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The International Writers Magazine:

Faculty of Color: Teaching in Predominantly White Colleges and Universities, Christine A. Stanley (Editor), Bolton, Massachusetts, Anker Publishing Company, 2006, pp373.
Dr Mawan Asmar review

Reem Al Haj Ali moved from being a dental student at the University of Jordan into an award winning professor at the School of Dentistry at the University of Missouri, Kansas in the United States.
"Since the time I was a dental student at the University of Jordan, I have dreamt of teaching in a dental school. I never imagined this dream would come true with a culture so contrary to mine," she says.
Her quote comes in a chapter contribution she makes in a timely book in the Faculty of Color which explores the experiences faced by minorities teaching in colleges and universities in the United States whose majority staff tends to be white. The importance of the book lies in the narrative of the individual experiences, the pressures, heartaches, obstacles and alienation which black people, Mexicans, Latin Americans, Asians living in United States and Arab-Muslims (as in the case of Reem) subjected to in their academic and professional careers.

However Reem's experience is an extension faced by the other color faculty staff as in problems of being stereotyped, stigmatization, and expected representation of one's minority race.
Beyond that, however, Reem's experience is different still because of the fact that as a Jordanian, Arab and a Muslim she wears a Hijab in her teaching duties at university, a characteristic increasingly frowned upon in post-9/11 America when there was increasing association between those that of a different culture—specifically Middle Eastern and Muslim—and wore different mode of dress and an accent and those that committed the abhorrent acts of 11 September.

Yet, Reem took to her occupation well. She became Assistant Professor in the Department of Restorative Dentistry in the School of Dentistry at the University of Missouri at Kansas in 2003 where she continued to excel as a dental educator.

But she says the pursuit of her academic career was far free from pressures she had to contend with on daily basis. The hijab, the scarf and the long dress continued to shadow her during her lectures and seminars and in the dental hospital, always feeling she is under the spotlight.
"Aren't you hot in that" or "you always wear that" are constant and bland comments in her personal and professional life. Reem says one patient even refused her care solely because of her dress, or in the time she had to argue her way into the school-affiliated hospital because of her head cover, yet she says of "the few times I was mistaken for a nun I was treated with the utmost respect."

Like other faculty of color members in the book, she says she had to work twice as hard to prove her abilities to her other white majority colleagues, but in the end she gained their respect, trust and friendship.

This was first because of her teaching skills and abilities as reflected in her methods of delivery in the lecture rooms and in the practical hands-on approach with her students, and as testified to by the numerous awards she received in record time since she joined the faculty in 2003. Such includes the American Dental Education Association Dentsply Research Award, Distinguished Faculty of the Year Award, and the Distinguished Summer School Mentor Award.
The second factor for her academic success is the research she quickly set upon doing and publishing with her colleagues. Her first published research paper was when she was just a post-graduate student in the reputable Journal of Prosthodontics in 2002. This was quickly followed by other research papers in General Dentistry and Journal of Dental Education on a variety of specialized topics related to dental surgery and reconstructive dentistry.
Although this was developing at a time when Reem was looking after her husband and three young children Reem—a three-year graduate of protodontics at the University of Missouri at Kansas City and a one-year general practice residency at the Truman Medical Center—clearly has a knack for balancing her time between family life, her teaching, service activities to students and her faculty and to her research.

Many in the book collection say that quite frequently they are inundated by service work and serving on different committees that very little time is left for research work and publishing, and this goes does not favor their promotion in a university culture where considers research as supreme.

Because she is the only minority member in her faculty Reem also feels university administrators expect her to take on the role of service to her Muslim/Middle Eastern, and even students from the developing countries. She says this is an extra stress placed on the faculty of color member and would appreciate it if other 'white' faculty members taken on the role of representing students of different ethnicities.

She also says such turns her into "beyond a role model" as she is expected to be "the defender, expert and prime example of all things related to my religion, people and culture" and places her into a situation where she has to take extra work hours unrelated to her academic load.

Reem says there has to be a real melting in academia rather than token hiring of minorities and paying lip service to multi-culturalism to build an effective academic community based on real understanding of the other.
"The world needs to get smaller," she says. Trust and new perception needs to be built through things like workshops or continuing education courses so that the leaders of these academic institutions encourage a working environment that appreciates diversity in its outlook towards color faculty.

Faculty members serve as role models to students. "If we work together, we can create new generations truly appreciative of the differences among us," where the contributions of our communities will work for an effective society.
'Before coming to UMKC, I always thought I would want people to be color blind, now I know that it is more valuable to be color aware,' because…'every new color ..has a unique characteristic that further enriches the whole society."
© marwan asmar October 2007

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