Monday, November 30, 2015

Diversity In Tech Needs Less Buzz And More Action

by Mala Kumar
Originally Published: November 30th, 2015

I am smart. I am hardworking. I am a logical, ordered thinker. I am gay. I am brown. I am a woman.
I am looking for a job in the tech industry.
I say these things as a way to underpin something that must be addressed – diversity in the technology workforce need less buzz and more action.
Diversity in tech is a hot issue today, as it should be. If economically developed countries really are headed for the Internet of Things, everything – from a clock to a toothbrush to a microwave to a belt – will need some kind of code, programming, information architecture, and hardware to function. Our increasingly diverse society means an increasingly diverse technology workforce is needed to help power the world of tomorrow. And so, the buzz of diversity in tech tells me that I am welcome.
My experience tells me otherwise.
I went to an undergrad that is known for producing engineers and computer science majors en masse. Some of the university departments were and still are ranked in the top 25 American programs. Going to that university meant I had the opportunity to get a degree to land me a career in tech.
But I didn’t take it.
The reasons why are simple: the second set of three statements – I am a brown, gay woman. Like many if not most engineering environments, the one at my undergrad was unduly tough for non-white, female (cis or trans), queer people. Though my math grades and test scores put me at or above the average engineering student, to survive in that environment as a triple minority, I knew that average was not enough. No one encouraged otherwise.
Ironically, I found myself in the similar environment of the business school, as I was lucky enough to have parents who were willing and able to pay for my undergrad degree, but only on the condition I stayed in business, science or engineering. In my time there, I heard countless racial, sexual or other hate-driven statements from students and professors alike. Some examples I bore witness to include:
“We are at a disadvantage in our project group because we got the most women.”
“He’s a fucking chink.”
“We are merit based and if there are no black people who are good enough, so be it.”
“He is disgusting, and by that I mean he is gay.”
From the several minority friends I had in the engineering school, I knew many of their environments were similar.
The problem is a system that continually shuts out – either intentionally or by default – underrepresented groups of people at every stage of the training process.

I was aware I was gay from a young age and I grew up in a very conservative part of the country. Though I was tired of racist, homophobic, sexist and anti-non-Christian sentiments, I had to make do with what I had in that university. After attempting to join and integrate myself in STEM organizations of the school, I realized that socially, by virtue of who I was, my place was not there.
By my sophomore year, I did what I needed to maintain a decent GPA and used whatever free time I had to explore subjects and ideas that drew a more tolerant and open-minded set of people. In the near decade since I finished undergrad, I was fortunate to establish two careers from these subjects – international development and writing. In my career in international development, I focused on the role of technology.
To get where I want to go in life, I knew that I eventually would need to make a transition to the private sector tech industry and have been trying to do so for the past two years. Despite everything I have accomplished in my other careers, working in a field tangential to private sector technology, countless hours of networking, and the buzz about diversity in technology workforces, I have come up with no concrete results.
I can’t undo my decision in undergrad to distance myself as much as possible from the toxic environments that dictated the technical majors. In hindsight, I don’t think I would have made a different decision. What’s unfortunate is that that decision precluded me from learning hard technical skill sets. Everything I have learned about technology has been self-taught.
In my case, as I’m sure is the case for most technologists, self-teaching can only go so far. My appeals to the private sector technology world to invest in me in exchange for my guarantee to work hard for them have gone unanswered. I am continually told that I simply do not possess the “right fit” of skills for tech companies. 
This is a major challenge to diversity hires at tech companies. It is not a lack of individual willpower to learn the tough skills or to embrace risk and foresight that prevents a disproportionate number of minorities from gaining tech jobs. Increasingly, it’s not even a tech company’s failure to search for minority candidates that prevents diversity hires. The problem is a system that continually shuts out – either intentionally or by default – underrepresented groups of people at every stage of the training process.
In order to avoid being called “aggressive” or “bitter,” I have had to smile and nod through death threats, overt aggressions, micro-aggressions, and countless ignorant comments.

