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On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life
Date Reviewed: August 9, 2016
In a valuable and demanding text, Sara Ahmed’s On Being Included looks at the role of diversity in higher education institutions in order to examine the many difficulties and paradoxes that diversity practitioners face. Most centrally, Ahmed argues that the people who work in diversity offices are expected to fix the “blockages” that come with various racial, ethnic, gender, and sexuality tensions, yet these same persons are themselves viewed as the blockage when they raise such issues. Similarly, many institutions use the existence of a diversity office as sufficient evidence of the school’s health rather than as a locus for productive work.
The book’s argument relies on a series of interviews that Ahmed did with diversity practitioners at schools in the United Kingdom and Australia. The results she obtained are shaped largely by a series of acts passed in the UK, beginning with 2000’s Race Relations Amendment Act (RRAA) and concluding with 2010’s Equality Act. These acts led to the creation and assessment of diversity statements by UK colleges and universities. Over the course of five main chapters, she examines the experiences of her informants and analyzes their logic and rhetoric to disclose how institutional diversity work often functions to salve privileged consciences while concealing marginalized voices.
In particular, Ahmed spends significant time looking at the policy documents that diversity offices were often tasked with developing. Because of the RRAA, many of the documents she examined were written in terms of legal compliance, and thus target safeguarding the school’s image more than improving its institutional life and structures. Moreover, she notes that after the policies created by various UK schools were evaluated and ranked, high marks on a well-written statement were translated into institutional strength at diversity work, which ultimately concealed the type of work that still needed to be done. Indeed, the text claims that an explicit, stated commitment to diversity by a school usually has no effect on the actual practices and habits of the school. Not only do policy commitments fail to lead to action, they often substitute for action.
This leads to one of the concluding provocations of the text, where Ahmed pushes against the discourse around diversity “allies.” She notes that a focus on white anti-racism can often have the effect of simply re-centering whiteness. Diversity work is often supported by white persons or by predominantly white institutions precisely as a way of assuaging a bad conscience. Ahmed sees this as most evident when progressive whites react to challenges about race first by invoking their own bonafides rather than affirming the experiences of the marginalized.
On Being Included is an insightful, challenging, and well-written text. Teachers and administrators who are interested in diversity should certainly take time with Ahmed’s work, as should anyone interested in assessing the larger role of institutional context in higher education. Although a careful reading will not leave the reader with any easy approaches or techniques, it will undoubtedly prompt helpful critical self-reflection that universities need.
Mentoring as Transformative Practice Supporting Student and Faculty Diversity (New Directions for Higher Education, Number 171)
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Research literature reveals that effective mentoring has significant and positive impact on student success and persistence for women and people of color. Mentoring as Transformative Practice consists of ten essays concerning effective traditional and nontraditional mentoring strategies for women and underrepresented minorities (URM). The essays presuppose the value of mentoring and also explore its impact on student outcomes and agency.
The majority of essays in this volume are written by women and persons of color who have successfully mentored others or have been the beneficiaries of effective mentoring relationships. Many of the essays employ a nontraditional methodology for analyzing mentoring relationships and effective mentoring methods. For example, a critical reflective and subjective instrument called scholarly personal narrative is used both to analyze mentoring relationships and as a tool to mentor students. Scholarly personal narratives highlight the author’s voice and communicate their perceptions and interpretations of their lived experiences. Such narratives reveal insights and depth of experience in compelling ways. These are not normally found in research works. They also offer a unique method for constructing new knowledge.
Chapter One uses personal narratives to examine significant aspects of mentoring that impact women and URMs in higher education arguing that they often need psychosocial versus academic mentoring. The authors – one with a national mentoring award – reflect on mentoring practices in their personal narratives. They conclude that students need mentors who offer authentic relationships, understand their experiences as minorities, listen without reprisal, and encourage and model vulnerability at all levels. In Chapter Two, an African American female and associate professor at a research university and six of her students analyze data from their scholarly personal narratives, revealing three consistent behaviors that contribute to the development of student agency: (1) perceived and actual approachability allowing for mutual trust and comfort leading to cultivation of student agency; (2) the balance of challenge and support; and (3) assistance and encouragement to develop a scholarly voice, passions, and vocation. In Chapter Four personal narratives are used as a critical pedagogical tool through which students trace and critically analyze their educational development, comparing their experiences with patterns highlighted by social science theories, quantitative data, and relevant social policies.
