College access: Improving the odds

Also posted on LinkedIn

As I toured the USC campus with my son Andrew, I couldn’t help but be excited for the opportunities that he would have as he entered college. Andrew is a junior in high school, and we began our college visits at one of his top choices. It didn’t disappoint. He was impressed with the resources, the interdisciplinary programs (he’s interested in majoring in History and Film) and the research support available to even first year students. But it was our tour guide who impressed Andrew with her enthusiasm and love of the school. The other schools we visited on that trip were also impressive, and Andrew found much to like in our tour of Los Angeles area schools.

Although I had been telling Andrew for the last year that he would love USC, it was still difficult for me, a Stanford and UCLA grad, to be on that campus. But I hope he continues to do well in school this year and gets into one of his top choices. I’m not worried, I know he will do well no matter where he goes, but as his mother, I want the best for him. I also know that he is getting the benefit of parents who are college graduates, including a mother who is a college administrator. We have gotten a head start on his college visits, we are making sure he is staying on top of all the deadlines for SAT testing, AP tests, and summer classes to show that he is college ready.

As my career has developed, I have become more concerned with issues of access and inclusion in the education arena, particularly here in Silicon Valley where issues of diversity are a constant concern. I feel like my son’s high school is a microcosm of the disparities that plague the area. My son is an example of the advantage that privilege gives on the path to college. It is not necessarily wealth that is a determining factor, but there is a difference in schools and parental knowledge that can impact the choices that students have. Many organizations are working to change the odds for students from less-privileged backgrounds. It has become clear to me that Higher Ed and K-12 need to work more closely together to help bridge the gaps and support all who want and need post-secondary education. Just as important, we need to support those students when they get in, so that they can succeed after they get in to college.

Going forward, I will be expanding on my work with organizations and companies in the area to try to tackle some of the issues that I have raised here. Much needs to be done, and it will take support from educators, non-profit organizations, industry and our political representatives to find answers that will help our students succeed in this very competitive environment. In the meantime, I will also continue to support my son in his college choices, even if it ends up being USC.

See also: OPINION: Changing the ‘narrow and sometimes elitist image of higher education’

What 2017 meant to me – the foot story


This post goes out to my many friends who have had physical challenges this year. As a political scientist, I spend way too much time talking/writing/reading about the train wreck that is our current political situation, so I’m definitely NOT going to spend the waning hours of 2017 giving my take on the politics of the past year. Instead, I will focus on a more personal challenge that dominated my year. For those who don’t want to read to the end, the punchline is that even if you are doing everything right, sometimes you just have to be patient. There will be setbacks and new, unexpected injuries that become part of the healing process. Image may contain: one or more people

I started 2017 with my foot in a boot after having surgery on it in early December. I had learned in September of 2016 that I was born with an extra bone in my foot, and that I had accessory navicular syndrome. The extra bone had to be removed, and I also had a few other things going on, specifically, posterior tibial tendinitis and a tear of the left plantar calcaneonavicular ligament – here’s a nice animation of the second part of the surgery that repaired the spring ligament and left me with a new arch.  After being a competitive athlete most of my life, this was the first time (except for right after giving birth to my two boys) that I was completely unable to work out for a significant period of time. Even when I was having major issues with my back in my late 20s, I found alternatives to running for a while, until I was able to get back into it seriously after my second son was born in 2003. My last serious running event was in January of 2016, a 10k, and I won a medal for my age group, something I was used to doing on a regular basis.

Although I recovered well from the surgery, and graduated from physical therapy in a

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, sky, selfie and outdoor
Walking the ramparts of Saint Malo in July

timely manner, I have learned over the past year that a foot injury isn’t something that goes away quickly, even if you do everything right. I did all my foot strengthening exercises, and my podiatrist was impressed with my recovery. I was able to walk all over London, Normandy and Paris with my boys this summer. I even ran/walked a 5k for my son Brandon’s school in September. I was very cautious about returning to running, mostly walking, but the general foot pain I was having began to get more specific, and eventually I could tell I was getting swelling in one of the joints close to where the bone had been removed. My left hip had begun to bother me as well, as my limp became more pronounced. A trip to the podiatrist determined that the bones in my foot were healing well, but I was having some soft tissue issues – so back to physical therapy, almost exactly a year after foot surgery.

