Category Archives: Gender

Written/Unwritten: The Contents

 

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Foundations

Responding to the Calling: The Spirituality of Mentorship and Community in Academia
Houston Baker, Jr with Ayanna Jackson-Fowler

Building a Canon, Creating Dialogue
Cheryl Wall with Rashida Harrison

Navigations

Difference without Grievance: Asian Americans as the Almost Minority
Leslie Bow

In Search of Our Fathers’ Workshops
Lisa Sánchez González

Identities

Tenure in the Contact Zone: Spanish is Our Language Too
Angie Chambram

‘Colored’ is the New Queer: Queer Faculty of Color in the Academy
Andreana Clay

 Manifestos

Performative Testimony and the Practice of Dismissal
Jane Chin Davidson and Deepa S. Reddy

Talking Tenure: “Don’t be safe. Because there is no safety there anyway”
Sarita See

Hierarchies

Still Eating in the Kitchen: The Marginalization of African American Faculty in Majority-White Academic Governance
Carmen V. Harris

Musings of a Lowly Adjunct
Wilson Santos

Activism(s)

Balancing the Passion for Activism with the Demands of Tenure: One Professional’s Story from Three Perspectives
April L. Few-Demo, Fred P. Piercy, and Andrew J. Stremmel

 “Cast your net wide”: Reflections on Community Engagement When Black Lives Matter
Patricia A. Matthew

Appendices

Talking Tenure Newsletter
Maria Coter, Paul Faber, Roxana Galusca, Anneeth Kaur Hundle, Rachel Quinn, Kirisitina Sailiata Jamie Small, Andrea Smith, Matthew Stiffler, and Lee Ann Wang

 University of Southern California Analysis of Data on Tenure
Jane Junn

Making Labor Visible
Kim F. Hall

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Clicks and Cliques Part IV: The College Language Association Panel

“It is the nature of privilege to find ever deeper places to hide.”
Elizabeth Spelman

I was in New Orleans last weekend to participate on a panel at the College Language Association’s annual conference. It was magnificent in so many ways. I heard great papers and talks, met academic pioneers, sighed during Edwidge Danticat’s keynote, and ate my weight in fried shrimp.  I danced to someone named Trombone Black at a juke joint in the 7th Ward and wandered around the French Quarter in the rain.  There were beignets.

CLA is not a conference I normally attend.  You’re more likely to find me at the British Women Writers Conference, the annual Narrative conference or, from time to time, NASSR.  But when Janeen Price and Jenice Hudson, two doctoral candidates at Florida State University, asked me to participate on a panel about how women of color navigate the academy (Creolizing the Academic Space: A Roundtable), I said yes.  I wanted the opportunity to put my posts and conversations about what I’ve come to think of as “Women’s Studies Culture” into a more useful context and I wanted to talk about my ideas with a diverse group of women of color from different corners of the academy.  We were charged with sharing our experiences as a way to offer perspectives and strategies for other women of color.  I chose to focus on gender and diversity.

In my thinking about the challenges women of color face when working with white women in the academy, I’ve shifted away from talking about “white women” as a monolithic group and towards discussing Women’s Studies Culture. Not only is this phrase a more precise description of the struggle, it points to a larger systemic problem—one that Jane Chin Davidson and Deepa S. Reddy discuss in their essay “Performative Testimony and the Practice of Dismissal” in Written/Unwritten. It allows for the fact that this struggle goes at least as far back as the eighteenth century when white women like Mary Wollstonecraft appropriated the abolitionist movement to forward their own causes.  My brief comments focused on the larger cultural shifts outside the academy that trouble the waters within it. I titled my contribution to the panel “The Minefield(s) of Sisterhood: Women’s Studies Culture and Diversity in the Academy” and framed my thoughts with a question from Audre Lorde and an exhortation from bell hooks.

Lorde’s question is one I’ve been carrying around with me for the last year or so. She posed it to the attendees of the 1981 National Women’s Association Conference in a talk titled “On the Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism.”   After recounting the various ways that white women place themselves and their feelings at the center of conversations about racism, she asks her sisters at the NWSA:

What woman here is so enamoured of her own oppression that she cannot see her heelprint upon another woman’s face?  What woman’s terms of oppression have become precious and necessary to her as a ticket into the fold of the righteous, away from the cold winds of self-scrutiny?

