses on aspects of the Black experience for decades.

“But there was nothing that was called Black studies,” she said. “Nothing that was put together in a comprehensive way.”

“What’s unique here is that for the first time, there’s an umbrella. It’s called Black studies. You can come, you can do a minor, you will be able to do a major, you will be able to do a degree program in Black studies. That is the difference.”

Cooper herself is one of the country’s leaders in the field of Black studies, having taught courses about Black Ontario and African Canadian history at the University of Toronto in the mid-90s.

She said that in the past 30 years, there have been concerted efforts to centralize Black studies knowledge within the Canadian academic system. But political and cultural movements of the last five years, particularly George Floyd’s murder in the context of the broader Black Lives Matter movement, pushed academic institutions into a new direction.

“We have more Black students coming on campus, people are saying, ‘Hey, I’m not reflected in the curriculum.’ People have a voice now.”

In March, Dalhousie announced that it would expand the curriculum into a major.

Other curriculums in the works — and it’s a long time coming

A Black studies program at Concordia University in Montreal is a matter of when, not if, said Angélique Willkie, a special advisor and chair of the school’s task force on anti-Black racism.

A dedicated group of students and faculty began meeting in 2016 to discuss a new Black studies minor. In 2018, the group drafted a written proposal for the program, but they could not move forward without a commitment from the school to hire more Black faculty.

As of this writing, a subcommittee is developing the program and plans to announce recommendations in the weeks ahead.

Next door in Ontario, two Black studies diplomas are in the works at the University of Waterloo, which has offered Black studies courses since the 1960s. And, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Queen’s University announced a Black studies minor in 2020, alongside the appointment of two chairs in Black studies and a series of faculty hires.

Originally targeted for fall 2021 and now slated for next year, the Queen’s program has been in development since 2014-15, according to Katherine McKittrick, a professor in the Department of Gender Studies and key player in the initiative.

“This is a global Black studies program, which means that we are attentive to different Black communities on the continent of Africa and the diaspora,” McKittrick wrote in an email to CBC News, adding that the minor was modelled after the Indigenous studies program.

“When we started to envision the program, we noticed a lot of existing courses in Black studies and many — Black feminist thought, technologies of hip hop, Black sound studies — are a hit with students.”

The program curriculum is “amazingly diverse,” McKittrick noted, pointing to courses on Black histories, Black and Caribbean literatures, and ecologies in Southern Africa as just a few of the minor’s offerings. Some courses focus on Black and Indigenous collaborations, and another set of courses are centred on anti-racism.

Though the formal plans span the last few years, McKittrick said that these efforts are urgent, but not new.

“I think of this as long work rather than recent work,” McKittrick said. “What Black scholars and activists have taught us, over time, is that the Black Canadian experience provides a meaningful window into how we understand liberation, belonging, scholarship, activism and more.”

Source: Wave of Black studies programs at Canadian universities a long time coming, scholars say

New Zealand: Tertiary institutions given 10 years to end minority pass rate disparity

Of note (and the difficulty of change):

It’s the third time in the past decade the commission has set a deadline for achieving parity.

In 2012 the commission wanted to eradicate disparities in polytechnics by 2015 and in universities by 2018. But that didn’t happen. In 2018-19 the commission aimed to achieve parity within five years and fined institutions that failed to improve. But it quietly dropped that deadline and last year introduced the 10-year target.

Tertiary Education Commission deputy chief executive, Learner Success Ōritetanga Directorate, Paora Ammunson, said past attempts at tackling the disparities had failed because they were based on isolated interventions.

“One of the frustrations I guess is that our approach to equity has tended to be really well-intentioned but quite bespoke and disconnected piecemeal interventions and we’re at a stage in the TEC now where we realise that’s not going to close the gap, that’s not going to serve the learners well that we want to succeed,” he said.

Ammunson said the commission had been trialling a different approach requiring large-scale whole-of-institution changes.

“The solution is going to be about a whole-of-ecosystem approach in those institutions towards tackling the problem of attrition, really taking a holistic approach to that. Using your data intelligence, using your guidance systems, making sure that your leaders are setting the direction, making sure you’re doing it in partnership with the community groups and organisations that are important in your context,” he said.

He said the commission was confident its approach would work.

“We’ve been testing this model with tertiary partners. It will require us to work with them and it will require us to have sometimes hard conversations about parts of their delivery that aren’t achieving what they and the TEC would be expecting.”

