Beyond Retention: Cultivating Spaces of Equity, Justice, and Fairness for Women of Color in U.S. Higher Education
reviewed by Dari Green - April 29, 2017
Title: Beyond Retention: Cultivating Spaces of Equity, Justice, and Fairness for Women of Color in U.S. Higher Education
Author(s): Brenda L. H. Marina & Sabrina N. Ross (Eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1681234157, Pages: 348, Year: 2016
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There are a number of institutions in American society that provide opportunities for upward mobility while simultaneously perpetuating social inequality. Higher education is one of these institutions. In Beyond Retention: Cultivating Spaces of Equity, Justice, and Fairness for Women of Color in U.S. Higher Education, edited by Brenda L. H. Marina and Sabrina N. Ross, the books authors examine the experiences of women of color in predominantly white institutions (PWIs). Many of these women provide narratives that outline their experiences of being simultaneously hyper-visible and invisible on campus. The women included in this volume represent a cross section of women of color at PWIs. Despite differences in occupations, regions, and campuses, these women experience shared commonalities not only through the lens of the intersection of their race and gender, but also in their experienced isolation on PWI campuses.
Using a call and response format, the text is organized around themes related to space, place, and identity to present the stories of these women. This allows readers to understand how these authors have navigated racialized environments. The book is divided into five sections that help better emphasize the overall spaces, places, and identity themes found throughout its pages. It opens with Section One, Surveying the Landscape. JeffriAnne Wilder authors the opening chapter and begins the conversation by presenting an open letter written to her university discussing her experiences on campus as a Black female faculty member. Her chapter, Ripple Effects and Shock Waves: The Impact of a Black Female Faculty Members Open Letter to Her Institution, discusses the lack of diversity on campus. It also engages ways the university and women of color could inform diversity efforts of PWI campuses. In Courageous Actions: A Response to Ripple Effects and Shock Waves, Elena Flores responds by outlining resources that could be used to help increase the number of women of color faculty members at PWIs and improve dialogues on diversity like those presented by Wilder.
Chapter Two, Walking the Tightrope of Academe with No Net, by Michelle D. Smith discusses the toll that the lack of diversity and inclusion takes on women of color in PWIs as they seek tenure and promotion. She provides tools to aid these women along their journey, namely tenacity, courage, balance, and persistent focus. Patricia A. Mitchell responds to this call in Lengthening Your Stride: Finding the Right Balance on the Tightrope by providing her personal testimony of navigating the academic system. She provides ten mistakes of mismanagement that she made along her journey, which she encourages other women to avoid.
In the next section, Locating Safe Spaces, the authors explore how women of color experience marginalization in graduate school. Chapter Three, Id Rather be Harriet: A Counterstory of Two Sister Scholars, by Nadrea R. Njoku and Juhanna N. Rogers highlights the conflicting roles that many women have as spouses, mothers, and students during their graduate school experience. Donyell Roseboro responds to the writing of Njoku and Rogers by trivializing perceived boundaries and proposing more fluid approaches to these areas of life. Roseboro proposes that women of color as graduate students and faculty members may combat these boundaries by engaging in naming themselves and actively participating in creating places to commune with women in similar circumstances.
In the following entry, Preparing to Lead, the authors also focus on their experiences as Black female graduate students. However, this chapter centers on the difference that mentorship can make in their lives. Focusing on the role that graduate school plays in the educational pipeline for women of color, it explains the importance of mentorship in retaining women of color in academia. Tara T. Green responds to this call in I Wish I Knew Then, What I Know Now: How to Build a Communal Pipeline. Her response emphasizes the importance of building networks and communal pipelines that people of color need to be successful in academia.
