Critical conversations about grading disparity at BC

diversity graphicBellevue College has been working diligently on making sure that the needs of the diverse students that attend the college are well met. BC aims to help students succeed both personally and academically. There has been a group of “pluralism committees” that various leaders in the college sit on to discuss diversity, equity and of course, pluralism. One of these is the Instructural Pluralism Committee headed by Lori Saffin, a sociology professor who also teaches cultural and ethnic studies courses. Saffin became the chair of the committee last spring.

One of Saffin’s main focuses has been creating what is called “Critical Conversations” every third Friday of the month with the help of BC’s Vice President of Equity and Pluralism Yoshiko Harden. The first session was held on Friday, Jan. 18 from 12:30 -2 p.m. According to Saffin, the focus was on the data received from 2010-2011, which focused on racial disparities in earning A’s.  She went on to describe how BC views academic success as a C- or higher, but Saffin looked even deeper and viewed the racial differences in the students earning A’s in their classes. Shock arose when she uncovered that 26% of African Americans were pulling A’s in classes they took, as opposed to the 42% of white students who were pulling A’s in classes that they took.

Saffin also elaborated on student diversity: “I think that seeing yourself reflected as a teacher provides [confidence to students].” She went on to state: “I think this goes with a lot of students…this goes [for] low income students, this goes [for] students with disabilities, I think this goes [for] students of color, and I think that a lot of the marginalized groups have never seen the classroom as necessarily a positive space. It’s [never] been a space where you’ve felt validated, or like it’s a space where you have [never] felt like you’ve been reflected and it always seems like a struggle.”

Saffin’s biggest fear for the series is “that nobody shows up, and that it becomes the same voices that always come to the table.” However, Saffin went on to discuss her hopes and goals for the committee: “My best hope would be, some of us are probably doing some really amazing work in our classrooms all ready and a lot of us don’t know about it, because we don’t have the space or the time to share that information. So my hope is that this provides us an opportunity to show our best practices and I think it also provides some of us to try new things in the classroom and see if there is an impact.”

Saffinhas some high hopes for the committee, the conversations and the college. With Harden and other departmental support, she hopes that these conversations will be the first real foundations for the change in student’s success.