Last year universities had a qualification completion rate of 52 percent and course completion rate of 82 percent for Māori students. For Pacific students the figures were 48 and 75 percent, while for non-Māori and non-Pacific students the figures were 66 and 90 percent.

In polytechnics Māori students had a 48 percent qualification completion rate and 70 percent course completion rate. For Pacific students the rates were 46 and 71 percent, and for non-Māori and non-Pacific students the figures were 57 and 84 percent.

The Tauira Pasifika National President of the Union of Students’ Associations, Jaistone Finau, said the time was right to tackle the disparities.

He said tertiary institutions were taking student wellbeing more seriously and were also moving to introduce a new code for pastoral care.

Finau said institutions should treat students as partners and use their insights to improve completion and retention rates.

Te Mana Akonga tumukai takirua (co-president of the Māori students’ association), Nkhaya Paulsen-More, said universities had not been doing enough to help Māori students achieve.

“University strategies seem to be aligning with Tiriti-led policies but on the ground we’re still getting complaints from students that they don’t see much of a change,” she said.

“Things like ‘my lecturer doesn’t understand me because I’m Māori and they don’t respect the fact that I’m not the person to go to automatically if they don’t understand anything that’s Māori’, so being referred to as the cultural trainer in formal settings or utilising their knowledge without reimbursing them for that knowledge.”

The organisation’s other tumuaki takirua, Renāta White, said if the commission used financial penalties against institutions that failed to make progress, it should require the institutions to spend the money on improvements.

“I would rather the funds go back into supporting the students. So if there is a fine they are fined needing to employ maybe more support and mental health or more support and peer mentorship rather than the funds going back to government,” he said.

Huhāna Wātene from the Tertiary Education Union said universities and polytechnics could make a big difference for Māori students by hiring more Māori academics and tutors.

She said students also needed more culturally-appropriate support.

“In institutes whether it be in schools, polytechnics, kohanga, kura, it’s the services that are wrapped round them [students] that really assist and allow them to flourish. If you put any students, not just Māori and Pasifika, in that kind of environment they can’t do anything but do well,” she said.

“We know for a fact that Māori students do exceedingly well when they have that support services around them or people who value and appreciate their cultural aspirations and the tikanga.”

Wātene said the commission should use incentives rather than penalties to encourage change.


Australia:University students will be trained to spot foreign interference

Will be interesting to see how the training works in practice and possible lessons learned for Canada:

University students will be trained to spot foreign interference threats on campus and report them to authorities under proposed new rules aimed at significantly beefing up universities’ responsibilities for countering Chinese government influence on campuses.

Academics and students involved in research collaborations with overseas institutions will also get specific training on how to “recognise, mitigate and handle concerns of foreign interference”, following security agencies’ concerns about critical research being stolen.

The measures are contained in new draft foreign interference guidelines for universities, which are being furiously debated among university leaders and government officials. The federal government has already been forced to review a key element of the guidelines, which would have required all academics to disclose their membership of foreign political parties over the past decade, following a fierce backlash from university chiefs.

Following growing concerns from Australia’s security agencies about the risk of research theft by China and other foreign actors, the guidelines state that students and staff are to “receive training on, and have access to information about how foreign interference can manifest on campus and how to raise concerns in the university or with appropriate authorities”.

The measures are also aimed at addressing reports of students and academics being harassed by pro-Beijing groups on campuses. They propose that orientation programs should be used to “promote to all staff and students ways to report within their university concerns of foreign interference, intimidation and harassment that can lead to self-censorship”. Universities will also be required to have policies that set out how reported “concerns are tracked, resolved and recorded and shared” internally and when they should be reported to outside authorities.

To oversee these measures, the guidelines state that universities must have an “accountable authority” – either a senior executive or executive body – that will have responsibility for research collaborations with overseas institutions, and reviewing security risks and communicating them with the government.

The guidelines have been drafted by the Universities Foreign Interference Taskforce (UFIT), a collaborative body that includes university vice-chancellors and government officials. The final version will replace existing guidelines, which are far less prescriptive. The proposal has prompted considerable concern among academic leaders about the mandatory language underpinning the new requirements, and what consequences, if any, universities will face from government if they fail to implement them.