I offered my advice, my exhortation from bell hooks in her essay, “Choosing the Margins as a Space of Radical Openness”–an idea I’ve written about here and am exploring more fully in an essay for PMLA:

Marginality [is] much more than a site of deprivation; in fact…it is also the site of radical possibility, a space of resistance. It was this marginality that I was naming as a central location for the production of counter-hegemonic discourse that is not just found in words but in habits of being and the way one lives. As such, I was not speaking of marginality one wishes to lose—to give up or surrender as part of moving into the center—but rather of a site one stays in, clings to even, because it nourishes one’s capacity to resist. It offers to one the possibility of radical perspective from which to see and create, to imagine alternatives, new worlds.

Between Lorde and hooks, I laid out four shifts we need to think about in order to understand what is happening at what feels like a a particularly tense time for women of color and Women’s Studies Culture in the academy:

  1. Cultural: We have moved away from the Age of Oprah when the most popular black woman in America built an empire around telling middle-class and upper middle-class white women how to “live their best lives” (without really challenging them to question at whose expense those lives are lived) to a time when the most visible black woman in America challenges racial stereotypes every time she walks in a room. Whereas Oprah—attached to a man but not married and with no children of her own, with her history of sexual assault, and her public weight battle—could inspire white women without challenging their notions of white femininity, Michelle Obama has made the kinds of decisions, primarily to put her family before what many see as a traditional professional career, that make white feminists nervous or angry.
  1. Economic:   The fact that white women have benefited more from Affirmative Action than any other group means that despite broader social inequities, they have more power, particularly in the academy, than they have ever had before and the Anne-Marie Slaughter model of trickle-down feminism (what is good for those at the top will eventually be good for those at the bottom) can make it difficult for many to understand their own privilege.
  2. Institutional: Women’s Studies, or Gender and Women’s Studies, is closer to the center of the academy than it has ever been before, and the closer it gets to the center the more aggressively it subscribes to the same hierarchies that it once challenged, and it does so under the veil of social justice. On this point, I was (and remain) curious to know if the increase of Ethnic Studies departments has meant more and more women of color opting out of Women’s Studies Culture and building their own academic profiles, careers, and, most importantly, agency, largely without white women.
  3. Social—Women of color have more outlets and opportunities than they have ever had before both to express their frustrations and their anger AND, most importantly, to build solidarity. I think that what was once seen as peer-to-peer dynamics has now been revealed to be part of a larger pattern and the narrative of the “angry black woman” who bullies white woman with her aggressive tone is being regularly challenged and the challenge is happening in public spaces.

If you haven’t attended CLA, you might not know that it was founded 77 years ago when the MLA excluded black faculty (in practice if not in policy) from its membership.  This is one of the reasons why it’s a conference that matches the kind of papers, talks, and discussions we seek at these kinds of gatherings with an air of celebration. It is a conference that turned marginalization into a radical and creative act.  Our panel include: Karla Holloway (Duke University), Judy Jackson (University of Kentucky), Theri A. Pickens (Bates College), Rhea Lathan (Florida State University).  The room was pretty full.   Every speaker, from the untenured assistant professors to the mid-career faculty to senior colleagues, shared experiences that resonated with others on the panel and those who spoke during the Q&A.  Well, it wasn’t actually a Q&A session.  It was something else entirely.  As the panel participants shared their thoughts, people moved beyond the academic knowing nod (you know what I’m talking) to actual exclamations and sighs. This spilled over into the Q&A in ways that surprised me and gave me concrete reminders about how important it is to articulate these challenges within institutionalized academic spaces.

I think that if you were to walk up to anyone in that room and asked them if racism and sexism was shaping how they moved through the academy, they would say yes and then inform you that water is still wet.  But it’s one thing to know a truth, to know that microaggression and systemic discrimination are real, and it’s another thing to have your individual experience affirmed. I think it was that specific kind of affirmation that made this more than an academic, theoretical discussion.  After the panel ended, some people came up to ask the panelists for advice. Most just wanted to hug us and tell us their stories.  There are so many, too many.

I wanted to give folks a bibliography they could take back to their home institutions, either to read on their own or to read with whatever trusted colleagues they can find.  Here it is:

Gender, Race, and Feminism
A Short Bibliography

 

Accapadi, Motwani Mamta. “When White Women Cry: How White Women’s Tears Oppress Women of Color.” The College Student Affairs Journal. 2007 (26:2): 208-215.

Daniels, Jessie.“The Trouble with White Women.”

hooks, bell. “Choosing the Margins as a Space of Radical Openness” in Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics. South End Press (1990).

Lorde, Audre. “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism” Keynote: National Women’s Studies Association (1981).

Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. Duke University Press (2003).

Ortega, Marina. “Being Lovingly, Knowingly Ignorant: White Feminism and Women of Color.” Hypatia 21:3 (Summer 2006): 56-74.

