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My Family Was Collateral Damage in a War Against Immigrants

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

A single illegal border crossing broke apart my famliy for good

On November 20, 2014, President Obama gave a historic speech on immigration. Despite how profoundly personal this issue is to me, I didn’t watch. For the past decade, I have deliberately avoided any mention of immigration reform—hearing or reading about it causes my chest to tighten and my stomach to churn.

The topic inevitably brings me back to a window in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico in 2004. The five minutes I spent there damaged my life irrevocably. With the swipe of a pen, a blank-faced clerk denied my husband’s application for a marriage visa and shattered our family.

We had met four years earlier, working as food servers at a Mexican restaurant in a small town in Southern California. We became fast friends, then fell in love, spending hours talking after the restaurant closed and until the sun came up. He told me about how his mother had died when he was young, and his father descended into depression and debilitating alcoholism. He and his nine brothers and sisters had to fend for themselves. He arrived in the U.S. at 17, finished high school, and got three jobs to support his younger siblings in Mexico. And because he had entered the country illegally, he did all this without documents.

We got married in 2002, then moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, so I could earn a master’s degree in public policy at Harvard University. We had a beautiful, irrepressible baby boy. On the weekends, we’d go to the park and I would watch my husband do cartwheels and make faces for our giggling baby. At night, we would pile into the cheap black futon in our one-bedroom apartment. We were happy and grateful.

But we knew we couldn’t build a stable life for our son without regularizing my husband’s immigration status. So we applied for a marriage visa and, about one year later, were relieved to get the letter approving us for a visa and setting an appointment at the American Consulate in Ciudad Juarez on April 17, 2004. We had to leave the country for our appointment because anyone applying for a visa at that time had to have legal standing to receive an appointment inside the U.S. Since my husband did not have legal documents to be here in the United States, he was required to accept an appointment in Mexico. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) knew he had entered illegally, and an official representative informed me that because of his illegal presence, there would likely be a fine and a waiting period of a few months before he would be issued his visa.

So we flew to California, left our son with family, and hopped a bus to Ciudad Juarez. The morning of our appointment we found the waiting room of the American Consulate filled with couples like us. I had a thick packet of paperwork, including letters attesting to my husband’s good character from his high school teacher, city councilman, and the local police department. He had done his physical evaluation. We were as ready as we could be.

The clerk called us to the window. My husband raised his right hand and promised to tell the truth. She never looked at our documents. She only asked one question: Have you ever crossed illegally besides your initial entrance? Yes, he answered. He had returned to visit his ailing grandmother before she passed away. The clerk then shoved a piece of paper at us and informed us that my husband was barred from entering the United States for life. He was not coming home with me and never would. We were in utter shock. Can we appeal? No. In 10 years you can request a waiver, but it isn’t something many people get. It has to be special circumstances, like you have a child who is dying. She called the next couple.

When I returned to Cambridge without my family, my expectant friends were bewildered. This man was my husband, he had no criminal record, and we had an American child! Didn’t that mean he could legalize? The answer was no.

There had been no way I could care for a toddler alone while studying and working two jobs, so I left my son in Mexico, too. I came back to an empty crib and an empty bed. My husband did not come home late after his shift at a restaurant and crawl into bed, pulling me to his warm chest. My son did not cry out for chocolate when we walked past our corner bakery. I felt as though my limbs had been torn from my body. My family was gone.

I was forced to relive my trauma every time I told my story to anyone I thought could help me. I managed to find a top immigration lawyer who agreed to see me pro bono. He delivered the bad news. The permanent bar was because of the second illegal crossing. There was absolutely nothing he could do.

There is a legal principle called proportionality, which says the punishment should fit the crime. My husband had not broken any criminal laws. By visiting his grandmother, he had violated immigration regulations. For that, he was given a life sentence with no parole.

My family became collateral damage in a war against immigrants. My marriage seemed worthless in the eyes of the law—a law that left my innocent son with parents broken apart against their will. It was cruel. Draconian.

Our justice system is weighted heavily toward keeping families together. Children are sent back to abusive homes on a regular basis on the principle of the sanctity of family. But this was not the case with my family. In my son’s adoring eyes, his father is a superhero. Yet for over a decade now,my government has thrown up roadblock after roadblock to keep them apart.

I know that there are thousands of children like my son all over the country who have lost a loving parent as a result of our immigration laws. The damage—trauma, depression, anxiety—is permanent. Such losses poison their childhoods and affect them into adulthood.

