Political Science, Department of
Date of this Version
In this chapter, I outline some of the challenges faced by people of color who teach at traditional white institutions (TWIs). In addition, I offer proposed remedies to address such challenges. Given that the primary foci of Research I universities are research, teaching, and service (generally in that order), this chapter places special emphasis on these categories.
I first suggest that departments attempting to diversify their faculty consider hiring more than one person of color. While I was contemplating whether to accept my current job, I was contacted by a woman of color who told me that she had just accepted a position to teach in the same department. Her phone call was very influential in my decision to take the job. At the time, there was one person of color on the faculty, and the addition of both me and this woman created an unusually high number of blacks in a small department of 14. While the woman has since left the university, her presence was extremely important in helping me make the adjustment to a racially homogenous teaching environment. I can vividly recall the times when I would barge into her office, and she the same, recounting the challenges of the day. On some days when we saw one another, a look of despair on either of our faces led to an invitation to "take a seat on the couch." In taking this seat, we were able to express verbally the challenges faced during the course of the day. In sum, having someone around who not only looks like you, but who can empathize with you about some of the challenges confronted at TWIs is very important for your survival as a junior faculty member.
Throughout this chapter, I discuss the great demands placed on people of color to perform community service and service within the academy. Such demands pose a serious problem in academia that needs to be acknowledged by higher ranking administrators. This problem is particularly challenging at Research Extensive universities. People of color are called upon more often for their expert opinions on issues pertaining to racial matters because of their low numbers on campus. Even though my area of expertise is racial attitudes and legislative behavior, I am often asked by my colleagues in the academy or citizens in the community to discuss issues that are beyond the scope of my expertise (e.g., reparations). Such requests can become overwhelming and demand an enormous amount of time that otherwise could be allocated to research. It is imperative that administrators recognize the burdens placed on faculty of color, as they relate to serving the academy and the community. One suggestion for ameliorating such burdens is to reduce either the teaching responsibilities or the research requirements for people of color who are faced with such challenges. In short, people of color should be given more credit for the countless hours spent performing service. Junior faculty members are particularly vulnerable to overextending themselves in the area of service. As a result, chairs and deans should protect junior faculty by reducing their service responsibilities.
Mentorship is also very important in understanding the need to carefully manage one's time as it relates to service. While my department has given me a formal mentor, I have also inherited an informal mentor, my exercise partner. Currently, I exercise with one of the senior colleagues from the department, and during these workout sessions I receive valuable advice. In fact, during our treks to the gym or while working out, I am often reminded to be careful about overindulging in service activities. While it does not reduce the volumes of requests that I receive, this advice is a reminder that research is my first priority. In closing, the most important recommendation I can offer is directed, not to administrators, but to faculty of color. While attending a conference sponsored by the Compact for Faculty Diversity, I was reminded by one of the guest speakers that balance is the key to survival for both students and faculty of color at traditionally white institutions. A balanced lifestyle should be first and foremost.
Published in Christine A. Stanley (Ed.), Faculty of Color: Teaching in Predominantly White Colleges and Universities. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, 2006. Pages 234–246. Copyright © 2006 Anker Publishing Company, Inc. Used by permission. http://www.ankerpub.com/