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Challenging Racism in Higher Education: Promoting Justice

Tomorrow's Academy

Message Number: 
758

Overall, the authors do an excellent job of integrating conceptual frameworks, empirical findings, and program descriptions into a relatively comprehensive portrait of the need for and the ways by which to change America's colleges and universities into multicultural institutions. They recognize that the road to multiculturalism is fraught with pitfalls, traps, and immense challenges, but they also fully understand that the nation's welfare depends on how far colleges and universities move toward multiculturalism. All members of the academy, from regents to students, would benefit from a close reading of this book.

Folks:

The posting below is a review by Ruben O. Martinez of the book: Challenging Racism in Higher Education: Promoting Justice, by Mark Chesler, Amanda Lewis, and James Crowfoot. The review is from the July-September 2006, Planning for Higher Education, The Society for College and University Planning - Copyright © 1998-2006 Reprinted with permission. Planning for Higher Education book reviews appear at: (www.scup.org/phe).

Regards,

Rick Reis

reis@stanford.edu

UP NEXT: Teaching for Transformation: From Learning Theory to Teaching Strategies

Tomorrow's Academy

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Challenging Racism in Higher Education: Promoting Justice

Reviewed by Rubén O. Martinez

This book combines the perspectives of three White scholars (something they make note of in the preface). The lead author (Chesler) is a retired sociologist, the second (Lewis) is a mid-career faculty member in African-American studies, and the third (Crowfoot) is a retired dean of natural resources and environment. Chesler and Crowfoot served for many years at the University of Michigan and have published several scholarly articles together on race relations, multiculturalism, and diversity in higher education. The aim of the authors is to provide readers with a view of the organizational dynamics that support racism and discrimination in higher education, along with ways by which to change those dynamics and promote more inclusive and multicultural forms of teaching and learning. For readers not familiar with these issues and approaches in higher education, the book will serve as a valuable reference.

The book consists of a substantive preface, four major parts comprised of 13 chapters, a reference section, and a useful index. Part I provides an overview of the context of racism in American higher education and an organizational framework for analyzing racism in higher education. Part II provides an overview of intergroup relations on college and university campuses, including the experiences of White students, students of color, diverse faculty members, and senior officials and university board members, and describes many of these individuals' encounters with and views on race and racial dynamics. Part III describes strategies for promoting organizational change, including strategic planning, multicultural audits, administrative and faculty leadership in promoting multiculturalism, and student program initiatives, and presents examples of multicultural plans and programs viewed as innovative and recommended as models for readers to consider. Part IV recapitulates the book's main emphases.

As a whole, the book is held together by its emphasis on organizational dynamics. Indeed, although the authors do not say this directly, they present an institutionalist view of higher education, one in which colleges and universities are shaped by both internal and external influences, including participants, resources, ideologies, and economic dynamics. Colleges and universities, the authors argue, reflect and are fraught with the contradictory values and dynamics of American society, including institutional racism. They are contested systems in which different interests compete for limited resources.

The authors emphasize the institutionalized nature of racism in American society and present eight interdependent dimensions of organizations that can both transmit societal racism and serve as focal points for organizational change. These eight dimensions are mission, culture, power, membership, social relations and social climate, technology, resources, and boundary management. According to the authors, colleges and universities can alter the basis of their own institutional racism by changing these dimensions. The authors then present three ideal stages through which organizations pass as they move toward becoming multicultural organizations: monocultural, transitional, and multicultural. Next, the authors discuss each of the eight organizational dimensions within each of the three stages. Before discussing strategies for moving institutions along these stages, the authors provide detailed descriptions of the experiences of students, faculty, and administrators in higher education.

Descriptions of dominant group student attitudes and experiences and the experiences of minority group students are based mainly on data from a study of a sample of the undergraduate class of 1994 at the University of Michigan. Qualitative data collected between 1996 and 2001 at Michigan are used to present the viewpoints of students in greater detail. Unfortunately, the authors do not provide a demographic overview of the 25,000 undergraduate students at Michigan, but the percentage of ethnic minority students does not indicate a campus where their numbers are likely to threaten those of dominant group students, who represent 63 percent of the student population.