So I have been spending the last month doing my PT exercises, walking, cycling and I just got a new rowing machine for Christmas. I have gained weight, but hope to get back into a serious nutrition routine to match my fitness routine with the start of the new year. This has been a very unusual year for me, and I’m still processing what it has meant to go from being a serious athlete to being in recovery. I know others deal with much more difficult struggles, and I count my blessings. I wonder what I should expect from myself now that I am over 50, and I can’t do many of the things that I did even in my 40s (i.e., 4 marathons, too many half marathons to keep track of, 10ks, 5ks). To what extent did the competition help define who I am?  All I know is that I will continue to pursue excellence in every aspect of my life. I will be patient with myself as I recover both physically and emotionally from a challenging year.  After all, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Neverthelessshe persisted.” (In the end I couldn’t completely keep politics out of it 😊)




What next?

A year ago, reeling from an election that had gone horribly wrong, many of us were looking for ways to resist the impending storm. Things have gone as badly as expected. We await an inquiry with the hope that those who are guilty of wrongdoing will be held to account, but what will follow? I heard David Brooks on NPR today make the comment that he hoped that the current breaking of of norms would lead to a renewed push for civility, ethics and adhering to common norms again in politics. I’m skeptical, but we must continue to resist, and push for a politics that embraces all. It feels as if we are careening towards a future that excludes all but the one percenters. That cannot be a lasting equilibrium, and the kleptocratic leadership must know that – but the focus on short-term gains seems to eclipse any acknowledgement of long-term realities.

It’s not just about race, or women, or LGBTQ people. It’s about basic human decency. It’s about people being able to find housing, have access to decent healthcare without going bankrupt, about having access to education and technology. It’s about every one of us taking responsibility – it’s not a situation in which some of us can decide we don’t care about politics. Politics is life in this country – we don’t have the luxury for anyone to say they don’t care…


The Intersection of Populism and Tech: Going Beyond the Algorithms

In an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle on October 27th, Janine Zachariah writes:

“The hijacking of social media is now primarily a national security story, and one that should matter to any American who cares about the integrity of our democracy. Congress is right to demand answers from Silicon Valley executives and then, perhaps, yes, subject them to regulations just like any other industry from food to medicine to banking. If the companies find this all too onerous, then perhaps there will be a market for new social networking sites that are up to the task.”

Fallout from the 2016 general election has generated a watershed moment for tech companies like Facebook and Twitter. Russian “bots” and fake accounts had an impact on the news (mainly fake news) that may have tipped the election in Donald Trump’s favor, and definitely exposed millions of Americans to misleading information. What responsibility do these tech companies have to monitor fake accounts? What counts as abuse? When well-known alt-right activist Roger Stone’s account was recently suspended on Twitter, many felt that it was overdue, due to his previous abusive behavior.

As Senator Dianne Feinstein has declared, “What we’re talking about is a cataclysmic change. What we’re talking about is the beginning of cyber warfare. What we’re talking about is a major foreign power with the sophistication and ability to involve themselves in a presidential election and sow conflict and discontent all over this country.” It is time for these companies to rely more heavily on the expertise of those in the social sciences who conduct research on politics and “warfare” of all kinds to help them chart a path through these turbulent waters.

