Book Reviews

Book by Joseph E. Garcia and Karen J. Hoelscher
Review by Jenny Lewis
Academic Advising Center
University of Iowa

As conversations about diversity take place more and more frequently on campuses across America, the need for advisors to develop institutionally aware, diversity-friendly environments in which to promote student success has never been greater. Managing Diversity Flashpoints in Higher Education by Joseph E. Garcia and Karen J. Hoelscher, provides a framework upon which advisors and other faculty or administrators can build as we interact with students who may encounter identity-based challenges in higher education. Much of the text focuses on the theoretical underpinnings of the authors’ claims – how and why we came to find ourselves in need of a particular set of tools to better facilitate student support in a compositionally shifting academy – but a few chapters at the end also provide concrete advice, well-told case studies and vignettes, and templates for workshop exercises that outline an entire hypothetical training session, all of which may be of high practical value to advisors.

Garcia and Hoelscher define a “diversity flashpoint” as a “potentially explosive interpersonal situation between faculty and students that arises out of identity differences” (p. 56). Their ultimate goal is to help college and university administrators and faculty learn to manage such incidents; to this end, the first several chapters seek to help readers engage with the main components of that definition by illuminating the nature of potentially explosive situations and picking out barriers to understanding identity difference.
Chapters 2-5, which cover everything from trends in diversity to characteristics of a diversity-friendly atmosphere, make the broadest claims. Some of the information in these chapters seems either inconsistently thorough, as when the authors detour into communication and knowledge acquisition theory in chapters 4 and 5 (and though these subjects certainly weigh on the design of the final tools, perhaps not every advisor will find the explanations here useful in immediate student communication), or surface, as in the case of a page-long definition of “culture” (p.49-50).
When the authors apply the results of their studies, though, the text begins to function as a guide for training staff at the individual institution level. The challenges, we are shown via vivid anecdotes, of making every space on campus a respectful one for all student identities, can be met with a system of response the authors describe as the “4 R’s” (p.56-59). These are the heart of this text:

- Recognizing the Incident, in which some interaction is acknowledged to meet the definition of “diversity flashpoint”
- Reflecting on the Incident, which can be done immediately or later
- Respond to the Incident, in part by soliciting direct or indirect feedback from the parties involved
- Reassess the Action, which may involve follow-up responses

We are given examples of diversity flashpoints, then taken step-by-step through the process of applying the 4 R’s. This “case study” model, if taken as an office-wide exercise, could provide a powerful window into a specific campus climate – as the incident types that students at State U. encounter might be of a totally different tenor than those at Private College – and help an advising center or department staff form a united response to better serve the student population as a whole.
The questions addressed in the last chapters -- How can one collect and interpret diversity flashpoint anecdotes on one’s own campus? How can one use these collections to generate further understanding and better student service? – along with the appendices are the highlights of this text; comprising handouts and exercises to be used in a training exercise, these concrete, practical tools could be a useful resource for advisors seeking a way to articulate response to identity-challenging incidents on campus.

Managing Diversity Flashpoints in Higher Education. (2008). Book by Joseph E. Garcia and Karen J. Hoelscher. Review by Jenny Lewis. Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield. 151 pp. Price $27.50. ISBN 1607096528

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