Sep 24, 2020
In this three part series, I interview a tenured humanities professor who will candidly share her experiences being a woman faculty of color. We’ll talk about her teaching style, the reactions from her students and colleagues, and the problems this causes on the road to tenure and promotion.
There is no training or playbook for being a woman of color in front of an audience – you don’t expect the confrontation. There is an overall dismissiveness of the work coming into a characteristically white space, and the students sometimes can’t hear what has been said (which is that there are other valid voices and perspectives, not that yours is necessarily invalid).
In this classroom, students are involved in the learning process. This isn’t about teaching at them or about just absorbing and regurgitating, but about processing the information. The topics are broad but teaching always include race and class and gender topics into the learning experience, and effort is made to include voices and perspectives that students might not be used to. This is difficult for students – they are used to learning in one-dimensional, colonial dialogue.
Student Classroom Interactions
The result can be one of disbelief –all other filters information has come through for them have been white, which leads to women faculty of color not being perceived as a legitimate authority. So, although students are encouraged to challenge ideas, they are confronting the instructor as an illegitimate source of education.
Which leads to problems with student evaluations. Often these are extreme and diametrically opposed (“this was amazing and opened my eyes” or “ I don’t know why I have to be in this class, why does she always bring up race, why does she always bring up women?”) Statistically and qualitatively, the response will be overwhelmingly positive, but these outlier comments not only affect the reader, but the perception of the class by the institution.
Tenure and promotion
When you get bifurcated evaluations from students, figuring out how to address them takes a lot of time and effort for women faculty of color, which takes away from our research time. As addressing -isms in the teaching review takes up more time, writing and research and production suffer, making it more likely to have an unsuccessful bid in the tenure process. It is hard to show up in a class and deal with that energy on a regular basis, and it ends up being a detriment to scholarship.
This is an unfortunate but common experience. However, no one knows it’s common because women faculty of color are so few on campus and it’s hard to see that you aren’t alone in your experience.
Make sure you come back to hear part two of this interview, where my guest talks about her peers’ reactions to her teaching, what she wishes her institution would do differently (pay special attention here, allies and administrators!) and how women faculty of color are forced to adapt in conversations about tenure and promotion.
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