Months later, I finally read President Obama’s speech on immigration. His executive order prevents people from being deported if they have American children. It’s designed to protect kids like my son until Congress passes something more permanent. But a federal judge in Texas has put the executive order on hold; an appeals court heard oral arguments on April 17 and will rule soon, but the case may eventually go to the Supreme Court. In the meantime I think of these children, and my son, as I pray for a ruling that will keep other families from suffering as we have.

Rebekah Rodriguez-Lynn studied politics at UCLA and public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She lives in Southern California with her son and her chihuahua. She wrote this for Thinking L.A., a partnership of UCLA and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME World

This Young Woman Fighting Stage-4 Cancer Remains Positive and Inspirational

Nicole Jannis, 29, was diagnosed with breast cancer last year

Having a stage-4 cancer diagnosis at 29 might prompt some people to frantically attempt every far-flung journey on their bucket lists.

But Ontario resident Nicole Jannis – who is continuing to fight the disease – says her goals are much simpler.

“You really just want to sit at home with your husband and your dog and watch Netflix and do what’s normal to you. That’s what you crave,” Jannis told Yahoo! News’s Daily Brew in a story that detailed her fighting spirit and upbeat attitude in the face of cancer.

Jannis wasn’t surprised by her breast cancer diagnosis last year, as cancer runs in her family and she had been told she was BRCA positive at 27.

She always assumed it would be an inconvenience she would treat and beat.

“From the very beginning it was, ‘All right! I’m going to go through cancer, and this is going to be something I do and then be done with it and I’ll move on and have my babies and life carries on.’ I never ever wavered from that,” said Jannis.

To keep the mood light, she and her mom wore wacky outfits to her chemotherapy appointments. She also chronicled her cancer journey with a series of optimistic posts on her blog, Boobie and the Beast.

“I think that’s a huge testament of how I’ve been able to get through this past year, probably denial, but also pure optimism to the point where I was like ‘Oh, I’ll never die from this, that’s crazy,’ ” she said.

Staying on top of her treatment and feeling positive about her prognosis, she was taken aback in January when she was told the cancer had been deemed stage 4 and “terminal,” metastasizing to her bones and spreading to her liver and lungs.

Now faced with a new reality, Jannis admits it took some time to adjust.

“I remember throwing up right away ’cause that was just my go-to,” she said of learning the grim diagnosis. “It was just utter despair at first, like holy s—, let’s just give up.”

But after the shock wore off, Jannis’s upbeat spirit shined through again – and she is choosing to continue her treatment.

“You can only wallow for so long,” she said. “You should never be told you’re going to die, because I think if you believe that then you will.”

“I’m positive because I don’t know how not to be,” she added.

This article originally appeared on People.com.

TIME society

Watch a Little Girl Explain How Her Two Moms Had a Baby

The video is complete with illustrations

An adorable and very helpful 7-year-old girl with two moms decided to make a video to help other kids explain to their friends and classmates how they were conceived.

“About 6-8 months ago, I asked [Sophia] if anyone asked questions about her having two moms, and she told me that some people said it was impossible for her not to have a daddy,” her mom, Brandy Black, told BuzzFeed News.

Black decided to explain to Sophia the basics of sperm donation, so that she could be better informed about how her family came to be. “Navigating your way through parenthood is hard enough, and as a lesbian mom, figuring out how to keep your child informed is a learning process,” Black said.

After that conversation, they decided to create the above video, produced by The Next Family. Be sure to check out Sophia’ illustrations, which include a sperm donor in a green suit, toting a bag labeled “sperm.”

TIME Family

Why the American Family Needs Same-Sex Parents

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Data shows that the country's most vulnerable kids will benefit if the Supreme Court rules in favor of gay marriage

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in an omnibus case about whether same-sex couples are allowed to marry in all 50 states in this country. The probability of the court ruling in favor of legalization likely played a role in the Indiana and Arkansas controversies over the passage of their Religious Freedom Restoration Acts at the beginning of April.

Proponents and opponents of marriage for same-sex couples agree that heated debates about religious liberty are one effect of the marriage debate. But they strongly disagree about what America and its families will look like if same-sex couples can marry throughout the nation. Opponents have made dire predictions of marital instability, falling birthrates, and increases in children being born outside of marriage – in short, the destruction of American families.

