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African Americans and Whites: Changing Relationships on College Campuses

reviewed by Melissa Weiner - March 06, 2007

coverTitle: African Americans and Whites: Changing Relationships on College Campuses
Author(s): Robert M. Moore III (Ed.)
Publisher: University Press of America, Lanham
ISBN: 0761835008 , Pages: 254, Year: 2006
Search for book at Amazon.com

African Americans and Whites: Changing Relationships on College Campuses documents a wide variety of interracial interaction between students, student groups, and faculty. This edited volume is divided into four sections:  teaching, student groups, student interaction, and administrative issues. Each of the 15 chapters concludes with thought-provoking discussion questions from the editor. Many of the chapters would work exceptionally well in college or master’s level courses about race, education, higher education, or for faculty and administrative diversity training. The chapters thoughtfully address a number of integral issues while hinting at what can be done to improve the situation. Since they only hint, rather than provide direction, the book’s real contributions lie in chapters detailing faculty-student and student-student interactions. As a white female faculty member at a predominantly white small liberal arts college in the Northeast where black students (who represent 3% of the student body) frequently testify to isolation and discrimination, I found much of the book quite valuable. But as someone who has worked with multiple campus-based organizations to promote a culture of diversity, this book left me with few new answers or directions. Readers should also be aware that the book title is a bit deceiving—this is a book about African American-White relationships on college campuses and not, with the exception of one chapter, changing relationships.

The first chapters, regarding teachers, highlight the critical role of self-reflection and critique for effective teachers since, according to Larry Griffin (chapter 1), no matter how many times we teach a class, there is always room to improve and much to learn about the complexities of teaching about race. But there are caveats. Andrea Malkin Brenner (chapter 2) and Wanda Rushing and Zandria Robinson (chapter 3) address white efficacy in teaching classes about race. While white teachers can successfully explicate the role of race in shaping national inequalities to white students, students of color are deeply concerned about whites’ ability to teach about this subject, especially if the professor has not experienced inequality themselves (e.g., through having a partner of color). When this is the case, black students feel alienated from the professors and the material, thereby lessening their learning experience. Although this is a bit disheartening, it speaks to the need of white professors to critically examine their own role in race relations and to be honest with their students about their own potential shortcomings when it comes to teaching this subject.

Black students’ efforts to find a place for themselves while simultaneously integrating themselves into the broader campus life where they are often uncomfortable and occupy a precarious position are the focus of the second, and largest, section. According to Tim Baylor (chapter 4), black students may not join organizations that compromise their sense of comfort within the campus’s black community. This results in low membership rates of black students in GLBT organizations since joining may distance them from their black peers, among whom they experience a sense of community. On the other hand, Stephanie McLure (chapter 5) finds that belonging to a “segregated” institution like a black fraternity enhances campus involvement by connecting members to other organizations and opportunities about which they may have otherwise been unaware. Joseph Ruane’s chapter (6) about the development and changing roles of a Black Student Union highlights the political tensions and struggles that organizers face in creating and sustaining this organization.

The very valuable third section discusses social distance between black and white students on college campuses. Research details segregation on campus broadly and in terms of interpersonal relations, the reasons for a dearth of interracial friendships, and efforts to overcome these divides. Nearly all find that black students believe that the burden is on them to approach whites. Overwhelmingly, the authors find that while students of different races will interact in class, they rarely do so on an interpersonal level (Gallagher, chapter 10; Korgen, Wang, & Mahon, chapter 11). White students take a “we” vs. “them” stance and view segregation as natural and comfortable since “those people” are different from themselves (Childs & Matthews-Armstead, chapter 7). Accordingly, black students feel that they must put forth the effort to interact across race. Even among their friends, Schoepflin (chapter 9) finds, black students are confronted by racism and must educate others as to the reality of blackness (e.g., that not all blacks are criminals). As a result, they may avoid “racial” discussions and instead discuss common cultural forms, like “The Simpsons.” White students, in turn, resist these efforts, believing that blacks would rather discuss hip-hop. Others encounter racism from teachers who may unwittingly use outdated words (such as “colored”) and must bring this matter to their professor’s attention. Dickerson and Bell (whose chapter [8] includes a number of useful definitions of different types of segregation) find that “self-segregation occurred overwhelmingly on the part of whites” (p. 123) and that while students believe that cross-cultural understanding is important, most do not practice it themselves. While black students believe that they have personally become stronger because of these occurrences, and perhaps white students may have their stereotypes corrected, this section points to the psychological acrobatics that black students enact on predominantly white campuses, as well as the racial baggage that many white students bring to college.

