About Me

My name is Spencer. I'm 23 years old, and I'm a junior at Princeton. So far college has taken me five years. I've taken time off to work, transferred to USC and come back, and learned a lot along the way.

I like to think about life and what I'm going to do with mine.

I've met a lot of people my age with the same sorts of thoughts so feel free to read, take surveys, and comment.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Linsanity Meets Racism

I know that talking about basketball and a sportscaster's comment is quite a bit off-topic, but I would still like to approach this interesting and very sensitive area surrounding race and discrimination. Eventually (in a later post), I will approach college admissions from the same vein of race and discrimination. For now, you may not think that the color of one's skin or where you come from has anything to do with university admissions, but you would be sorely mistaken. In fact, universities don't solely look at academic prowess and extracurricular activities; race, geographic location, and parents' education currently play a very large role that can separate a student from an even more accomplished one.

Without going too far into college admissions at the moment, I would now like to cover how we as society treat racial (and potentially racist) issues and ignorances in the media, specifically having to do with a comment made about the New York Knicks' new star point guard Jeremy Lin.

New York Knicks' point guard Jeremy Lin
Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Most of you probably know about the controversy I'm referring to; however, if you don't, let me explain. Jeremy Lin, currently a starting NBA player, has recently been putting up All-Star numbers, which is extremely impressive for a rookie. On top of that, adding all the more to the hype or "Linsanity," as dubbed by the media, he's Chinese.

The controversy occurred after the Knicks blew a seven game win streak to a badly performing New Orleans Hornets team. After the game, a headline on ESPN's mobile web site read "Chink in the Armor" next to a picture of the young star. The headline was quickly dispatched of after 30 minutes and the apologetic writer promptly fired; furthermore, ESPN handed out a 30 day suspension to anchor Max Bretos for using the phrase on air in the previous week.

Now, from what I've read or heard about on the news, blogs, television, and the newspaper, people generally look at the situation as simply the use of a well-known phrase, an example of extreme ignorance and an outdated phrase, or a poor writer caught in a bad situation. Personally, I'd have to agree with all of them. Perhaps not on every argument, but, for the most part, I do think that the headline was not malicious in intent, the writer was being extremely ignorant and not politically correct, and I do feel sorry for the guy on some level.

Nevertheless, the main point that sticks out to me whilst reading all these different articles and views is how we as society treat racial issues and how much criticism gets thrown around about the actions the authorities take in response (in this case, ESPN or Disney/ABC). In fact, I think that in our reactions to other people's "racist" comments and/or the punishment they receive, we end up showing our own true colors. In other words, how we react to these circumstances can't help but convey how much we really care about the race and/or people involved. On a personal level, one person may care more for one race than another or feel more sorry for one specific race; however, on the outside, he or she may act the same no matter the race involved (i.e. acting politically correct). Additionally, on a societal level, we inadvertently harbor more feelings of guilt and find certain actions or words to be more or less offensive based on the race involved. For example, in America especially, we feel a strong aversion to the N-word due to our history with slaves and the horrors that took place during that time.

In my opinion, I don't think that people care as much because it is not a slur we are used to hearing or fearing (like the N-word or the F-word). In fact, most people probably don't associate that phrase with any possible racist or offensive connotation, even in the case of such a pun. However, if the writer had jokingly used any other non-politically correct slur pertaining to any other race or group, he, again, would have been fired immediately, but he would not have gotten such great sympathy from others. In fact, the aftereffects of using, perhaps, the N-word (or even the slightly more subtle word Sp*ok) would have been devastating to ESPN as a whole for a long while after the man had been fired. Of course, I do understand that the reason he received so much outside sympathy is because "chink in the armor" is a fairly common English phrase; however, the word sp*ok may be used in a totally non-offensive manner, but you would never see that word in a headline next to a picture of say Michael Jordan. Under no circumstance does the phrase excuse the lack of thought and sensitivity demonstrated by this former-ESPN writer. Also, the phrase does not give anyone the right to use it when referring to a person of Chinese descent just like a non-black person is not given the right to use the N-word when talking to an African-American simply because he's quoting a popular rap lyric.

Ironically, this enormous amount of attention Jeremy Lin is getting undoubtedly pertains to his race, which is the very same reason the former-ESPN writer was fired. It's simply discrimination from both sides. Now, I'm not suggesting that Lin wouldn't have been in the spotlight simply based on his performance so far this season, but, like college admissions, performance isn't all we look at, is it?

Finally, I would like to address and respond to some of the arguments I read concerning the Jeremy Lin controversy.
I find a ChicagoNow blog post written by a Michael Helfand to be extremely distasteful, very ignorant, and the perfect example to prove my point about reactions to "racist" comments. To his title ("Is 'Ch*nk In The Armor' Offensive If There's No Bad Intent?") I ask, how many careers in all fields have been destroyed by the "accidental" use of a racial slur? Or even "accidental" plagiarism? Is it considered okay for a comedian or talk show host to be extremely racist if his or her intent was to be funny as opposed to offensive? May I sing rap lyrics out loud in public and drop the N-word as I please? "I didn't mean to be offensive, I just really love that song," he said contritely. No, I don't think so. Even if someone does not quite believe in being politically correct, he or she should act like it in public to avoid career ending problems and controversy. So the answer to your question should be quite simple: you may use the phrase when literally referring to an actual chink in armor or a weak defense (or chink) in a wall, and by both of those things, I do NOT mean a Chinese person in a suit of armor or a Chinese person in the wall of a soccer free kick. Obviously, like in this former-ESPN writer's case, those uses would be very offensive and unacceptable.