But an examination of the data – particularly as it relates to the children in this country most in need of loving and stable families – does not support those predictions.

In a recent friend-of the court brief that I submitted to the Supreme Court, I explore what demographic and social science research tells us about the impact of the upcoming ruling. Today, nearly 1.4 million men and women are part of the estimated 700,000 same-sex couples living in this country. About 350,000 of them are married couples and 122,000 are raising more than 200,000 children under the age of 18.

Michigan couple April DeBoer and Jayne Rouse, plaintiffs in one of the cases currently before the Supreme Court, offer an example of how same-sex couples already play an outsized role in caring for some of the nation’s most vulnerable kids. They have adopted four children, two with developmental disabilities who require special care. U.S. Census Bureau data show that April and Jayne are not alone.

Same-sex couples are three times more likely than their different-sex counterparts to be raising adopted or foster children. Among married couples, same-sex couples are five times more likely. In states where same-sex couples can legally marry, more than 3 percent of adopted or foster children have same-sex parents. Since only about 0.3 percent of all children in those states have same-sex parents, it means that adopted and foster children there are nearly 10 times more likely than children in general to have same-sex parents.

As marriage becomes more widely available for same-sex couples, they will likely expand their already disproportionate role as parents to some of the nation’s neediest children. In 2013, 19 percent of same-sex couples without children were married compared to 33 percent of those with children. If they had adopted or foster children, the figure was 41 percent. In states where same-sex couples can marry, 60 percent of those with adopted or foster children are married. Clearly same-sex couples raising kids, especially adopted and foster kids, have a strong preference for marriage.

Opponents of marriage for same-sex couples argue that children do best when they are raised by their married biological parents. They reason that reserving marriage only for different-sex couples promotes that ideal. Assuming that kids do best with married moms and dads is a false read of social science research. A more careful review of the literature shows that children tend to do better when they are raised by two parents who are in a stable and committed relationship. Marriage offers a way for many couples to strengthen and support their desire for stability, love, and commitment. Kids with married parents, regardless of the sexual orientation or gender of those parents, benefit from the security that marriage offers to many couples.

What about the argument that reserving marriage for different-sex couples encourages them to raise children within marriage? This argument implies that allowing same-sex couples to marry might decrease the likelihood that different-sex couples decide to marry and have kids. Even if every same-sex couple in the country got married tomorrow, they’d only represent about 1 percent of all married couples. The notion that their marriages could alter the behavior of the other 99 percent of married couples (and unmarried heterosexuals for that matter), especially regarding such important and personal decisions like whether or not to marry or have children, seems ludicrous on the face of it. It turns out that the research agrees.

Two studies published last year in Demography, the premier academic journal in the field, find no evidence that allowing same-sex couples to marry has altered the marriage rates of different-sex couples in the U.S. or in the Netherlands, the country that has allowed same-sex couples to marry longer than any other in the world. In 2013, the portion of children being raised by married different-sex parents in the U.S. was actually a little bit higher in states where same-sex couples could legally marry (65 percent) compared to states where marriage was restricted to different-sex couples (64 percent).

The recent events in Indiana and Arkansas prove that a Supreme Court decision bringing marriage for same-sex couples to all parts of the nation won’t end political conflict associated with LGBT rights. But it will improve America’s families. The nation will have more married couples, more kids with married parents, and more stable homes and families for the country’s most vulnerable children. It’s hard to understand how that could ever be a bad thing.

Gary J. Gates is the Research Director and Blachford-Cooper Distinguished Scholar at the Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law. He served as an expert witness in the DeBoer v. Snyder trial, one of the cases currently before the Supreme Court. He wrote this for Thinking L.A., a partnership of UCLA and Zócalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Humor

11 Smells That Are Slowly Disappearing

Remember how those magic markers smelled?

Nothing can trigger a memory so unexpectedly as an aroma. Clove oil immediately transports you to the dentist’s office. Crayola crayons take you back to elementary school. But some fragrances are being phased out of existence thanks to technology and safety regulations. How many of these do you miss?

  • 1. Spirit Duplicators

    In 1960s and ’70s-era classrooms, it was an olfactory treat whenever the teacher passed out fresh-off-the-machine purple print “ditto” sheets to the class. Virtually every student immediately held the page to his face and inhaled deeply. There was something so pleasing about the aroma that emanated from the printing fluid—a 50/50 mix of methanol and isopropanol. The sole company that still manufactures ditto fluid in the U.S. only sells a few thousand gallons per year these days, as opposed to the over 100,000 gallons they delivered during the 1970s.

