Book by: Ibarra, Robert A.
Review by: Helena L. Santos
Academic Achievement Center
Bridgewater State College

In 1990, Ernest Boyer brought new attention to the functions of higher education including a reexamination of faculty roles and rewards, and a definition of scholarship that would impact society by preparing more informed citizens. He imagined, “a vital national network of colleges and universities with great diversity and one in which the full range of human talent is celebrated and recorded” (p.80). Robert Ibarra carries this discussion forward by addressing the differences in learning styles and knowledge acquisition, especially for ethnic minorities and women who often experience barriers within the ways higher education currently functions. He continues the call for a paradigm shift that would revitalize the educational system by acknowledging the contributions and increasing participation of students, faculty and staff at every level.

Ibarra begins his book with a comprehensive historical overview of the organizational culture of higher education and the current trends for addressing demographics changes. Based on his extensive study of Latinos and Latinas in graduate school, Ibarra, an anthropologist, creates a theory of multicontextuality. Building upon research in cross-cultural communication, education and psychology, Ibarra presents a perspective of ethnicity that explains high and low context values, field sensitive, and cognitive behaviors. He maintains that the higher education community can be vastly improved by addressing a variety of knowledge systems in teaching methodologies, assessment and services provided.  

The chapter on Latinos and Latinas will benefit academic advisors who seek to understand the issues and barriers facing undergraduates and graduate students within this rapidly growing population. This book challenges us to address the needs of specific populations and reconsider structures within the academe. Although academic advisors focus on supporting the individual, we can also offer inclusive perspectives that influence strategic changes. As providers of academic support services it is imperative that we move away from marginalized programming that prevents students within underrepresented populations from becoming full participants in the learning process. As higher education shifts towards addressing various worldviews, everyone will benefit from the richness afforded by “human diversity and new critical knowledge” (p. 259).

Thirty years of affirmative action have not significantly increased the representation of diverse populations in higher education or eased the transition of students within these groups into highly structured institutions. Anyone committed to access, retention and success of students, regardless of gender, race, socio-economic status or context outside the culture on which the academe is based, will benefit from reading this book. The author provides guidelines and models for “contextualizing academic cultures” that are realistic and easy to implement. Referring to Ibarra’s work will help faculty, staff, and administrators remain focused on finding new ways to deliver our product: learning, so everyone can benefit. This text is a resource I will use often and recommend to everyone.


Boyer, E. L. (1990).  Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate.

Princeton, N.J. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Beyond Affirmative Action Reframing the Context of Higher Education. (2000). Book by Ibarra, Robert A. Review by Helena L. Santos. Wisconsin Press. 320pp. $24.95. ISBN 0-299-16904-9.

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