Book By: Howard-Hamilton, Mary, F (Ed).
Review By: Kimeta F. Straker
Academic Center for Entering Students
University of Connecticut

On college applications Shemeka Johnson naturally checks the gender and ethnicity boxes ‘female’ and ‘African American’ respectively. In doing so Shemeka may be unaware that many of those she will encounter on campus do not know how to respond to her unique needs as a member of the growing campus population—African American women.

When we think of advising special populations several groups come to mind -- student-athletes, students with disabilities, and honor students among others. However, African American women are emerging as a group that we, as academic advisors and college administrators, should study closely as we seek to meet the needs of student groups.

Meeting the Needs of African American Women edited by Mary F. Howard-Hamilton provides a detailed view of the historical aspects of African American women in higher education and addresses the everyday issues encountered by this group. Personal insights and reflections are shared by African American women with experience in various higher education positions.  While this book sheds light on misconceptions and misunderstandings, its real value lies in the practical suggestions and recommendations to address and reduce marginalization for African American women on campus.

White men and women and African American men have historically preceded African American women in importance and standing on our campuses.  African American women’s membership in two often marginalized groups—race and gender—has made them almost invisible on campuses. This book takes a holistic view of the perceptions, expectations and factors that must be considered when working with this group, pointing out that no student development theory specifically addresses identity development of African American women. Therefore, we are forced to use theories constructed primarily for other groups to counsel and advise African American women or leave these women to create and define personal coping skills and strategies “without model or precedent”(p.27). The text introduces holistic frameworks and theories that can aid in character and identity development of African American women. Through these frameworks, African American women can recognize and develop their unique identities through their concerns—personal, academic or vocational—and use their cultural perspectives to bring relevance and meaning to their academic experiences.

As with any special population, there are certain programming expectations involved in service to the group.  Meeting the Needs of African American Women offers practical ideas that can be incorporated in recruiting and retaining African American women on our campuses. Keeping in mind that as with other specialized groups, there is “no one service, one approach or one program [that] can meet all their needs” (p.63) text authors challenge us to collaborate with offices across the campus community.

I especially enjoyed the straightforward way this text presented the material and how easy it was to read. Authors gave a name to several issues that I have personally encountered thus making these issues visible. Academic advisors and college administrators will find the book very informative. The practical suggestions within it will help us provide services for African American women that will minimize their isolation on campus and increase their potential for academic success.

Meeting the Needs of African American  Women (New Directions for Student Services series #104). (2004). Book by Howard-Hamilton, Mary, F (Ed). Review by Kimeta F. Straker. San Fransico, CA: Jossey-Bass. 120pp., $ 27.00. ISBN#0-7879-7280-0.

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