Learning to Speak, Learning to Listen

Learning to Speak, Learning to Listen: How Diversity Works on Campus

Susan E. Chase
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Learning to Speak, Learning to Listen
    Book Description:

    Over the past three decades, colleges and universities have committed to encouraging, embracing, and supporting diversity as a core principle of their mission. But how are goals for achieving and maintaining diversity actually met? What is the role of students in this mission? When a university is committed to diversity, what is campus culture like?

    In Learning to Speak, Learning to Listen, Susan E. Chase portrays how undergraduates at a predominantly white urban institution, which she calls "City University" (a pseudonym), learn to speak and listen to each other across social differences. Chase interviewed a wide range of students and conducted content analyses of the student newspaper, student government minutes, curricula, and website to document diversity debates at this university. Amid various controversies, she identifies a defining moment in the campus culture: a protest organized by students of color to highlight the university's failure to live up to its diversity commitments. Some white students dismissed the protest, some were hostile to it, and some fully engaged their peers of color.

    In a book that will be useful to students and educators on campuses undergoing diversity initiatives, Chase finds that both students' willingness to share personal stories about their diverse experiences and collaboration among student organizations, student affairs offices, and academic programs encourage speaking and listening across differences and help incorporate diversity as part of the overall mission of the university.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6031-9
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    At predominantly white City University, forty-five undergraduates of color and a few white allies formed an ad hoc group—and called themselves the Activists.* Fed up with the university’s failure to address racial issues on campus, the Activists focused on several key concerns: the weakness of the curriculum’s cultural diversity requirement; the difficult classroom climate for students of color; the lack of racial diversity among faculty; the student newspaper’s problematic tone and content concerning race; and the student government’s disrespectful treatment of racial matters.

    The Activists’ first and most public action was an unannounced silent rally. Dressed in black, they...

  5. Part I. City University’s Narrative Landscape

    • 1 Diversity at City University
      (pp. 19-31)

      In the United States, most predominantly white colleges and universities paid little attention to matters of race, gender, and sexual orientation until the 1950s and 1960s. That inattention was disrupted by both internal and external pressures: student and faculty involvement in the civil rights, women’s, and gay liberation movements, the passage of federal antidiscrimination laws, and the increase in the number of women and people of color enrolling in higher education.¹

      Now, well into the twenty-first century, “diversity” has become institutionalized in higher education.² This does not mean that colleges and universities have achieved diversity and equity. It means that...

    • 2 Conflicting Discourses
      (pp. 32-56)

      I wrote these field notes during my research at City University in the mid-1990s, but it wasn’t until after my research at CU in the mid-2000s that I found a way to interpret the exchange between Ida Brown and me, an exchange that has stayed with me throughout this project.¹ At that moment my hesitant comment reflected what I had observed that day: the prelunch speaker integrated diversity topics into his talk about the role of universities in developing the life of the mind. The administrator who introduced the speaker mentioned several times the university’s ongoing commitment to diversity. Even...

    • 3 Race in CU’s Narrative Landscape
      (pp. 57-84)

      During my interviews with student groups, I usually asked what “diversity” means at CU. But I didn’t ask that question when I met with two student of color organizations—the Black Collegians and the Southeast Asian Association. Later, as I transcribed and analyzed those two interviews, I realized that my not-conscious omission of that question reflects the place of race in CU’s narrative landscape. I didn’t ask students of color what diversity means at CU because I shared a tacit understanding with them that their issues, racial issues, take center stage in CU’s diversity discourse.

      Of course, “race” and “diversity”...

  6. Part II. Students’ Personal Narratives

    • 4 Learning to Speak
      (pp. 87-112)

      At the end of my group interviews with CU students, I asked for volunteers for in-depth individual interviews. During the individual interviews, I asked what they were like in high school and what their interests were then. I asked how they ended up at CU, what their transition to college was like, other transitions they’ve gone through during their college career, and what their most positive learning experiences have been. As they recounted their college experiences, nearly all of the students discussed diversity issues at length.¹

      When I asked what the transition was like during the first weeks and months...

    • 5 Learning to Listen
      (pp. 113-136)

      During the individual interviews, as CU students told me about transitions they have gone through and what they are learning at college, some of them brought “the voice of the other” into their narratives. “The voice of the other” means the perspectives of people who differ from the narrator in terms of identities, life experiences, and social locations—especially as those are shaped by race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, and ability.

      Some students narrated the influence of the other’s voice in a general sense. Here, for example, is Mason, a white student, talking about his first seminar on leadership,...

  7. Part III. Students’ Protest and Response

    • 6 Creating a Voice of Protest
      (pp. 139-166)

      Now I return to the Activists’ story, part of which I told in the introduction. The Activists were an ad hoc group of about forty-five students of color and a few white students who came together to protest what they perceived as the university’s failure to live up to its diversity commitments, especially concerning race.

      The Activists formed in the context of specific events. Two Asian American students had attempted to complain to Professor Thomas about what they saw as his unsatisfactory treatment of race in one of his courses. According to the students, he refused to meet with them....

    • 7 Walking on Eggshells (And Other Responses)
      (pp. 167-196)

      White students’ accounts about the Activists’ protest ranged from dismissive to hostile to engaged. In this chapter I explore an example of each, drawing from three group interviews with CU students. The first group—students who live together in a residence hall—included some who were only vaguely aware of the Activists’ actions and who dismissed the protest as something they didn’t need to attend to. The second group—members of a student organization called the Conservative Students—was quite knowledgeable about the Activists’ actions but expressed hostility toward them. The third group—student journalists—recounted their direct engagement with...

    • 8 Doing the Work of Allies
      (pp. 197-222)

      Five years before my study, the white students who attended the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE) as part of CU’s NCORE group returned to campus with a desire to cultivate a deeper understanding of white privilege. They created an informal group called White Students Resisting Racism (WSRR). WSRR’s founders published a letter in the student newspaper inviting other white students to join them in learning about race at personal, organizational, and societal levels. Since the founding of WSRR, a group of eight to ten students have met regularly to study race and racism, reflect on their racial identities,...

  8. Reflections
    (pp. 223-236)

    What can we take from my narrative inquiry into CU students’ engagement with diversity? What practical insights does my study offer? Because structural factors affect narrative realities, my reflections in this final chapter are most relevant for small to midsize, private, predominantly white colleges and universities. For example, institutions with more racially balanced student bodies are likely to have different racial dynamics than those at CU. And larger universities may include multiple communities that are unaware of and unaffected by each others’ activities. Nonetheless, I hope that my reflections will interest all students and educators who care about how diversity...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 237-242)

    Three years after the Activists’ protest, I returned to CU for a brief follow-up study. Most of the students I had met in the mid-2000s had graduated, but I showed the Activists’ official document to faculty, staff, and administrators who had been on campus three years earlier and asked them whether any of the Activists’ demands had been met. Some people were more positive and some more negative in their assessments, but there was general consensus about how the university was moving forward and where it was stalled in its diversity commitments.

    One step forward was turnover in the administration....

  10. Appendixes

    • APPENDIX A Note to People at CU
      (pp. 243-243)
    • APPENDIX B Methodological Issues
      (pp. 244-246)
    • APPENDIX C Interviewees and Interview Guides
      (pp. 247-254)
    • APPENDIX D Detailed Tables and Methods of Content Analysis
      (pp. 255-260)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 261-274)
  12. Selected References
    (pp. 275-280)
  13. Index
    (pp. 281-292)