Yancy G and del Guadalupe Davidson (eds) (2014) Exploring Race in Predominantly White Classrooms: Scholars of Color Reflect
ISBN 978 0 415 83669
Effectively this text consists of seventeen papers written specifically for this book by ‘scholars of color’ working as faculty (academic staff) in institutions of higher education in USA. Each paper contains examples and personal, biographical anecdotes covering many of their experiences. These episodes are theorised and viewed through the lens of critical race and feminist theory. The writers work in a range of institutions, geographically spread and in different types of institutions. That said Universities are presented as hallowed halls of white supremacy, and consequently critiques are presented at different levels. Although it is claimed that the scholars teach a range of disciplines, the majority teach courses and modules housed in the social science disciplines, and almost all cover issues associated with inclusion/exclusion, racism and social justice.
There are themes that run throughout many, or all of the chapters. These include an analysis of the attitudes of white staff to scholars of color, a view on how their subject disciplines are perceived by academia, the responses of white students, in particular, to what are perceived as radical views and a coverage of pedagogical approaches to overcome the barriers and resistance they face in the classroom. The latter is a little disappointing in many chapters as there seem few proposals to remedy the deficiencies highlighted in the chapters.
In terms of how academic staff of color are perceived, most feel very undervalued by the institutions and by students. Although by working in prestigious institutions and being valued in a way that their presence enables a superficial profile of inclusion, the writers do perceive prejudice at an institutional level. The do discriminate between deliberate racism on an individual level and comment on manifestations of institutional racism. Clearly this is highly relevant to leaders and managers of large academic organisations.
Subjects and content taught in relation to how people feel, perceived expectations and the impact of the attitudes of others are also accounted for. The lack of scientific facts, or even the misuse of them, a lack of precision, the accounts of emotional responses and a general sense of sociological status of ethnic minority students and teachers at University level are not perceived to be truly academic. All account for a lack of academic status and respect. Often their courses are also undervalued by white students who fail to recognise their own in-bred prejudice, bias and status.
As a consequence of the above, all the writers report similar responses to their courses – they face a wall of silence, often a sense of guilt from more sensitive students and often anger in that students feel accused of being racist on a personal level. There is little belief in the concept of Whiteness, which the scholars feel compelled to break down.
Strategies deployed are quite radical, and the writers provide honest, qualitative evaluations of their efforts. Many agree the classroom needs to be a ‘safe place’ for open and honest discussions. Some disagree and place a greater emphasis on challenge. All value providing students with the opportunity to recount personal life stories which relate to feelings of oppression. Immersion in alternative cultures can lead to students feeling uncomfortable, and every attempt I made to assist students to see through the eyes of the Other.
All the papers are very well referenced. The accounts raise questions regarding the role of the teacher in a an environment hen students are encouraged to co-construct knowledge. All the writers are dubious about their longer term impact on students’ lives. Particularly interesting for me is to read the accounts of responses from students of color in multi-racial classrooms. A similar resistance to change is recounted, and sociological theory is used to explain this.
The book can feel threatening to a white scholar, but papers are very well argued, which enables the reader to detach him/herself from the here and now. Where I feel the book is less successful is in presenting approaches to overcome the issues presented.
Consequently the book provokes reflection and discussion, and I suspect it would be claimed it places the onus on professionals, most notably leaders to come up with answers for themselves.
Professor Kit Field, University of Wolverhampton