- Reflecting Back, Looking Forward: Civil Rights and Student Affairs
The authors of this book provide student affairs practitioners with an oral history lesson from 18 university administrators who were personally involved with the civil rights [End Page 104] movement and its impact on higher education. There are five types of institutions represented (1) southern universities (2) small private colleges (3) regional commuter campuses (4) historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and (5) research universities. The stories are told by women and men who were pioneers in the field of student affairs and who handled many difficult scenarios without a crisis team, manual, structured harassment codes, or multiculturally competent staff members. The timing of the book was impeccable since 2004 was the anniversary year of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.
The book opens by placing the civil rights movement into a historical context. The authors set the tone of the book by offering an overall picture of student affairs relative to issues of race, student activism, integration, the Black power movement and the inclusion of African Americans in professional organizations. This introductory chapter provides poignant evidence of the role practitioners played both up front and behind the scenes during the civil rights era.
Once the stories begin, we are given an opportunity to retrace a tumultuous period on college campuses through the experiences of various student affairs administrators. Each story offers practitioners and faculty alike the opportunity to reflect on and assess where student affairs has been, where the profession is currently in its efforts to bridge cultural gaps and increase diversity, and what needs to be done in the future to maintain conversations about diversity and multiculturalism in post-secondary education. Such reflections are necessary and of great importance given the constant shifting of ideas, philosophies, cultures and people. Despite the shifts, it is also important to recognize that much of what has impacted higher education and the student affairs profession including access, positive student outcomes, and recognition of diverse perspectives are still extremely relevant at virtually every campus across the nation. Thus, as the adage goes, "the more things change, the more they remain the same."
Many of the concerns noted by the administrators are still being discussed, debated, and challenged on our campuses today. They often referenced areas of challenge particular to the Black student experience at predominantly White institutions during the 1960's and 1970's. Not surprisingly, these issues still resonate in higher education. For example, as John L. Blackburn reflected on his years at the University of Alabama, he noted that Black students felt isolated, were unable to find a welcoming church family, and could not find a barber. Similar sentiments were offered by Judith M. Chambers who shared that at Mt. Union College, "it was difficult for people of color to feel at home." Additionally, David A. Ambler discusses the "University of Kansas sorority incident" in which a highly qualified female student was denied acceptance into a White sorority simply because she was Black. Incidents such as these took place then and certainly take place now.
However, some of the stories offer shining examples of how student affairs professionals were instrumental in successfully bringing about change on campus. James J. Rhatigan shared a story about "the cheerleader incident" when six cheerleaders were selected and the African American students were seventh and eighth. He negotiated a way to expand the team to 16 members, thus including the African American students.
While reading this book and reflecting on the civil rights era, we are forced to ask questions that undoubtedly leave us with harrowing conclusions that must be addressed regarding the profession: When we look at our [End Page 105] dance teams and cheerleading squads today, how many students of color are represented? How diverse are sororities and fraternities? Why are we still facing the challenge of bringing more racial and ethnic...