Confronting Diversity Issues on Campus


Benjamin P. Bowser, Gale S. Auletta & Terry Jones

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  • Survival Skills for Scholars

    Managing Editor: Mitchell Allen

    Survival Skills for Scholars provides you, the professor or advanced graduate student working in a college or university setting, with practical suggestions for making the most of your academic career. These brief, readable guides will help you with skills that you are required to master as a college professor but may have never been taught in graduate school. Using hands-on, jargon-free advice and examples, forms, lists, and suggestions for additional resources, experts on different aspects of academic life give invaluable tips on managing the day-to-day tasks of academia—effectively and efficiently.

    Volumes in This Series

    • Improving Your Classroom Teaching

      by Maryellen Weimer

    • How to Work With the Media

      by James Alan Fox & Jack Levin

    • Developing a Consulting Practice

      by Robert O. Metzger

    • Tips for Improving Testing and Grading

      by John C. Ory & Katherine E. Ryan

    • Coping With Faculty Stress

      by Walter H. Gmelch

    • Confronting Diversity Issues on Campus

      by Benjamin P. Bowser, Gale S. Auletta, & Terry Jones

    • Effective Committee Service

      by Neil J. Smelser

    • Getting Tenure

      by Marcia Lynn Whicker, Jennie Jacobs Kronenfeld, & Ruth Ann Strickland

    • Improving Writing Skills: Memos, Letters, Reports, and Proposals

      by Arthur Asa Berger

    • Getting Your Book Published

      by Christine S. Smedley, Mitchell Allen & Associates

    • Successful Publishing in Scholarly Journals

      by Bruce A. Thyer

    • Teaching in the Multicultural Classroom

      by Helen R. Roberts & Associates

    • Planning a Successful Conference

      by Cynthia Winter

    • Dealing With Ethical Dilemmas on Campus

      by Marcia Lynn Whicker & Jennie Jacobs Kronenfeld


    View Copyright Page


    This book is dedicated to all the faculty, students, staff members, and administrators of all points of view who have over the years shared with us their stories, hopes, fears, frustrations, rages, mistakes, and successes. Thank you for being in the struggle. You inspire and motivate us.


    When our editor, Mitch Allen, first asked us to write what we interpreted to be a book on “Everything you wanted to know about diversity, but were afraid to ask” in 100 pages or fewer, we laughed. It could not be done, even if it came in the mail wrapped in a brown paper bag. It would simplify complex issues that are already being maligned as insignificant, nonacademic, propagandistic, and trendy. We have each devoted 20 years or more to studying, teaching, and writing on these issues. How could we do the topic justice in 100 pages?

    Well, thanks to Mitch Allen's persuasive ability, our joy in working with one another, and the fact that we are daredevils at heart, we accepted this challenge.

    We accepted because we are saddened, angered, and frustrated by what we see and hear as the growing racial divide in higher education. We hear our well-meaning European-American faculty colleagues in many institutions all across the country ignore or downplay the importance of the racial experiences of faculty members and students of color. We feel their nervousness and discomfort when they talk about race relations. We are embarrassed for them when their guilt and ignorance means they made “bad affirmative action hires.” We know they care. Yet we also hurt when the students and faculty of color tell us: “That professor singles me out because I'm African-American;” “That professor is not calling on me because he thinks that because I am Vietnamese that he won't be able to understand me;” or “Here I go again—the only professor of color in the department. I wonder if I am the token?”

    We empathize with and are enraged by faculty members who do not acknowledge the existence of the racial divide. To ignore, argue, or rationalize away the racial and gender differences breeds a hostility and withdrawal so intense that it is difficult for any student learning to occur or for any faculty of color to feel loyalty for our colleges. Yet many faculty members fear that to confront the differences will unleash and ignite the rage and frustrations and increase the racial divide.

    We believe that being aware of the racial divide and of the vast differences between us creates the space for the shared meanings and connections to evolve. Because we believe in this paradox so strongly, we accepted Mitch's challenge, given that we could expose the wounds of diversity. This handbook spotlights the ways in which our academic culture and we, as academics, contribute daily to the racial wounds that divide. We also offer “doable” strategies that can promote a more healing and inclusive institution.