Section Three, titled Blurring Boundaries and Troubling Intersections, critically assesses the strict limits that are often used to understand race, class, gender, and other areas of life that are often thought of in absolute terms. This section calls into question a number of taken for granted understandings of culture and identity. Yvania Garcia-Pusateri writes Chapter Five, which is titled Soy Latina, Donde Estas Mi Gente? She moves between the Spanish and the English language in a reflexive manner to highlight the blurring of certain boundaries that we consider in life and in academia. Ramona Ortega-Listen responds to Garcia-Pusateri in Mentoring and Encouraging Professional Development for Latinas and Other Women of Color. Ortega-Listen emphasizes how a knowledge of self can help these types of women overcome rigid structures of identity and specifically notes Latina scholars.
Lakeisha Meyer writes Chapter Six, titled Triple Threat: Multiple Identities in the Academy. Similar to several of the other authors in the book, she explores the multiple identity markers that impact the lives of Black female scholars. Meyer goes a step further in her work by expounding on the experiences of women who identify as LGBTQ. As a result, she broadens the conversation to include not only the intersection of race and gender, but also sexuality. In response to the authors call, Nina Asher explains the importance of critically assessing assumptions that we make about identity and praxis to better understand representation, equity, and justice through several written excerpts.
Section Four is titled Geographies of Silence and Voice. It focuses on the need for women of color in academia to understand oppressive silences and their own voices as tools of resistance. In Chapter Seven, Who Speaks for Me? Learning to Resist with Marginalized Statuses in the Academy, Jenelle Pitt writes about the liberation that she encountered after revealing that she was an unwed mother. She had previously been advised to hide this fact by an advisor. In response to this call, Carol Henderson addresses specific injustices that Pitt experiences and exposes the role that departmental networks play in controlling images of women. She continues by sharing her personal experiences as a single mother in academia. The author also adds a number of tools that universities could use to make experiences at PWIs more equitable for women of color and single parents.
Pitt and Henderson use their voices to liberate themselves and other women who may experience similar injustices in contrast to internalizing oppressive actions. In Chapter Eight, Monica Burke investigates intra-racial oppression that she experiences with a Black male mentor. She continues the conversation by exploring important mentoring relationships that she experienced with women who were not people of color. The author speaks of the importance of a mentorship that she built with a white woman and the creation of social capital. Answering this call, Stacey Pearson-Wharton also explains her belief that race matching is not of the utmost importance in mentoring relationships. She also reflects on the many great opportunities that were presented to her by her white mentor.
Section Five, Cultivating Homeplace, focuses on the cultivation of spaces by women of color at PWIs where they feel a sense of comfort and belonging. By providing these types of spaces, these women combat feelings of isolation through engaging with places and people feeling like home. In Chapter Nine, Balancing the Call to Serve, the authors discuss both the rewards and challenges of mentoring a high number of students of color on PWI campuses. They share different techniques they use to avoid burnout and to extend their efforts of growing and retaining the number of students of color in higher education. In Chapter Ten, Mahauganee Dawn Shaw calls for not only the examination of the microaggressions that women of color experience on PWI campuses, but also the activism that they can engage in on their respective campuses to raise awareness. There are no specific responses to the calls made in Chapter Nine and Chapter Ten. Instead, the following chapter, Answer the Call, by editor Marina presents a number of questions and insights that encourage women of color to engage in activism or the creation of home spaces on their campus.
The concluding chapter, Where Do We Go from Here, summarizes the themes that can be found throughout the book. These include the geographic metaphors of PWIs, social justice sites, safe spaces, higher education spaces of equity, addressing feelings of isolation, the significance of mentoring, the role of administration, what women of color can do for themselves, and how to learn from the experiences of women of color faculty members.
The text is successful in allowing readers to understand the roles women of color play in the academic world and what that may look like as the landscape of higher education continues to change. Each chapter examines the exclusion that many women of color experience in higher education as scholars, administrators, and leaders. Beyond Retention is an excellent contribution to scholarship that explores racialized and gendered experiences in the workplace. It also gives sound advice on how to navigate these systems and persist toward tenure or promotion on PWI campuses. I would highly recommend this volume for women of color in academia. This includes graduate students to those who are pursuing tenure-track positions.