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge has declined to comment on “what is and isn’t in the draft guidelines”, but said earlier this year he was deeply concerned by a Human Rights Watch report that revealed accounts of Chinese international students being surveilled and harassed by their pro-Beijing classmates.

The report found that students were self-censoring in class out of fear comments critical of the Chinese Communist Party would be reported to authorities, with several students saying their parents in China had been hauled into police stations over their campus activities. Academics interviewed by Human Rights Watch also reported self-censorship practices, saying sensitive topics such as Taiwan had become too difficult to teach without a backlash from pro-Beijing students.

The report’s author, Sophie McNeill, said the draft guidelines indicated the government had taken the report’s findings into account.

“This focus had been missing from the previous guidelines, so it is very welcome these issues are now being recognised and addressed. It is critical the final guidelines include practical measures to safeguard academic freedom and address issues of harassment, surveillance and self-censorship faced by international students and staff,” Ms McNeill said.

Some universities have already taken steps to respond to the issues highlighted by Human Rights Watch. The University of Technology Sydney, for example, updated its orientation program for international students this semester to include guidance on acceptable behaviour and how students could report intimidation or surveillance by other students.

“We have certainly made it clear to students that what is discussed in classrooms is not something that should be reported on to the embassy,” Mr Watt, UTS deputy vice-chancellor, said.

“We’re not encouraging students to spy on each other. But rather, it’s saying: if you get doxxed or bullied or feel unable to express your views in a lecture here is the support available to you and here’s what you should do.”

The university’s misconduct rules allow for a range of penalties in response to unacceptable behaviour, including potential expulsion in serious cases.


Burton: Time for transparency in China’s dealings with Canadian universities


Canada’s free society is based on cultural expectations of reciprocal fairness and goodwill in our dealings with fellow citizens. This is what makes Canada a great place to live, and so attractive to immigrants. But our trusting nature is also vulnerable to being exploited by foreign actors with agendas that threaten our security and sovereignty.

In the case of China, its intricate manipulation practices have had enormous success in transferring research data from Canadian universities in strategically sensitive areas that serve PRC purposes. According to former CSIS director Richard Fadden, these areas include avionics, space technology, nuclear science and high-level optics research.

The fact is, China’s interference and espionage activities are hiding in plain sight in our open institutions. We need transparency about what these activities comprise, which Canadians are receiving benefits from agents of foreign states, and what form these benefits take.

Recent and troubling media reports reveal that, in 2018, the China Institute at the University of Alberta accepted a major donation from Hong Kong-based billionaire Jonathan Koon-Shum Choi, but refuses to disclose the size of Mr. Choi’s gift, the purposes to which the money has been allocated, and who are the de facto beneficiaries of this largesse.

Choi is a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), part of the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department (UFWD), whose main mission is to gain outside support for Beijing’s political agenda.

As the U of A is a public institution, surely Alberta taxpayers deserve transparency regarding any money that supports or influences the university’s research.

Under an agreement with China’s Minister of Science and Technology, U of A researchers have had access to at least 50 state labs in China since 2005, while upward of 60 professors have received funding for more than 90 joint projects with state and national labs in China. Likewise, at the University of British Columbia, more than 300 professors have significant professional interest in China, and faculty have partnerships with over 100 Chinese institutions.

But agreements through China’s Ministry of Science and Technology are not like those with partners in democratic societies. These are not simply benign, mutually beneficial collaborations between autonomous scholars seeking to expand the frontiers of science and human understanding, as much as the UFWD would have us believe.

In China, professors are cadre-ranked state employees, their research dictated by the state ministries to which their universities and labs are subordinate. Their ultimate goal is to advance the Chinese Communist Party’s five-year plans for domestic development and global geo-strategic advantage.

China would not be funding Canadian researchers if there were no ability to access the data which the professors generate. This is about obtaining information or intellectual property that could serve the PRC’s economic and military objectives. Indeed, some Canadian participants over the long term appear to derive significant Chinese income streams beyond their university salaries, through lucrative PRC-associated board appointments and commercial inducements.

The money is an effective device. Chinese grants help Canadians pursue research projects that might not have been so well funded by Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. The profs gain prestige from undertaking work in important and sensitive areas, enjoy wonderful hospitality in China, and benefit from considerable talented Chinese research assistance — providing they hand over their work to the Chinese state to develop. The strategy spends years cultivating a Canadian target, with the recipients often not fully aware of what they’re getting themselves into.