    To undertake a book about diversity and teaching strategies in higher education is to move out of the safe harbor of tradition and over the deep, uncharted waters where the wind roars and the billows roll. However, in these uncharted waters there are opportunities to explore and new energies to harness and utilize.

    The Authors: Who are We?

    Yes, we participated in the conflicts of the 1960s. And yes, we are card-carrying activists. We were among the influx of “new students”—that is, African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinos and Latinas, Asian-Americans, and women of all ethnicities. We confronted the power structure and demanded change. We questioned what was being taught, who was doing the teaching, and how they were teaching. Along with thousands of students across the country, we asked the questions that focused attention on the traditions of higher education and its basic underpinnings. These challenges and questions have not destroyed higher education. To the contrary, we believe that they have both worked to elevate standards and move it in the direction of greater inclusiveness.

    We are now tenured and successful—and some say radical—professors who are passionately loyal to the institution of higher education and want it to be more inclusive. We are two African-American males and one European-American female who, despite our academic standings, have experienced the pain and punishment of oppression in our lives.

    We are teachers. Benjamin Bowser, a sociologist, teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in research methods and the sociology of minority groups. Terry Jones, also a sociologist as well as a social worker, teaches the sociology of minority groups and African-American family courses. Gale Auletta, a communications professor, teaches courses in intercultural and interpersonal communication.

    Among us we have more than 60 years of experience studying, writing, doing research, consulting, leading workshops, administering departments and programs and getting grants, observing, interviewing, traveling, and devoting most of our time thinking about how racial and cultural relations could be improved in the United States. Although we have long professional resumes and have published, what is more important for this book, we believe, is our years of personal experience living with what we study. We have made our mistakes and have had our successes; along the way we have angered and agitated more than a few and have been honestly challenged by many. We feel great empathy for all who care enough to make mistakes, learn, change, and go on to make new mistakes and learn and change again.

    We may write some things that will make you uncomfortable, even angry. That is the nature of the topic. What we do hope to do is engage you to think and try to implement some of our ideas. If we are really successful, you will experiment with and write about other ways of knowing and behaving in the multicultural university.

    We Have an Attitude

    We believe that in a race-conscious society, race, racism, and other ways to oppress people of color take primacy in framing discussions about diversity and the multicultural perspective. People of color, especially Native Americans, African-Americans, Latinos and Latinas, and Asian-Americans have been peculiarly abused in this society. Not paying particular homage to this fact reduces the multicultural analysis to little more than a guided tour: “Here is what the Indians do on Christmas day. Now let's take a look at the Chinese—and oh, aren't those Japanese good with mathematics. Tell us what we need to know about the Cambodians.” That is not what we have to offer here.

    Racism is three things: (a) a cultural presumption in one race's superiority and another's inferiority; (b) institutional practices that reinforce and fulfill the cultural presumption; and (c) individual beliefs in the racist cultural presumption and institutional practices. Moreover, we believe that racism as it is practiced in the United States is primarily the responsibility of European-Americans to solve. Our experience has taught us that even though African-Americans, Latinos and Latinas, Native Americans, and Asian-Americans may have the ability to practice individual racism, they rarely have the power or position to engage in institutionalized racism or to change the culture.

    We urge you not to be turned off by the word racism. We know that racism is an action word: It incites. It tenses up an otherwise peaceful situation; it immobilizes some and emboldens others. That is why understanding racism and its pervasiveness are major themes in this book. We live in a society that wants to both exploit and deny the pervasiveness of racism, so to not address racism would be a disservice to you and the issue. Yet before you decide that this is just another diatribe on racism, we urge you to read a little further because what we hope to do is to model for you ways to discuss racism in mixed company.

    Discussions on diversity have thus far tended to blend and push to the background the institutional and structural issues that create exclusion based on race, gender, or physical ability. We are concerned that our colleagues all across the country appear to feel freer and more willing to discuss diversity and multicultural education if racism is omitted from the topic. Moreover, we believe if we can confront racism in diversity the other hurdles will be much lower.

