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  • Taming the River: Negotiating the Academic, Financial, and Social Currents in Selective Colleges and Universities
  • Jennifer S Cortes
Camille Z. Charles, Mary J. Fischer, Margarita A. Mooney, & Douglas S. Massey. Taming the River: Negotiating the Academic, Financial, and Social Currents in Selective Colleges and Universities. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009. 301 pp. Hardcover: $39.95. ISBN-13: 978-0-691-13964-7.

In Taming the River: Negotiating the Academic, Financial, and Social Currents in Selective Colleges and Universities, Camille Z. Charles (University of Pennsylvania), Mary J. Fischer (University of Connecticut), Margarita A. Mooney (University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill), and Douglas S. Massey (Princeton University) investigate the social and academic experiences of students enrolled in 28 selective college and universities during their first two years of college.

There is a keen focus on comparing students in four main racial groups: White, Asian, Latino, and Black. The authors argue that the first two years of college provide the foundation for future academic and intellectual pursuits and that a review of the experiences, aspirations, and integration of students during these first two years will therefore benefit administrators, researchers, and student affairs professionals.

Taming the River is not an isolated book, but rather a follow-up to The Source of the River, written by Douglas S. Massey, Camille Z. Charles, Garvey Lundey, and Mary J. Fischer in 2006. The Source of the River focused solely on students’ precollege characteristics and experiences. It did not investigate students’ changes and developments once they matriculated in their respective institutions of higher education. In turn, The Source of the River responded to and elaborated on some of the questions that emerged from an earlier book,The Shape of the River, written by William G. Bowen and Derek Bok (1998). Both of these earlier works provide the impetus and framework for Taming the River but are not necessary for the reader to fully appreciate the book.

Utilizing a variety of metaphors for chapter titles, the authors have written nine chapters that discuss how students navigate the first two years of their higher education experience at elite institutions. In addition, the authors include three appendices that present artifacts of the underlying research. While each chapter addresses specific subjects, a few broad themes emerge. The first and last chapters act as foundations, introducing and summarizing the material. Chapters 3 and 5 address key social aspects of students’ experience during their first two years of college, while Chapters 2 and 4 investigate academic progress and finances. Chapters 6, 7, and 8 combine theory with concrete evidence to discuss diversity issues such as segregation and affirmative action.

The first chapter, “Entering the Current,” and ninth chapter, “College at Midstream,” act as boundaries for the quantitative information provided in the book’s middle chapters. In addition to reviewing the findings of The Shape of the River and The Source of the River, the first chapter provides information about the authors’ survey methodology and their interpretation of Tinto’s theory of social and economic integration in college.

Chapter 9 broadly reviews the findings of the previous eight chapters, while also summarizing the challenges that many students, especially minority students, face at elite institutions. These chapters are precisely written and provide critical information for understanding the book’s purpose and the collective findings.

Chapter 3, “Staying Afloat Socially,” and Chapter 5, “Battling Social Undercurrents,” complement one another by addressing critical social issues that students experience during their first two years of college. The chapters’ examination of racial differences in students’ living arrangements and time management skills demonstrates that Black students tend to be the most different among the four peer groups. Similarly, the examination of racial differences in students’ friendships, dating patterns, and co-curricular involvement indicate that, while White and Asian students often display similar patterns, Black and Latino students vary greatly. The authors convey how differing social experiences influence academic grades and integration.

Chapter 2, “Staying Afloat Academically,” and Chapter 4, “Staying Afloat Financially,” delve into the concrete academic and financial experiences of students during their first two years. As in the other chapters, the authors describe differences among the four racial groups in both academic experiences and financial support...


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pp. 655-656
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