  • 2. Burning Leaves

    A common indicator that autumn was winding down and winter would soon be here was the crisp air filled with the smell of burning leaves. The breeze had a bite to it by the time October rolled around and the ground was sometimes coated with a fine layer of frost, but the smoke from the pile of leaves everyone on the block seemed to burn somehow smelled warm and comforting.

    Pollution concerns caused municipalities in the U.S. to enact open burning bans beginning in the 1980s, and today residents are encouraged to either rake and bag their leaves or use them for mulch. Of course, compost piles do have their own aroma, but it’s not particularly enticing.

  • 3. Diesel Exhaust

    City buses and semi-trucks don’t smell quite like they used to when they accelerate on a cold morning. There are a lot of folks that actually enjoyed the old school smell of the black exhaust these vehicles used to belch. But reductions in the sulfur content of diesel fuel along with selective catalytic reduction gives today’s diesel burners more of a cat urine-y type of aroma.

  • 4. Freshly-Opened Polaroid Film

    Polaroid ceased production of their instant film in 2008. The foil packs used to produce a sweetish chemical-y odor when they were first torn open. It was, in fact, the official “smell” of photography for a lot of kids whose first camera was a Polaroid Swinger.

  • 5. Magic Markers

    The classic glass bottle-bodied Magic Marker was first marketed in 1952, and until the early 1990s, the ink formula included a mixture of Toluene and Xylene, two solvents which not only had a distinctive and not unpleasant odor, but which also contained intoxicating properties when inhaled. Today’s permanent markers get their color from less fragrant alcohol-based inks.

  • 6. Bubble Gum Cards

    Topps stopped including a stick of stiff, hard-to-chew bubble gum in their trading cards several years ago when more collectors than kids were buying the product and complaining about the gum sticking to and ruining the bottom card in the pack. So kids today are getting mint-condition cards for their money, but they’re missing out on that distinctive bubble gum smell that wafted from the package when it was opened (and from the cards when they were brand new).

  • 7. Cap Guns

    Even if you didn’t have a toy gun handy, it was easy enough to “shoot off” caps by striking them with a hammer or even a rock. The gunpowder/sulfur smell of an exploded cap is another aroma that immediately propels many minds to summer days spent playing cops and robbers.

  • 8. (Old) New Car Smell

    That aroma we smell today upon delivery of a brand new set of wheels is very different from the new car smell of 30 or so years ago. A lot of that smell comes from off-gassing synthetic materials, plastics and chemical additives that are used in modern vehicles. In 1960, the average American-made car contained 22 pounds of plastics; in 2012, that quantity had increased to 250 pounds. And there’s also matter of the flame retardants and antimicrobials that are now added to the carpeting and upholstery for additional “safety” (even though some of the fumes have been proven toxic).

  • 9. Vacuum Tube Electronics

    Old TVs and radios that were filled with tubes instead of transistors emitted a “warm” or hot engine smell as they heated up. If you weren’t particularly fastidious with the feather duster, a fine layer of dust would accumulate on the equipment inside and add a slight burning aroma to the mix. The old movie and film projectors used in schools had a similar smell once the light bulb inside had been burning for a while.

  • 10. Telephone Book

    Thanks to Google, very few people let their fingers walk through the Yellow Pages anymore when they’re searching for a telephone number or address. Years ago, almost every home and office had a small stack of thick telephone directories (for example, in the Metro Detroit area there were separate books for Detroit, East Area, North Oakland County, and Downriver) that were referred to regularly once Ma Bell started charging for Directory Assistance calls. The inexpensive pulp paper plus the ink and glue in the binding gave the giant tomes a much mustier, paper-y odor than a standard paperback novel.

  • 11. Chalk Dust

    Much like cafeteria food and library paste, chalk dust simply smelled like school. With so many classrooms using whiteboards, chalkboard ledges with piles of white powder on them are becoming extinct.

    This article originally appeared on Mental Floss.

    More from Mental Floss:

TIME society

See the Sweet Way a Straight Teen Asked His Gay BFF to Prom

A heartwarming 'promposal'

The Internet is buzzing about Jacob Lescenski of Las Vegas Desert Oasis High School, who asked his gay best friend and Student Council president Anthony Martinez to prom in front of the whole school.

