faculty of color
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Higher education is a by-the-book, highly structured reality. From syllabus design (written for students as well as for administrators) to navigating the tenure track process; from classroom lesson planning to student assessments; as well as the preconceived even contrived ways articles and books are selected for publication – those of us ...
Christian Practical Wisdom: What It Is, Why It Matters
Date Reviewed: May 29, 2017
As a womanist biblical scholar working in the context of a theological institution, Christian Practical Wisdom: What It Is, Why It Matters helps me understand my role as a theological educator. Authored by Dorothy Bass, Kathleen A. Cahalan, Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, James Nieman, and Christian B. Scharen, this volume takes seriously the concept of Christian practical wisdom (the ability to “render a proper assessment of a situation and to act rightly as a result”) (4). Theological educators are called to instill this virtue within students.
Divided into three parts, the largest sections (Part One and Part Two) loosely interrogate embodied knowing with interdisciplinary conversations. Part Three serves as an invitation to collaboration and experimentation and expresses gratitude for the gift of collaboration that the authors experienced while working on this project. Indeed, collaborative work is rare within the academy of religious scholarship and makes me wonder what theological schools would look like if faculty from across disciplines gathered together to collaborate in their own contextual spaces.
Here are brief highlights of a few essays. In “How Bodies Shape Knowledge,” Miller-McLemore engages the modern biases that separate bodily practices from our modern practices of worship. Thinking across denominational differences, Miller-McLemore ponders a theology of sensory movement that, while seemingly easy for children, becomes more difficult as we age. Realizing that we have a long history of “damning the body and its temptations” (29), Miller-McLemore uses the apt metaphor of “spooning” within the marital context to illustrate “everyday body wisdom” (30). Spooning serves as part of a discussion around how a body knows, enacts, and evokes love even in a state of unconscious sleep. As bodies lead, oftentimes thoughts follow. Miller-McLemore argues that the wisdom of God is bodily wisdom gained through everyday reminders of death and love together. Since sleep is like death as it mirrors the body’s vulnerability, the act of spooning while sleeping serves as a reminder of the love within the context of death. Miller-McLemore argues that there is disconnect between the spooning that we experience in relationship with God and how we traditionally teach within a theological context.
I found two essays particularly edifying as a woman and a scholar of color. First, Scharen’s essay entitled “The Loss and Recovery of Practical Wisdom in the Modern West” evidences the need for a kind of knowing that is both concrete and universal, timely and timeless, practical and abstract (174). To highlight his point, Scharen engages the feminist history of the Bohemian Princess Elisabeth of the Palatinate and her letters to French philosopher Rene Descartes. Even though the mind-body dualistic legacy of Descartes ruled for a time in Western philosophy, Elisabeth’s recovered feminine voice rightly pushed Descartes to discuss his maxims for public life instead of relating his pontifications only to himself (160). For Elisabeth, practical wisdom had to relate to the practical ethics of public life and duty. Attention to the feminist revisionist history and philosophical debates behind these letters allows Scharen to converse with contemporary theologians such as Fergus Kerr and Sarah Coakley and the “taken-for-granted notions we live by” (166).
In the essay “Biblical Imagination as a Dimension of Christian Practical Wisdom,” Bass rightly argues for the concept of biblical imagination as “a knowledge of, which cannot be had without life-shaping embodied participation” (236). As a womanist biblical scholar within a theological context, I am constantly advising students to embrace the “both/and” nature of academic biblical scholarship in combination with their embodied participation with the biblical text. Indeed, we need both.
While I thoroughly enjoyed reading and pondering deeply the issue of Christian practical wisdom, please allow one critique. I wonder how the conversation and collaboration would have changed if there were a visibly identified religious scholar of color working on the volume. While each of the scholars involved are esteemed in their own right, I am left wondering how Christian practical wisdom looks different from other perspective such as, but not limited to, global South, African American, Latino/a, or Asian Christian perspectives. Nonetheless, I enjoyed reviewing such an important volume.
Beginning a Career in Academia: A Guide for Graduate Students of Color
Date Reviewed: September 18, 2016
Touting itself as “the first scholarly volume to exclusively mentor graduate students of color” (x), this collection of essays offers invaluable insights for navigating the academic job market and working as junior faculty.
This volume is divided into three sections. The six chapters comprising the first division, “Practical Advice for Finding Success in the Academic Job Market,” provide concrete examples of how to deal with various aspects of the job application process. For instance, Michelle Camacho outlines steps from submitting a CV to negotiating terms of hire. Her sample messages illustrate proper email etiquette.
