Learning to Speak, Learning to Listen

Friday, November 12, 2010

How Diversity Works on Campus

Susan E. ChaseIn her new book, Susan E. Chase, an associate professor of sociology at The University of Tulsa, explores how undergraduate students engage diversity issues on campus. She argues that learning to speak and listen across social differences exemplifies the educational process itself: opening one’s mind, thinking critically, and reconsidering taken-for-granted ideas.

During the past three decades, colleges and universities have committed to encouraging, embracing, and supporting diversity as a core principle of their mission. Dr. Chase examines the role of students in this mission and what campus culture is like when a university is committed to diversity.

In Learning to Speak, Learning to Listen, Chase portrays how undergraduates at a predominantly white urban institution, which she calls City University (a pseudonym for a college that is not TU), learn to speak and listen to each other across social differences.

She interviewed a wide range of students and conducted content analyses of the student newspaper, student government minutes, curricula, and website to document diversity debates at the unidentified university.

Amid various controversies, she identifies a defining moment in the campus culture: a protest organized by students of color to highlight the university’s failure to live up to its diversity commitments. Some white students dismissed the protest, some were hostile to it, and some fully engaged their peers of color.

In Learning to Speak, Learning to Listen, Chase finds that students’ willingness to share personal stories about their diverse experiences and collaboration among student organizations, student affairs offices, and academic programs encourage speaking and listening across differences. These activities also help incorporate diversity as part of the overall mission of the university.

“Many universities are now grappling with diversity issues,” Chase said. “On predominantly white campuses, white students have much to gain from listening to students of color whose experiences may differ dramatically from their own. And students of color have much to gain from learning to articulate their experiences in ways that invite others to hear them. These are not just academic exercises; indeed, much of this learning at City University took place outside the classroom in extracurricular activities.”

Chase’s other books include Ambiguous Empowerment: The Work Narratives of Women School Superintendents and Mothers and Children: Feminist Analyses and Personal Narratives. She earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Dickinson College and her master’s and doctoral degrees from York University in Toronto.


Mona Chamberlin