Companies are not willing to invest in or work with diversity candidates as part their hiring. Formal, and now informal, education systems such as coding bootcamps, cost way too much for the average person to learn new skills if and when they want to make a change later in life.
I have skills and experiences that can only come from being a marginalized part of society. I have had to fight so much harder than most of my counterparts for every story that I wanted to tell, every opportunity that I wanted to realize, every project I felt was worthy, and every connection I wanted to make. In order to avoid being called “aggressive” or “bitter,” I have had to smile and nod through death threats, overt aggressions, micro-aggressions, and countless ignorant comments.
My story is not unlike so many other brown and/or black and/or gay and/or women of this world, but my story – our stories – make us an asset, not a liability. The resilience, creativity and poise we possess by way of what we have been through are things that cannot be taught, yet we are shut out of an industry because we do not possess the skills that can be taught.
While the tech industry says they welcome a diverse set of candidates, these statements have so far been laden with an inherent superficiality. Yes, it may be the case that the racism, sexism and homophobia of yesterday is not welcome today, but that does not rewrite the environments that have dictated technical fields for years.
If the tech industry is serious about building a sustainable and resilient workforce beyond the white males of the world, there is a lot of investment and work that needs to be done. 

That does not suddenly change the countless opportunities minorities have been pushed out of or elected to leave because of systemic discrimination. And in fact, case after case after case has shown that this discrimination is still pervasive for those strong minorities who did manage to make their way into the tech industry.
Not enough is being done to correct a lifetime of imbalances that brought the industry to its current state. If the tech industry is serious about embracing diversity, and if the tech industry is serious about building a sustainable and resilient workforce beyond the white males of the world, there is a lot of investment and work that needs to be done. Short of real action, the dynamic minorities of the world will simply exist as buzzwords of tomorrow.

Read the original article from Tech Crunch here:

Age Discrimination In The Job Market May Hurt Women More

by Andrew Flowers
Originally Published: November 30th, 2015

Claudette Lindsey was a teacher near Chicago for many years and then worked as a family support specialist with Head Start schools in Park Forest, Illinois, until she was laid off two years ago. Despite having a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, she couldn’t find a new job. After doing some volunteering, she discovered National Able Network, a nonprofit workforce development organization. She liked their programs for seniors.
Lindsey, who is in her early 60s, now goes to a weekly workshop for “seasoned workers,” as she puts it. “It’s been a great asset,” she said, recounting how the meetings have helped her create a LinkedIn profile, tweak her résumé and practice interviewing. But though she remains determined, work is still hard to land. “I’m a more mature worker,” she said. “You know that an employer might go with someone younger.”
Evidence keeps piling up that the deck is stacked against older workers who find themselves unemployed. And new research shows that pervasive age discrimination in hiring is most acute for those like Claudette Lindsey: older, unemployed women. Older men seem to suffer far less age discrimination than older women, and older women face more discrimination than younger women.
Those are the conclusions of two robust economic studies recently published, but not yet peer-reviewed, by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). The authors of these papers conducted large-scale field experiments known as résumé correspondence studies to test for discrimination in the job market.
This approach to studying age discrimination was first employed in a landmark study published in 2008. The design is simple enough: Researchers send out a bunch of fake résumés that are identical except for some characteristics such as the applicant’s name or year of graduation. They then see which fake applicants get a callback. If older applicants, for example, have a lower callback rate than younger ones despite having identical credentials, the researchers can infer that age discrimination was the reason.
These types of experiments are an improvement on previous studies of discrimination, which followed groups of people and interpreted any differences in outcomes as the result of discrimination, even if the groups’ underlying characteristics were radically different. “For decades, research on discrimination would just look at observational data — on men and women, blacks and whites,” David Neumark, an economist at the University of California at Irvine and an author of one of the new age-discrimination studies, said in an interview.
The study by Neumark and his co-authors is by far the largest known résumé correspondence study. They sent out 40,000 résumés, randomizing the applicants’ names and year of graduation to signal their gender and age. Résumés with women’s names were submitted for roughly two types of positions: administrative (secretaries and assistants, office and file clerks, receptionists) and sales (retail workers and cashiers). Résumés with men’s names also went out for jobs in retail sales, as well as for janitorial and security guard positions.
Across all occupations, Neumark and his team found lower callback rates for women ages 64 to 66 (12 percent) than for women ages 29 to 31 (19 percent). Older men, however, didn’t seem to have lower callback rates than younger ones — with one exception. Janitorial jobs seemed to discriminate against older men; Neumark speculated that a perceived reduction in physical stamina could be one explanation.
One shortcoming of the study — though an understandable constraint — was the small number of occupations that it targeted. To submit the large number of fake résumés, researchers used job search websites that typically have more ads for low-skill positions. So it’s possible that the gender gap in age discrimination would close if a wider array of job types were studied.
But Neumark’s study is not alone in finding evidence discrimination against older women. The second NBER study, also published last month, comes from Henry Farber, a Princeton labor economist, and his co-authors. In Farber’s experiment, roughly 12,000 randomized résumés were sent out. But all the fake applicants were women with college degrees.
While this experiment can’t speak to gender differences, it can pinpoint age discrimination among women. And it found evidence that older women have worse job prospects: women ages 35 to 37 and 40 to 42 received callbacks 11 percent to 12 percent of the time, but women ages 55 to 58 only got a callback 9 percent of the time, a statistically significant difference.
So if women are subject to age discrimination, the next question is why. Blatant sexism could be one reason: “There is some evidence that people’s rating of attractiveness diminishes more quickly for older women than older men,” Neumark said. While in his study employers were offering callbacks solely on the basis of résumés, they could have used age as a proxy for attractiveness, especially if they were hiring for jobs that require intensive social skills, such as sales.
But another explanation of these disparities, Neumark speculates, might be anti-discrimination law — or, rather, laws. Sex is a protected class in employment according to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, while age is covered by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. Precisely because different laws cover different categories, those who fall into both may also have a harder time proving they’ve been discriminated against. “There’s some evidence the age discrimination law doesn’t do as much for older women as older men,” Neumark said.
None of this is stopping Claudette Lindsey, though. She remains active in her job search. She now hopes to land a position at a high school after gaining experience working with teens at her church. If an education job doesn’t pan out, she’s interested in becoming a physical therapy technician.
Optimism and enthusiasm — those are qualities that Lindsey has in abundance. During our conversation, I heard only one hint of a complaint. “I wish companies would look at having an intergenerational workplace,” she said. She doesn’t think many employers do; in her mind, they don’t value the diverse perspectives of workers of different generations — and are missing out because of it.
“The seasoned workers have a lot of opportunities,” she said. “We have a lot of enthusiasm. We have a lot of lives in us.”

