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Remember the composition of religion departments back during the 1960s? They predominately and unapologetically consisted of white males – especially the so-called Ivies. Now imagine if one of these schools, realizing the need for different perspectives, decided that they wanted to have a feminist viewpoint taught in their department. A search ...
Transforming Understandings of Diversity in Higher Education: Demography, Democracy, and Discourse
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
The National Center for Institutional Diversity at the University of Michigan invited contributors to this volume to share work that “pushes the edge of [the] latest conceptualizations of diversity” (xiv). Scholars of education, sociology, organizational leadership, policy studies, communication and speech, and social work contribute to the book’s study of “diversity issues in higher education,” offering a range of disciplinary vantage points (xvi). Diversity, the volume argues, is a natural state, not a problem to be eliminated. The book invites readers to consider multiple diversities in order to avoid generalizations that hide the complexities of difference. An introduction and conclusion outline how higher education has approached diversity over the past century (for example, as a variable to be controlled, a goal to be achieved) and point toward avenues of continued research. The book’s subtitle points to the volume’s claim that attention to the details of demography and democracy (“the arrangement of the distribution of power”) is “central to…public and political discourse” (226).
Chapters appear in pairs, with the first in each set written by accomplished scholars who have “entered their professional careers after the twentieth-century framings of race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation, nationality, and ability have lost their authority” (223). These primary chapters address: diversity at historically black colleges and universities; college access for low-income students; inclusion of LGBTQ students; pathways to college for Latin@ students; the experience of space on campuses for students of color; disability; media influences; and Black male student athletes, African American female faculty at community colleges, and the mandate rhetoric of historically black colleges and universities.
Reflections by graduate students form the accompanying chapters and develop from interviews with each author. These secondary chapters highlight each author’s “research and career trajectory” and attend to topics including social agency and the power of resistance, the value of uncertainty and the need for nuance, visibility, the value of alternate vantage points, racial battle fatigue, and safe spaces (13). Together, the paired chapters provide engaging research and unique insight into scholarly agendas and motivations.
Religion appears in a handful of unexpected places in the volume. Biblical notions of the diversity of creation as a gift provide the editors’ first example of diversity as a productive good, not a problem to be solved (1). Reference to the Black church as a positive influence on educational attainment appears in an interview with one of the book’s contributors and another interview includes note of a Bible verse that summarizes the scholar’s sense that divine help supplements human effort in working toward the creation of safe spaces (119, 204). A primary chapter investigating religious diversity in higher education would have enriched the volume.
Though undergraduate classrooms and campuses are the main focus of the book, for those who teach in graduate programs (whether secular or religiously-affiliated) the volume offers insight about the prior educational landscapes that shape students who pursue advanced study. In addition, the text draws attention to the complexity of diversity alongside the need for students to understand potentially negative implications and for instructors, researchers, and institutions to recognize blind spots.
Race, Equity, and the Learning Environment The Global Relevance of Critical and Inclusive Pedagogies in Higher Education
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
The recognition that students’ identities play a significant factor in learning has begun to impact university and college classrooms over the past few decades. In particular, there is recognition that racial identities of minority students and students of color shape their experience in the educational process. What has become increasingly apparent, and therefore in need of redress, is the lack of racial equity in pedagogical frameworks and practices. Race, Equity, and the Learning Environment: The Global Relevance of Critical and Inclusive Pedagogies in Higher Education brings these matters to the fore and argues that critical and inclusive pedagogies (CIPs) can, when employed effectively, offer a way forward. Such approaches are not new, but offer the promise of creating rich learning environments by “(a) prioritizing the intellectual and social development of students, (b) fostering classroom climates that challenge each student to achieve academically at high levels, (c) recognizing and cultivating the cultural and global differences that learners bring to the educational experience, and (d) engaging the ‘whole’ student (e.g., intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally) in the teaching and learning process” (2).
