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Managing and Supporting Student Diversity in Higher Education: A Casebook
Date Reviewed: March 5, 2015
Written from an Australian higher education perspective, the information in this volume could be useful to anyone engaged in teaching, supporting, or recruiting prospective students in tertiary institutions (xi). It is a worthwhile (beneficial) resource for educators desiring to transform classroom pedagogical practices and approaches into ones that are user friendly, foster social inclusion and academic excellence, and are convergent with the pluralistic student population they serve.
Drawing on the expertise of multiple authors and a carefully constructed critical educational methodology, the book is divided into three sections. The first section introduces readers to the key terms and conceptual reasoning that underpin the participatory research used throughout the text. The second section (chapters 2 through 6) consists of selected student stories or case studies that provide windows of understanding about issues students face as they engage higher education and the educational and social factors that contribute to academic success. The authors contend that student voices serve as “organic educational theorists,” and thereby reinforce the authors’ claims that inclusive pedagogies must reflect the active involvement of the learner in achieving their own learning goals.
The case studies themselves were “developed over the course of a longitudinal research project that investigated how students from diverse backgrounds succeed in higher education” (20). The students represent Australia’s multicultural population and include both on-campus and distance education students. They also represent varied social-economic, ethnic, gender, and age groups. The authors state, “While participants’ backgrounds and experiences differed, they shared interrupted educational biographies with no clear pathways into higher education” (20). The authors state that “students from diverse backgrounds require more time to fully comprehend course material, to integrate new knowledge into their existing frameworks and make sense of it”(120).
Other insights provide food for thought for anyone working with students facing both academic and cultural challenges. For example, higher education approaches in Australia often demand more classroom participation and discussion than what students may be accustomed to in their countries of origin. Hence, a degree of adjustment by students is required for success. Other case studies highlight the experience of nontraditional age students who began their studies in their forties. These case studies provide insights about the role of social obligation and self-reliance in their own learning goals. As one student stated, “I was never going to give up right from the start, because I wanted a good solid qualification that would get me a job” (213). Additional factors mentioned by students in support of their academic success included family support and encouragement, mentoring, stable finances, internships, and the usefulness of student services.
The discussion questions found at the end of every chapter are a welcome resource for educators. These questions are insightful and could easily be used in a variety of university forums to conscientize faculty. In addressing mature students, the authors raise the following question: “How do you currently support adult learners while respecting their adultness? What changes could you make in your current practice to assist mature age students to cope with study and the demands of on their time and energy from other life responsibilities and situations?” (159). In the final chapter the authors discuss the implications of the cases for university staff and conclude with a summary of suggested strategies for managing and supporting student diversity and higher education.
What make this book significant is that it not only sensitizes educators to the challenges faced by students coming from non-traditional backgrounds, but it also incorporates solid methodologies to highlight needed improvements in the classroom. Having read and experimented with the book’s ideas in my own teaching I can attest to its usefulness.
Teaching for a Culturally Diverse and Racially Just World
Date Reviewed: June 15, 2017
Eleazar S. Fernandez’s edited volume, Teaching for a Culturally Diverse and Racially Just World, brings together important voices in the study of religion and theology to explore issues surrounding racial-ethnic minority scholars. Fernandez writes that “‘marked’ identities” present challenges in all aspects of a scholarly career, from the classroom and research and publication to administration and institutional policy-making (2) and that even as racial-ethic minority scholars make great strides, the “racist system is cunning enough to do countermoves” (3). Willie James Jennings summarizes the crucial issue: “These teachers are measured against simulacrums, images of white male teachers, images of what women teachers ought to be, images of what minority teachers ought to be, and assumptions about which ideas and concepts should matter to women and minorities and which ideas and concepts are the proper domains of white men” (119), as David Maldonado, Jr. shows us the constraints and possibilities faced by racial-ethnic minorities across the institutional spectrum, including those in leadership positions. The purpose of this volume is not to complain, however, but to be constructive: it asks how institutions can re-form themselves, set “benchmarks” (4) to support racial-ethnic diversity, and, thereby, flourish.
Two strategies characterize the volume. First, it deploys metaphors to help the reader to understand, even to experience, the positionality of the racial-ethnic scholar. For example, Jennings presents modern theological education as “the master’s house built exclusively for his sons” (109), while Loida I. Martell-Otero and Elizabeth Conde-Frazier use spatial metaphors to talk about “teacher space” and where our teaching takes place, respectively. With these metaphors, the volume asks what it means to work and to learn as “foreign bodies” in such places: what does it mean to be both at war and yet in love with our disciplines? The volume does not forget students; Peter Cha uses the metaphor of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Beloved Community” to think through the experience of racial-ethnic students in theological education. The volume asks us to think metaphorically in our assessment as well; it uses, for example, the vocational cycle as a way of thinking through justice work.
A second strategy that characterizes the volume is the inclusion of the voices of allies. Paul O. Myhre and Nancy Ramsay offer valuable strategies and insights as two Euro-American colleagues who have accepted, as Ramsay puts it, “the pervasive influence of white supremacy and the recognition of the self-interested imperative for allies to leverage our privilege on behalf of institutional formation” (251). Using the metaphor of vision, Myhre asks us to expand our vision to see racism not as a singularity for racial-ethnic scholars but in its contexts, and to use the power of discernment to decide how to address the problem justly.
This very important volume includes contributions from many stellar teachers. Though it focuses on theological education primarily, it is valuable for religious studies. Its range − from the location of the scholar, to students, to administration, to issues of assessment − is wide, but deftly handled. It is both theoretical and practical, making it a work one can mine for different kinds of insights. The volume asks for alliances that generate small but significant steps. As Fernandez puts it: “Small beginnings should not intimidate us. We must remember that we are not called to everything, but we are called to do something” (20).