My Blog

On Racial Violence in the Academy

“The institutionalization of Black Studies, Feminist Studies, all of these things, led to a sense that the struggle was over for a lot of people and that one did not have to continue the personal consciousness-raising and changing of one’s viewpoint.”
bell hooks
Every faculty of color in this country is under assault. Every faculty of color in this country is exhausted and overworked. Every faculty of color in this country is undermined, glossed over, and tossed aside. Every faculty of color in this country is depressed. Every faculty of color in this county is outraged. Every faculty of color in this country is silenced.

This is a national story. This is a national epidemic. This is violence on and to our bodies, on our minds, and in our internal lives. This is our #MeToo moment.

I have been listening and listening for a while. There are too many stories to tell. One of these could be yours. And this is not the beginning. Our predecessors have endured even worst circumstances. Some of them survived. Many didn’t.

These are just a few of our stories. You know these people and so do I. They are everywhere.

Violence # 1

Joni applied for tenure and was denied.

Joni is a sociologist by training and teaches about structural racism and race relations in the United States. She has published extensively, speaks her mind (when necessary) and is considered a good citizen of her university. Some of her colleagues do not like the “auto”-ethnography aspect of her research. Every year a few white students have complained how Jodi’s teaching have made them uncomfortable. She spends two weeks in her “Race Relations” course teaching about the origins of white supremacy grounded in history/herstory.
There is also plenty of evidence in her teaching evaluations that suggests that she is an effective faculty, including students saying that she changed their lives. Her department chair and her colleagues, however, are not convinced. They focus instead on the “discomforts” felt by her white student in the last 6 years. They said that such discomfort has created a clear pattern, a pattern that her department chair said, “cannot be ignored.” A couple white students called her a racist. One even called her “a bitch.” These are documented in her evaluations. Her colleagues (all white) stated that Joni is driving some potential sociology majors away from the department.
Joni appealed her denial of tenure on grounds of discrimination and violation of academic freedom. Her appeal is denied.

Violence #2
Mark has been working on his book for the past 4 years. His work is interdisciplinary and intersectional drawing from graffiti, music and its relationship to political philosophy in Cuba. He is overjoyed that he was just offered a contract from a state university press. When he declares this news to his white colleague (who has received tenure two years ago by publishing only a few articles but goes to happy hour with his students every Friday) he say, “Mark, that’s great. Did you not manage to get a bite from the more respectable presses?”
In less than two years this “happy hour” colleague with “only a few articles” will be writing for Mark’s tenure review. Mark starts having panic attacks. For the first time he decides to take anxiety medications.

Violence # 3
Padma is a visiting professor and is in the job market to secure a tenure track job in Renaissance Literature. In one of her campus visits she is told by a senior colleague that his department is obligated to hire a faculty of color. “It’s this diversity thing you know!” During dinner another faculty, a middle aged Americanist leans and whispers to her that she loves her culture and the Bollywood dances. “But I don’t know if I have the guts to ever visit your country,” she adds. Padma is speechless. She wonders if she forgot to mention to the committee that her first book received a major award. For the rest of her visit she is reminded numerous times that her ethnicity is an asset.

Violence #4
“Go back to your country!” Right after the election of Trump Sheila came back to work and found this large note on her door. It was written with red ink. Sheila is born here. Her parents are from Kenya. She immediately brings this to the attention of her department chair. She never hears back.
““You are still here?” Sheila receives another note a week later. This time she is afraid for her safety. She complains to the Dean. The Dean asks her to inform the chair. She again tells the chair and a few of her colleagues. One of her colleagues say, “that’s not nice.” Another one asks, “Do you know who it could be?”
She finally tells this to a few of her trusted students. The students rally for her.
Sheila is called by the Dean and is told that she is being disruptive. She is being unprofessional. She must apologize to her chair. Her department chair stops talking to her. Her chair is a black woman.

Violence # 5
Fatema is one of the three faculty of color on her campus. Fatema’s area of scholarly expertise is in International Relations with a particular focus on banking in the Middle East. She is not an angry woman of color. There are a few other underrepresented faculties on her campus too. In total they are seven, or maybe eight (if you count the faculty who claims she is really “kinda brown.”) Fatema is also tenured. She cannot say “no” to many of the service requests. Recently, her college has made a “serious” commitment to equity. Faculty voted to have diversity represented on every committee. She has served on the diversity committee, curriculum committee, several ad hoc committees (including one for parking) and was the only faculty of color on the college’s strategic planning committee. It was her idea that the college does a climate study of underrepresented faculty and students. Her idea did not make it into the strategic plan. Later a white male colleague suggested the same. He was asked to chair the committee for the climate study.

Fatema is planning on going up for full. There are only four other women on her campus that have been promoted to full in the last 20 years. She is not worried about her publications. She has a national and international reputation, but she is required to chair a major committee or a department. This year there is an opportunity for her to chair her department (and she feels quite ready for the undertaking). Yet, very recently she has been politely told that “Jerry” her male colleague is better suited for this position given that he will need to work with admissions to recruit students. Enrollments are an issue. And of course only Jerry has some special magic or formula that Fatema apparently does not. She does not even have an accent.

She recently found out (through another colleague who was consulted) that there was a new interdisciplinary major being proposed in Middle Eastern Studies. Most of the faculty proposing this major are white and there is one East Asian faculty (who does not work on anything to do with the Middle East). She is baffled that she is never consulted. Seriously baffled.

This is not fiction.
This is your life.
This is our life.
This life is not invisible.
This knowledge is being used, reused, misused.

The Bridge Called Our Back is broken
The Bridge Called Our Back is made to collapse
The Bridge Called Our Back is in need of serious repair
Racial capitalism in the academy is a serious crime
A crime for which no one is indicted
A crime that is just glossed over
as “unsubstantiated claims.”

There are their words, not ours.

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