It is reassuring that Alberta government officials have promised to protect Canada’s national interest by curtailing U of A collaborations with China in strategically sensitive science and technology, but will Ottawa initiate federal legislation such as requiring transparency in reporting of foreign sources of income? There is a powerful pro-PRC lobby in Ottawa, mostly retired politicians who are on China-related boards, including Canadian companies and law firms that benefit from the PRC. In taking China’s money, they are expected to support the interests of the PRC in Canada in return.

Beijing seems confident that, once Canadian public outrage fades over the latest reports of China’s shameless flouting of the norms of international relations, the Canadians on the PRC gravy train will resume quietly lobbying for Ottawa’s restraint in any new measures. This United Front work is a sophisticated engagement of Canada, and the PRC always seems to end up on top.

Charles Burton is a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, and non-resident senior fellow of the European Values Center for Security Policy in Prague. He is a former professor of political science at Brock University, and served as a diplomat at Canada’s embassy in Beijing.


After a Year of Turmoil, Elite Universities Welcome More Diverse Freshman Classes

Of interest:

Jianna Curbelo attends a career-focused public high school in New York City, works at McDonald’s and lives in the Bronx with her unemployed mother, who did not graduate from college.

So when her high-school counselor and her Ph.D.-educated aunt urged her to apply to Cornell, on her path to becoming a veterinarian, she had her doubts. But she also had her hopes.

“It was one of those, ‘I’ll give it a shot, boost my ego a little bit,’” she said, laughing infectiously, of her decision to apply.

Then she got the unexpected news: She was accepted. She figured she was helped by the fact that Cornell, like hundreds of other universities, had suspended its standardized test score requirement for admission during the coronavirus pandemic. She also said she believed that protests kindled by the death of George Floyd had caught the attention of admissions officers, inspiring some to draft essay questions aimed at eliciting students’ thoughts on racial justice and the value of diversity.

“Those protests really did inspire me,” she said. “It made it seem like the times were sort of changing, in a way.”

Whether college admissions have changed for the long haul remains unclear. But early data suggests that many elite universities have admitted a higher proportion of traditionally underrepresented students this year — Black, Hispanic and those who were from lower-income communities or were the first generation in their families to go to college, or some combination — than ever before.

The gains seem to reflect a moment of national racial and social awareness not seen since the late 1960s that motivated universities to put a premium on diversity and that prodded students to expand their horizons on possible college experiences.

“I would say the likelihood is that the movement that arose in the wake of George Floyd’s murder has exerted some influence on these institutions’ admissions officers,” said Jerome Karabel, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a historian of college admission.

“But I think an equally important factor may be the effect of the pandemic on the applicant pool — they had a much broader range of low-income and minority applicants to choose from.”

Consider Jaylen Cocklin, 18, of Columbia, S.C., the son of a retired police officer and a state worker. Jaylen, whose two older brothers attend historically Black institutions, decided in middle school that he wanted to go to Harvard, but the events of the past year were a part of his thinking as he weighed his opportunities.

“It was just another thing driving me to go to Harvard and prove everyone wrong, and defy the common stereotype placed upon so many African-American males today,” he said.

He also suspected that Harvard might be thinking it had some duty to young men like him “because of the social outcry.” And, now he says, it appears that he was right.

He finds himself deciding among Harvard, Emory, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Wake Forest, Davidson and Georgetown.

The growth in minority admissions at top schools, both private universities and state flagships, has been driven in part by an overall explosion in applications there. Although the total number of students applying to college this year increased only slightly (though slightly more for Black, Hispanic and Asian students than white ones), the number of applications to top schools increased drastically across the board — by 43 percent to Harvard and 66 percent to M.I.T., for example.

At the University of California, Los Angeles, freshman applications rose by 28 percent, and even more for racial minorities — by 48 percent for African-Americans, by 33 percent for Hispanic students and by 16 percent for American Indian students.

The easing of the reliance on standardized tests, which critics say often work to the advantage of more educated and affluent families who can afford tutors and test prep, was most likely the most important factor in encouraging minority applicants.

Only 46 percent of applications this year came from students who reported a test score, down from 77 percent last year, according to Common App, the not-for-profit organization that offers the application used by more than 900 schools. First-generation, lower-income, as well as Black, Hispanic and Native American students were much less likely than others to submit their test scores on college applications.