Russian interference may also have been at play in Europe, influencing the vote to leave the European Union in the UK (Brexit vote); populist parties in France, the Netherlands, Germany and other countries may also have been beneficiaries of Russian interference. Social media is playing a role in bringing together supporters of these parties, and allowing them to express their grievances in new ways. For example, the German AfD (Alternative for Germany) shifted its focus from the Euro currency to immigration, tapping into the concerns many felt regarding the surge of Muslim refugees into the country in the last few years. In the September 2017 election to the Federal Bundestag, the AfD won 12.6% of the vote, the first far-right party to enter the parliament since World War II.

Far right, alt-right, and populist parties have been taking advantage of social media for many years. What has changed with the most recent elections is that they have been able to take advantage of targeted ads and the “bubbles” that have been created when social media users limit their media consumption to those who are most like them (see the BoingBoing site that compares liberal and conservative media side-by-side). Russian agents were able to take advantage of this, creating fake news that influenced people’s attitudes toward political candidates, particularly Hilary Clinton. Mainstream media was also impacted, as evidenced by their focus on Hillary Clinton’s emails despite even more egregious actions being taken by the Trump campaign and his associates.

Voting radical right

In my book on the radical right, I noted that mainstream parties often fight the radical right by convincing voters that they will not form coalitions with far-right parties. This strategy is often referred to as creating a “cordon sanitaire” or buffer between themselves and the parties in question. This has kept many of these parties out of parliaments as well as out of government. However, social media is changing these calculations; the buffer is no longer keeping the far right out of power. For example, Marine Le Pen’s National Front party in France won the most seats ever in the French legislative election in June of 2017. In elections across Europe, social democratic parties have received some of the lowest percentages of the vote in recent memory. As party allegiances shift away from traditional parties, it is difficult for mainstream politicians to stigmatize the far right.


Until recently, social media companies like Facebook and Twitter were able to stand on the sidelines while their algorithms did the work of creating online communities. Populist politicians were early adopters, starting with web pages then moving on to Facebook pages and Twitter feeds where their supporters could find others of a like mind.

These companies need to get ahead of the political situation and be proactive in their monitoring of the political climate. Facebook is now trying to identify fake news or recommend a Snopes story when someone shares fake news. Twitter has dedicated its staff to rooting out Russian manipulation. This is only part of what needs to be done to avoid these problems. Many social scientists are already doing some of the work that would have called attention to the problem at Twitter. As noted in a Bloomberg article, in 2015 scholars at UC Berkeley found numerous fake Twitter accounts, including many registered in Russia and Ukraine.

Social scientists, particularly political scientists can help these companies develop a better understanding of the political context they are functioning in. Many political scientists are already doing this work; cooperation between tech companies and academics can produce even more helpful information. For example, international relations and comparative politics specialists who work on Russia and its political behavior could help these companies to develop strategies to help identify potential problems as political conditions change and new technologies enter the scene. This type of research is as important as the software engineers who devise the algorithms – and will be necessary for exploring the impact of those algorithms. Facebook and Twitter have the data. It’s time to share expertise.

Some thoughts as I turn 53…

Turning 50 is a big deal. Turning 53, not so much. However, this has been a momentous year for me. A year ago I was on my way to South Africa. It was an amazing trip, as I have written about in my blog a year ago. When I returned from that trip, I had to prepare for surgery on my left foot. I had found out in September that I was born with an extra bone in my foot. Accessory navicular bone syndrome is a new part of my vocabulary. I am learning to deal with all the wonderful symptoms that come with being a woman over 50. Sleep is at a premium.

I am coming to grips with the fact that I won’t be the runner that I once was. Nearly a year after what was rather complicated surgery, I can run, but it’s slow and sometimes painful. I am learning to appreciate cycling and other low-impact activities. I see a rowing machine in my future.

I have entered my third year as the provost of a small college, living in one of the most beautiful and exciting parts of the country. I have learned a great deal about my capacity for leadership, and my desire to help clear the path for young people of all backgrounds to get a great education. We are not moving the needle fast enough — but I believe we have the capability to improve educational outcomes for all.

