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Challenging Issues for Academia

Challenging Issues for Academia
Disparities in achievement and educating for a diverse culture are the focus of new books by leading scholars in education.
By Angela P. Dodson

Closing the African-American Achievement Gap in Higher Education, edited by Alfred P. Rovai, Louis B. Gallien, Helen R. Stiff-Williams, $49, Teachers College Press (July 30, 2007) ISBN-10: 0807747785, ISBN-13: 978-0807747780, 212 pp.

In a compact but comprehensive package, the editors pull together research and ideas about one of “the most urgent contemporary problems in education and society” — the gap in the academic achievement of Black and other minority students. Various scholars lay out the data, facts and theories in clear, balanced language, accompanied by numerous tables and charts. Each chapter concludes with provocative discussion topics and reference citations.
Of particular value are the strategies, sample lessons and resources for assessing progress.

The editors, all professors at Regent University, suggest the book be used as the main or supplemental text for university courses on education, or as a reference for faculty and administrators.

Unleashing Suppressed Voices on College Campuses: Diversity Issues in Higher Education, edited by O. Gilbert Brown, Kandace G. Hinton, Mary Howard-Hamilton, $34.95, Peter Lang Publishing (April 2007), ISBN-10: 0820481335, ISBN-13: 978-0820481333, 367 pp.

Diversity is defined here as “the different sub-communities within college and university settings who are marginalized based upon factors like race, sexual orientation and gender.” Theirs are the “suppressed voices” spoken of in the title.

This is a training manual to help faculty and staff grapple with issues that crop up in everyday life on campuses. The authors are from the faculties of Indiana State University (Hinton and Hamilton) and Indiana University (Brown).

They approach the subject with case studies from scholars on specific, perhaps typical, instances from academia. Hinton, who has taught and written extensively on diversity in higher education, sets the tone with a concise, informative guide to using cases for teaching. Each chapter includes discussion questions, references and recommended readings, as well as background on the hypothetical institutions in question, the status of diversity, the cultural climate, the players in the controversy and the options. Little background is given on the chapter authors, however.

Cases include a controversy at a large Southwestern technical university surrounding an attempt to merge a university-supported Black alumni association with the “official” organization. Another case weighs the appropriate punishment for a White fraternity after a break-in at the house of a predominantly Black fraternity.

Letters From the Future: Linking Students and Teaching with the Diversity of Everyday Life, by Michelle Howard-Vital (Foreword) and editors Deborah A. Brunson, Brenda Jarmon, Linda L. Lampl, $24.95, Stylus Publishing (December 2006), ISBN-10: 1579221874, ISBN-13: 978-1579221874, 294 pp.

A simple idea — let former students tell what they learned in courses on diversity — makes this book a bold and creative instrument for preparing students for real-world challenges. Narratives from graduates of all races, ethnicities and abilities, written as letters to the instructors they had for diversity courses, illuminate the state of training for living and working in increasingly multicultural, nonsexist and accessible environments.

As graduate after graduate describes the value realized from one course, one professor or one lesson, the reader senses optimism for the future.

“We recognize hope when we see it,” the editors say in conclusion. “And we see it shining brightly in this collection of chapters that present pedagogies about the teaching of differences within and between human groups — more commonly known as ‘diversity.’”

One of Brunson’s students at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington for instance, describes how she opened up in candid discussions on culture, identity and gender. Now, she says, “My classroom work and heavy group interactions led me to my current career as a recruiter. Every day I speak with people from all walks of life from all over the world.”

A Florida A&M University alum from the Netherlands, now a travel consultant in Monaco, reflects on how her professors enriched her mind after “I found out I was ‘White’ from school forms. I never had a color before in the rest of the world.”

Numerous examples of lessons and approaches in a wide range of disciplines leap from the text by Brunson, Jarmon and Lampl. Brunson is an associate professor at UNC-Wilmington. Jarmon is the chair in social work at FAMU, and Lampl is a cultural anthropologist and organization development consultant in Tallahassee, Fla.

— Angela P. Dodson is the former executive editor of Black Issues Book Review and a former community college instructor.

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