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Breakthrough Strategies: Classroom-Based Practices to Support New Majority College Students
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
This book is about preparing for a future already dawning on North American college campuses, a future belonging to “New Majority” (NM) students. Ross describes NM students as Latino/a, African-American, Southeast Asian, Pacific Islander, first generation, and low income. Evidence of NM students is statistically demonstrable, as with the 50% rise of Pell Grant applicants between 2002-13. Demographic surges suggest a “majority-minority” U.S. by 2050. These students often have an educational disadvantage, met in some places with "bridge programs" or other efforts to bolster their success. But is more needed? Are faculty aware and equipped enough to serve NM students, or will faculty continue to be befuddled when students do not speak up in class or react to assignments and grades in unexpected ways? This book addresses these issues by introducing professors to NM students so that they can better understand the cultural cues and expectations these students bring.
Part I, "Strategies for Engagement," assesses ways of keeping students engaged, but with special attention to issues NM students face. Chapters begin with classroom vignettes that set up the problem the chapter addresses. Students may disengage because of “stereotype threat,” a socio-psychological phenomenon described in chapter four. Professors best confront this stereotype by bolstering self-confidence while pushing students to engage subject matter more deeply. Students are reluctant to ask questions in class not because they are uninterested, but because they fear sounding ignorant or come with cultural traditions of deference that discourage public questioning. This mismatch of expectations between teacher and students can be confronted through strategies presented in chapter five.
Taken for granted as a privileged space with its own practices, the college classroom is strange new territory for NM students. Six chapters in parts II and III introduce strategies that build inclusion and confidence. For instance, NM students benefit from classroom cultures built around interdependence and teamwork rather than individual achievement, which can be perceived as selfish and disloyal in some minority communities. Journaling is another strategy that invites NM students to deeper reflection on a subject and builds connection with the instructor. It helps to overcome the assumption that learning is simply mastery of information delivered through lectures, as opposed to personal discovery and evaluation.
Journaling is an important ingredient in the wider purpose of creating leaders for minority communities who produce personal observations, share insights, and opinions with confidence, contributions which are valuable not only for minority communities but also for the wider society in which they will participate. NM students will graduate and enter a workforce where they will continue to face debilitating stereotypes (the final chapter’s opening vignette is about Gabriela, a Latina architecture student who faced negative stereotyping on her first day). College classrooms should be spaces of empowerment for these students so they can begin building a professional identity during their educational experience. Professors can facilitate this with frank discussions of stereotypes NM students will face, by sharing stories of role models, and by cultivating good practices in communication and self-presentation.
This book will sensitize faculty to the needs of this growing part of the student body. However, much of the information is applicable to students from all backgrounds, and will improve college teaching for all involved.
For the last two years, I have taught a required class on evangelism for ordination at the United Methodist Church at Asbury Theological Seminary on the Orlando Campus during the summer and January terms. The course is structured as an intensive class delivered over five days. Over these two years, ...
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.
Beginning a Career in Academia: A Guide for Graduate Students of Color
Date Reviewed: September 18, 2016
Touting itself as “the first scholarly volume to exclusively mentor graduate students of color” (x), this collection of essays offers invaluable insights for navigating the academic job market and working as junior faculty.
This volume is divided into three sections. The six chapters comprising the first division, “Practical Advice for Finding Success in the Academic Job Market,” provide concrete examples of how to deal with various aspects of the job application process. For instance, Michelle Camacho outlines steps from submitting a CV to negotiating terms of hire. Her sample messages illustrate proper email etiquette.
The second part of the book, “Identity, Fit, Collegiality, and Secrets for Thriving in the Ivory Tower,” includes four chapters of advice for avoiding career derailments commonly faced by tenure-track faculty of color. Various professors share their experiences of both hardship and success. Nayeli Chavez-Dueñas and Hector Adames challenge the reader, via “ten reflective questions,” to introspect concerning motivations and commitment to a career in academia (124). Furthermore, their tables “Skills Required for Entry-Level Academic Positions and Alternatives to Strengthen Application” and “Seven Psychological Strengths of People of Color” (132-133) can be referenced daily, for goal setting and encouragement. Every academician would be wise to avoid the pitfalls Elwood Watson highlights in his essay “Fifteen Missteps That Can Derail Faculty Early in a Career.”
The final five chapters make up the segment entitled “Work-Life Balance: Strategies for Transitioning From Graduate School to the Classroom.” It addresses decisions that scholars of color should make early in their careers to effect sustainable work-life balance. The articles urge both students and faculty to develop healthful ways of being.
A few additions to the volume would enhance what is already a strong collection of essays. An article on the role of social media in the hiring and tenure process for scholars of color would be a welcome expansion. While Watson warns of the dangers of inappropriate social media posts (113), graduate students are also grappling with how to use social media to enhance career prospects. Similarly, a full chapter on crafting and presenting a conference paper would be an elucidating follow-up to Nadine Finigan-Carr and Natasha Brown’s insightful chapter “Navigating Professional Conferences.” Finally, while Tom Otieno’s essay “Transitioning Strategies from Graduate School to Early Career Faculty” explicates different types of academic institutions (74), an expanded orientation to the field would also be beneficial. This could include more explanation of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s classification system (74) and definitions or etymologies of terms such as “research I universities” (9).
This volume is a great resource for new initiates to the academic job market and workplace, as well as for those who already have some familiarity or experience. The short, engaging essays, which can be read in any order, invite scholars to revisit this guide often for help to land a new job or maintain a healthy work-life balance.