Engagement, Resistance, and Student Learning

The current double issue of On Campus with Women examines how student resistance to new ideas, perspectives, or people is an expected dimension of intellectual development that actually offers educators an opportunity to deepen student learning. Several pieces discuss how to engage resistance in productive ways. However, sometimes resistance, especially in a classroom setting, falls disproportionately upon the newly represented faculty, testing their authority and calling for larger institutional policies and cultural shifts.

For many college instructors, particularly women faculty, faculty of color, and gay and lesbian faculty, the issue of resistance is a familiar one, sometimes because of what and how they teach and other times because of who they are. Intellectual development theory demonstrates that cognitive development is enhanced by disequilibrium; that is, by introducing ideas that disrupt a given understanding. But educating in the midst of that transition can be a challenge. Happily there are multiple strategies upon which to draw. This issue of OCWW includes two feature articles by authors who approach resistance from different perspectives.

The piece by Ximena Zúñiga and Jane Mildred interprets resistance as a site of possible engagement, a way to "address conflicts and concerns and create movement in the classroom." As such, they draw on social justice, feminist, and diversity literature to provide several pedagogical strategies for teaching through and across resistance, understanding that safety, structure, and respect are key elements for any successful classroom. Zúñiga and Mildred acknowledge the difficulty professors face in teaching subjects relating to gender, race, class, and sexuality. They call on faculty members to support and learn from each other in response to the challenges they all face in the classroom.

NiCole Buchanan and Tamara Bruce's piece is a more personal description of what it means, as women faculty and faculty of color, to face resistance not only because of the subject matter taught, but also because of the instructor's identity. Their article focuses what they call contrapower harassment--"harassment of those with more organizational power by those with less." Drawing from research on discrimination to demonstrate how commonplace and multifaceted contrapower harassment is, they offer teaching evaluations as one example where the chilling effects of this less-recognized form of harassment can occur. Unfortunately, contrapower harassment may exacerbate a culture that is already unwelcoming to diverse faculty.

National Initiative for Women in Higher Education

Gwen Dungy, Executive Director of NASPA and a member of the NIWHE Advisory Board, moves us out of the classroom into the larger campus arena where conflict is even more normative. Using the contentions that erupted at Duke University when a student group sponsored the Palestinian Student Movement conference (please double check the group's name), Dungy describes how student affairs' pedagogy led to proactive efforts to engage students in difficult dialogues despite deep mutual resistance and distrust. Dungy describes how respect and open communication are essential to working successfully at such moments.

In her article, Judith White, the chair of NIWHE, formally introduces the new nomenclature and focus for NIWHE: Campus Women LEAD (CWL), which is housed in AAC&U's Office of Diversity, Equity, and Global Initiatives. White describes CWL as "dedicated to honoring, strengthening, and mobilizing the leadership of women in support of inclusive excellence and the New Academy." She goes on to provide background on CWL's ongoing work, outlines the four primary challenges it faces, and defines the four areas CWL's steering committee has deemed most necessary for strengthening women's leadership.

"Approaches for working with resistance include affirming the students' right to resist, slowing the pace when discussion escalates into attack-defend behavior, changing the session plan to incorporate students' views and concerns, and making use of the resistance to illustrate course content or promote insight." Ximena Zúñiga and Jane Mildred


In this issue of OCWW, two sets of authors explore the topic of resistance and contrapower harassment in college classrooms. The authors draw on scholarly literature and their own experiences in order to provide unique and nuanced interpretations of this issue.
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The current Global Perspective calls for a new construction of globalization that focuses on its potential for serving as a vehicle of change and social justice and increasing the communication and dissemination of ideas and technologies. According to Hauwa Ibrahim, this re-definition would help to "establish an international ethos of shared values and principles of social justice."
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