Mr. Helfand writes, "The broadcaster who was suspended clearly was not trying to make a pun when he used that phrase. He swears that there was not a bad intention at all when he said that phrase and it clearly was made in reference to the fact that Lin had lots of turnovers in the games he play." I don't know the former-ESPN writer or the suspended anchor, but I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt. I do believe that they weren't trying to be offensive with this pun. Rather, this was simply a case of ignorance and insensitivity. Nevertheless, Mr. Helfand amply and adamantly defends the ESPN and former-ESPN employees. He forgets that their intentions were not the major issue here; the main problem stems from overall offensive nature of the headline in that they were obviously referring to a man of Chinese descent, and on top of that, their intentions cannot be proven in the slightest.

Mr. Helfand further says that Bretos' "wife is Asian and...I tend to believe him that he would never say anything that his wife or the Asian community would find offensive." In my opinion, here lies the most ignorant, presumptuous, and distasteful line in Mr. Helfand's post. It demonstrates to me a lack of care and understanding towards the Asian community. First of all, is the broadcaster's wife Chinese? Japanese? Korean? Filipino? Mongolian? Taiwanese? Or any other Asian race? Ch*nk refers to Chinese people, whereas there are many other racist words for every other Asian race. In fact, there are still Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and many others who would take offense to being grouped together as the same people.

Finally, Mr. Helfand states, "You can bet [his suspension] wouldn't have happened if the web page headline hadn't been written. It's not as if 'ch[*]nk in the armor' is always an offensive phrase compared to someone using the N word, k[*]ke or something else." Here, Mr. Helfand is absolutely right. Of course "chink in the armor" is not always an offensive term; however, when used in the context of a Chinese person, it's just as bad as the N-word or the K-word or any other offensive name (see my last paragraph regarding the word sp*ok before I address Mr. Helfand's post). Here, again, is the perfect example of showing how much importance Mr. Helfand gives to each racial slur. Like many Americans, the N-word is very taboo due to our history as a country, and Mr. Helfand dares not even write it out. Despite that and the offensive nature of the other racial slurs, he has no problem writing out k*ke or ch*nk. Like most Americans, we don't associate as much hatred and bad memories with other racial slurs, but that doesn't make them any less offensive regardless of intent.

I very much agree with a Slate post by Huan Hsu who advocates getting rid of the phrase "ch*nk in the armor" altogether. In his research, he found that "there has been but a single use of f[*]got in the New York Times since 1981 (compared with hundreds before). D[*]ke has been quietly morphed to dike when describing the hydrological feature common in lowland countries. There's also a rumor that the Dallas Morning News banned niggardly after negative reactions...In 1999, David Howard...famously resigned amid the outcry following his use of the word niggardly in reference to a budget matter...it pretty much took [it] out of the public lexicon...And yet the Post has printed ch*nk more than 20 times since April 15, 2008."

Mr. Hsu has demonstrated the lexicographic changes that have occurred due to offensive slurs, and he very much shows that it is time for another shift. So for all those who cry out that this punishment was unfair and simply, as Mr. Helfand writes, "political correctness run amok," then look at the previous examples. Predict the pattern, and just be PC. It seems to be the way things are; is it really worth your job?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Standardized Testing: Why The SATs?


Many people ask, "How can we possibly base our admissions for higher education on a few standardized tests? How can we trust the SATs, especially because of all the recent news surrounding fraud and cheating? (New York SAT cheating scandal and Exaggerated SAT scores at Claremont McKenna). Aren't grades and academic performance enough?"

First and foremost, I will admit that given the current time frame and budget, I cannot think of a more balanced way to evaluate prospective university students. It may not be the fairest way, but, as I will explain later, we do indeed need some standard to work with.

On a side note, there are in fact so many more than qualified students that the current process can't help but be unfair; sadly to say, there's a lot of what I call, "unknown factors," such as luck, money, athletics, discrimination, reverse-discrimination, and legacies etc that really decide who gets in and who doesn't.

Now getting back on track, in an ideal world, if we had an unlimited amount of time and money, then schools could have multiple admissions officers live with and really get to know every single applicant for about a month in order to get a good feel for the student's qualities and academic and social abilities...but that will never happen. It would take years, perhaps even multiple decades. Online applications are now the standard, and if the need for financial aid further increases, top tier schools (which are generally well-endowed) tend to receive more and more applications each year.

Even further proving my point that university admissions workers don't have enough time comes from my own experiences. During college applications, if you're lucky enough to get a face to face interview rather than a phone call, many are conducted like speed dating. All of us "prospects" go to a random building that may or may not be near our homes, and we wait with much of our "competition" until we are called into a small office to have our very brief and tightly scheduled 15-30 minute interview. Now, not all of my experiences happened like this, but many were very similar for both me and my friends.