    So, our focus is on race and cultural differences in the academy and the differences they make. We know that gender, class, physical abilities, and sexual orientation differences also matter tremendously, but we will not focus on these other issues. We believe that the themes we present (not the particulars) also apply to these other forms of exclusion.

    This book looks at how people interact with one another in interracial and unequal power relationships. We spotlight the internal racial conflicts that people carry with them to the learning place that either enhance or detract from the educational process. For example, does an African-American student feel that she is “selling out” by attending a “white” university? Do feelings of mistrust that a Mexican-American student has for European-Americans create such anxiety that it is difficult to concentrate on studies? What happens when the European-American male professor's beliefs in the universality of the Eurocentric perspective make him anxious and hostile when Asian students complain that there is no mention of China in a world history course? There is a special burden that accompanies people when they invade traditionally all European-American institutions. The invaders are seen by some as tokens, sometimes as affirmative action hires, and sometimes even as threats to the academic integrity of the institution. They are seen by others as the proverbial missing link to quality higher education. We try to personalize the impact that our cultural burdens and baggage have on others: the confusion, anger, misunderstandings, frustration, and withdrawal.

    In addition, we believe that we are all in the college context but in different ways—and these different experiences matter. We contend that the policies, curricula, teaching methods, distribution of scarce resources, race and gender of those who hold power, and the history of relationships all influence the type and quality of experience that people from diverse backgrounds have in college. Universities that have virtually all European-American administrators and a mostly European-American male faculty and are all Eurocentric in perspective will see it as normal to have people of color and women as peripheral to the whole. Such institutions are not responding effectively to the future and to the challenge of cultural and racial diversity.

    We know that most faculty members, administrators, and students of all colors are fair-minded good people who want to understand better how to improve their relationships with students of other races and cultures. There are tremendous personal and professional benefits to making such an effort. Ignorance, prejudice, discrimination, and racism are hurtful to the whole of society, not just to people of color and women. Left unchecked, these negative qualities work to create a false sense of superiority in European-Americans and a false sense of inferiority in people of color. As the university student community begins to more accurately reflect the diversity of people in this nation and in the world community, it is imperative that we focus on overcoming those issues that exclude and denigrate.

    The Format of This Book

    We draw from a rich variety of research and theory that is referenced for you at the end of the book. However, this is not intended to be an exhaustive and definitive literature review. It is more of a quick guide, a bag of strategies and suggestions that can be used to engage others in cooperative dialogue and inclusive action. Our objective is to focus on principles, to model opening discussions on a variety of key topics and to arm European-American and faculty members of color alike with some basic instruments for navigating in the multicultural college community. We cannot possibly write about every possible diversity group, but we do provide a paradigm for raising questions that allows the reader to generate the means for pursuing his or her own avenues. We offer you nothing that will make you politically correct. We rely on mini-case studies, sample interactions, and diversity stories to set the stage or to exemplify important points in the chapters. These examples are real. We have personally witnessed or heard firsthand reports from others. Only the names have been changed.

    Although you may not have experienced any of these actual situations, please know that our research and our experiences on campuses all across the country suggest that the true stories we tell are representative. We encourage you to think of the variations that apply to your own circumstances.

    A Word about Labels

    Grouping individuals and placing them under one cultural or ethnic or racial label is dangerous and often false. But it is also sometimes necessary. With that said, how did we choose the labels we used? Carefully, contradictorily, and arbitrarily. While one of the tenets of this book is that how others perceive our physical and color attributes matters, we still wanted to move away from color-coded terms. Black and white are often-heard terms, but brown, red, and yellow are not as common. We felt the need to be consistent and contemporary but, more important, we wanted to move away from such simplistic, culturally void terms. However, when referring to all of the groups in the United States that do not “look like” and are oppressed by the dominant European-Americans, we use the term people of color to emphasize that the United States and its colleges and universities are still stratified by color. In all other cases, we refer to groups by their more precise culture terms as hyphenated Americans: European-, Asian-, African-, Latin, and Native Americans. Our intent here is to represent the multicultured character of the United States more accurately. With the exception of Native Americans and indigenous Latinos and Latinas, we are a nation of people who came from someplace else as immigrants, refugees, or slaves. We are not completely comfortable with using hyphenated American labels. They are also general and ethnocentric. We need terms that more precisely denote our presence in the United States rather than assuming the American continent as our own. We strongly suggest that whenever speaking to a particular cultural group or an individual whose ethnic identity is known to be different from yours, that you ask and refer to that group or individual by whatever ethnic or racial term is preferred by them.