Clearly, simply attending school together is not sufficient to improve interracial relations. To combat segregated relationships on campus, interracial student interaction must be sustained, engaged and constructive. The authors, specifically Ridzi and McIntosh (chapter 13), suggest that mandatory diversity curricula encourage cross-racial interaction, self-segregation should not be seen as a phenomena solely among non-whites, support and cultural groups celebrating difference should be encouraged, in-service training to faculty and staff can ensure that the university’s diversity goals are met, and ways to encourage interaction across “comfort zones” should be found.

The last section, “Policy and Marginality,” is disjointed and disappointing for readers hoping for models to improve diversity relations on campus. There is no explanation for why these chapters, addressing topics such as black student identity, increasing white attendance at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and a white professor’s self-exploration of her research interest, African American history, are grouped together. Jeffrey R. Breese and G. Kathleen Grant’s chapter (12) about marginal black identities and Ridzi and McIntosh’s chapter (13) about racial and class year differences could easily fit with Part Three’s chapters about social distance. Notably and importantly, nearly all students believe that more efforts must be made by the administration to provide meaningful interaction and knowledge of different groups, though black and white students disagree about what should be done. F. Erik Brook’s chapter (14) about the effects of desegregation policies at Historically Black Colleges suggests that increasing white enrollment can help break down racial divides. While this may be the case, it is the students who do not choose to attend HBCUs who are most in need of education about minorities. Similarly, an increase in enrollment may dilute the effects of these schools for the thousands of black students who have benefited from their supportive environments. Ridzi and McIntosh’s chapter is the only one about policies to improve diversity relationships. While their chapter is immensely valuable, a case study of a university that has successfully implemented changes to improve diversity would have been most welcome in this section. The final chapter, “Activism Scholarship” by Marybeth Gasman, does not address racial issues on college campuses directly, but could have fit in the first section about teaching and learning across race. Rather than a discussion of faculty-based diversity initiatives, Gasman describes how working in the community prior to teaching helps her answer the common question, “Why study African Americans?” Gasman asserts that whites must study social inequality to promote diversity but does not provide readers advice as to how to be an activist faculty member, as I had hoped she would.

While the book provides many important insights, it lacks cohesion. Readers would benefit from either an introductory chapter, or preferably, a conclusion that tied the book together and provided insight as to implications and future initiatives. As is, the book provides the reader with a lot of knowledge about the problems on campus, but leaves one guessing as to what anyone─ whether, student, faculty, staff member, or administrator─ can do to promote change. I was particularly disappointed given the editing author’s fascinating personal education history as described in the preface in addition to his own expertise and record of teaching excellence in these areas. Moore’s valuable insights could have catapulted this book from thought-provoking to essential. Ultimately, I was left asking, “Where do we go from here?” while I had hoped that the book would provide at least one chapter detailing positive examples of improving campus climate and diversity to help me answer this question.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: March 06, 2007
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 13768, Date Accessed: 1/28/2022 12:04:59 PM

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About the Author
  • Melissa Weiner
    Quinnipiac University
    E-mail Author
    MELISSA F. WEINER is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT. Her dissertation was a historical exploration of Jewish and African American efforts to equalize resources and incorporate multicultural curriculum in New York Cityís public schools in the early and mid-20th century. Her current research addresses contemporary and historical efforts to include multicultural curriculum in the public schools, contemporary protest against local schools, studentsí perceptions of hip hop music, and the role of race in social movements. Her most recent publications include articles in Social Problems and Contemporary Sociology and entries in the Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity and Society.
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