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Will Kindness Get You Into College?

Colleges and universities are starting to recognize kindness as a factor for admissions.
Colleges and universities are starting to recognize kindness as a factor for admissions.

Kindness, not grades and test scores, may become the new “it factor” for college admissions departments.

More admissions officers are including kindness, compassion and helping others in their assessment of college applicants.

“This is a real opportunity for us to think about how we can get along with people, particularly those who are different than us,” said Trisha Ross-Anderson, senior program manager at Harvard University’s Making Caring Common project.

Kindness has been pushed to the backburner in the admissions and education process, she said, but needs to come forward.

“Kindness helps build a better community on campus,” said Ann McDermott, director of admissions at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. As students understand and respect their peers more it improves the college experience for most students. And hopefully, that translates into a better society after the student graduates, she said.

As incivility increases on campus and on social media, kindness becomes more important, say educators. Colleges and universities realize they have neglected to include that message in the highly competitive world of higher education.

“Today, [civility] is so important because of what we see in the larger community,” said Paul T. White, assistant dean of admissions at Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore.

During the required admissions interview for Johns Hopkins Medical School, interviewers note how an applicant treats staff and other applicants.They want to “see how they act with people who aren’t involved in the process,” White said.“If they are rude to someone, I want to know about it.”

He said he looks for things that demonstrate compassion, such as an applicant's service history and letters of recommendation.“I frankly look for others who are interested in serving others and not just checking off a list of ‘Oh, I need clinical experience,’” White said.

White pointed to events like those held in Charlottesville, Virginia, near the University of Virginia, as a larger reason for promoting kindness at the college level.A white supremacist rally ended in three deaths there in August.

The Center for the Study for Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino, which tracks hate crimes, says incidents increased 20 percent in 2016 in cities with a population of 250,000 or more.

Kindness has not been obvious on the checklist of qualities most schools look for in an applicant.Many students think admissions officers want to see participation in many clubs and extracurricular activities, McDermott said.

Some high-school students find themselves at 4 a.m. swim practice, practicing long hours on the violin or flute after school to achieve first chair in the orchestra, and studying long into the night to keep top grades.

Get into a good school and a good life will follow, is the prevailing expectation, said Iris Godes, associate vice president of enrollment, and dean of admissions at Dean College in Massachusetts. She said many parents put unnecessary expectations on their children, as they feel their kids represent them.

McDermott said students show up to college already burned out because of the pressure they feel to succeed.

“It’s important to reduce the anxiety level that these kids have,” Godes said, “There’s been too much placed on status.It’s about being a good citizen. It’s about being a good person.”

All this activity to compete nationally -- and in the past decade, internationally -- for a spot at a coveted college can exhaust and discourage a student, while conditioning them to think that only kids gifted on many levels have a chance at success.Some students are willing to push the boundaries by padding their resumes or cutting corners on their alleged superlatives, which can lead to cheating, Ross-Anderson said.

More than 175 college admissions offices, including eight Ivy League universities, have joined an effort called "Turning the Tide". “High school students often perceive colleges as simply valuing their achievements, not their responsibility for others and their communities,” according to Turning the Tide’s executive summary.

Many participating schools have added essay questions to the application about kindness and reduced the number of places to list extracurricular activities, Ross-Anderson said.This will make students feel less pressure to participate in numerous extracurriculars.

Students should stop “overloading” on advanced placement (AP) and international baccalaureate (IB) courses that show they are beyond high school curriculum, according to Turning the Tide.They should focus on “sustained academic achievement in a limited number of areas,” the executive summary said.

“Kindness is very important professionally,” Ross-Anderson said, “Employers want people that can collaborate well with others."She admits kindness is hard to measure, “The assessment portion of this work is very challenging.”

“It’s much more an art form than a science,” Elgarico echoed.

At Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, one applicant stood out because of one of his recommendations - from the high-school custodian. The letter spoke to the boy’s kindness when nobody was looking, picking up trash, and how he took the time to learn all the members of the custodial staff’s names, according to the New York Times.

The admissions staff voted unanimously to accept him to Dartmouth.

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Pro-Palestinian protests spread on US university campuses

Pro-Palestinian protests spread on US university campuses
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U.S. university campuses are seeing pro-Palestinian protests daily. Students are demonstrating against the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza and demanding that humanitarian aid be allowed to flow into the territory. VOA’s Veronica Balderas Iglesias reports.

US police clash with students who demand colleges cut financial ties to Israel

A University of Southern California protester, right, confronts a University Public Safety officer at the campus' Alumni Park during a pro-Palestinian occupation in Los Angeles, California, April 24, 2024.
A University of Southern California protester, right, confronts a University Public Safety officer at the campus' Alumni Park during a pro-Palestinian occupation in Los Angeles, California, April 24, 2024.