Read the original article from Five Thirty Eight here:

Will Corporate Boards Remain A Boy's Club?

by Moira Forbes
Originally Published: November 30th, 2015

Today, women account for less than 20% of all S&P 500 directors with their representation in the highest levels of leadership flatlining in recent years. Yet research continues to show that diversity within the boardroom drives bottom-line benefits for shareholders. Companies with as few as three female board directors, for example, have statistically demonstrated stronger-than-average financial performance. So can we realistically balance the boardroom in the coming decade – and can we do so in a way where experience isn’t sacrificed for the sake of social equity?

These were some of the questions being addressed at the recent Breakfast of Corporate Champions, hosted by the Women’s Forum of New York, which brought together over 650 business leaders committed to transforming the face of America’s boardrooms. From Muhtar Kent of Coca-Cola KO -2.38% to Mindy Grossman of HSN, some of today’s most dynamic leaders weighed in on how to accelerate this much-needed change while also sharing their best practices in creating high-performing teams.

While there’s no single force that will solve for the current challenges, these leader’s shared a number of strategies that can be employed to ensure that diversity is front and center as a business imperative.

Leadership MUST Represent the Market You Serve 
“We have to keep talking about the importance of gender diversity in business and on our boards in terms of the positive impact it can have on business results in dollars and cents. That’s something business leaders understand. Women today represent 40 percent of the global workforce, make 70 percent of global household purchases and control about $20 trillion dollars in annual spending. This is why at Coca-Cola we have been on a journey to make our board and company leadership more closely reflect the market we serve.”
-Muhtar Kent, Chairman & CEO, The Coca-Cola Company
THE WOMEN’S FORUM OF NEW YORK – Moira Forbs, Rosalind Brewer, Charlynn Goins, Catherine Kenny, Shelly Lazarus and Gary Retelny.

