Friday, October 24, 2008

Minority Report

Chronicle of Higher Education
From the issue dated October 24, 2008

I am an African-American woman who has been in academe for approximately 15 years. I have been affiliated with seven predominantly white institutions (two universities in the Ivy League, another private university, a state university, and three junior colleges) in three Northeastern states. The majority of those institutions offered various employment incentives to African-Americans and faculty members from other underrepresented groups in an attempt to diversify their campuses. However, even colleges and universities that take such steps to eliminate racist hiring practices often fail — or refuse — to understand the complexity of retaining faculty members from underrepresented groups. Missing from the institutions' attempts to diversify the campus population is consideration of the lives of those faculty members beyond the classroom and the office.
My own experience is an example. At one point, I was teaching part time at one university while commuting two hours, each way, to a tenured, full-time job at another university. When a position became available at the institution that was closer to home, even though I would have had to apply for tenure again, I was interested in the job because I was eager to end my years of commuting. I met with the department chair over lunch, and she highlighted two incentives for me: a higher salary than I was earning at my current full-time position, and a "promise" that I would get the job because I am black. Although I never like having my race, rather than my Ivy League credentials or my respectable publishing record, considered to be my strongest selling point, I applied for the position and was hired.
And then the institution pretty much washed its hands of me. Other than inviting me to sit on a number of committees that dealt with diversity, the university took a huge step back and allowed me to "settle in" on my own.
I already lived in the area, so unlike many African-American professors who change jobs, I did not face resistance from neighbors when moving into a predominantly white neighborhood, nor was I steered away from those neighborhoods by real-estate agents. But I know that few institutional mechanisms exist to help faculty members like me find housing that is affordable, appropriate, and safe.
I have experienced another common problem: antagonism from white students who feel threatened by professors from minority groups. Some students — both in groups and individually — have confronted me in class, typically with a great deal of hostility and a complete lack of respect. [To read the entire story, go to: ]

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