White students, as previous research has shown, enter colleges and universities, especially top-tier institutions, without having had much experience relating to persons of color, especially in a setting of "relative equality"-at least one where rigid racial roles do not prevail within the organization. As they progress through college, many broaden their perspectives about race relations, and some even transcend the color-blind ideologies evident in American society today. These changes are generally tied to the frequency of contact with students of color and their willingness to grow at a personal level.

The focus of the book moves from dominant group students to students of color. Although the majority of students of color reported overall good experiences, they (especially African-American students) also reported racial tension and conflict on-campus, including subjection to racial stereotyping, marginalization in social relations, pressure to assimilate, White resentment relative to affirmative action and supposed undeserved gains, and a Black-White discourse relative to race and racism. Students of color perceived White students as unwilling to engage in meaningful discussions or relationships with them.

Students of color also reported difficult intergroup experiences in interactions with faculty members and in the classroom, although the majority tended to report good educational experiences with faculty. Some faculty members continued to hold lower academic expectations of ethnic minority students, to either deny differences between themselves and students of color or to lump all together without regard to differences, and to single them out in class as authorities on their racial group.

The faculty chapter focuses on the demographic representation of ethnic minority groups among the faculty, their distribution across institutional levels, and their experiences in the academy. The demographic data provided point to the persisting underrepresentation of ethnic minority groups in the higher education faculty ranks. More recent data on ethnic minority group distribution across institutional types show that ethnic minority group members are most represented as faculty in public doctoral institutions (ranging from a low of 23.2 percent among African-Americans to a high of 46.8 percent among Asian-Americans), public comprehensive institutions (ranging from 10.9 percent among Native Americans to 21.8 percent among African-Americans), and public two-year institutions (ranging from 10.6 percent among Asian-Americans to 25.5 percent among Hispanics). Ethnic minority group members are least likely to be found on the faculty at private institutions.

Not only do faculty members differ on the basis of gender and ethnic minority group membership in their approaches to teaching and in their relationships to students, they also differ in their experiences in the workplace. Women and faculty of color are more likely than other faculty to promote racial understanding through their teaching and to use a broader range of teaching techniques than their respective counterparts. Faculty of color often feel excluded from others in the workplace and sometimes see themselves as tokens that are supposed to address minority issues on campus.

The chapter on boards, presidents, and senior administrators provides some demographic data on the representation of women and persons of color in these positions. As might be expected, White males are the majority in every category and are most represented on the boards of independent colleges and universities. At the level of the presidency, women and ethnic minorities are most likely to be found at the lower end of the stratification system of higher education, where they still continue to be underrepresented. According to the authors, increases in the number of women and ethnic minorities assuming presidencies have stalled in recent years. Further, while administrators are more likely to express commitment to diversity than are faculty and staff, they seldom demonstrate their commitment through action and rarely seem to recognize the possibility that the institution itself should be changed.

The final part of the book provides strategies for organizational change. The authors present a rational model that emphasizes strategic planning, multicultural audits, alteration of leadership roles to include diversity and multiculturalism as areas of responsibility, and use of multicultural leadership teams to provide direction to and promote changes within the institution. The authors also emphasize the need to move colleges and universities from monocultural to multicultural institutions, especially by providing multicultural instruction in the classroom. Support for and from faculty would, of course, be necessary in order to achieve substantive gains in this area.

The authors see student affairs programs as important change agents in moving colleges and universities along the path to multiculturalism. They provide examples of how these programs can make contributions, including group-specific programming, diversity workshops, multicultural programming in the residence halls, student involvement in intergroup conflict mediation, and intergroup dialogues. These activities are intended to address change both at the level of the personal and the institutional.

Overall, the authors do an excellent job of integrating conceptual frameworks, empirical findings, and program descriptions into a relatively comprehensive portrait of the need for and the ways by which to change America's colleges and universities into multicultural institutions. They recognize that the road to multiculturalism is fraught with pitfalls, traps, and immense challenges, but they also fully understand that the nation's welfare depends on how far colleges and universities move toward multiculturalism. All members of the academy, from regents to students, would benefit from a close reading of this book.