Working in the Margins

Domestic and International Minority Women in Higher Education

by Carolyn "Carolina" Rosas Webber (Volume editor)
©2020 Monographs VIII, 142 Pages


The major theme for this book is that differences in identity continue to matter in all aspects of culture including the classroom and academic workplace. Women in academia continue to experience racism, ethnocentrism, nativism, sexism, and classism in higher education. Working in the Margins is an edited volume comprised of works by domestic and international communication scholars of diverse backgrounds in citizenship, language, ethnicity, race, class and educational heritage (first or second generation college educated). The title of this collection is a double entendre of the marginal place the contributors occupy in U.S. systems of higher education and how they reclaim these ascribed positions by invoking their bodies as text and communicating their stories of difference. Each chapter draws on critical and feminist perspectives and also intersectionality to develop critical strategies for teaching, surviving and/or thriving in higher education. The authors use autoethnography and other forms of storytelling to illuminate how they work in the margins of their difference to transform student learning and minority experiences in higher education. This volume is an excellent resource for undergraduate and graduate students, educators, and administrators in various fields of study, and particularly communication, education and ethnic studies. It is an important volume for students and scholars seeking to understand complex relationships among communication, identity, and power; seeing critical pedagogy at work; and using qualitative methodology. It is a highly recommended book for women and people of color transitioning from graduate school to professional academic positions.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Working in the Margins of Our Difference
  • 1. Identity Politics in the Classroom: An Application of Critical Love to Teaching Difficult Topics in the Military Classroom Battlefield
  • 2. Decolonize Your Textbook: Confronting White America and the North-South Divide in the Critical Intercultural Communication Classroom
  • 3. Navigating Toxic Communication in the Classroom and Tenure Process: Testimonio de una Atravesada
  • 4. Feminist Rhetorical Strategies to “Make It Real” in Communication Courses: A Korean Woman’s Embodiment of Critical Pedagogy
  • 5. Forging a Critical Intercultural Mentoring Relationship Within the Margins of Academe
  • Conclusion: Asian, Latinx, and White Women Transforming the Margins Through Critical Pedagogy
  • About the Editor and Contributors
  • Index


I am grateful for the people who unknowingly influenced and inspired my academic journey to this project, including Valentina, a non-traditional, first-generation college educated Chicana like myself, who introduced me to Gloria Anzaldúa. I distinctly remember the day at the University of Utah in Milton Benion Hall when she smilingly handed me her copy of Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Scanning the pages of Anzaldúa’s book, I found myself reading about my people, my cultures (Tejana, Mexican, American) and my life in the borderlands. Gloria Anzaldúa continues to inspire me and, as evident in the pages of this book, generations of Latinx teachers and scholars. Gracias Gloria, por tu labor de amor y por tu vida. The work presented in this book also builds upon countless stories by people of color and women living in the margins of academia. I am grateful for the communication teachers and scholars that inform this volume, including Brenda J. Allen, Bernadette Calafell, Lisa Flores, and John T. Warren, among others.

I appreciate Dr. Erika Hendrix, Associate Editor for Peter Lang Publishing, for her guidance and patience through this publishing process. I am grateful to Kathryn Harrison for helping me through the early stages of this project. I value Peter Lang’s anonymous reviewers for their insightful feedback. Devika Chawla, Ahmet Attay, Carolyn Ellis, Benjamin Myers, and the anonymous reviewers for Departures in Critical Qualitative Research provided valuable insight on earlier versions of my paper, Navigating Toxic Communication. I thank my colleagues Allison Cantrell, for her assistance in copy-editing, and Bridget Kirkland for the beautiful book cover design and photo.

Dedicated time to organize, write, edit, and prepare Working in the Margins was made possible by the generous support of the Office of Sponsored Awards and Research Support (SARS) Course Reallocation Program at the ←vii | viii→University of South Carolina Upstate and the Research Initiative for Summer Engagement (RISE) grant Sponsored by the University of South Carolina. I appreciate the SARS staff, Dr. Melissa Pilgrim, Elaine Marshall, and Adrian Hayes, for their professionalism and assistance in processing my grants.

Gary K. Webber, thank you for loving me. I treasure your thoughtfulness, care, and support throughout this project. I am grateful for my sisters, Olga Castillo, Guadalupe Batey, Rosalinda Yardley, Mary L. Perez, and Kathy Ann Santos and their constant encouragement, prayers, and support. Mommy y Virgencita, gracias por sus bendiciones, intercesiones y amor eterno.

Introduction: Working in the Margins of Our Difference

Carolyn “Carolina” Rosas Webber

A critical communication perspective offers multiple ways of understanding interactions and constructions of meaning between human beings, cultures, and politically laden discourses of difference (e.g., race, ethnicity, nationality, class, gender, and sexuality). For example, a transformational model of communication takes into account an individual’s frame of reference—the personal experiences, social institutions, and contexts that shape a person’s self-concept—as well as the larger historical and political contexts that shape human interactions and perceptions. This model informs critical and feminist communication difference research that explores how communication constitutes identities and shapes relations of power and domination. The simultaneous consideration of individual (micro) and cultural/ideological (macro) processes of communication holds vast potential for scholars and teachers interested in helping members of society understand how perceived differences in identity can shape personal, professional, and civic lives. Minority scholars and teachers also centralize communication as a constituting and articulating force of identity constructions and power dynamics in order to understand and explain their own experiences of marginalization in academia.