The volume contains an introduction and conclusion, and in between are eleven essays reflectioning on CIPs at the intersection of race and higher education. The essays are divided into three sections covering theoretical dimensions (three essays), practical implications (four essays), and assessment (four essays). I have chosen to highlight one essay from each section that is particularly valuable for the religious studies classroom.
In part one, “Pursuing Equity Through Diversity” (Bolitzer et al.) presents a series of valuable reflections on how student diversity can be used to encourage and achieve classroom equity. Using a multidisciplinary approach, the authors highlight three perspectives on diversity: as the intersection of identities and power, as fostering individual and collective growth, and within subject-matter learning. On this basis, they see diversity as a collective resource in the classroom that advances learning.
In part two, Koshino’s article explores the racial climate and experience of a small midwestern college through interviews with students of color. The results enable her to hone in on some glaring deficiencies in the campus culture for minority students and suggest strategies for improvement in these areas. Finally, in part three Ghabra et al. critique the white, heterosexual, male norm of university classrooms through a framework informed by CIPs and intersectional sexuality. They highlight their use of performance writing to evaluate classroom interactions marked by an ethic of responsibility, love, and care. The result reveals how students and professors can work together to create inclusive spaces.
Does the volume have value for the religious studies or theology classroom? Given the personal nature of religious exploration and study, the answer is a qualified “Yes!” I suspect teachers of religion will find the essays focused on theoretical issues of more value because of their broad application. However, the essays on practice and assessment also contain material that can be adapted to the religious studies classroom. At any rate, since race and religion intersect so dramatically (especially in the U.S.), CIPs offer a way for students to think critically not only about religion generally, but to do so in a manner that also affirms and values the perspectives of their fellow students. To the degree that these essays prompt deeper reflection on how teachers can engage students in these ways, they will prove a valuable addition to the religious studies toolbox of resources.
Gender and Diversity Issues in Religious-Based Institutions and Organizations
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Gender and Diversity Issues in Religious-Based Institutions and Organizations offers a chilling reminder that much remains to be done to educate people on race, gender, and diversity. Blanche Jackson Glimps and Theron Ford craft a goldmine filled with breathtaking essays insisting that schools, institutions, and organizations cannot afford a wait-and-see attitude hoping that these issues will somehow work themselves out. They argue that education to inspire intentional acts to diversify is quintessential. This is accomplished in thirteen chapters written with a national and international scope by concerned experts who agree that although progress is being made in the areas of gender, race, and diversity, many people still feel alienated. For this, the authors marshall copiously documented arguments that expose relational problems in many religious schools, institutions, and organizations around the world. A dense annotation of each chapter is implemented with meticulous summaries and abstracts to offer a clear layout of the entire book. Readers are graciously guided to address a timely need while also given actionable solutions to these nagging issues and further recommendations on helpful publications to consult. In the end, what Glimps and Ford offer is a timely well-written encyclopedic work not just for socially and religiously engaged teachers and leaders but for any caring person willing to make a difference in human relationships for many years to come.
As an African scholar teaching in the United States, I am particularly struck by Sheri Young’s “Psychological Essentialism” (80-123). Aspects of her argument permeate the entire book in many ways. She explores how religious institutions handle diversity matters and wonders if “there is a benefit to being ‘essentialized’ versus ‘essentializing’ others?” (84). In other words, do religious and social institutions have a good grasp on how to diversify their spaces? Case studies suggest that this is hardly the case. To essentialize self or someone else, she avers, has little if no benefit at all. To deal with psychological essentialism, religious and social institutions must own up to their stated mission goals because most of them “have an institutional mission statement that includes a goal to develop individuals who stand with, and serve, their fellow human beings” and “hold a view of education that includes promoting education that does justice, as faith does justice.” Exercising this noble mission by avoiding the biases that transform religiosity into wars about hierarchy and superiority, while upholding messages of faith, hope, and equality, religious institutions are better prepared to create positive changes to develop positive campus climates than religious institutions that are held in place by waging outdated superiority wars. (114)
In many ways, the contributors to this volume testify to the fact that ours is anything but a postracial or gender sensitive world, even in religious circles. Racial and gender objectification is a daily experience for many people around the globe. A resilient hope runs through the book that well-meaning religious educators and leaders inspired by their mission statements will strive to reclaim their confessed commitments and goals to do the right thing by exercising genuine gender diversity, justice, and equality. This book is long overdue and should be read, studied, and its content applied in every institution, school, and social organization worthy of its socioreligious commitment to the betterment of human interrelationships for a foreseeable and lasting future.
