While browsing the Internet, as I often do in my spare time, I chanced upon an article about the challenges Black scholars face. Although I have not experienced discrimination personally, I can certainly attest to its prevalence in many colleges.
In the late 2000s, while completing my master’s degree in English Education, I was privileged to take several courses taught by Two Black professors. One of them, a female professor, was on track for tenure. About a year after I graduated, however, the professor abruptly left the college. Her decision to leave came as a shock to me, but I never approached her to find out why she had decided to resign when she was so close to becoming a tenured professor with all the benefits that such a status entailed. To make a long story short, the professor went on to start a blog and eventually published a book of poems with, I hope, many more to come. So the problem was not a lack of scholarship, apparently.
I will not claim any scholarship in sociology, but I did observe that most of the students in the courses my professor taught were white. As often happens prior to the start of a class, we all have our little conversations on everyday issues or on the courses we are taking. The time before the professor arrives is appropriate for such discussions… tongues are loosened, and many things are said. By nature, I listen more than I speak, but I could feel the heaviness of the atmosphere and the general discontent in the words of many of my classmates. But I had no idea what the problem was. The fact is that the professor ended up leaving.
Shortly after the Black professor left, a new professor, a white one, was hired to teach the previous professor’s courses. About a year later, the new professor had secured tenure. For those who are familiar with the tenure process, I do not need to say that this climb was extremely fast. I don’t know the new professor, but I have no doubt that she is qualified for the position. Qualification is not the issue here. The point is the accelerated ascension to tenure. The previous professor, the Black one, had been at the school for more than two years but never got her tenure. After only a year at this college, the new professor was guaranteed a lifelong career!
Was race a factor? I can’t pretend that is wasn’t given what I heard in the students’ discussions and their aversion to the Black professor. Did any of them rate her poorly for whatever reason? Possible. How many other scholars of color have faced and continue to face similar predicaments? Thousands probably. Now how do we detect bias of this nature? How do we address it? Are you a Black or minority scholar who has experienced a similar treatment? Feel free to share your thoughts or leave a comment here.
Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work on intersectionality, as well as Dr. Wanda Alderman’s thoughts, are in order for those who want to understand the depth and subtlety of this issue.
Let’s all have a discussion!
Etienne A. Kouakou
April 4th, 2020