As I said above, standardized testing in general may not be the fairest way, but, as of now, it is the most reasonable. Unfortunately, we need a standard and cannot simply admit kids based on GPA or honors classes because of the huge difference of teaching ability and funding between schools. I don't think that anyone would disagree that a student gets a better education at a well funded public school over a poorly funded one. In addition, I'm sure that most people would agree that private school students (in the United States) have access to significantly better teachers, facilities, and work materials than nearly any publicly funded middle- or high-school. Thus, because some children get a far better education and many more opportunities to learn than other kids, it would be very unfair to simply admit students based on, for all intents and purposes, what district they are from and how much they pay for high-school.

Additionally, it is nearly impossible for admissions officers to know every school that inflates grades. Some admissions boards find (after multiple years) that certain schools have a reputation for inflating grades, but that pattern changes year by year and school by school. Furthermore, admissions officers can't really judge how difficult a high-school is. Even though a school may inflate grades, its honors classes may be 10 times harder than a typical high-school. Again, it's impossible to really know.

Seemingly, the only semi-agreeable option that remains are standardized tests such as the SATs or ACTs. They may not be the best way, but, for now, they are the only way.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Claremont McKenna College - Under Pressure

Former Dean Richard Vos
Within the very new year, Dean Richard Vos, the admissions dean at Claremont McKenna College (or CMC), a top 25 liberal arts institution, admitted that the school had been falsely reporting inflated SAT scores since 2005. Former Dean Vos has since taken full responsibility for his (and whomever else's) actions and promptly resigned after taking much heat from the press, the public, and many other educational institutions and reporting agencies.

The President of the college, Pamela Gann, said that the averages of the scores were increased from 10 to 20 points per section. CMC also added that no individual students' scores were altered, but solely the averages.

Claremont McKenna even more recently took another blow as the finance magazine Kiplinger removed it from its list of best value in liberal arts colleges. In addition, the school reported its true test scores to the highly regarded U.S. News & World Report. Claremont McKenna had recently been moving up in U.S. News & World Report's rankings of national liberal arts colleges, where MCM currently sits at 9th. Nevertheless, the publication announced that it would not alter the current report issued, but, instead, it will take a look at the numbers and the impact will be reflected in next year's statistics.

There remains speculation as to the reason behind the exaggeration of the SAT scores. Some believe it to be a mistake, some like Daniel de Vise of the Washington Post think it's pressure to hold up prestige or increase it, and some, like Nathan Harden of the National Review, think that it could have to do with nationwide Diversity Programs such as QuestBridge and the Posse Foundation. These two programs were essentially designed to help increase economics and racial diversity in various participating universities. According to Harden, CMC began participating in the programs around the same time that the SAT scores started being inflated, which could suggest a correlation.

On a side note, I would like to bring attention to some of the reporting in the other articles surrounding this issue, which demonstrates somewhat of a lack of understanding about the current college academic climate and the SATs.

Concerning the seemingly minute increase on average of 10 to 20 points and whether or not the difference really matters, Los Angeles Times writer Larry Gordon wrote, "That is not a large increase, considering the maximum score for each section is 800 points." Also, speaking more in depth on this subject, Washington Post writer Daniel de Vise wrote, "Why would an admission dean risk the school's integrity to gain 10 or 20 points on an SAT average? That's the equivalent o[f] answering one or two more questions correctly on the test. It's the difference between, say, the 94th and the 95th percentile."

I will admit that I (and probably most others) immediately think, of course, 10 or 20 points, it really isn't that much... it's 1.25-2.5% of the exam. What's the difference? However, as I really start to think about it, both Mr. Gordon and Mr. de Vise are, for all intents and purposes, wrong. They aren't completely misled for they make very good observations; nevertheless, they don't know what it's like to be a student nowadays with the huge increase in competition surrounding the application process.

They forget that they are talking about a top university (perhaps not Harvard, but a very, very good school) where the 94th and 95th percentile may not cut the bill. Remember that we are talking about the top percentage of scores, and in that range, 1.25-2.5% can mean all the difference.

Additionally, they do not mention what I think many students (except for maybe only or eldest children) know, which is that once you are past a certain "minimum" GPA and SAT score, your academics don't necessarily directly determine if you get in. What happens next makes admissions seem like a crap-shoot; it's what I call, the unknown factors, which include, athletics, donations, race, economics background, specified extracurriculars, money, fame, etc (somewhat in that order).

All in all, I think the admissions process has significantly changed since Mr. Gordon and Mr. de Vise went through it last as students, and nowadays, 1.25% means an awful lot. Perhaps enough to justify Former Dean Vos's actions in his mind.

If you go ahead and read some of the comments in the linked articles, many beg the question: do the SATs mean anything at all? This is something I will come back to later on.

CMC ForumHuffington PostLos Angeles TimesLos Angeles Times: KiplingerNational ReviewWashington PostSan Francisco Chronicle (Gate)