Cerri Banks, dean of William Smith College, was recently featured in a Finger Lakes Times article for having published a book, “Black Women Undergraduates, Cultural Capital, and College Success.” Published in November, the book was inspired by her experiences, as well as observations of other black women in higher education. The book, according to the article, “focuses on the values that students and teachers place on peoples’ backgrounds, such as travel abroad and Scholastic Aptitude Test scores.”
It quotes Banks, “It’s easy to say those people who don’t have those things don’t have cultural capital. And what I argue is that everybody comes with cultural capital. It’s connected to their identity and who they are, and they have to navigate things differently. And that capital is just as important as the traditional capital that we all think of.”
Banks holds a bachelor of science in inclusive elementary and special education, a master’s degree in cultural foundations of education, a certificate of advanced studies in women’s studies, and a Ph.D. in cultural foundations of education – all from Syracuse University. At SU, she was a recipient of many awards including the School of Education doctoral prize. Her research and teaching areas are in education and school reform, cultural studies, multicultural education and qualitative research. Her forthcoming book “Black Women Undergraduates, Cultural Capital and College Success” will be published this year by Peter Lang Publishing.
The full text of the article follows.
Finger Lakes Times
William Smith dean says focus on backgrounds misguided
David Taube • December 29, 2009
When Cerri Banks, now dean of William Smith College, earned straight As at Monroe Community College, two professors warned her that wouldn’t happen at Syracuse University.
But despite growing up in subsidized housing, she eventually earned her bachelor’s, master’s, certificate of advanced studies and doctoral degrees there.
“I always did well in school, but I wasn’t the kid you looked at to say, ‘Oh, she has the potential to be really successful. We really want her on our college campus,'” said Banks, whose recent book stems from her doctoral dissertation and her professors’ expectations about her potential.
Her book, “Black Women Undergraduates, Cultural Capital, and College Success,”
Given the socioeconomic differences that exist, those without traditional opportunities are compared to those with traditional opportunities, Banks said. And so some students are seen in “deficit models.”
She suggests, however, that that shouldn’t be the case.
“It’s easy to say those people who don’t have those things don’t have cultural capital,” Banks said. “And what I argue is that everybody comes with cultural capital. It’s connected to their identity and who they are, and they have to navigate things differently. And that capital is just as important as the traditional capital that we all think of.”
The book takes about 19 interviews from Banks’ graduate work at Syracuse University with black undergraduate women from California, New York and Texas. She was prompted to pursue the work because she saw incomplete academic literature about black undergraduate women.
It would discuss their struggles, lack of success, and lack of cultural capital, Banks said. But what she saw around her was their success, which included herself as an example, she said. The book, published in November, includes some theoretical background and a history of black female education. Chapters are based on interviews with women. Examples range from reactions to Don Imus’ remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team to a high schooler who had summer school experience at Georgetown but was unprepared for a peer who asked her if black people have tails, Banks said.
To deal with these kinds of issues, Banks said she hopes people who read the book will become more informed about such incidents and that students and teachers should value different backgrounds, knowledge and values.
Banks said the book also has implications for college admissions, employee hires, and kindergarten through 12th-grade education.
“Sometimes, in the K-12 realm in particular, there’s an expectation that students come in with all of this knowledge. Or that they learn a certain way or we’re all going to give everybody the same assignment when really there are a range of ways people learn and there are a range of knowledges people bring that we need to respect,” she said.