Book By: Daryl G. Smith & Lisa E. Wolf-Wendel
Review By: Anne Boyle Cross
Academic Advisor and Assistant Professor
School of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice
Metropolitan State University, St. Paul, Minn.
Anyone who works with students from diverse backgrounds is familiar with the problems detailed in this book: disproportionately lower enrollments, social isolation, academic struggles and lower levels of engagement with university life. Troublingly, as this re-issued 1989 narrative attests, these problems are not new. They have remained stubbornly relevant and progress has been very slow. While acknowledging the problem may be the first step—as this book was one of the first to do—progressive steps remain, in many ways, untaken. The insights offered in this book are almost as fresh today as they were in 1989.
This book sits somewhere between a historical snapshot and a dated literature review. It speaks about a generation of students that graduated from college in the late 1980s and early 1990s as it draws on scholarship from that period as well. To those familiar with the new generation of students and scholarship, it provides an interesting time capsule to assess the distance that higher education (and the research regarding it) has come.
Some statistics presented in the updated 2005 introduction are mildly encouraging. Most previously underrepresented groups have made some headway in higher education. Universities and colleges are more diverse today than ever before. Other statistics are troubling. Considerable gaps still remain in graduation rates. Hispanics have fallen behind the rest of the population in their college enrollment rates as have African Americans and Native Americans.
As we advise students preparing to graduate in the near future, one might wonder what can be gained from an analysis of a generation of students who graduated when many of our current students were still wearing diapers. A sad byproduct of the lack of widespread campus progress since 1989 is that efforts prescribed years ago remain undone. Recommendations from years gone by can still serve as a blueprint for action in the cause of diversity.
What was recommended in 1989? The call to arms that was groundbreaking then should be familiar now to almost anyone working in the academe today. The book calls upon institutions to pay attention to the success of students from diverse backgrounds. It calls on colleges and universities to focus on creating an accepting environment for students from diverse backgrounds. It stresses that committed administrators and faculty must support and direct efforts to retain and assist diverse students.
Sound familiar? If so, the book points to some progress made since the late 1980s. We know what our institutions should be doing. At the very least, our colleagues and administrators know that they should be doing something to further the cause of diversity on campus. While the problems surrounding diversity have not been eliminated and the promises remain unfulfilled, at least the proposed solutions have gone from being revolutionary (as they were to many in 1989) to mainstream, common knowledge, to most on our campuses today.
Broad blueprints like this one now abound. Implementation and assessment remain urgent matters. The book should inspire academic advisors as authors energetically offer the still relatively new wisdom that focuses on how diversity helps both students and universities succeed and live up to their potential.
The Challenge of Diversity: Involvement or Alientation in the Academy? (ASHE Higher Education Report, Vol. 31, No. 1) (2005). Book By: Daryl G. Smith & Lisa E. Wolf-Wendel. Review By: Anne Boyle Cross. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 100 pp., $26.00. ISBN # 0-7879-8122-2