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  • Empowering Women in Higher Education and Student Affairs: Theory, Research, Narratives, and Practice from Feminist Perspectives
  • Claire Kathleen Robbins
Empowering Women in Higher Education and Student Affairs: Theory, Research, Narratives, and Practice from Feminist Perspectives. Penny A. Pasque and Shelley Errington Nicholson (Editors). Sterling, VA: Stylus, 2011, 348 pages, $49.95 (Softcover)

In contemporary higher education and student affairs (HESA), the experiences and outcomes of women and other gender minorities are extraordinarily complex. Among undergraduates, [End Page 486] women constitute the numerical majority but remain underrepresented in numerous academic and co-curricular contexts, while transgender students are marginalized and underserved. The status of women and gender minorities as graduate students, administrators, and faculty is no less multifaceted. For all HESA stakeholders, other dimensions of social identity intersect with gender, further complicating identities, experiences and outcomes. It is difficult to imagine a book that could capture these complexities in a coherent way, yet the editors and authors of Empowering Women in Higher Education and Student Affairs set out to accomplish this very task.

Through the American College Personnel Association’s (ACPA) Standing Committee for Women (SCW), a group of practitioners and scholars collaborated to produce a richly textured volume of theory, research, narratives, and practice informed by multiple feminist perspectives. The authors and editors sought to make a new contribution “by considering the past experiences of women in a contemporary context and exploring the present experiences of women students, faculty, and administrators in detail through various feminist perspectives” (p. xvi). For the most part, they accomplish this goal. The result is a book that reads just as it was written: as an inclusive yet intimate conversation among scholar-practitioners dedicated to women in HESA.

The book is divided into five parts, each containing theoretical, empirical, or practical chapters bookended by personal narratives on gender and feminism. Part 1, “Setting the Context,” (re)examines the history of women in HESA. Nicholson and Pasque present an overview of selected feminist theoretical perspectives, while Marine provides a qualitative descriptive study of the advocacy work of women’s and gender center directors, or “professional feminists” in HESA. Hoffman maps the rocky terrain of progress and retreat characterizing women leaders in the co-curriculum in light of Title IX policy, a phenomenon brought to light in Mulvihill’s ensuing chapter on collaboration between deans of women and directors of physical education at Syracuse. Part 1 ends with narratives on the intersection of race and gender identity for a Filipina graduate student (Perez), the complexities of work-life balance and gender discrimination against stay-athome moms (Clark), and the unheard stories of feminist leadership at Catholic women’s colleges (Winters).

Part 2 examines women’s experiences in HESA as undergraduates, graduate students, and administrators, starting with a mixed-methods study of work-life balance among female graduate students (Stimpson & Filer). Fochtman presents a phenomenological study of diverse high-achieving women in a range of administrative leadership positions and institutional types. Vaccaro introduces the concept of “self-investment” in a feminist and critical race analysis of the experiences of women’s college students, while Sader presents a conceptual model of gender constructions among female doctoral students in computer science. The narratives in part 2 come from a Yao (African) woman teaching and learning in Malawi (Nkhata), an alumna and HESA professional at a New Jersey women’s college (Dudeck-Lenis), a female college graduate working in Indonesia (Atkinson), and a pangender student affairs professional who questions the fixity of gendered categories (Robbie).

In part 3, the authors explore intersecting social identities among faculty, administrators and students, starting with Sulé’s powerful inquiry into race consciousness among tenured Black female faculty at predominantly White institutions. Next, Guido tells the story of intersecting identities “in the life of a female, Italian American, mixed social class [HESA] [End Page 487] faculty member” (p. 164). Rice interweaves stories of single mothers with her own story, capturing the resilience of economically disadvantaged women in HESA despite longstanding inequities in policy and practice. The next chapter chronicles a “Sister Circle” dialogue sponsored by ACPA SCW, illustrating the intersections of gender and race in the lives of female student affairs professionals (Niskodé-Dossett...