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Hrabowski delivers convocation on educational inequality in United States

<eeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a mathematician and education inequality expert, gave a convocation address entitled “Leadership and the Role of Liberal Arts Colleges in Promoting High Achievement Among Minorities” in the Skinner Memorial Chapel last Friday.

Hrabowski was exposed to educational inequality at a young age. As a child growing up in Birmingham during the time of the civil rights movement, he recalls promises by the State Governor referring to the University of Alabama that “Over [the governors] dead body will I allow a nigger into this school.” As a self-described nerd, Hrabowski passively absorbed the spirit of change that was in the air at the time. “My parents used to make me go to Dr. Kings meetings, I would sit at the back and do math,” recalls Hrabowski. However, there came a time when Hrabowski took on a more prominent role in the movement. During the children’s protests, Hrabowski asked his parents if he could lead a march. They at first refused, until he called them out as “hypocrites” for seeing him as “too good to protest” because of his middle class background, at which point they let him go.

Hrabowski described the brutality of the police during the march; “we were subjected to insults, water cannons, dogs.” When the children finally reached the city hall the chief of police, nicknamed “Bull,” spat in his face and sent all the children to jail where they stayed for a week. During this hard time, he remembers Dr. King coming to them and telling them “What you children do this day will have an impact on children unborn.”

Hrabowski also dealt with the inequality that remains in the United States education system to this day. He pointed out that of the 25% of Americans who have college degrees, 33% are white, 17% are black and 11% are Hispanic. This inequality stems from inequality at lower levels of education. Only 60% of blacks and low-income whites make it through 12th grade, and those who do can only read and compute at the ability of an 8th grader. Hrabowski pointed out that in spite of the No Child Left Behind Act, “millions of children were being left behind.” Reporting a conversation he had had with an elementary school teacher he explained that she, when questioned about the No Child Left Behind Act had responded “No Child Left Behind? No money left behind.”

In addition to discussing national educational inequality, Hrabowski talked about Carleton’s prominence in the educational world. “You are among the top 1% of students in the nation,” he pointed out. He described a meeting he had with students the day before were no one thought they where doing well in their classes. “When you are around really smart people you feel ordinary.” He went on to say that Carleton students will “make a change in the world some day” and that “of those who much is given, much is expected.”

He also discussed the challenges Carleton is faced with, referencing Carleton’s record of sending a large number of white students to MD/PhD programs while sending far fewer student of color. “Carleton’s problem is America’s problem.” He also cited the much lower retention rate of students of colour as compared to white students.

In his address, Hrabowski expressed his sympathy and respect for the his introducer Flavian Brown ‘09, who in his introduction of Hrabowski, told of his own experiences of educational inequality at Carleton. Brown described how in his Biology class he had been subject to racially offensive language by the professor on two separate occasions. Hrabowski applauded Brown for his courage in sharing his experiences with the Carleton community. In addition, he applauded Carleton for tackling the issue of race on campus. “Race is the most difficult thing to talk about in mixed company in the United States” he said, “but it has to be done.”

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