Academic journal article Journal of Thought

African American Faculty and Student-Oriented Challenges: Transforming the Student Culture in Higher Education from Multiple Perspectives

Academic journal article Journal of Thought

African American Faculty and Student-Oriented Challenges: Transforming the Student Culture in Higher Education from Multiple Perspectives

Article excerpt

Introduction

Higher education is charged with the dual mission of promoting the development of innate human potential and of ensuring the evolution of civilization (Hall & Rowan, 2000). It provides a conduit for diminishing social divisions among individuals and groups, and yet, it has not successfully forged bridges within its own context in relation to race. Historical and current cultural and social dynamics must be understood in order to recognize the challenges experienced by African American faculty members (Allen, Epps, Guillory, Suh, & Bonous-Hammarth, 2000; Epps, 1989). Higher education emerges from the social milieu, and thus, the experiences of various racial groups within academia reflect the status and power of these groups within the larger social structure (Allen et al.; Epps, 1989; Marcus et al., 2003). Contemporary literature suggests that African American faculty members are influenced by racial inequalities within academia (Astin, Antonio, Cress, & Astin, 1997; Nettles & Perna, 1995; Tack & Patitu, 1992). Creating strategies for transforming higher education would be ineffective if the role of discrimination and racial inequities and how these emerge within domains of higher education are not considered or are only considered in a cursory manner.

Discrimination in academia is subtle and difficult to identify in a clear and concise manner (Menges & Exum, 1983). Societal perceptions of race pervade the system of higher education and influence administrators, faculty members, staff, and students. Within the United States, race is a social construction that encompasses sociopolitical factors which work to devalue specific groups of people (Robinson, 2005). Race and its corresponding social perceptions is correlated with huge variations in occupational choice, income, education, access to health care and other resources, and longevity (Anderson, 2003). The social ramifications of race transcend contexts and situations. In academia, it manifests in a variety of ways including, but not limited to, teaching evaluations, promotion and tenure procedures, recruitment and retention policies, and work climate (Bradley & Holcomb-McCoy, 2004; Collins, 1990; Collison, 1999; Cornelius, 1997; Perna, 2001; Tillman, 2001; Toutkoushian, 1998). Across the last three decades, the challenges encountered by African American faculty members have been documented in the literature. Although there has been progress in the domain of recruitment, there continues to be difficulties connected to creating an optimal environment in which faculty can thrive and flourish as academicians (Allen et al., 2000; Marcus et al., 2003; Turner, Myers, & Creswell, 1999).

One of these difficulties encompasses the intentional and unintentional challenges posed by the student culture. There is a dearth of literature that clearly articulates how student culture influences the experiences of African American faculty members. Despite efforts on college campuses to increase representation of African-American faculty members and students and to promote an environment of diversity consciousness, many campuses continue to experience cultural encapsulation (Bucher, 2004). Diversity consciousness refers to "understanding, awareness, and skills in the area of diversity" (Bucher, p. 22). Establishing a learning community revolving around diversity consciousness is a dynamic process that requires ongoing commitment to openness, learning, and evolution. African American faculty members and all the individuals involved in higher education have the potential to promote such a learning environment.

This article overviews the race-related challenges experienced by African American faculty members in higher education and articulates how the student culture compounds the difficulties present in academia. Understanding and recognizing these dynamics is the necessary foundation on which to build strategies for promoting diversity consciousness in the student culture. …

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