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The Intercultural Campus: Transcending Culture & Power in American Higher Education

reviewed by Lorri Santamarķa - 2005

coverTitle: The Intercultural Campus: Transcending Culture & Power in American Higher Education
Author(s): Greg Tanaka
Publisher: Peter Lang Publishing, New York
ISBN: 0820441503, Pages: 217, Year: 2003
Search for book at Amazon.com

In his most recent contribution to education related discourse on ethnicity, culture, and power in the United States , Greg Tanaka departs from traditional notions of multiculturalism and instead proposes the beginnings of an intercultural movement initiated by college and university campuses. The author asserts that as a nation post 9/11, Americans have come to realize we are not prepared to comprehend, process, or manage our countrys internal racial and ethnic diversity. One result of this reality, he continues, is our inability to know our real purpose and place in history, which Tanaka proposes can be achieved by placing leadership responsibility and diversity centered reparation in the hands of academia. This comprehensive review presents the authors theoretical perspective, methodology, and a model for moving toward intercultural institutions of higher learning, including a brief critique on the notion of model building, and audience recommendations.

Whether or not intended by Tanaka, critical theory perspectives are interwoven throughout this volume, especially those of educational critical race theory (Ladson-Billings, 2000; Ladson-Billings, 1998; Ladson-Billings and Tate, 1995) and multiculturalism (Banks, 2004; King, 1994). Like the Japanese American authors description of his disappointment in being blatantly discouraged and unsupported in his interest in multiculturalism by an advising faculty member during his first year of graduate school, critical race theory names and discusses the daily realities of racism (Ladson-Billings, 1998). Both Tanaka and critical race theorists agree on promoting voices of people of color by the use of storytelling, which the author uses as backdrop for each of the studies presented in this book. Along these lines, Gloria Ladson-Billings likens storytelling to naming a persons reality, providing psychic preservation of marginalized groups, and medicine to heal the wounds of pain caused by racial oppression (1998, p. 14). In terms of multiculturalism, Tanaka expands its spirit of social justice and equity and encourages building on these strengths to promote learning and sharing across difference where no single culture dominates.

Tanaka departs from critical race theory and multiculturalism, however, with study findings that render these approaches as encouraging fragmentation of college and university campus communities, overlooking needs of white students, and reproducing oppressor/ oppressed relationships. He suggests binary and oppositional approaches and language describing diversity, often used in both critical race and multicultural theory, as being passé and responsible for paralysis in America s movement toward a more peaceful co-existence with its citizens and the world. Further, in providing theoretical perspective the author introduces a framework for individual agency which he calls subjectivity. This framework includes transforming diversity oriented language from group descriptors (e.g., race, culture) to refer to individual subjects; the notion that individuals can be considered as complementary to the growth and development of individuals; changing the rationale for social change to interconnectiveness and soul creation; the use of alternative storytelling; and the view of schools as parallel places (as opposed to hierarchical constructs). Therefore, theoretically speaking, Tanaka argues for a transcendence or refinement of critical race and multicultural theories. He posits alternatively the consideration of schools, primarily colleges and universities, as physical, social, and psychological intercultural spaces where healing dialogue between and among diverse members of the learning community is a central activity.

To illustrate his point Tanaka presents three research studies conducted at different colleges and universities over a period of eight years. Each investigation serves as impetus for inclusion of the next, and in this way each builds upon the others and contributes to the evolution of the final study. The first inquiry is a case study of the first U.S. college to attempt to become completely multicultural (e.g., student affairs, core curriculum, faculty hiring). Although findings reveal participant feelings of empowerment rooted in giving voice to historically silenced groups, this initiative proved to have numerous limitations and brought to surface some of the shortcomings of multiculturalism. Limitations include perceived community fragmentation, white students feeling overlooked, and reinforcement of oppressed/ oppressor relations among community members. Further substantiating these findings, the second study, which was quantitative and included 25,000 students at 159 U.S. colleges and universities, found that when white students participate in cross-cultural academic and social experiences on their campuses, they experience gains in important measures, including overall satisfaction with the college (p. 3). Unfortunately, this same study reveals that the presence of faculty and students of color has a negative impact on sense of community among students and faculty as perceived by white students (p. 91). This could be, according to Tanaka, a manifestation that whiteness has associated with it internalized and unexamined privileges that grant people who are white positions of social superiority over people of color (p. 107). The authors well founded assumption is corroborated by work on theories of whiteness by many researchers (i.e., hooks, 1992; McIntosh, 1989; West, 1993).