The second part of the book, “Identity, Fit, Collegiality, and Secrets for Thriving in the Ivory Tower,” includes four chapters of advice for avoiding career derailments commonly faced by tenure-track faculty of color. Various professors share their experiences of both hardship and success. Nayeli Chavez-Dueñas and Hector Adames challenge the reader, via “ten reflective questions,” to introspect concerning motivations and commitment to a career in academia (124). Furthermore, their tables “Skills Required for Entry-Level Academic Positions and Alternatives to Strengthen Application” and “Seven Psychological Strengths of People of Color” (132-133) can be referenced daily, for goal setting and encouragement. Every academician would be wise to avoid the pitfalls Elwood Watson highlights in his essay “Fifteen Missteps That Can Derail Faculty Early in a Career.”
The final five chapters make up the segment entitled “Work-Life Balance: Strategies for Transitioning From Graduate School to the Classroom.” It addresses decisions that scholars of color should make early in their careers to effect sustainable work-life balance. The articles urge both students and faculty to develop healthful ways of being.
A few additions to the volume would enhance what is already a strong collection of essays. An article on the role of social media in the hiring and tenure process for scholars of color would be a welcome expansion. While Watson warns of the dangers of inappropriate social media posts (113), graduate students are also grappling with how to use social media to enhance career prospects. Similarly, a full chapter on crafting and presenting a conference paper would be an elucidating follow-up to Nadine Finigan-Carr and Natasha Brown’s insightful chapter “Navigating Professional Conferences.” Finally, while Tom Otieno’s essay “Transitioning Strategies from Graduate School to Early Career Faculty” explicates different types of academic institutions (74), an expanded orientation to the field would also be beneficial. This could include more explanation of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s classification system (74) and definitions or etymologies of terms such as “research I universities” (9).
This volume is a great resource for new initiates to the academic job market and workplace, as well as for those who already have some familiarity or experience. The short, engaging essays, which can be read in any order, invite scholars to revisit this guide often for help to land a new job or maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Black Faculty in the Academy: Narratives for Negotiating Identity and Achieving Career Success
Date Reviewed: July 15, 2015
The editors and selected contributors provide cogent insights on navigating academic environments as faculty of color. Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a conceptual and methodological lens to identify issues of racial incongruity (1). The strength of this volume of 13 chapters is the use of first-person Scholarly Personal Narratives (SPN) by contributing black scholars to analyze particular experiences and modes for survival, if not reform in educational institutions (3). In the introduction, editors Truitt and Bonner review the evolution of CRT to conceptualize “core thematic trends” (4) that collectively structure the narrative content and divide the volume into three parts.
Part 1 is titled “Black Faculty: Navigating Daily Encounters with Racism.” Chapters 2 through 5 are narratives on interpersonal experiences in institutional climates. In chapter 2, Giles details CRT to analyze presumptive behaviors encountered since his formative years to his current professorial appointment. Moore focuses on racial microaggressions in chapter 3 (24) to note environmental similarities of his upbringing in a predominately white community and his exposure to social systems in the work environment at a predominately white academy. Lewis co-authors chapter 4 to highlight “insider-outsider experiences” (33) as a British black man, while Helm highlights her duality in America as black female navigating racialized gender stereotypes that undermine professional credibility (35). In chapter 5, Shavers, Butler, and Moore cite “cultural taxation” (42), a phenomena of commodification risks for underrepresented black faculty confounded by excessive service project requirements as token institutional representatives.
In Part II, “Black Faculty, Meaning Making through Interdisciplinary and Intersectional Approaches,” chapters 6 through 9 offer multidisciplinary intersectional approaches to recognize formal institutional rules and navigate informal expectations. Five contributors to chapter 6 – marbley, Rouson, Li, Huang, and Taylor – use a multiple theoretical lens to assess microaggression in performance-compliance to diversity expectations, parity of scholarship praxis, and tenure requirements. Croom and Patton overlay “critical race feminism” (66) onto CRT analysis in chapter 7 to identify dynamics that black female academicians encounter from black and white colleagues. Similarly, in chapter 8, Andrews details institutional macroaggressions and interpersonal microaggressions (80) that hinder female scholars’ inclusion in tenure-track aspirations unless support of professional identity and authenticity is cultivated. Stewart shares nuanced sexuality challenges in chapter 9 as an “outsider-within” (95) where her triadic identities, black, female, and queer are stereotyped tropes for discrimination and invisibility in the academy.