Diversity Needs To Be Mandated From The Top
“The first thing to ask is, how bad do you want it? It’s nice to say ‘I wish my board had more gender diversity.’ But if you want it, you have to go out and make it happen. There is no need to trade off talent, skills, or experience because you like a woman.  You have to find a way to get past the usual way of doing things. There is no need to compromise on anything.  A bad place to start is ‘I’d like a woman who.’ A good place to start is, ‘Here are the skills that I need.’”
-Shelly Lazarus, Chairman Emeritus, Ogilvy & Mather

“Boards and CEO’s must take an active role in seeking female directors, understand that this is a business imperative, be open to unconventional candidates and be resolute that the search be limited to a female slate with no exceptions.”
-Mindy Grossman, CEO, HSN, Inc.

Expand Board Criteria…And Link It With Corporate Growth
“There’s a lot of work that can be done with skills expansions. The question I consistently ask is, are we marrying the strategy of the company along with the focus of the board? We should see a representation of where the company sees itself in five years versus where it is at the moment. The growth in technology opens up windows for women engineers that are very prevalent and very talented. As we look at just how critical it is in the compensation area, women in HR roles have not been considered for board seats in the past…Get that talent and skills expansion in the right seats and talk about marrying that with growth of the company.”
-Rosalind Brewer, President & CEO, Sam’s Club

Empower The Talent Within
“Ensure women are represented throughout the corporate pipeline, especially in roles with P&L responsibility. Operational and leadership experience is critical to achieving parity.”
-Maggie Wilderotter, Executive Chairman, Frontier Communications

Create an Inclusive Board Culture
“Diversity starts with a conversation not only with the CEO but with the other board members. The board culture has to be that everyone wants a diverse board. You always have to be looking for board members. You cannot be looking for board members when its coming up to the time you need a succession plan. You need a succession plan that’s plan on-going. And if we have to increase the board for one person because we’ve found someone fantastic, that’s what we should do. The whole board has to be involved and engaged in the culture of a diverse board.”
-Catherine Kinney, Former President and Co-COO, New York Stock Exchange

“A truly diverse Board is created purposefully. Nominating and governance 
committee members must be unified in the view that a broad array of expertise, knowledge, skills and perspective enable a competitive advantage that avoids “group think” and creates a business readily adaptable to an ever-changing business environment.”
-Rodney O. Martin, Jr., Chairman and CEO, Voya Financial

Read the original article from Forbes here:

More than 1,000 racism complaints at US colleges. What happened?