Like any organization inhabited by humans, people who administer, teach, and study at universities can act on perceptions of difference to particularize and marginalize women and minorities. Yet, it can be difficult for some people to accept that universities, as perceived bastions of knowledge and learning, are vulnerable to the reproduction of toxic ideologies and power relations that normalize the status quo and simultaneously particularize and exclude those who are deemed too different from the norm. It is also difficult for individuals to accept that their own language and actions are the mechanisms through which these relations of power and domination ←1 | 2→are maintained. For instance, Ahmed (2012) describes her experiences with a dean at her university who stated, “race is too difficult to deal with” (p. 3); attributed the whiteness of the university as simply the result of geography (p. 4); and charged Ahmed, the woman of color, to fix the problem. This administrator’s responses reflect an implicit understanding that (a) racism is a thing of the past; (b) a denial that race and whiteness are deeply imbedded within institutional structures; and (c) that racial inequality is a problem only people of color imagine and see (Cooks & Simpson, 2007, p. 15). As such, when people of color and White allies attempt to bring awareness to the material impact of institutionalized racism in higher education, they can be framed as uncivil troublemakers or monstrous others (Calafell, 2015) who threaten the presumed rationality and neutrality of a given university. Raymond Williams (1977/1998) explains that the strongest barrier to recognizing “human cultural activity” in the present is the “immediate and regular conversion of experiences into finished products” (p. 1168). The fixation of cultural formations, such as racism, nativism, ethnocentrism, and sexism, as historical events of the past obscures how ideological residues are resurrected, performed, and reproduced over and over again in contemporary culture and social institutions, including academia. It is often much easier to blame critically aware/thinking people of color and White allies for disrupting presumed cultures of sameness than it is to critically examine how toxic ideologies are cultivated in daily formal and informal communication processes.

Consequently, individuals in academic departments and universities are not always welcoming to academicians who embody difference and challenge whiteness. Whiteness is an ideology that colonizes dominant White, male, Christian, heterosexual, middle-class identities (Dyer, 1988) as the norms and standards through which all Others are compared and found wanting. This pervasive ideology in academia can lead to resistance to different bodies, research, and teaching (Allen, 2011; Allen, Orbe and Olivas, 1999; Cooks & Simpson, 2007).

Current research indicates that minority faculty experience marginalization in their classrooms, departments, and universities regardless of the size or type of institution, field of study, or the content of the courses that they teach (Ahmed, 2012; Boylorn & Orbe, 2014 Calafell, 2015; Gutierrez y Muhs, Flores, Niemann, and Harris, 2012). In the classroom, conditions of marginalization are intensified when critical thinking minority and White faculty teach courses that challenge dominant ideologies such as racism, ethnocentrism, nativism, whiteness, classism, patriarchy, and/or heteronormativity; introduce critical and feminist perspectives; and share their marginalized experiences in America (Boylorn & Orbe, 2014; Cooks & Simpson, ←2 | 3→2007). Domestic and international women who conduct difference research can also find their academic work undervalued and themselves isolated and excluded from mentoring and networking opportunities in their departments and universities.

Rather than accept these micro/macro aggressions in higher education, women and minority faculty members are increasingly pushing back by examining dominating tactics within structural and interpersonal relationships in academia. For instance, Rockquemore and Laszloffy (2008) write, “There is a fundamental difference between the experiences of Black and White faculty, and that difference is caused by the fact that we live in a social world organized by race” (p. 2). They explain that the larger political discourse of race infiltrates the academy and shapes assumptions about “who receives the benefit of the doubt, whose opinion is valued, who gets mentored, and who is invited into collaborative opportunities” (p. 2). Their book, The Black Academic’s Guide to Winning Tenure Without Losing Your Soul (2008), provides sound advice on how to manage the tenure track timeline, structure research projects, plan daily activities, and effectively negotiate conflict. Perhaps most significantly, they help women and other people of color understand that they are not alone in their experiences of intolerance and isolation in academia. However, the reproduction of a Black/White binary obscures how toxic ideologies intersect to shape other marginalized experiences in higher education. As a result, other domestic racial, ethnic, gay, lesbian, transgendered, queer minorities, international people, and women must read between the lines to glean valuable knowledge on how to survive in the classroom, the tenure-track process, and academic cultures in the United States of America.


VIII, 142
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (March)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. VIII, 142 pp.

Biographical notes

Carolyn "Carolina" Rosas Webber (Volume editor)

Carolyn "Carolina" Rosas Webber (Ph.D., University of Utah) is Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at the University of South Carolina Upstate. Her teaching and research reflect her interests in identity, power and organizing processes. She is a 2018 recipient of the University of South Carolina’s (system wide) RISE grant.


Title: Working in the Margins
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