Shattering the Silences: The Case for Minority Faculty
Produced and Directed by Stanley Nelson and Gail Pellett
Writers: Stanley Nelson and Gail Pellett
Production Company: Gail Pellett Productions
Presented by: PBS
Aired on: PBS     Date: January 24, 1997


Miguel Algarin

Shattering the Silences offers audiences an unprecedented opportunity to see American campuses through the eyes of minority faculty.  In 1997 when this documentary was broadcast, campus diversity across the country was under attack.  Affirmative action programs were banned, ethnic studies departments defunded, multicultural scholarship was impugned.  At that time minority faculty constituted only 9.2% of all full professors and minority student population was dropping.  The pipeline of new scholars was fragile.

Shattering the Silences cuts through the rhetoric of the Culture Wars and Affirmative Action by telling the stories of eight pioneering scholars – African American, Native American, Latino and Asian American.

Shawn Wong

There is laughter, pain, anger and tears as these voices tell a double edged story about the obstacles and challenges, victories and stumbles on their journey to the ivory tower.  As we watch them teach, mentor and conduct research, we get a glimpse of how a diverse faculty enriches and expands traditional disciplines and contributes to a more inclusive campus environment.

David Wilkins

“What I try to do is bring some balance.  Because the system has not been balanced.”  David Wilkins, Professor of Political Science,  Univ of Arizona, Tucson and Lumbee Indian.

Gloria Cuadraz

“I did not feel that I belonged and I was struggling to connect and for someone like myself who felt connected my entire life to be asked to survive in an environment where yu do not feel that you belong that you’re part of that culture, it was too overbearing for me.”  Gloria Cuadraz, Assistant Professor, American Studies, Arizona State West, Phoenix.

Robin Kelley

“I like to think that my own work has forced historians, irrespective or race, to rethink our assumptions about politics, about resistance.  I think that’s one important reason for us being here as scholars”.  Robin Kelley, Professor of History, New York University.

“I came from a family where culture prevailed. My folks gave me a love of culture.  So there is nothing surprising about Shakespeare being in my life.  It would be surprising if he weren’t.  I work for him and he works for me.  He wanted to have a place to tell the story of England; so I wanted to have a place in which to tell the story of the Lower East Side.”  Miguel Algarin, Professor of English Literature, Rutgers University and founder of Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York.

Darlene Clark Hine

“I decided to major in something called Asian-American literature, except there were no teachers, no assignments, no credits, no classes.  I just had to know if there was a generation of writers before me, because I wanted to learn from them.”  Shawn Wong, Professor of English, University of Washington, Seattle.

Opening up institutions doesn’t come easily.  New scholarship is by definition challenging and minority scholars are constantly drawn into a debate over who defines truth and who decides what to teach.  Answering to the need of an overwhelmingly white institution, minority professors are also often overburdened by the demands put upon them.

Dr. Darlene Clark Hine looks back on the first wave of minority women faculty as “a sacrificial generation.”  Other scholars include Nell Painter, Edwards Professor of History at Princeton University and Alex Saragoza, then Professor of Chicano Studies at University of California at Berkeley.

Major funding was provided by The Ford Foundation.  Additional funding was provided by The Florence and John Schumann Foundation.

For more background on the film check out both the PBS website and the distributor’s, California Newsreel.  Study guides available.

Credits:  Editor:  Elizabeth Ackerman;  Cinematographers: Robert Shepard, Michael Chin, Rick Butler;  Narrator:  Lynn Thigpen

Breaking News

Shattering the Silences has one of the earliest websites on PBS - which is still up and running! It has also been widely and deeply screened on college campuses and continues to be screened at academic conferences, as well as at Fall freshman initiation events, for course work across disciplines and for campus administrators. Googling this film turns up dozens and dozens of sites over the years to reveal its broad reach. It has also been widely use by the military and corporate training programs. That is the sign of a successful documentary film, that despite the change in dress and music styles on college campuses, this film continues to have profound relevance as it offers the educational argument for diversity and that controversial concept -- affirmative action -- while addressing the stress and strains on minority faculty in that process.

Reviews teachers -- black, Hispanic, Indian and Asian American -- testifying to the worth of affirmative action and multiculturalism in academe. They make an attractive group as they tell of the hard work that earned them their jobs and the goals that continue to motivate them. The program's point is that their presence on such campuses as New York University, UC Berkeley and Rutgers University has brought new insights to scholarship and new models for minority students.
...a shattering experience for a liberal like me...Wht we see is not pretty and it makes me uncomfortable. This is a powerfully effective film which deserves screening on all our campuses."
"It engages the mind, it provokes thought."
"One of the most important films to be produced about higher education or race this decade. It puts before us a vision of how to build strong interracial communities both within the academy and outside its walls."
"Shattering the Silences"'s eclectic soundtrack -- which bounds effortlessly from Nuyorican jazz rhythms (music originated by Puerto Ricans living in New York), to Mexican rancheros and urban hip hop -- provides a rich cultural backdrop.
A powerful documentary about one of the most important ongoing transformations in higher education today.

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