Palmer, Phyllis. Marynick. “White Women/Black Women: The Dualism of Female Identity and Experience in the United States.” Feminist Studies 9:1(Spring, 1983): 151-170.

Sandoval, Chela. “U.S. Third World Feminism: The Theory and Method of Oppositional Consciousness in the Postmodern World.” Genders: Journal of Social Theory, Representation, Race, Gender, Sex (1991): 1-24.*

Spelman, Elizabeth. Inessential Woman: Problems of Exclusion in Feminist Thought. Beacon Press (1988).

Williams, Patricia. The Alchemy of Race and Rights: Diary of a Mad Law Professor. Harvard University Press (1991).

*I’m grateful to Annick T.R Wibben for pointing me to this essay.

 

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Lessons from the Collection IV: Teaching While Black (Part I)

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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Clicks and Cliques: Part III (The THATCamp Converation)

The night before THATCamp, I told Michelle that I didn’t think anyone would come to our panel. Too many people had told me stories of conferences where panels about race and/or ethnicity only attracted people of color. We joked that we might be the only two people in the room.

Our panel was originally scheduled for this room:
photo-15

I got there a few minutes early so I could get my head in a space to have a “productive conversation” about the kinds of “strategies” we (the few I thought would be in attendance) might have around the silences that seem to dominate the conversation about racism and feminism.

But so many people wanted to attend the panel that we ended up moving here (to the main conference room):photo-16
Michelle, who has more experience with public conversations about race than I do, said to me “this is too big” and suggested that we split the group of about 45 women (2/3 of the conference) into smaller groups. It seemed like a good idea, but I thought we could start big and then turn to smaller groups.

I had other ideas about how this could unfold. Michelle did too.

They seem less important this morning than what happens now that we’ve started this conversation, in this particular space.

After the conference, Kim Hall, Michelle, and I met over drinks to discuss, among other things, what could happen next with all of the ideas, energies, frustrations, and hopes that were in that room. I wish I had facilitated the discussion differently (asked a more focused question, started where I ended, invited other participants to begin by sharing their experiences), but I think the Session Notes offer a terrific opportunity to continue the conversation.

I think they provide a fairly accurate account of how things unfolded (it’s great to see other conference attendees still filling in the gaps), and this post is an invitation to folks to read them and share their thoughts and reactions.

In order to keep the Session Notes focused on the conference, it’s probably best to write in the comments section here. Or you might write something on your own blog and link to it in the common section here (or send the link to me via twitter @triciamatthew)

In the spirit of that invitation I’ll share that one thing I’ve been thinking about since the panel was that I talked about wanting “strategies” without clarifying who I had in mind. It really depends on your subject position though, doesn’t it? If, for example, you’re a woman of color navigating this terrain, it might be useful to know about Jay Smooth’s very popular video about how to call out racist behavior (if you’re a white person who struggles with hearing that something you’ve said or done is problematic, this could be useful for you too). It’s a good place to start. What I was hoping for was a similar resource that can be a good place to start for white feminists, something that goes beyond “Unpacking the Knapsack,” that speaks specifically to feminism and racism. I know a few attendees had ideas, so I hope they share them.

Many, many thanks to everyone who attended. I know it wasn’t an easy conversation, but I am encouraged by the number of people interested enough in this persistent (pernicious) issue to attend the panel and thankful to all whose shared their ideas, stories, and questions.

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Diversty Round-up: The 2012 List of Books on Diversity

I’ll confess that I always feel a little pit in my stomach when I see that a new book about diversity in higher education goes to print.  I started this project several years ago, and it was slow, difficult work getting it all together, and now it is making the slow journey to publication. It’s difficult to hurry up and wait.  I worry that the narratives I’ve compiled will seem like old news.

Then I remember that an issue as complex and deeply entrenched as this one requires multiple essays, articles, anthologies, and special journal issues.  The goal isn’t to be first but to expand and extend the discussion (it should probably be this in all areas of research but this is especially the case when it comes to diversity).   And I remind myself that more than professional advancement or ego boosts, we need as broad a community as possible to be as informed as possible about this issue.

This is not only a list books that came out this year (Presumed Incompetent) but of books that are important to this conversation that I returned to this year as I finished writing the introduction to the collection.  These are books I looked to as I planned the anthology, and they are books that I think everyone should read—especially white academics who want to do more than just say that they value diversity (or offer the earnest head nod whenever the issue comes up).    And I should say that I am very glad that colleagues in my home department are reading some of these books with me and doing the work to develop and maintain meaningful diversity.

If you know of more good books on the subject, please send the titles my way

(NB: Descriptions are from websites about the books where available).

If you’re going to start anywhere, start with: Deborah Gray White, ed. Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower.  Gender and American Culture Series. (U of North Caroline, P.,  2008).

