by Ruth Sidel ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 1, 1994
A sometimes illuminating survey of campus conflicts over bias and identity, based on interviews with 100 students, faculty, and administrators on 17 campuses. Sidel (Sociology/Hunter, On Her Own, 1989, etc.) begins promisingly, recalling the unspoken political and intellectual conformity of her 1950s college years. However, she loses momentum when she writes, in her somewhat turgid style, about two very broad topics: the historical debate over public education, and the current storm over multiculturalism and its attendant assertions of group identity (and the conflicts that often arise from them). Setting her context, Sidel offers sketches of campus incidents -- a 1992 racial brawl at Michigan's Olivet College, a fraternity rape at the University of Rhode Island, and others. She goes on to profile students -- including a black woman isolated on a white campus and Asian-Americans stereotyped as ""model minorities"" -- who have coped with bias, spoken out, and even become activists. Clearly, much insensitivity and clumsiness exists: As one student reports, professors like to ask a class's sole black student, ""So, what's the black perspective?"" Sidel's choices aren't all so predictable: She includes a conservative student, a student who sees class as more important than race, and a black student who opposes an ethnic studies requirement. But while she sensibly notes the limits of ""identity politics"" and competition among victims, her conclusions -- pitting her heroic student activists against perpetrators of hate incidents -- leave out the more complicated middle ground in the P.C. debates and in campus life. Moreover, her position on speech codes (free speech is good, but people should be more sensitive about what they say) is wishy-washy, and she shies from some investigations -- for example, probing the differences in atmosphere between elite and nonelite campuses. Though Sidel does step beyond sound-bite reporting, fewer -- and more thorough -- case studies would have better explored the ironies and subtleties of this topic.
Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1994
Page Count: 304
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1994
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