Police tangled with student demonstrators in the U.S. states of Texas and California while new encampments sprouted Wednesday at Harvard and other colleges as school leaders sought ways to defuse a growing wave of pro-Palestinian protests.

At the University of Texas at Austin, hundreds of local and state police — including some on horseback and holding batons — clashed with protesters, pushing them off the campus lawn and at one point sending some tumbling into the street. At least 20 demonstrators were taken into custody at the request of university officials and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, according to the state Department of Public Safety.

A photographer covering the demonstration for Fox 7 Austin was arrested after being caught in a push-and-pull between law enforcement and students, the station confirmed. A longtime Texas journalist was knocked down in the mayhem and could be seen bleeding before police helped him to emergency medical staff who bandaged his head.

At the University of Southern California, police got into a back-and-forth tugging match with protesters over tents, removing several before falling back. At the northern end of California, students were barricaded inside a building for a third day at California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt. The school shut down campus through the weekend and made classes virtual.

Harvard University in Massachusetts had sought to stay ahead of protests this week by limiting access to Harvard Yard and requiring permission for tents and tables. That didn't stop protesters from setting up a camp with 14 tents Wednesday following a rally against the university's suspension of the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee.

Students protesting the Israel-Hamas war are demanding schools cut financial ties to Israel and divest from companies enabling its monthslong conflict. Dozens have been arrested on charges of trespassing or disorderly conduct. Some Jewish students say the protests have veered into antisemitism and made them afraid to set foot on campus.

A University of Southern California protester is detained by USC Department of Public Safety officers during a pro-Palestinian occupation at the campus' Alumni Park in Los Angeles, California, April 24, 2024.
A University of Southern California protester is detained by USC Department of Public Safety officers during a pro-Palestinian occupation at the campus' Alumni Park in Los Angeles, California, April 24, 2024.

Columbia University averted another confrontation between students and police earlier in the day. The situation there remained tense, with campus officials saying it would continue talks with protesters for another 48 hours.

On a visit to campus, U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, called on Columbia University President Minouche Shafik to resign "if she cannot bring order to this chaos."

"If this is not contained quickly and if these threats and intimidation are not stopped, there is an appropriate time for the National Guard," he said.

Shafik had set a midnight Tuesday deadline to reach an agreement on clearing an encampment, but the school extended negotiations, saying it was making "important progress."

On Wednesday evening, a Columbia spokesperson said rumors that the university had threatened to bring in the National Guard were unfounded. "Our focus is to restore order, and if we can get there through dialogue, we will," said Ben Chang, Columbia's vice president for communications.

Columbia graduate student Omer Lubaton Granot, who put up pictures of Israeli hostages near the encampment, said he wanted to remind people that there were more than 100 hostages still being held by Hamas.

A person prays in front of photos of hostages taken captive from Israel on October 7. The fliers are near an encampment at Columbia University in New York, one of many U.S. campuses where students are protesting to show support for Palestinians, April 24, 2024.
A person prays in front of photos of hostages taken captive from Israel on October 7. The fliers are near an encampment at Columbia University in New York, one of many U.S. campuses where students are protesting to show support for Palestinians, April 24, 2024.

"I see all the people behind me advocating for human rights," he said. "I don't think they have one word to say about the fact that people their age, that were kidnapped from their homes or from a music festival in Israel, are held by a terror organization."

Harvard law student Tala Alfoqaha, who is Palestinian, said she and other protesters want more transparency from the university.

"My hope is that the Harvard administration listens to what its students have been asking for all year, which is divestment, disclosure and dropping any sort of charges against students," she said.

Pro-Palestinian protests spread on US university campuses
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Columbia encampment inspires others

Police first tried to clear the encampment at Columbia last week, when they arrested more than 100 protesters. The move backfired, acting as an inspiration for other students across the country to set up similar encampments and motivating protesters at Columbia to regroup.

On Wednesday about 60 tents remained at the Columbia encampment, which appeared calm. Security remained tight around campus, with identification required and police setting up metal barricades.

Columbia said it had agreed with protest representatives that only students would remain at the encampment and they would make it welcoming, banning discriminatory or harassing language.

On the University of Minnesota campus, a few dozen students rallied a day after nine protesters were arrested when police took down an encampment in front of the library. U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar, whose daughter was among the demonstrators arrested at Columbia last week, attended a protest later in the day.

A group of more than 80 professors and assistant professors signed a letter Wednesday calling on the university's president and other administrators to drop any charges and to allow future encampments without what they described as police retaliation.

