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Campus Women Lead

Fall 2010

Volume 39
Number 2

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From Diplomas to Doctorates

From Diplomas to Doctorates: The Success of Black Women in Higher Education and Its Implications for Equal Educational Opportunities for All, edited by V. Barbara Bush, Crystal Renée Chambers, and MaryBeth Walpole (Stylus Publishing 2009, $24.95 paperback)

This new collection of essays explores the educational experiences of black women as they navigate the pipeline from high school through doctoral education. In their introduction, the editors note that while black women’s participation in higher education has increased significantly over the past several decades, much work remains to improve the campus climate so these students can fully participate in and contribute to the higher education enterprise. With that observation in mind, the editors set out to illuminate the experiences that oppress and sustain black women as they pursue their degrees. Their hope is to “present a research perspective that promotes strengthening the academic pipeline, not only to help those who may have felt disenfranchised in the past, but also to promote more globally defined collective self-interests” (2–3).

While interdisciplinary in focus, the volume draws heavily from social science approaches, with multiple studies based on interviews of women at various points in the pipeline. The resulting findings are not, as a rule, often expressed in quantitative terms (although statistics are sprinkled throughout the volume). But they nonetheless succeed in giving voice to the individuals whose multidimensional experiences constitute black women’s success. The collection is thus particularly effective in illustrating the lived experiences that contribute to or undermine that success, and it illuminates where changes in higher education’s culture might be beneficial.

Interdisciplinarity and Social Justice

Interdisciplinarity and Social Justice: Revisioning Academic Accountability, edited by Joe Parker, Ranu Samantrai, and Mary Romero (State University of New York Press 2010, $24.95 paperback)

Many interdisciplinary fields—including women’s studies, ethnic studies, and cultural studies—have long embraced social justice goals. With this new collection of essays, editors Parker, Samantrai, and Romero set out to interrogate those connections. Breaking selections into three categories—“Critiques of Disciplinarity,” “Critiques of Interdisciplinary Fields,” and “Interdisciplinary Claims to Social Justice”—the editors map a multilayered investigation of the interplay between disciplines, social justice, and the bridging promise of interdisciplinary studies. But as implied by the third section’s ambivalent title, the volume draws few clear conclusions—a result that seems wholly appropriate to its mercurial subject.

Despite this indeterminacy, the collection accomplishes several significant things. By focusing its critique on the recent proliferation of interdisciplinary work, and by questioning assumptions about academic inquiry and activist utility, it challenges readers to seek (if not ultimately find) ways to reconcile pedagogy and praxis. As Lisa Lowe hints in her essay on the “metaphors of globalization,” these quests are particularly important in a world whose future is unseen and uncertain. And as Ranu Samantrai concludes in the Afterword, if the “tension” “between activism and scholarship” is “irreconcilable,” that may be for the best: Samantrai suggests that research and activism might finally pursue shared goals “by keeping a suspicious eye on each other” (360). As a manifestation of such a “suspicious eye,” this volume is worth consideration.

Feminist Activism in Academia

Feminist Activism in Academia: Essays on Personal, Political and Professional Change, edited by Ellen C. Mayock and Domnica Radulescu (McFarland and Company 2010, $55 paperback)

The essays in this collection explore the tensions between feminist commitments and the institutional spaces that both support and confine them. What does it mean for a feminist educator to work in an institution whose values may directly conflict with her own? How can feminist educators confront and subvert the cultural norms that often devalue their contributions yet also confer their status as scholars? Should a commitment to encouraging students to consider multiple perspectives require educators to entertain views they find abhorrent? Drawing heavily from the writing of radical feminist educators working in politically conservative contexts, the anthology addresses these questions and others while exploring the sources of dissatisfaction that affect many feminists in the academy.

The volume is a powerful testament to how chilly the climate in higher education remains for feminist educators, at least in some institutions. It provides a space for authors to voice frustrations that they may necessarily silence in other contexts, and their reflections on the topics at hand are theoretically informed and solidly constructed. But reader, be warned: the editors’ beliefs about certain topics are clear from their selection of essays, and readers hoping to encounter a balanced debate of feminism and reproductive rights, for example, should look elsewhere. Feminist educators frustrated with conflicts between their personal values and the values of the institutions in which they work will, however, find this collection a refreshing and righteous read.

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