Sarah Willie-LeBreton, ed. Transforming the Academy: Faculty Perspectives on Diversity and Pedagogy. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2016. 230 pp. $90.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8135-6508-8; $26.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8135-6507-1.
Reviewed by Richard W. Slatta (North Carolina State University)
Published on H-Teach (December, 2016)
Commissioned by Camarin M. Porter (Northern Arizona University, Dept. of History)
While higher education has become increasingly diverse in both faculty and student populations, on many campuses faculty who are female, people of color, LGBTQ, or have disabilities "face challenges to their authority, expertise, and qualifications" (p. 104). This collection by eighteen contributors provides autoethnographies rich in multiple examples of these and other problems, especially on campuses where whiteness remains privileged The experiences shared here provide important insights to enlighten nonminority faculty as well as lessons and suggestions that might be applied by minority faculty. Taken together, they make "public the conversation about diversity and its challenges" in powerful, personal terms (p. 7). In addition, the collection includes many pedagogical suggestions of interest to anyone who is a teaching assistant or instructor.
Editor Sarah Willie-LeBreton lays out three overarching goals and themes for the book. She notes: "First, it exposes parochialism, allays anxiety, and undermines mean-spiritedness.... "Second, when more than one or two people talk publicly about their experiences, institutionalized aversions to differences that are taken as part of the normative (and therefore nonnegotiable) culture of higher education are revealed as both oppressive and vulnerable to challenge and change.... And third, through this volume, it allows us to celebrate our advocates and allies--some vocal, some quiet--who have listened to our stories" and worked on our behalf (pp. 7-8). In sum, the book delivers an academic equivalent of the testimonio literature penned by Latin Americans who have suffered political persecution, and delivers useful guidance and perspectives on bringing greater equality and fairness to the various arenas of higher education. The combination of personal narratives and pedagogical guidance is a potent one.
In terms of pedagogical instruction, we find a wide range of suggestions applicable to many classrooms and topics. Many of the contributors teach courses on diversity and/or race relations, so challenges and helpful suggestions abound (pp. 34, 37, 39, 48, 57, 61). For example, "if someone says something that offends, the offended person can say 'ouch'" (p. 61). Elsewhere we find guidance on microagressions (pp. 159-160), classroom "passive resisters" (pp. 28-31), co-teaching (pp. 66-68), room geography and size (p. 134), and a creative photography assignment focused on self-identity (p. 75).
Taken together, these personal narratives provide powerful, often moving, evidence of the continuing struggle for greater inclusivity and diversity on US campuses. Like students, faculty and administrators often default to denial of problems in the campus social climate, reward systems, and cultural assumptions. The contributors to this volume, mostly young and female, should be commended for opening their academic lives to help open our eyes to the ongoing need for change.
The primary audience for this collection will likely be graduate students and early-career minority scholars. Administrators will also benefit from the analysis and criticism of white-centeredness and "normality" on most campuses. Finally, any instructor will benefit from the pedagogical tips and practices embedded in most of the autoethnographies. Most critiques of higher education focus on a single area--race/ethnicity, disability access, or LGBTQ. This collection strives with considerable success to examine diversity issues more broadly across several categories.
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Richard W. Slatta. Review of Willie-LeBreton, Sarah, ed., Transforming the Academy: Faculty Perspectives on Diversity and Pedagogy.
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