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Journal of College Student Development 45.2 (2004) 259-260
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A friend, upon noticing the hefty copy of Women in Higher Education: An Encyclopedia on my desk, commented that "Having the word 'encyclopedia' in the title makes the book pretty intimidating." But then, after pausing, she went on. "Of course, it's definitely one of those books you need to have on your shelf."
Ana M. Martínez Alemán and Kristen A. Renn have indeed created a book that should be on the shelves of every researcher, writer, and student of higher education, whether or not they list "women" among their interests. And honestly, once one opens the volume and finds a topic of interest, there is little, other than its size, that is intimidating. The entries are consistently readable and interesting to anyone curious about the historical development and current state of higher education. In fact, I have found that both women and men visiting my office often pick it up while they're waiting, and quickly become immersed in one of the 101 entries or nine section overviews.
Another comment made, interestingly enough by a graduate student who also saw the book in my office, was "You'd think education would be one field where an encyclopedia about women isn't necessary." She went on to explain that she had come to see higher education as one place where women's influence was acknowledged. Though I was pleased by her optimistic viewpoint, I realized, too, that it was not completely accurate, and this in itself makes a case for the importance of this volume. Unlike fields such as business, or law, or athletics, where women have been underrepresented in both number and appreciation, education, specifically higher education, is a field in which women have almost always been present, always been influential, and deserve much of the credit (or blame, one could argue) for the shape of higher education—its pedagogy, its administrative structures, its view of students. Alemán and Renn do an excellent job tracing this influence through entries on historical and cultural contexts and the place of feminism in the academy. These two sections alone do more to establish the critical influence of women on the historical development and current state of higher education than any previous text on women in higher education that I have read, and proves more accessible than previous works.
Much broader in ambition than texts that focus on specific roles of women in higher education (DiGeorgio-Lutz's 2002 Women in Higher Education: Empowering Change and Mitchell's 1994 Cracking the Wall: Women in Higher Education Administration), or historical analyses (Barbara Solomon's [End Page 259] important 1986 book, In the Company of Educated Women: A History of Women and Higher Education in America), the book's nine sections are thoughtfully arranged for easy access to different topics. Historical and Cultural Contexts, Gender Theory, Feminism in the Academy, Women in the Curriculum, Women and Higher Education Policy, Women Students, Women Faculty, Women Administrators and Women Employees all begin with useful overviews that, taken together, would comprise a useful text on their own. Each section then has entries covering topics as disparate as Distance Education to Women Athletes to Salaries to Ecofeminism that range from 500 to 1500 words, each written by a different author or authors. These sections also include helpful lists of references for readers seeking further information.
As many readers are likely to do, I turned to the entries with which I have some familiarity: Classroom Climate, Developmental Issues, Women's Colleges, and Leadership, and found each entry to be well-written and edited. One of the challenges of editing a book that contains the work of over one hundred writers is maintaining a consistent tone throughout. These entries, and others I randomly or purposefully selected, seem to achieve this.
In perusing this encyclopedia, one's eye...