Schools had been dropping the testing requirement for years, but during the pandemic a wave of 650 schools joined in. In most cases, a student with good scores could still submit them and have them considered; a student who had good grades and recommendations but fell short on test scores could leave them out. 

Most schools have announced that they will continue the test-optional experiment next year, as the normal rhythm of the school year is still roiled by the pandemic. It is unclear whether the shift foretells a permanent change in how students are selected.

Gabriella Codrington, 17, a Black student at Bard, a selective public high school in New York City, submitted her SAT score only to her “safety” schools, like the University of Delaware and Temple University, where she thought it would help her application. She withheld it from more selective schools like Harvard, Michigan, Stanford and N.Y.U., emphasizing her grades and resilience in the face of cancer, now in remission. “It definitely gave me a bit more relief,” she said of the test-optional policy.

Neither her father, a doorman, nor her mother, a sales associate, went to college. She has been admitted to N.Y.U.

Jaylen Cocklin’s family (his father went to a historically Black college and his mother to a Christian one) encouraged him to aim high. 

He “just grinded” for the SAT, he said, using a free online program, books and lessons on YouTube, and drove 45 miles because of the pandemic to take the first of two SAT tests. His score was high enough that he felt it would help him stand out at top schools, so he submitted it.

In his application essay, he wrote about the “struggle to be who I was” at A.C. Flora High School, in suburban Columbia, S.C. “I’ve been quite stereotyped by being African-American, the common stereotypes — thuggish, hoodish, looking down on what African-Americans can do,” he said.

But he also had to deal with being stereotyped as “whitewashed.” He wrote about his efforts to find a balance.

As students like Jaylen and Gabriella told their stories, admissions officers listened.

“You could tell the story of America through the eyes of all these young people, and how they dealt with the times, Black Lives Matter, the wave of unemployment and the uncertainties of the political moment, wanting to make a difference,” said MJ Knoll-Finn, senior vice president for enrollment management at New York University.

At N.Y.U., this year’s admitted class is about 29 percent Black or Hispanic students, up from 27 percent last year, and 20 percent first-generation students, up from 15 percent.

At Harvard, the proportion of admitted students who are Black jumped to 18 percent from 14.8 percent last year. If all of them enrolled, there would be about 63 more Black students in this year’s freshman class than if they were admitted at last year’s rate. Asian-Americans saw the second biggest increase, to 27.2 percent from 24.5 percent, which could be meaningful if a lawsuit accusing Harvard of systematically discriminating against Asian-Americans is taken up by the Supreme Court.

The percentage of Black students offered a spot at the University of Southern California rose to 8.5 percent from 6 percent, and Latino students to 18 percent from 15 percent.

Stu Schmill, dean of admissions at M.I.T., said the school did not release the breakdown of the admitted class because it was not the final enrolling class. “But I can tell you that there is a higher percentage of students of color this year than last,” he said.

A number of schools did not report admissions figures by race, instead reporting nonwhite “students of color” (including Asians) as a group, which generally showed an increase.

Once students actually accept an offer of admission and enroll, the diversity tally may look different, reflecting the difference between students admitted and where those students choose to enroll.

Some admissions experts worry that making standardized tests, like the SAT, optional will make it more difficult to select top students, especially at a time of widespread grade inflation. But when tests were required, “students were taking themselves out of the running,” said Cassie Magesis, director of post-secondary access for the Urban Assembly, a network of small schools that includes the one that Jianna Curbelo attends.

Admissions directors said that in the absence of test scores, they drilled deeper into not only high school grades, but also the rigor of courses taken in high school as well as personal essays and recommendations from teachers and guidance counselors.

Some hired a small army of application readers, like N.Y.U., which added 50 new readers, more than doubling its regular reading staff.

Even some admissions directors who think that standardized tests have been misused have mixed feelings about eliminating them altogether

“In some ways, I would say good riddance to the SAT,” said Joy St. John, dean of admission and financial aid at Wellesley College. “It feels like we just can’t stop gaslighting disadvantaged students.”

Still, she said testing could identify students who rose above their environment, or who excelled in certain subjects, like math and science. “There are aspects I will miss if we don’t have it,” she said. As imperfect as the process is, the admissions directors said they welcomed students taking a chance on challenging schools.

Ms. Knoll-Finn of N.Y.U. said. “Why not reach for the stars and see what you can get?”