- Standing on the Outside Looking In: Underrepresented Students’ Experiences in Advanced Degree Programs
A collaborative effort by an intergenerational collective of higher education scholars, Standing on the Outside Looking In promises “a comprehensive examination of issues of access, retention, transition, and personal experiences for students of color in advanced-degree programs” (Howard-Hamilton, 2009, p. 1). For the greater part, it delivers on this promise and does not disappoint. In ten chapters (plus foreword, introduction, and summary), 27 authors from diverse backgrounds take the reader from “pipeline” issues of preparation for graduate study through post-degree career aspirations. The majority of chapter authors describe findings of empirical studies conducted on the topic of underrepresented students of color; remaining chapters include in-depth syntheses of relevant literature, autoethnographic accounts, or both.
The book is rich in historical and contemporary statistics on participation of students of color in advanced-degree programs and even richer in qualitative data that gives life and voice to everyday challenges, successes, microaggressions, resilience, and coping strategies. Throughout the book, the themes of invisibility and isolation reverberate in numbers and words. Lest a reader be inclined to think, “Well, sure, but don’t all doctoral students feel isolated?” Poon and Hune name the “hidden injuries of race” (p. 82) that are key factors in the experiences that lead to isolation of Asian American and other graduate students of color navigating life at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). Standing on the Outside Looking In should convince even the most skeptical reader that higher education is not doing enough to promote what Tuitt in his summary chapter calls “inclusive excellence” (p. 203).
Authors in this volume provide ample recommendations for educators interested in increasing the number and improving the experiences of underrepresented students in advanced-degree programs. As a faculty member in a higher education graduate program, I noted several ways that I could do more to individually mentor students of color into advanced degrees, promote research and writing opportunities for underrepresented students, and be more acutely aware of the diversity of experiences among, for example, Asian American students of different backgrounds. As important, I noted ways that student affairs [End Page 250] administrators could influence undergraduates to consider advanced degrees in fields other than higher education. For example, Linda DeAngelo notes in her chapter that many undergraduates who do not attend research universities do not know that there are opportunities for research and teaching assistantships that will pay for graduate degrees. Student affairs professionals do a fair job recruiting underrepresented students into our field, but we could do more to promote graduate education in other fields by sharing what we know about how higher education works. e chemistry major who is an RA or the sociology major who works in the campus union might not have other mentors encouraging graduate school in the disciplines; student affairs professionals could be key mentors in this process and potentially contribute to the eventual diversification of the faculty.
Editors and chapter authors made a provocative decision that may not at first be apparent to all readers. For a book on advanced-degree students, there was relatively little reference to extant literature on graduate and professional education. I applaud this decision for two reasons. First, the purpose of this volume was not to reiterate or validate existing research that has, in so many ways, made students of color invisible. Second, several chapter authors (e.g., González; Poon & Hune; Sulé) located their work in Critical Race Theory or other theoretical frameworks (e.g., Black Feminist Theory, LatCrit) that explicitly reject the assumption that research on people of color is valid only inasmuch as it begins from the dominant paradigm. It was refreshing to read an entire book that focused on graduate students of color as the main actors in their own education, not as an afterthought or an add-on to the majority White population in higher education.