They wrote that they were "horrified that the administration would permit such a clear violation of our students' rights to freely speak out against genocide and ongoing occupation of Palestine."

Netanyahu encourages police response

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at the pro-Palestinian demonstrations on U.S. college campuses in a video statement released Wednesday, saying the response of several university presidents has been "shameful" and calling on state, local and federal officials to intervene.

Students at some protests were hiding their identities and declined to identify themselves to reporters, saying they feared retribution. At an encampment of about 40 tents at the heart of the University of Michigan's campus in Ann Arbor, almost every student wore a mask, which was handed to them when they entered.

The upwelling of demonstrations has left universities struggling to balance campus safety with free speech rights. Many long tolerated the protests, but are now doling out more heavy-handed discipline, citing safety concerns.

At New York University this week, police said 133 protesters were taken into custody and all had been released with summonses to appear in court on disorderly conduct charges. More than 40 protesters were arrested Monday at an encampment at Yale University.

Columbia University demonstrators in talks with administration officials

Demonstration leader Khymani James, center right, and other protesters address the media outside a tent camp on the campus of Columbia University in New York on April 24, 2024.
Demonstration leader Khymani James, center right, and other protesters address the media outside a tent camp on the campus of Columbia University in New York on April 24, 2024.

Officials at Columbia University were continuing talks Wednesday with student demonstrators from the Gaza Solidarity Encampment as the protest reaches a full week.

At 9:41 p.m. Tuesday, university President Nemat “Minouche” Shafik sent an email to the Columbia community setting a midnight deadline for an agreement to be reached about dismantling the encampment and dispersing the protesters.

“I very much hope these discussions are successful,” she wrote. “If they are not, we will have to consider alternative options for clearing the West Lawn and restoring calm to campus so that students can complete the term and graduate.”

Pro-Palestinian protests spread on US university campuses
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As midnight passed, Columbia University Apartheid Divest posted a statement on X saying, “We refuse to concede to cowardly threats and blatant intimidation by university administration. We will continue to peacefully protest.”

The statement also said the university had threatened to call the National Guard. But after visiting the university earlier in the week, New York Governor Kathy Hochul said Tuesday she had no plans to deploy the National Guard.

As midnight approached on Tuesday, a student organizer announced that the deadline had been extended to 8 a.m. Wednesday.

At 4:09 a.m., the Office of the President sent an email saying the discussion deadline would be extended for 48 hours, given the constructive dialogue, and the university would report back on progress.

The email announced that leaders of the student encampment had agreed to remove a significant number of tents, get non-Columbia affiliates to leave the encampment and comply with New York Fire Department requirements. They also agreed to ensure that the encampment is “welcome to all” and to prohibit “discriminatory or harassing language.”

This development comes nearly a week after more than 100 students were arrested at the school on April 18, after Shafik authorized police to clear away protesters. Some of the students received suspension notices from the school.

Columbia’s action prompted an onslaught of pro-Palestinian demonstrations at other universities and responses from faculty and politicians.

Students at other campuses, such as Yale, Stanford and New York University, have also rallied around the Palestinian cause, calling for their universities to divest from companies with ties to Israel and for a cease-fire in Gaza. Many also have put up tent encampments on their campuses. About 150 students and faculty were arrested at New York University Monday night.

Columbia also announced Tuesday morning that classes on the Morningside main campus, where the protests are taking place, will be offered in a hybrid format for the remainder of the spring semester. The last day of classes is April 29.

Paper: International students faced extra pandemic challenges

FILE - Jackson State University student Kendra Daye reacts as Tameiki Lee, a nurse with the Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center, injects her with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, in Jackson, Miss., Sept. 21, 2021.
FILE - Jackson State University student Kendra Daye reacts as Tameiki Lee, a nurse with the Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center, injects her with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, in Jackson, Miss., Sept. 21, 2021.

Astrobites, which describes itself as "a daily astrophysical literature journal written by graduate students in astronomy since 2010," focuses on the challenges international students faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It examines a paper published in the Journal of Comparative & International Higher Education entitled The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on International Students in a Public University in the United States: Academic and Non-academic Challenges.

Read the Astrobites article here. (April 2024)

15 cheapest US universities for international students

FILE - A cyclist crosses an intersection on the campus of Arizona State University on Sept. 1, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz.
FILE - A cyclist crosses an intersection on the campus of Arizona State University on Sept. 1, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz.

Yahoo!Finance has compiled a list of the 15 cheapest U.S. universities for international students.

Among them: Arizona State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Michigan State University.

Read the list here. (March 2024)

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