Book by Susan E. Chase
Review by: Shannon Lynn Burton
Academic Advising Specialist
School of Criminal Justice
Michigan State University

Often academic advisors face the challenge of navigating difficult conversations surrounding race and ethnicity, gender equity or other social justice concerns arising from students confronting their identity or that of the “other” for the first time.  Susan E. Chase provides a thorough case study of these dialogues on a liberal arts campus.  Although this is a case study of a particular institution at a particular place in its history, much can be learned of how students experience diversity and explore beyond their cultural boundaries, as well as how academic advisors can better understand and help interpret the diversity environment.

Part I examines the context for Chase’s research and looks at the wider culture of diversity at City University’s (CU) campus. She highlights three discourses occurring there:  social justice, abstract inclusion, and political difference.  These three components of the diversity conversation could be found in varying degrees at many colleges or universities.  According to Chase (p.33):

"Social discourse critiques systems of privilege and oppression and highlights the need for social change.  A discourse of abstract inclusion purports ‘we are all the same’ and that social differences like race don’t matter.  And a discourse of political difference assumes that universities like CU are bastions of liberal thought and that conservative students are the ones who end up being oppressed".  

Through focus groups with the campus community and content analysis of the student newspaper, meeting transcripts and other university documents, her explorations give language to experiences students across institutional type might view diversity.  Part I offers  advisors a means to interpret the environment and to better engage in difficult conversations.  

Part II explores how the discourse surrounding diversity have emerged in the lives of students in the transition to college.  It also allows one to see how these students incorporate the new experiences with the “other” into their own identity.  As the space in the institution where a student has sustained contact with a concerned faculty or staff member, advisors are positioned to help students reflect upon these experiences and what they mean for their own identity development.  Chase’s work provides an interpretation of how students make sense of the college environment and the language used to describe them. From this example, advisors may better interpret the stories students use to explain their world and how advisors can help students reflect.

Finally, Part III engages in the discussion of protest, conflict and support.  Here, Chase examines how navigating the discussion surrounding diversity can be positive and negative.  At CU, a silent protest occurred to bring light to issues on race and ethnicity.  This section investigates the varied reactions.  Here too, the language used to explain the experience of the students, faculty and staff rings through and provides yet another means by which to examine conversations on social justice concerns and a means to recognize spaces to engage students more fully in examining their role in society.

While the review has centered on how Chase’s research could be useful to an advisor-practitioner, it is also a solid example of narrative inquiry and content analysis.  For advisors producing research on their work, this book provides a two-fold benefit.  First, it allows one to look at the issue of diversity.  Second, it allows one to see how these research methods are applied.  As advisors navigate difficult conversations with their students, “Learning to speak learning to listen” gives voice to the experience of our students on issues of diversity so that advisors may not just listen, but listen more fully.

Learning to speak, learning to listen: How diversity works on campus. (2010). Book by Susan E. Chase, Review by Shannon Lynn Burton. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 300 pp., $24.95,  ISBN # 978-0-8014-7621-1
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