by Molly Jackson
Originally Published: November 30th, 2015

Since Barack Obama's 2008 inauguration, a moment that optimists at the time suggested would herald a healing of race relations in the United States, more and more students and staff have filed complaints of racial harassment with the Department of Education: 1,073 in total, an average of 134 per year, compared to about 50 annually during the previous administration.
Yet, as Inside Higher Ed reports, fewer than 25 percent of those complaints have been closed, either through a letter of resolution or through being dropped for lack of evidence. 
University students and staff may file – or drop – racial harassment charges for a variety of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with an increase or decrease in actual racism on campus, such as the time elapsed since the incident, a decision to file a lawsuit instead, or simply the increased awareness that one can file such a complaint, for example.
But as Scott Jaschik writes for IHE, those hundreds of 'dead-end' complaints "may illustrate why students are turning to campus protests and not to Washington with their grievances."
As race-related movements make news at schools across the country, from University of Missouri President Timothy Wolfe's ouster to Princeton students' demands to rename the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, word of high-profile incidents spreads quickly: the Mizzou student president's allegation that peers hurled a racist slur from a pick-up truck, for example, or a University of Kansas professor's suspension for using one in class.
But the DOE's Office of Civil Rights complaints help shed light on the types of experiences many minority students say are pejorative, and harming their educations: a professor whose "comedy routine" made fun of African-Americans, for instance, or a security guard who seemed especially suspicious of students of color. 
According to the Office of Civil Rights, "Anyone who believes that an education institution that receives federal financial assistance has discriminated against someone on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age" may file a complaint within 180 days, or, if they have also complained to the school itself, within 60 days of that process' resolution. 
Frequently, Jaschik reports, "the college agrees to 'early' resolution, which ends the actual investigation if the college agrees to take various steps. Many of the steps involve clarifying anti-discrimination rules, and not necessarily the specific grievance that led to the complaint."
But whether complaints come from the OCR, or directly to school administrators, they frequently create short-term crises, and long-term dilemmas, for colleges. As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wrote in a recent op-ed for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Department of Education convened higher ed leaders in Chicago this month to create a list of recommendations. 
"There is no place on our college campuses for racial hostility and prejudice that impact our students’ ability to learn," Secretary Duncan writes, while acknowledging the difficulty of distinguishing between free expression and "hostile environments" or "threatening speech." 
Among the group's recommendations are campus value statements, diverse faculty, teaching "cultural competency," and timely responses to student complaints. 
Multiple university presidents, deans, and advisors have underscored the importance of quickly acknowledging campus issues, a habit some say could have prevented the University of Missouri's allegations of bias from developing so dramatically. 
The best time to address campus climate: before it becomes a widespread problem. 
"You don't start talking about it when an incident happens," University of Mississippi general counsel Lee Tyner told the Associated Press. 
His advice is seconded by Benjamin Reese, president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, who recommends that administrations have a response plan and, better yet, take the initiativeto discuss potential issues with students, and not be afraid to show their solidarity with movements they support. 
"The first goal is to listen to what students have to say," said University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds, who attended a Black Lives Matter event on campus this month. "Everyone brings a different set of circumstances, and this is an educational institution that should lend itself to learning from one another."
On November 19, Brown University President Christina H. Paxson announced a 10-year, $100 million plan to protect and develop institutional diversity over the long haul, particularly by boosting meaningful internships, fellowships, and professional development opportunities for not just undergraduates, but promising minority PhDs and young professors. 
"Although we cannot solve these problems globally, we can ensure that all members of our community are treated with dignity and respect, and are provided the opportunities they need to reach their full human potential. We can make sure that Brown is a place where these issues are acknowledged and better understood through the courses we teach and the scholarship we conduct," Dr. Paxson wrote in a community letter. 
Those who have been victimized may want administrators to acknowledge their personal experience, whether via federal complaint, campus protest, or a talk with the school president, but many say they want to ensure the problem won't happen to future students, either, leading their colleges to make long-term investments in campus culture.
"Mizzou seems to have catalyzed years of tension over inequality and race," Huffington Post editors wrote this month. "There's no single switch colleges can flip ... improving racial tensions on campuses will likely take years." 

Read the original article from The Christian Science Monitor here:

Colleges Trying to Find Ways to Deal With Racial Incidents

by Jesse J. Holland
Originally Published: November 29th, 2015

WASHINGTON — Officials were slow to handle racial incidents at the University of Missouri, and that contributed to protests, a student hunger strike, a threatened boycott by the football team and ultimately, the resignations of two administrators.

At the University of Oklahoma, damage over a racist chant that was caught on video was kept to a minimum when the school president acted quickly to expel the students and condemn the episode.

Swift action is high among the best practices that school leaders can use to help defuse campus tension, experts say.

"There's no such thing as having a perfect plan, but you have to continually be in the motion of creating a better campus climate," said Jabar Shumate, Oklahoma's vice president for the university community.

Benjamin Reese, president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, said administrators should not wait for students to demand a meeting. Instead, he said, they can invite students to strategic meetings and join students in protests if it's over an issue they agree with. Administrators should know what they are going to do before something happens and be willing to speak out immediately, Reese said.

For example, Harvard University President Drew Faust immediately condemned the taping over of portraits of black professors on a wall. "Such acts of hatred are inimical to our most fundamental values and represent an assault on the mutual respect essential to our purposes as a community of learning and inquiry," Faust said a day after that happened.

"We all absolutely need to prepare and there's a lot of things that we can do," said Nancy Cantor, chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark, who joined students at her university at a recent protest.

College leaders cannot create perfect environments, Reese said, "but I better try as hard as I can to work toward that environment." He plans a national meeting to help colleges come up with strategies.

Campus protests are occurring almost daily.

At Missouri, the perceived slow response to a series of episodes marked by racial slurs and graffiti sparked protests and the resignations. Students are protesting at places such as Yale, where a college administrator upset many students by pushing back against a school committee that asked students to avoid culturally stereotypical Halloween costumes like Native American headpieces.

The Education Department's civil rights office fielded 53 racial harassment complaints from postsecondary schools in the 2007-2008 budget year, a number similar to previous years going back to 2004. The next year, the number soared to 91 and it has continued to rise almost annually, to a high of 177 before dipping to 146 in the budget year that ended Oct. 1.