The book offers several mentoring takeaways in the remaining chapters. One takeaway is that mentoring can become a racialized experience when it takes the form of protecting a traditional canon from nontraditional perspectives brought to the learning experience by women and minority students. Viewed within the context of social justice, mentoring involves conscientization, the valuing of lived experience, and advocating for students. Nontraditional alternatives to proximate mentoring relationships include “mentoring-at-a-distance” through emails, conferences calls, and so forth, and various unexpected “cheerleaders” who become sources of psychosocial encouragement. Online mentoring solutions provide psychosocial support for students in specific disciplines, like STEM. “Pedagogy for Equity” peer mentoring can focus on three levels – personal biography, collaborative sociocultural group context, and broader institution. Intergenerational and near-peer approaches positively impact retention and achievement from junior high through doctoral programs.
I highly recommend this book as a resource for individual or institutional self-reflection about participation (or lack thereof) in mentoring relationships as mentor/mentee and for thinking about and developing effective mentoring strategies for women and URMs.
Higher Education Access and Choice for Latino Students: Critical Findings and Theoretical Perspectives
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Patricia Pérez and Miguel Ceja published Higher Education Access and Choice for Latino Students as part of the Routledge Research in Higher Education series. Grounded in sociological studies of Latino students and their educational choices, the book’s essays highlight the multitude of challenges that confront Latino students in trying to successfully complete higher education.
The essays are split into three sections. The first is “Home, Elementary, and Secondary Context”, part two is “Political Context and Postsecondary Choice,” and part three is “Model College Access and Transition Programs.” This structure allows the reader to see how a variety of issues contribute to how and why Latinos make specific choices in higher education. The first section focuses on essays that examine cultural and familial context. In “Sixth-Grade Teacher’s Perceptions of the College-Bound Student” the essay’s authors point to how teachers’ perceptions of what constitutes a “college-bound” student and an emphasis on “good behavior” heavily shapes whether a Latino student is deemed to be worthy of being on the college prep track or not. In the essay “Constructing College Choice” the authors examine how Latino Catholic high school students are coached to understand their “worth” in terms of potential scholarship money, and the pitfalls as well as benefits of this approach.
In the second section, the essays focus on political issues affecting Latino college choice such as gender norms and expectations in “Latino/a Students’ College Destinations” and the issues that block access for undocumented students in “Rising Voices.” In the third and final section, the focus is on college access and programs that promote it, such as summer bridge programs for Latino students as described in “Supporting the College Transition Process and Early Academic Success” and in “Community Cultural Wealth and The Latino/a College Choice.” There are fourteen essays in the book; only a few are mentioned here to highlight some of the main themes.
The essays cover a wide range of issues regarding Latino student college access, and each section builds upon the previous section, starting with home life and ending with bridge programs at college itself. Overall, the essays are fairly technical, based in sociological research, and this may make it hard for some readers outside the discipline to get though them all. Yet they provide a wide-angle lens on a huge variety of issues that face Latino students in trying to even consider going to college, let alone applying to one. This book is clearly geared towards those who work in the academic field of sociology and who are exploring issues around Latino college choice, and as it is expensive, is recommended for library collections. It is an informative book for educators as it gives them a varied and broad view on all the obstacles that Latino students in higher education face and offers ideas as how to overcome those obstacles in order help more Latino students achieve success.
Teaching Across Cultures: Building Pedagogical Relationships in Diverse Contexts
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2016
The ability to teach across cultures is more important than ever and many professors are searching for practical resources to help navigate the complexities of twenty-first century classrooms that are both face-to-face and online. Ikpeze’s Teaching across Cultures offers practical tools and it provides the theory behind the approaches he outlines although at times, he leaves the reader wanting more detail on how to incorporate his strategies in the classroom.
