Challenging Racism in Higher Education, Promoting Justice
reviewed by Ian Law - January 30, 2006
Title: Challenging Racism in Higher Education, Promoting Justice
Author(s): Mark Chesler, Amanda Lewis, and James Crowfoot
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham
ISBN: 0742524566, Pages: 333, Year: 2005
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The pervasive durability of racism in the operation of higher education institutions is a key feature of contemporary societies. This highly competent text provides a detailed forensic examination of the development of racism in American colleges and universities, drawing on original research with students and faculty at the University of Michigan. It also provides a carefully elaborated framework for challenging the process of racialization and intervening in institutional contexts. This is an excellent text, which is the best book in its field, asking searching questions and providing trenchant criticism. Chesler, Lewis, and Crowfoot draw on four decades of personal and professional experience as a basis for their evaluation of these issues. The writing draws from this depth of coherent reflective thinking and provides an inspiring vision of how to construct a post-racist institution and deserves to be widely read.
The continuing racialization of America partly relies on the continuing racialization of the countrys higher education institutions. It both derives from it and drives it forward. Different dimensions of racism are reviewedfrom incidents of extreme right activities on campus to Amero/Eurocentric curricula. A framework which discusses mission, culture, power, membership patterns, social climate and social relations, technology, resources, and boundaries is successfully operationalized to assess these differing dimensions. This gives a more holistic account of the internal environment of these institutions. Scrutinizing the relationship between core academic values and racism is a key theme here; and this is effectively addressed, for example, in relation to teaching and learning. However, much less attention is given to questions of research, such as, funding priorities, research assessment, research excellence, research management, and so forth. The centrality of these activities for these institutions demands further investigation.
Despite the unique character of Americas racial history, and the unique racial history of its higher education system, comparative analysis may also be of value. Firstly, this study draws little on cross-sectoral institutional analysis. How similarly racialized, we might ask, are these institutions to, for example, the police or other public services? What about the fit with private sector companies? The framework provided could equally be applied in other policy fields, and does higher education have anything to learn from these other sectors in development of interventions? There have been many similar attempts to develop overarching toolkits for the development of antiracist institutions, and it would have been helpful to see some greater consideration of this work. Secondly, this book limits itself to examination of the American experience but cross-national research may provide us with further insights into the processes at work here. In the UK, cross-national research into equality and diversity in higher education institutions has been carried out as part of a wider research program on equal opportunities in higher education supported by HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England (for the full report from this study see www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/rdreports/2005/rd12_05/rd12_05.doc ). Many similarities in the character of universities responses to these issues across the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, Europe, and the United States were identified. The question then is how can we provide a more globalized, multicultural account of contemporary racisms? Rather than considering institutional racism in higher education institutions as somehow exceptional, it may be better understood as intrinsic to contemporary post-colonial governance. This view was expressed by Barnor Hesse (2004) in his contribution to our recent, edited collection on institutional racism in universities in Britain. If this is so, then such institutions and their staff and students may be more impervious to intervention than it appears and living with/in racialization will be our future. Bleak visions do not characterize the views of the authors of this book, who exhibit a more dynamic and optimistic view. Change is documented as being underway in many institutions, initiatives, campaigns, policies, procedures, and programs. The points for organizational intervention are identified, and action is urged.
Thorough consideration is given to the constellation of political forces and actors operating within higher education institutions with insightful analysis of initiatives including student mobilization. There are many other organizations relevant here who also need to be held up to research and scrutiny, such as, professional academic associations and research funding organizations. More detailed evaluation of the external environment of constraints on constructive change would have further improved this book. These criticisms do not undermine the importance of this text. It provides a powerful, passionate, and multidimensional investigation of the power of racism in American society.
Hesse, Barnor (2004). Discourse on institutional racism: The genealogy of a concept, in I. Law, D. Philips, & L. Turney (Eds.), Institutional racism in higher education, Stoke on Trent, England: Trentham.