Here is a photo of how he asked, which has racked up thousands of retweets and favorites:

‘Tis the season for “promposals,” in which high schoolers ask each other to prom in elaborate ways, from the massively successful stunts shown on Jumbotrons in sports arenas to the massive fails like fake bomb threats that lead to week-long suspensions.

(h/t Logo)

TIME society

Student Suspended After Wearing Fake Bomb During Promposal

He will not be attending the event

A Washington state high school suspended a senior for five days Wednesday because he asked a girl to Saturday’s prom while wearing a belt with fake explosives, The Columbian reports.

In the cafeteria of La Center High School north of Vancouver, Wash., Ibrahim Ahmad, 18, stuffed the pockets of the paintball vest around his waist with red tubes and wires and held up a sign that read “I kno it’s A little Late, But I’m kinda…THE BOMB! Rilea, Will U Be My Date To Prom?”

Ahmad, who won’t be going to prom, told The Columbian, “In ‘promposals,’ you’re supposed to go big.”

School superintendent Mark Mansell told the newspaper the suspension was appropriate because “I want all my kids to feel safe.”

TIME society

Watch This 102-Year-Old as She Looks at Old Footage of Herself as a Young Jazz Dancer

This is beautiful and amazing

Alice Barker, now age 102, was a chorus-line dancer during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930s and ’40s and danced with legends including Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

She danced in many movies, commercials and TV shows but had never seen herself on film.

With the help of Mark Cantor of Jazz Film and David Shuff, researchers managed to dig up three “soundies” — the music videos of the day — that Barker appeared in and were able to go to her nursing home and show her the incredible footage for the very first time.

“It makes me wish I could get out of this bed and do it all over again,” she says.

Read next: Queen Elizabeth Turns 89 As She Awaits Fifth Great-Grandchild

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME society

Allow This Man to Remind You That People Can Be Surprisingly Generous

Sometimes New Yorkers are completely selfless

Two years ago, a woman posted a touching video of an emotional moment on the New York City subway. Now, after being posted on Reddit, the clip is making its way around the Internet once again.

It shows a woman selling roses on the 6 train for $1 each. A man begins to inquire about buying in bulk and offers to pay $140 for the entire bunch. Instead of taking the flowers with him, though, he tells her to do him a favor and just hand them out for free. The vendor agrees and then the anonymous man gets off the train and disappears. Then the woman bursts into tears.

“[I think] she started crying from the relief of someone actually being generous,” Maria Lopez, the bystander who filmed the exchange, told the Huffington Post. “This one little gesture of humanity is so huge. It’s a testament to the lack of love and lack of generosity in the world. I think people are yearning for that.”

 

 

TIME Education

Why Student Athletes Continue To Fail

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

The problem’s not the NCAA. It’s players’ expectations of their peers

Seventy-four college underclassmen have been declared eligible for the NFL’s upcoming draft, but Ohio State’s quarterback Cardale Jones won’t be among them. A few days after winning the national championship game in January, Jones shocked fans and football analysts by saying he wasn’t ready to go pro, that it was important for him to graduate from college first. What made the announcement all the more surprising, beyond the fact that Jones may never again be as desirable an NFL prospect as he is the year he won a national championship, was that his previous claim to fame was a notorious tweet posted two years ago in which he complained about the “college” part of being a college football player. He wrote that he’d gone to Ohio State to play football, not “to play school,” and that classes were pointless.

Jones now regrets and disavows that tweet. Earlier this month, he was tweeting that nothing is more important than education, under the hashtag “StudentBeforeAthlete.” It’s hard to know how sincere his attitude adjustment has been, or how sincere his initial dismissal of academics was. What is clear is that Jones and his conversion represent a messaging coup for his university and for the NCAA, which has maintained for decades that its primary goal is to help scholar-athletes receive an education that would prepare them for life beyond sports.

Despite the NCAA’s insistence that it is concerned about student athletes’ academic growth, it often feels as though “student” plays second fiddle to “athlete.” Indeed, on a typical day, a visitor to the NCAA homepage will be overwhelmed by the articles (and videos) about athletics but will not find a single article (or video) about the academic achievements of the athletes.

This also seems to hold true for many of the NCAA’s member schools. The University of North Carolina and Syracuse are just two of the most recent universities to be under the spotlight for academic scandals involving student athletes. UNC offered a “no show” class for student athletes (where students received grades for phantom classes that they didn’t attend), and Syracuse allowed academically ineligible athletes to compete. And while these cases are the ones currently grabbing headlines, they are hardly unique; The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that 20 additional schools are being investigated for academic fraud.

