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Reviewer or Roadblock?

Reviewer or Roadblock?
Editorial board members should have an awareness of different cultural worldviews. Ignorance of diversity is no excuse.

Over the years, I, like other scholars, have had my share of manuscripts rejected by research journals. Often, the feedback from editorial review boards is constructive and extremely valuable in helping me make my work worthy of publishing. Unfortunately however, in many cases, it seems clear that the blind review process suffers from a lack of awareness on a broad base of research methodology. Specifically, some reviewers don’t necessarily understand the research on feminist and multicultural issues.

What I find especially frustrating is the rampant and virtually unchecked commentary from editorial reviewers, resulting in an unfounded, inaccurate attack on scholarship. Comments that reflect the reviewers’ ignorance, personal agenda and biases also send the message that publication success means rejecting the cultural view one brings to their research.

For example, an American Indian colleague, conducting a study on tribal differences among American Indians, was told by an editor of a flagship journal that he would not publish her research unless she added a White sample to the study.

A reviewer of another highly respected educational journal chastised me, saying I should have known to capitalize bell hooks’ name.
Useful editorial feedback should challenge the writer’s arguments and methodology. Unfortunately, some reviewers just don’t understand diverse perspectives well enough and can’t review them fairly enough to provide constructive criticism.

Having a culturally specific worldview is both a reviewer’s strength and weakness when evaluating work from different epistemic paradigms. But, before challenging the cultural foundation of the author’s writing, editorial board members should at least have an awareness of those different cultural worldviews. Ignorance of diversity is no excuse.

But what is particularly hurtful to female and minority scholars is feedback that devalues our specific pedagogies and theories. Many feminist perspectives embrace the postmodern push toward scholarly self-reflection, but when you devalue gender and cultural issues, you
in essence devalue your female and minority colleagues.

This is concerning because editorial reviewers are responsible for the development and dissemination of knowledge. By ignoring the social identities of female and minority faculty and the contexts in which they conduct their research, reviewers ultimately mute our voices and contribute to racial and gender inequality.

I believe that it is time for mainstream scholarly journals to stop hiding behind seemingly race- and gender-neutral practices. The blind review process does not ensure the selection of published works that reflect the cultural diversity of academic worldviews. Rather than tacitly accepting such practices, journals should seek ways to embrace diversity and to create more venues for diverse views. Cultural insensitivity notwithstanding, it is the finality of the editorial reviews that renders the author powerless, frustrated and angry.

There is no process for the author to dispute the erroneous and culturally insensitive comments leveled against their work. They have no way to guard against the encroachment of Eurocentric paradigms in the evaluation process.

But I believe the situation is not irreconcilable as long as reviewers are able to communicate with scholars. 

Blind reviews play a crucial role in the success of diversity advancement through scholarship. But what can help are clearly stated standards and guidelines for editorial reviewers, which would provide a check against their biases and presumptions.

Feedback should go both ways. Journal editors should work to create a mechanism by which female and minority scholars can provide constructive feedback on cultural differences and how they are manifested in scholarship. Ultimately, what is conveyed when publishers and editors listen to and engage in conversation with women and people of color is that they care about the advancement of diversity, regardless of the paradigm.

Through this dialogue emerges a relationship that can create knowledge and respect for different worldviews. In this manner, blind editorial reviews become another important ally in improving diversity in the academy. The good news is that great minds don’t always — and don’t have to — think alike.

— Dr. Aretha Faye Marbley is an associate professor in the College of Education at Texas Tech University.

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