Men of Color in Higher Education: New Foundations for Developing Models for Success
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
The title of this volume alone, Men of Color in Higher Education: New Foundations for Developing Models of Success, inspires intrigue in educators and administrators who are concerned about the relative dearth of men of color in higher education. The absence of men of color in higher education and the regular portrayal of their poor academic performance has been propelled by deficit discourse contending that men of color are defective and inadequately suited for the academy. This volume interrogates this perspective and counters studies and programs that have largely been guided by the presumption of men of color’s academic “deficiency.” It intimates that college and university approaches (or lack thereof) to educating men of color are habitually insufficient and offers compelling evidence that supports “a strengths-based approach” (xi) as a model for success for academic institutions that aspire to effectively educate Black, Native American, Latino, and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) men.
This timely investigation was prompted by consideration of the inadequate educational progress of Black men, but pushes beyond “the two most politically visible groups” (xiii), namely African American and Latino men, toward a more inclusive depiction of men of color in higher education. Although culturally distinct, Williams contends that there are conspicuous social continuities between men of color that can be leveraged for the work of developing models of success that are responsive to their educational needs. Intersectionality, the ways in which men of color’s lives connect and overlap based on shared experiences of gendered power relations and social marginalization, is the guiding framework of the project. It is propelled by black feminist standpoint theory that highlights the “problem of patriarchy” and racial gender roles as social dilemmas that not only negatively affect the lives of women, but are also severely detrimental to men of color.
The volume’s engagement with AAPI intersectionality, the Native American experience of ahistoricism, and Latino masculinity was revelatory in its presentation of damning statistics that unveil the educational deprivation of men of color across racial/ethnic designations, shatter model minority social mythologies that characteristically position AAPI men as overwhelmingly successful in higher education, and most importantly uncover the underperformance of academic institutions in relationship to men of color. The most convincing aspect of the argument is found in its exploration of the effects of racialized gender roles and its assertion of action steps that point toward models of success for teaching and learning in higher education, but that are dependent upon naming social realities and “(re)setting” an educational agenda that is responsive to the heterogeneity of minoritized college men.
Even as intersectionality theory emphasizes the double/triple jeopardies of racialized gender identities, there is no doubt that men of color have historically been gender-privileged in theological education as opposed to their female counterparts of color, precisely because of the status quo favorability of cisnormative male religious leadership. In fact, the emergence and marginalization of feminist and womanist theological and ethical inquiry offers evidence of women’s continued subordination in the church and theological academy. Reading Men of Color in Higher Education as a Black womanist theological ethicist who is driven by a traditionally communal ethic concerned with the flourishing of all people – male, female, and non-gender conforming – but who is also clear about how patriarchy compromises Black men’s theological burgeoning in the church and the classroom, the black feminist framework that drives the volume’s argument is particularly exciting. Its wrestling with the interplay of patriarchy and racial gender roles uncovers how even in spaces where men of color are demographically dominant to women of color their success is still threatened by the limits of patriarchy that often call them to perform communally death-dealing and sometimes even self-cannibalizing masculinities. In other words, although the gender demography of many theological schools is much different from colleges and universities, the core argument of the book concerning men of color and success in higher education is relevant and compels theological educators toward critical questions about effective teaching and learning for men of color.