And what about the student athletes themselves? Student-athletes tend to take easier classes and get lower grades than non-athletes. This is not only true for schools from power conferences in big-money sports, it has been observed in Division III liberal arts colleges and Ivy League schools, neither of which even offer athletic scholarships.

It’s tempting to believe that student athletes care only about their sport, and not about their schoolwork, as many popular commentators have suggested – and as Ohio State’s Jones once tweeted — except that in the dozen years that I’ve been teaching in university settings, that hasn’t been my experience at all. I’ve taught hundreds of Division 1 student athletes at several different schools, and they have been among the hardest working students I’ve encountered. The student athletes I’ve worked with have viewed their sport as a complement to, not a replacement for, their studies.

My observations were hardly unique. One of my students, Josh Levine, ran a youth hockey clinic and was upset by the widespread perception that the students he worked with did not care about school. After several conversations about the issue, we decided that the only way to find out the truth was to run a study. And so we did, surveying 147 student athletes (including some still in high school) involved in various team sports from football and basketball to lacrosse and golf about how much both they and their teammates cared about sports and academics.”

Here’s what we found: When student athletes were asked how much they care about athletics, they rated their interest a healthy 8.5 on average, on a scale of 1 to 10. But when asked the value they place on academics, the result was higher than 9 on average. If anything, the average student athlete cares more about his studies than his sport. #StudentBeforeAthlete indeed.

So why do they underperform in their classes?

One possible and intriguing reason suggested by our study is that student athletes don’t think their teammates take academics as seriously as they do. When asked to assess how much their teammates cared about athletics, the athletes were close, guessing 8.8. However, when asked to evaluate how much their teammates cared about academics, those same athletes guessed only 7.8 – far below the 9+ average.

Why is this important? Because when an athlete thinks that the rest of the team doesn’t care about academics, that athlete tries to fit in by pretending not to care either. In a perverse form of peer pressure, Cardale Jones’s tweet about classes being worthless may be what student athletes tell each other in an effort to fit in, based on the mistaken belief that if they care about academics, they are in an uncool minority.

All of this creates a distressing and self-perpetuating cycle. Tight-knit student athletes will seek ways of fitting into a culture that they perceive as neglecting academics (by defaulting into majors of dubious merit and spending less time doing homework), knowing that their habits are observed by teammates. When their teammates observe those habits, it reaffirms the (false) conviction that caring about academics is an unfortunate aberration, best suppressed.

One of my co-authors on this project, Sara Etchison, has described this process particularly well: “There are student athletes who want to excel in the classroom, but think their teammates would judge them for it, so they study a little less, or take an easier major. And it turns out, that’s how virtually everyone on the team feels, but there’s never an opportunity to realize, ‘Oh wait, all of us really care about what’s happening on the academic side.’”

This is a phenomenon that psychologists call “pluralistic ignorance” – when private preferences differ from perceptions of group norms. It leads people to engage in public behaviors that align more with the perceived norms than with their true preferences. The tragedy is that the norms are false – in reality, everybody would be happier if they just behaved in line with their true preferences.

Pluralistic ignorance has also been shown to underlie the phenomenon of binge-drinking on campuses. A study conducted at Princeton University revealed that a majority of students who drink excessively did so not because they wanted to, but because they felt that was what their friends wanted to do. Once they all had a more accurate assessment of what the group norm was, the amount of alcohol consumed declined.

This suggests that helping student athletes do better in the classroom may be as simple as letting them know that their teammates care as much about academics as they do. Many of them care deeply about the education they are receiving, and should care, because financial success in professional sports will elude the vast majority of them.

As the NCAA and the media focus more attention on athletes’ academic performance, one of the best ways to improve the education of student athletes is to give them license to pursue their academic goals by making it clear that their teammates, and society as a whole, support them in their academic endeavors. For this to happen, we will need many more stars like Cardale Jones speaking out about the importance of education, instead of tweeting about the pointlessness of going to class.

Daniel Oppenheimer is a professor of psychology and marketing at the Anderson School of Management at UCLA. He is the author of over 30 peer-reviewed journals, and several books, including Democracy Despite Itself: Why a System that Shouldn’t Work at All Works So Well. In addition to numerous awards for his teaching and research, he won the 2006 Ig Nobel science humor award. He wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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