Robyn Magalit Rodriguez has put together an impressive list of essays that should be read by women of color in higher education and, perhaps more importantly, anyone who wants to actively support meaningful diversity. Her list covers a range of important issues, and you can see it here, but I’ve pulled out essays that deal with a specific problem that can be debilitating to faculty of color—how students react to them in the classroom. As the essays here evince, and I’ve noted in my conversations with women of color from around the country, faculty of color are judged more harshly than their white counterparts in college and university classrooms. They consistently receive lower evaluations from students, particularly at Predominately White Institutions. In addition to being demoralizing, especially for those who become academics because they want to teach, the institutional implications of such attitudes can have material consequences. Put simply, poor teaching evaluations can damage a candidate’s chances for tenure. They can become part of a narrative to prove that a candidate is not a good “fit” when the real problem might be that the candidate is simply different than those evaluating her personnel file.
What’s tricky about this is that no faculty member wants to claim that their poor teaching evaluations might be due, in part, to race and/or gender. And even white colleagues who want to be helpful might not know how to put this issue in some larger context. As a result, even folks who know the problem exists might not know how to address it. So, if you’re a white academic who knows that racism disrupts the learning processes at your institution how can you do more than nod sympathetically? The answers seem so easy, but I’ll list them here anywhere, as a primer or a reminder.
• Read these essays. Read them. Know the numbers, facts, statistics, and anecdotes.
• Share the essays with colleagues who you know share your investment in developing and maintaining diversity with all the appropriate caveats (“This might not be the struggle that all faculty of color face, but it behooves us to be mindful of this troubling pattern”).
• In any conversation that happens during any gathering of any group that calls itself a Diversity Committee, Committee on Diversity or any permutation of those words or what they are supposed to represent, be the voice that raises this specific issue. Never has the term “consciousness raising” been more apt.
• Build relationships with faculty of color and ask them about their experiences in the classroom. And then listen to what they have to say. With the appropriate caveats (see above), let them know you’re reading essays like the ones below so they know that you are trying to understand what they might be facing.
Agathangelou, Anna M., and L.H.M. Ling. 2002. “An Unten(ur)able Position: The Politics of Teaching for Women of Color in the U.S.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 4:368-98.
Aguirre, Adalberto. 2000. “Women and Minority Faculty in the Academic Workplace: Recruitment,
Retention, and Academic Culture.” ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Reports 27(6):1-110.
Dukes, Richard L., and Gay Victoria. 1989. “The Effects of Gender, Status, and Effective Teaching on the Evaluation of College Instruction.” Teaching Sociology 17:447-457.
Fries, Christopher J. and R. James McNinch.2003. “Signed Versus Unsigned Student Evaluations of Teaching: A Comparison.” Teaching Sociology 31:333-344.
Hendrix, Katherine G. 1998. “Student Perceptions of the Influence of Race on Professor Credibility.” Journal of Black Studies 28:738-64.
Rubin, D. L. 2001. “Help! My Professor (or Doctor or Boss) Doesn’t Talk English.” Pp. 127-140 in Readings in Cultural Contexts, edited by Judith N. Martin, Thomas K. Nakayama, and Lisa A. Flores. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.
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