Among the difficult issues addressed by Tanaka, including the limitations of multiculturalism and disenfranchised white community members, the third and final study features Tanaka sharing his story of How to Build an Intercultural Campus using intercultural storytelling within the context of a mid-sized Jesuit university in Southern California over a period of four years. The author admits, based on the findings presented in the two previous studies that building such a campus would be a challenging but necessary undertaking. This last study provides a step-by-step experiential attempt at transformation of a traditional Catholic university into an intercultural learning institution by introducing intercultural practices into all its major functions (p. 126). The plan included staff intercultural training, a student certificate program in intercultural competency, minority faculty hiring, curriculum development workshops in teaching diverse classrooms, and ongoing assessment. Results reveal the most successful initiatives were staff intercultural training and student intercultural training followed by minority faculty hiring, curricular and pedagogical changes, and assessment resulting in the identification of barriers to building a successful intercultural campus. The study also encouraged and supported many discussions of culture, power, and interdependence. Results from the study eventually take Tanaka from critique to the creation of a new model for approaching diversity in the 21st century. Results also suggest the transcendence of culture and power by way of parallel systems as opposed to dominant and oppressed groups of people on U.S college and university campuses.

Interdependence and collaboration are common themes in progressive circles where such constructs as race, ethnicity, culture, and power are salient and where a greater sense of harmony is idealized. Greg Tanaka redefines storytelling as a means to bring greater meaning to theoretical conjecturing by groups of people projected onto others, and makes use of storytelling instead as a medium of exchange for all participants---those from marginalized groups and those who had been privileged, wherein the work at this university could signal a turning point in U.S. higher education and a transition to a storytelling pedagogy (p. 156). The author also suggests a new epistemology in terms of the future, as when participants are asked what they might hope for, and an emphasis on dreaming emerges. This dreaming, Tanaka posits, complements storytelling in that:

Beyond promoting a sense of race harmony, there was for all participants an increased personal connection to the past, a more direct rootedness to place, and an incipient interconnectiveness with each other in dreaming of a new social place (p. 155).

Readers of this potentially pivotal book will be motivated to examine their institutions of higher learning for opportunities to participate in their own versions of anticipatory action research where participants examine how power operates in historical context for different groups (p. 158). What they wont , however, is a guide showing them How to Build an Intercultural Campus. Instead, college and university leaders, students, faculty, staff, and administration will learn what occurred when Greg Tanaka tried to do so, and five components for future research that determines to build upon his and his universitys experience. These five components include: (1) small group storytelling about past and place, (2) examining how power operates, (3) envisioning or dreaming about a new social arrangement, (4) actual model building in anticipation of wider changes in society, and (5) greater personal connection to place, memory, and ritual.

The manuscript ends with a hopeful description of culture and power relations following the pivotal September 11 bombings. Tanakas final sentence reads:

In an increasingly diverse U.S., being intercultural will mean taking the time and effort to acquire new habits of storytelling, interdependence, and model building that will likely redefine the idea of America (p. 194).

Many examples of storytelling are interspersed throughout this book, some examples of interdependence are provided, and an attempt at model building is shared. Greg Tanaka falls short of his own suggestion in regard to model building, but makes a strong attempt at forging a clear path and pioneering a new effort for emerging interculturalists on U.S. college and university campuses and beyond. His effort, therefore, should be commended and read by all who wish to make our country and world a better place to live, dream, and realize now and in the future.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 107 Number 2, 2005, p. 267-271
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11402, Date Accessed: 10/18/2021 9:18:32 AM

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