To help schools deal with these issues, the department convened students and administrative leaders in Chicago for a private meeting in November, as various schools have taken steps on their own.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the fast response to racial incidents, a campuswide statement of values to help set a tone for students, and support for student-led initiatives can help episodes from overwhelming campuses.

"There is no constitutional right to perpetuate hostile environments or to engage in threatening speech," Duncan said. "We can do better in our responses to these incidents and creating more welcoming climates."

In March, Oklahoma moved swiftly after Sigma Alpha Epsilon members were videotaped singing a racist chant on a charter bus. University President David Boren immediately condemned the video and two students were expelled. Since then, the university has instituted mandatory diversity courses for all freshmen and transfer students.

Officials at Missouri have talked about instituting similar programs at the state's flagship campus in Columbia, Shumate said.

Duncan also pointed to the University of Mississippi as a role model. The school has extensive experience dealing with racial tension. President John F. Kennedy sent federal troops to force the school to admit its first black student, James Meredith. For years, students there waved Confederate flags at sporting events.

Given that history, racial incidents get more attention on campus, said Lee Tyner, the university's general counsel and chief of staff.

When students draped a noose on the statue of Meredith on campus, the school responded immediately — and in an environment where the university is always talking with its students about diversity and racial harmony, he said.

That means there are already conversations going on between the administration and the students, and agreed-upon words and tools for dealing with problems, said Tyner, whose school hosts the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation.

"You don't start talking about it when an incident happens," he said.

Read the original article from The New York Times here:

The New Nativist Hysteria is Illegitimate, Divisive and Dangerous

by Bill Blum
Originally Published: November 25th, 2015

The numbers could still rise, but thus far, governors in some 30 states have announced that they want to close their borders to refugees from Syria.
The House of Representatives has also roared into action, approving the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act of 2015 by a resounding margin of 289-137, in an effort to "suspend" the admission of new migrants from either Syria or Iraq.
After securing passage of the SAFE Act, the House Republican leadership vowed to introduce additional anti-immigrant measures. One bill -- the Protection of Children Act -- would expedite the deportation of unaccompanied alien minors. Another -- theAsylum Reform and Border Protection Act -- would restrict the grounds available for aliens inside the U.S. to claim political asylum.
At the same time, out on the hustings, GOP campaign rhetoric is soaring to new heights of xenophobia. Not content with his bellicose promise to build a wall along our nation's southern border, Donald Trump recently told NBC News that if elected he would compile a national registry of Muslim-Americans and that he would consider issuing them special IDs denoting their religion. Following suit, in a speech delivered in Alabama, Ben Carson compared some Syrian refugees with "rabid dogs."
Nativist hysteria and scapegoating are nothing unusual in our history, but the current iteration is especially malignant because it has gone mainstream so rapidly -- even 47 Democrats voted in favor of the SAFE Act. And while the malignancy was certainly in place before the barbaric Islamic State attacks of Nov. 13 in Paris, the attacks have given it a veneer of legitimacy that would have been unthinkable only a few weeks earlier.
The new nativism, of course, is anything but legitimate. Like its cousins of bygone eras that targeted the Irish, the Chinese, Jews and many others, it is steeped in ignorance and fear, stirred up by political demagogues and opportunists and stoked by media outlets (newspapers in yesteryear, cable TV today) more interested in financial bottom lines than honest reporting.
The new nativism is also, in many respects, flat-out illegal. And where it's not flatly illegal, it's flatly irrational and offers nothing to protect us from international terrorism.
Consider, for starters, the call for the creation of a national Muslim database and the issuance of Muslim IDs. Notwithstanding the infamous 1944 case of Korematsu v. United States, in which the Supreme Court shamelessly upheld the wartime internment of Japanese-Americans in an area stretching from the state of Washington to southern Arizona, the database and ID proposals would never pass constitutional muster today. They would plainly violate the First, Fourth and Fifth amendments on religious liberty, privacy and equal-protection grounds.
And then there's the threat to close state borders. Since at least 1868, the Supreme Court has recognized that the freedom to travel from state to state is a fundamental constitutional right (Crandall v. Nevada). Once they are legally resettled in the U.S., refugees cannot be barred from crossing state lines. Nor should they be.
According to a New York Times study, the U.S. has taken in 1,854 Syrian refugees since 2012. Going back to 2011, when the Syrian civil war started, the tally stands at just under 2,200.
Whatever the exact figure and despite the histrionics of many governors, Syrian refugees already here have been relocated peacefully and without reported incidents in 35 states scattered across every region of the country. They are, the Times reports, "among the most vulnerable people" caught up in the civil war that has ravaged their homeland: "single mothers and their children; religious minorities; victims of violence or torture." Only 2 percent are single men of combat age.
Just as they can't shut down their borders, state governors cannot determine who gets to come to this country in the first place. The Supreme Court has held repeatedly -- most recently just three years ago in Arizona v. United States -- that the authority to control immigration is vested exclusively in the federal government. Governors don't have a say.
Congress, however, does have a say, and in fact a predominant one, in enacting and changing immigration and refugee laws. That's what makes the SAFE Act so dangerous.
As legal commentator Ian Millhiser, the editor of ThinkProgress Justice, noted in a widely cited column published before the House vote on the SAFE Act, the president and the executive branch administer refugee policy. Under current law -- specifically, the Refugee Act of 1980 -- the president has the discretion to admit refugees into the United States who face "persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion."
The president also sets the nation's annual refugee ceiling after "appropriate consultation" with Congress. In fiscal 2015, the ceiling was calibrated at 70,000. In September, President Obama raised the 2016 fiscal year quota to 85,000, largely to facilitate the entry of an additional 10,000 displaced Syrians.
Contrary to what you may have heard from Trump and cable news, the refugee-vetting process is long, painstaking and laborious, taking on average two years to complete.
The process usually begins with registration and screening by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). The screening involves interviews, home-country reference inquiries and biometric exams such as iris scans. Military combatants are rejected. The process takes four to 10 months, and according to PolitiFact, the UNHCR refers around 1 percent of applicants for overseas resettlement.
Once prospective refugees are referred to the U.S., they are subjected to additional interviews and cross-checks lasting another 18 to 24 months, conducted by a variety of federal agencies, including the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center and the FBI. After all these steps, Syrian refugees must clear yet another layer of investigation designed especially for them called the Syrian Enhanced Review process before they can set foot in the U.S.
Obama administration officials maintain that the current vetting system subjects potential refugees to "the most rigorous screening of any traveler[s]" to the country.
The SAFE Act would bring the system to a grinding halt by requiring the directors of the FBI, the director of national intelligence and the secretary of homeland security to personally certify each and every refugee approval. Even FBI chief James Comey, who has questioned the current framework's efficiency, has expressed concerns that the requirements would make it impossible to process any refugees into the country.
To overcome a presidential veto should the SAFE Act make it through the Senate, House GOP leaders have threatened to attach the legislation to the omnibus spending bill Obama must sign in December to avoid a partial government shutdown. The stakes thus could not be higher.
The fear and anxiety many Americans harbor in the aftermath of the Paris attacks are entirely understandable. No one wants to be shot or blown to bits while sipping coffee or attending a rock concert.
But the nativist outburst on Capitol Hill and across the heartland won't make us any safer. In fact, it plays directly into the hands of terrorist organizations like Islamic State.
Writing in a recent online issue of the The New York Review of Books' NYR Daily, Middle East analysts Scott Atran and Nafees Hamid explain that Islamic State wants to sow chaos and division in the West. Its recruitment drives thrive on the isolation of Muslim communities and the disaffection of the young in urban centers like Paris and Antwerp. The Nov. 13 attacks in Paris were staged by homegrown jihadis.
With the disastrous invasion of Iraq that took the lives of an estimated 165,000 civilians, the U.S. helped to unleash the Islamic State Frankenstein's monster. Now, the creature has us in its crosshairs.
Bringing down the monster won't be easy or happen quickly, even in the best-case scenario. It won't happen at all if we deny refuge to victims of Islamic State terror abroad and demonize Muslim-Americans at home. We're better and smarter than that -- or at least we should be.