Ikpeze trains teachers in pedagogy for a cross-cultural context, and emphasizes that all classrooms are multicultural. Through his own experiences as a teacher, he identifies the gaps and missteps that occur in a multicultural classroom and how to address these problems primarily with two approaches: Cultural Responsive Pedagogy (CRP) and the cultivation of “Third Space” in classrooms and online environments.
Ikpeze shares freely the classroom problems he encounters as a self-disclosed foreign born (of African descent) and accented English speaker. His openness is refreshing and invites the reader to connect their own teaching challenges with his. CRP demands a responsive teaching style that invites students to bring their wisdom and cultural selves to learning. The creation of third spaces brings together opposing viewpoints into a space where they are questioned and blended. It is an ambiguous space that moves out of binary modes of thinking and learning to a mode of hybridity.
The first step Ikpeze covers is the concept of a self-study. Self-study involves intensive data gathering that moves beyond the troublesome student course surveys that often perpetuates race, gender, and class biases to a mode of gathering data from a variety of sources to construct a picture of a teacher’s self-presentation, reception of this presentation, and pedagogy. It is not a one-time process. Ikpeze emphasizes the need for maintaining academic rigor and teaching objectives while addressing the problems discovered in the self-study.
The second step in his work emphasizes building relationships between student and teacher, between students and their selves, and between students to allow greater understanding. This work allows the creation of a “third space” where students’ knowledge from day to day living is invited into conversation with academic knowledge. This technique requires intentional exercises and regular engagement with students both in and outside the classroom.
Teaching across Cultures is theory heavy and at times frustrates the practitioner who wants to move directly to the practical strategies. While Ikpeze emphasizes relationship building as the foundation for cross-cultural pedagogy, the realities of class size and teaching load shapes the ability of professors to effectively employ many of these tools.
Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race
Date Reviewed: February 24, 2016
This is a book finding its time, perhaps just in time. A sequel to Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation (2010), Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence offers the fruits of a ten-year period of research and observation of participants engaged in difficult conversations on race, racism, Whiteness, and White privilege. The purpose is fivefold: (1) to uncover the reasons that race talk is difficult, (2) to expose the explicit and hidden rules that govern how race is discussed in U.S. society, (3) to illuminate the detrimental consequences of a failure to honestly dialogue about race, (4) to outline the benefits of successful conversations on race, and (5) to propose solutions in overcoming obstacles to honest racial dialogues (xii). Sue accomplishes this purpose with clarity of style and balanced tone.
The first section defines race talk, its characteristics and dynamics, and then explores in chapter three the conflicting race realities in White Talk and Back Talk. “Race talk is truly a clash of different racial realities in which people of color and Whites perceive race issues in opposition to one another” (xiii). Through vignettes, questions, and psychologically adept analysis, Sue offers a compelling view of the ideological, psychological, and historical factors that do create radically opposed racial realities. He gently uncovers the realities whites are disinclined to see, and demonstrates the lived realities of people of color – all while shaming none. I particularly valued his argument for and demonstration of the importance of emotions in the classroom, with any redress of race talk requiring truly receiving and sitting with the wisdom that arises within emotional connection and disconnection.
The second section highlights the hidden ground rules embedded in society, academic settings, and one’s self that serve as barriers to honest race talk. Here you can find guidance and modeling for academic habits that consistently cloak racial realities. The third and fourth sections address, separately, why it is difficult to honestly talk about race. For people of color, “What are the consequences for saying what I mean?” and “To speak or not to speak, that is the question.” For whites, “I’m not racist!” and “I’m not White, I’m Italian.” Group considerations are also examined, difficult dialogues between groups of color.
The final section invites reflection by parents and teachers talking about race with children; namely, “taking responsibility for change means overcoming the inertia and feeling of powerlessness on a personal level” (214). Racial awakening happens in encounters that challenge preconceived notions, so Sue encourages such encounters with guidelines: (1) learn about people of color from sources within the group; (2) learn from healthy and strong people of the culture; (3) learn from experiential reality; (4) learn from constant vigilance of your biases and fears; and (5) learn from being committed to personal action against racism. To encourage you to get the book, I particularly appreciated Sue’s list of ineffective strategies, “Five Things Not to Do,” followed by eleven potentially positive actions. A lengthy volume, Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence should be required reading for educators of all levels.