    The Chapters in This Book

    Chapter 1, “The Unwritten Organization,” exposes several unwritten and informal rules that can become traps and pitfalls for the unknowing, especially people of color. “What you see is not what you necessarily get.” There is no place where this saying is truer than in higher education. The rules may say one thing, but the informal culture often says another. The promotion, retention, and tenure documents state that you must publish, but the committee says you must publish in the “right” journals. This chapter views the murky underground of the informal structure of the university through the eyes of faculty members and students of color and offers some suggestions for survival.

    Chapter 2, “What Did You Say You Were? Am I a Racist?” is a straightforward discussion of racial identity and the myths and realities of racism as we know them in the United States. The chapter focuses on commonly held beliefs that many of us hold about race and provides a look at the realities obscured by these myths. This knowledge is absolutely essential to better communications, the resolution of personal and institutional conflict, and growth that is both personal and professional, as you will see in subsequent chapters.

    Chapter 3, “Communication, Communication, Communication!” highlights the importance of our daily communication about diversity. All too often in academia we emphasize the content and harm the relationship between teacher and student or between colleagues. We provide a set of dividers and connectors for understanding how the same content can be stated to support and confirm the relationship or can be phrased in such a way as to estrange the relationship. The dividers contribute to a hostile racial environment, and the connectors demonstrate ways of being more sensitive and inclusive when talking about potentially divisive issues in interracial interactions.

    Chapter 4, “Dealing With Conflict and Diversity in the Academic Community,” unpacks four major and inevitable conflicts that arise when cultures collide in college environments. We tackle four of the biggies: (a) the purpose of education, (b) affirmative action, (c) freedom of speech, and (d) the role of ethnic studies. The concepts developed in the preceding chapters are used to analyze the conflicts. In addition, we suggest possible resolution strategies and their consequences.

    In Chapter 5, “Toward New Racial and Cultural Boundaries in the Academy,” we talk about communities of interest and the necessity of redefining them. How do the many cultural and ethnic groups within the university nurture and support their own concerns while also contributing to a more inclusive definition of the college community? Moreover, we summarize the earlier chapters by way of suggesting “doable” strategies for both individuals and institutions. We provide models of people who have been successful in grounding their personal identities in nonracist soil and have bridged the racial and cultural barriers.

    Now, sit back, relax, and enjoy living the questions and the dilemmas that this little book presents.

    *This book is equally coauthored by all three authors. The order of the names was arbitrarily established.

  • Selected References and Suggested Readings

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    About the Authors

    Benjamin P. Bowser is Associate Professor of Sociology and Social Services at California State University (CSU) at Hayward and a board member of the Center for the Student of Intercultural Relations. He is Associate Editor of Sage Race Relations Abstracts (London), has published, received grants, and consulted in race relations, management, and AIDS prevention. He is a 1992–1993 Field Faculty Fellow of the California Field Poll Institute. He has held administrative positions at Cornell and Stanford universities and directed programs at Santa Clara University and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

    Gale S. Auletta is Professor of Communication and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Intercultural Relations at CSU Hayward. She publishes, receives grants, and consults in the areas of intercultural communication and integrating multicultural perspectives into higher education. She is corecipient of the Woman of the Year Award for contributing to diversity in the CSU, 1988.

    Terry Jones is Professor of Sociology and Social Services, Vice-President of the California Faculty Association, and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Intercultural Relations at CSU Hayward. He publishes, receives grants, and consults in the areas of race and racism, criminal justice, and the sociology of sports. He is the recipient of the Human Rights Award for California Faculty Association, 1991, and was voted Outstanding Professor, 1990.

    In 1985, Gale Auletta and Terry Jones founded the Center for the Study of Intercultural Relations (CSIR). The CSIR staff gathers and conducts research, generates and promotes multicultural curriculum and training models for the classroom and corporations, and conducts workshops and provides consulting services for corporations and nonprofits.

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