Read the original article from The Huffington Post here:

Young American Muslims Face Pressure, Are Optimistic Of Increasing Tolerance

Originally Published: November 29th, 2015

Every time a violent attack is carried out in the name of Islam, as happened in Paris, Muslims in this country often feel pressure to speak out, to say how extremists have nothing to do with their faith.
We turned to Muslim Americans, who came of age after Sept. 11, to understand how they have managed that kind of pressure, and how it affects their lives and their faith.
Five young Americans, each with different Muslim backgrounds, share their views with NPR's Rachel Martin. Despite varying levels of scrutiny they've faced as a result of their faith, many were optimistic about a more tolerant future for the country.

Interview Highlights

Zeba Khan, 34, San Francisco, Calif.
Khan has very religious parents from India, but says she's never felt the pressure to follow their faith in the same way.
Zeba Khani
Courtesy of Zeba Khan
"My father hasn't missed a prayer since he was like 22, but also really follows the Islamic idea of there's no compulsion in religion so I've never been required to do anything."
She recalls a few years ago when someone set her community's mosque on fire, and the local community stepped up to help.
"With every horrible action of vandalism and discrimination there's always a counter," she says. "There's a group of the larger community that responds with kindness and that's an amazing thing and something that I take hope in."
Nada Zohdy, 26, Washington, D.C.
Nada Zohdyi
Courtesy of Nada Zohdy
Zohdy, who grew up in a Detroit suburb with moderately religious parents from Egypt, remembers when she chose to embrace her faith for herself.
In college, when she started wearing hijab, she remembers, "I suddenly felt this opportunity to kind of be an ambassador for my faith and represent my faith as I understood it and all of its beautiful values. I feel like we're just swimming in this constant, pervasive narrative of all of these deeply negative things about Islam, whether it has to do with violence or women's oppression and I feel like in everything that I do in the way that I live my life, you know, I try to chip away at that."
Colin Christopher, 31, Silver Spring, Md.
Christopher, who grew up in Madison, Wisc., calls himself a practicing Muslim and comes from a family that's not religious at all. He says he was drawn to the rituals in Islam and converted six years ago, but that as a white, straight, educated male, says he doesn't experience the same level of scrutiny.
Colin Christopher
Courtesy of Colin Christopher
"Many of the actions of ISIS are so beyond what human beings understand as being a human being, that for me it's hard to even associate Islam and Muslims in the same sentence as ISIS or any faith tradition or anything that has any value of any positive nature. It reminds me of aspects of the crusades in relation to Christianity and just burning towns down or justifying the slave trade through Christianity. If someone today went on CNN and said 'The slave trade, what do you think about that, is that Christian?' it wouldn't make the air. But saying that ISIS is Islam makes the air. And I think we're gonna look back on this time period in 100 years from now and say, 'God we were so stupid.' I really do, I think that this country does have something unique and it's through the diversity of immigrants coming to this country that makes this country what it is. And I think that we're going to get through this. It's gonna take time, it's gonna be ugly, I think we will get through it.' "
Ali Rizvi, 33, Arlington, Va.
Ali Rizvii
Courtesy of Ali Rizvi
Rizvi, born in Pakistan and raised in Houston, Tx., considers himself a former Muslim — though he still celebrates Muslim holidays and doesn't eat pork.
He's not as quick to disassociate ISIS and other extremist groups from Islam or Muslims.
"Simply saying ISIS is not Muslim or al-Qaida is not Muslim is just the wrong way of going about it. Me, personally, I do think ISIS and al-Qaida are part of Islam. And I say that because Islam is not a homogenous entity. It includes everything from agnostics to ... to and everything in the middle ... and Muslims are afraid to say it."
Makkah Ali, 26, Atlanta, Ga.
Ali was born and raised Muslim in African-American Muslim community in Atlanta, Ga., remembers a distinct change after the Sept. 11th attacks.
Makkah Alii
Couresty of Makkah Ali
"I remember my mom sitting down and saying very seriously that it might be hard to be Muslim for a while and to live my life in a visible way that was Muslim and I would need to decide what that meant for me. And I remember just crying at this monumental task that she had placed on my shoulders to decide what do you believe, who do you stand for, you know, what exactly are you going to say, but those words have really stuck with me every time something happens to reinforce the negative ideas every time we're spoken about like animals, like we're not a billion people, like we're just one huge group that's exactly the same. The question keeps running through my mind, 'Well what feels right to you?' "

Read the original article from NPR here: