Multicultural Teaching: African-American Faculty Classroom Teaching Experiences in Predominantly White Colleges and Universities

Article excerpt

Rationale

As colleges and universities have beguntorestructurehighereducation, agreater emphasis has been placed on teaching and learning. Traditionally, college teaching relied on the professor to disseminate information or to be an expert (Angelo, 1993). The current paradigm shift now encourages the college professor to become a facilitator of knowledge (Bonwell, 1997; Plater, 1995). This model requires faculty to develop positive, cooperative relationships with students. What are those factors that contribute to a positive teacher/learner relationship?

Considerable research has been conducted on effective college teaching(Bonwell & Eison, 1991; Gibbs, 1987; Page,1990; Schomberg, 1986). However, there exists virtually no empirical research that examines how the race of the professor impacts the teaching and learningprocess. This will become an increasingly important issue as colleges an universities strive to become multicultural institutions.

With this heightened interest in higher education multiculturalism, more than likely predominantly white colleges' and universities' student body and faculty will become more diverse. Of course, this is dependent upon the institution's recruitment emphasis and strategies. Many predominately white universities and colleges are placing greater efforts to recruit and retain African-American faculty (Moses, 1991) As a result, students at predominantly white institutions will, more than likely, see more faculty of color in the classroom (Boutte, 1999)

Virtually no literature exists that examines the classroom teaching experiences ofAfrican-American faculty when teaching white students at predominantly white institutions and how this impacts the teaching and learning process.

African-American teaching faculty often talk among themselves about the challenges they face in the classroom with white students. Frequently discussed is the students' lack of respect, their readiness to critique the faculty member's work, and their rating of poor on teacher evaluations; especially written comments and the sending of anonymous letters to department heads and other administrators (McGowan, 1996).

This article will explore classroom teachingchallenges faced byAfrican-American faculty at a predominantly white college in the midwest. The author will present her personal experiences and discuss results from focus groups to make general points about how race as a social construct can be used as the theoretical framework for understanding the behaviors of some white students who have difficulty engaging in the teaching and learning process.

Personal Experiences

My interest in this research area is based on challenges I faced in the classroom while teaching white students in a predominantly white university. Overall, I found that the majority of my students were elated to have an African-American professor. Students often remarked that I was the first African-American professor that they ever had. I observed that during the first two weeks of class, it was difficult to engage some of the students in the teaching and learning process because they appeared to focus their efforts on observing their African-American professor's hairstyle. They would stare at me, and later when they felt more comfortable, theywould ask questions about how I did my hair.

Many times, I was the first AfricanAmerican faculty white students had interacted with in the classroom. My presence in the classroom forced white students to deal with their perceptions, stereotypes, and attitudes toward African Americans. As an award-winning teacher at the university, I was known for my ability to develop positive rapport with students. Students I could not engage in the teaching and learning process were very rare. I began to question why, for some white students, I could not engage them in the teaching and learning process.

But, for afew ofthe students, I observed that after the third or fourth week of class, some of the white students began to challenge the validity of what I would say, question test answers, etc. …