As a political scientist, I can’t help but follow politics closely. It has been a crazy year on that front, and promises to get even more complicated over the next few months. I will be writing a great deal as things progress. Immigration, populism, the radical right, discrimination, all of the things I have researched over the past ~20 years is coming to a head at this point in history.

I feel blessed to have great family and friends who keep me going when times get rough and cheer me on when times are good. I have no regrets as I head into the next year, but I will be sure to do what I can to help my community and our country move through this difficult time, hanging on to hope for a better future for my boys.



Expanding the View of Diversity and Inclusion

[Also posted as an article on LinkedIn]

This week I attended the Tech Inclusion Conference in San Francisco. I can honestly say it was one of the most diverse and inclusive conferences I have ever attended. I enjoyed meeting people from a variety of backgrounds who are committed to increasing accessibility to technology and careers in the tech sector. This issue is near and dear to my heart for a variety of reasons. As the provost of a small college in the heart of Silicon Valley, I want my diverse student body to be aware of all the opportunities that are available to them. It helps my students to see people who are like them working in the companies that surround our campus.

The main takeaway for me from the conference was that I needed to expand my definition of diversity. I was impressed with presentations about indigenous rights, neuro-diversity, veterans, disability, and even invisible disabilities. I was also impressed with the companies who have committed to changing the culture in Silicon Valley to create a more inclusive future. This will be critical to the future of tech, as we need to reach out to the broader community to develop the workforce that will keep the economy moving forward.

I firmly believe that education is a vital component of this effort. Along with running a diverse college, I also support many organizations that are working to get more low-income students into college. For example, the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula works with over 100 high school students to help create a path to college. These students are the future of our state and our country. If we don’t support them, we won’t have the educated work force we need. It is critical that we support an education system that develops the capability of ALL of our students, regardless of socio-economic status, race, religion, disability, or gender-identity.

I truly appreciate the efforts of visionaries like Wayne Sutton and Melinda Briana Epler at Change Catalyst who are helping to lead the way to a more inclusive future.20171019_161510

It’s not about the national anthem, Rosa Parks wasn’t protesting the bus.

I posted this on Facebook after reading one too many posts that chided NFL players for not standing during the national anthem. Many people, including veterans, police officers, senators, etc…have stated their support for the right to protest. However, passions have been high – I have seen many discussions turn into rants followed by name calling. What is it about this particular issue that has led to such passionate responses? [a rhetorical question]

For many African-Americans, this is a time of heartbreak. Not particularly because of Trump – we have seen many like him in our lifetimes. No, the heartbreak comes from learning that many we consider friends, even family, have little or no empathy for the situation we are facing today. We cannot ignore the bigotry and racism that are coming to the fore, something we had hoped our children wouldn’t have to deal with.

Many who have protested the protest say that players are being disrespectful to those who have given their lives for the US and the flag. Others argue that players are privileged and don’t have a right to complain. My nephew, Anthony Givens, captured my and many others’ thoughts on this:

If you ever speak to me, or have posted about these “ungrateful” athletes disrespecting a piece of cloth, but you have never once spoken to me about the disrespect shown to the founding ideals of America by literal nazis in Charlottesville, or you have never once spoken to me about the murders of young black men that were handcuffed, on the ground, unarmed, and executed by those who we have entrusted to protect all Americans, or never once called out the systemic racism and fear that all minorities must live with everyday in a country that has a president who is the embodiment of privilege and a constant reminder of the promises that have been broken…if this is you, a person that I know, then we are done. We are and cannot even be acquaintances, much less friends anymore. There cannot be middle ground on racism and misogyny. #TakeAKnee

Whatever happened to the “Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave?” When and where are we “allowed” to protest – if it doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable, what’s the point? I grew up in the military, my father was a 20-year man, who was greatly disrespected during his time in the military, but never lost his love for this country. We protest because we want America to live up to it’s promise. We want a country where I don’t have to worry about my boys being stopped by the police because of the color of their skin. We want a country where we can truly live free.