Finally, Part III, “Back Faculty, Finding Strength through Critical Mentoring of Relationships” includes that focus on mentor relationships as supportive modes of self-reflection and networking. In chapter 10, Flowers relays a critical need for candid self-reflection with trusted allies as mentors outside institutions if not found within. Smith asserts in chapter 11 that tenure does not guarantee collegial inclusion, respect, or appointment to leading roles; still, attentiveness to self-esteem, persona perceptions, and cultivating allied mentors helps to build critical social capital (117). Finally, chapters 12 and 13 focus on developing mentor relationships with students as Bonner recalls mentor influences as a student that inform his thematic roles as a faculty mentor to students (123). In the final chapter, Tomlinson-Clarke also urges faculty-student relationship with relational mentoring lessons as a graduate student in a historically black college (HBCU) and as a doctoral student in a predominately white university (PWI).
In summary, Black Faculty in the Academy is not a prescriptive behavioral guide of dos and don’ts; rather, the diverse analyses of lived experiences with recommendations provide avenues for readers to construct reflective assessment of present individualized situations. As an African American professor, I resonated with the narratives as discernment tools for success. The book also provides a starting point for collective institutional discourse; however, in my opinion, the volume would benefit from a section of narratives by non-black faculty who acknowledge critical race theory issues that require discourse in institutional settings where non-black colleagues might otherwise be defensive to the critique of the book’s black contributors. Nevertheless, for new faculty of color as the likely primary readers, this volume offers powerful insights of CRT to raise awareness and encourage development of contextual navigation strategies.
Faculty Identities and the Challenge of Diversity: Reflections on Teaching in Higher Education
Date Reviewed: February 19, 2015
This book is dedicated to a full-orbed challenge to discrimination – and promotion of multiculturalism – in higher education, from the classroom to “changes in the cultures, structures, and policies of the institution” (194). It will benefit faculty and administrators seeking to better understand, promote, and implement solutions regarding various diversities in university contexts. While Christian educators may question certain philosophical and religious presuppositions being advocated, many descriptive, reflective, and practical insights can be critically embraced for pedagogy and classroom, course development, broader curricular intentions, and governing cultures and mechanisms.
Perhaps centrally beneficial to faculty are the narratives of diverse women and men faculty – white and of color, representing both natural science and social science disciplines – responding to a face-to-face interview protocol of open-ended and broad questions: queries seeking responses to eight topical areas primarily focused on teaching and diversity, race and gendered experiences, general diversity issues in higher education, and agential roles in supporting or bringing change involving diversity and multiculturalism (26-28).
This work’s broad purpose is to explore how university faculty members of various races, ethnicities, and genders – awarded for undergraduate teaching effectiveness in diverse classroom environments – engage demands and expectations from students, from higher education as a social institution, and from themselves, in racially and ethnically diverse classrooms: especially toward improving the teaching-learning process (viii-ix).
The book comprises four parts: background and context, difference and diversity in classroom interactions, identity role examination, and larger contexts and change. Each part contains three chapters. References are extensive and effectively utilized and the index is well-designed.
The opening chapter argues that white male dominance in university settings significantly affects white women and faculty of color, as well as students, especially of non-majority groups. Negatively, this includes exclusion and discrimination via traditions that focus on individualistic value orientation and norms that “diminish the importance of teamwork and skills in interactions among the faculty,” leading to a sense of isolation and lack of community (3). In the classroom the individual achievement emphasis, combined with presumed universalistic norms related to tests or criteria as indicators of merit, entail pedagogical approaches that minimize students’ cultural and socioeconomic identities, backgrounds, and relationships, undermining collaborative learning. Nevertheless, all faculty are responsible for personal and organizational change, whether white faculty especially using their authority to adopt practices that challenge the commonplace habitus, or underrepresented faculty utilizing the margin for building communities of marginalized faculty and links to communities and groups outside academia (19).
Chapter 2 outlines the project/study design and purpose, “to explore the ways in which faculty members’ social identities impact their experience in the university, especially but not solely in the classroom” (21), while Chapter 3 describes and elaborates “five major constitutive elements of conflict in the educational setting” – the instructor, the student, the pedagogical approach, the classroom space, and the course material – that help readers decipher “how varied forms of conflict emerge given the different ways in which these elements converge” (39). Each element is expounded in later chapters.
It seems appropriate to conclude this review with a primary thesis of the book: “ultimately, whatever the causes of perceived challenges to authority and expertise, the key pedagogical dilemma for faculty is to work at ensuring and preserving the authority that has a place in relationships with students while also maintaining an inquiring, empowering, and vibrant educational climate” (63).