Engagingly written, Telling Histories should appeal to multiple audiences. Taken together, these stories underscore the firm hold of racism, sexism, and classism within American society in general and the academy and history departments specifically. While presenting and often resolving theoretical and methodological questions, the book not only is valuable for graduate students but is also a significant contribution to the field and should facilitate bringing down barriers, both within and outside the academy, that constrain the professorial ranks, stifle voices, and preclude diverse academicians and scholars from writing and teaching without restraint. The contributors’ content is largely descriptive but it also provides analysis about the progression of scholarly trends and instruction in historiography to historians at all professional stages.

Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs, et al, eds.
Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia (Utah State UP, 2012)

Presumed Incompetent is a pathbreaking account of the intersecting roles of race, gender, and class in the working lives of women faculty of color. Through personal narratives and qualitative empirical studies, more than 40 authors expose the daunting challenges faced by academic women of color as they navigate the often hostile terrain of higher education, including hiring, promotion, tenure, and relations with students, colleagues, and administrators. The narratives are filled with wit, wisdom, and concrete recommendations, and provide a window into the struggles of professional women in a racially stratified but increasingly multicultural America.

Evans, Stephanie.
Black Women in the Ivory Tower: 1850-1954
(UP Florida 2007).

Evans chronicles the stories of African American women who struggled for and won access to formal education, beginning in 1850, when Lucy Stanton, a student at Oberlin College, earned the first college diploma conferred on an African American woman. In the century between the Civil War and the civil rights movement, a critical increase in black women’s educational attainment mirrored unprecedented national growth in American education. Evans reveals how black women demanded space as students and asserted their voices as educators–despite such barriers as violence, discrimination, and oppressive campus policies–contributing in significant ways to higher education in the United States. She argues that their experiences, ideas, and practices can inspire contemporary educators to create an intellectual democracy in which all people have a voice.

Janis Fay, et al, eds.
Racism in the Academy: The New Millennium.  American Anthropological Association. (2012)

The starting point for this study was through the auspices of our professional scholarly society, the American Anthropological Association. In 2007, then-president Alan Goodman appointed a commission charged with two primary responsibilities:
“(1) to collect information in order to better expose how privilege has been maintained in anthropology and the AAA, including but not limited to departments and the academic pipeline and

(2) to develop a comprehensive plan for the Association and for the field of anthropology to increase the ethnic, racial, gender and class diversity of the discipline and organization.”

Baez, Benjamin. 
Affirmative Action, Hate Speech, and Tenure: Narratives About Race and Law in the Academy
. Benjamin Baez (Routledge Falmer 2002).

I like everything that Baez has written on race in higher education. Everything.

Geok-Lin Lim, Shirley et al, eds.
Power, Race, and Gender in  Academe: Strangers in the Tower.  New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1991)

My favorite chapter from this collection is Gunning, Sandra. “Now That They Have Us, What’s the Point?” The Challenge of Hiring to Create Diversity.”

Matthew, Patricia A., ed. 
Written/Unwritten: Tenure and Race in the Humanities (not yet, but I couldn’t resist…)

 

 

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Clicks and Cliques: Part II

As I read Michelle Moravec’s response to my “Clicks and Cliques post,” I felt something—not a thrill up my leg since she’s not Obama and I’m not Chris Matthews—but something. Dare I call it a click?

It’s different than the click that Sansell refers to. Our eyes did not meet across a faculty meeting or at a conference. In fact, we’ve never met at all. An African-American academic I follow on twitter follows her, and since Moravec describes herself as a “lover of feminism” I thought she might read my blog entry. I didn’t know if she (or anyone) would even read it, but she did, and told other people to read it too.

The “click” I felt is different, but it seems different in exactly the right way.

•  She is, to borrow her phrase, “blogging her book” and so am I. Click.

•  Her post begins by describing a particularly successful day in the archives. I know that (in)tense pleasure oh so well. Click.

•  Excellent use of metaphor. Click.

•  She appreciates and acknowledges that my thoughts about feminism and diversity in the academy lead to tough questions and she’s ready to engage. Click.

• The answer she offers to my final question has prompted me to refine my questions. Click.

To put it another way, I didn’t feel a connection because we have a shared sense of oppression; in fact, it’s entirely possible that if we continue the conversation we’ll have sharp disagreements. I am interested, feel a click because the research she describes is intriguing and she expresses a clarity about her own subject position. Most importantly, her answer to my questions reminds me that many academic feminists don’t work in academic institutions with official programs and departments.

She answers:

I know my response offers nothing by way of what to do institutionally, and I suppose that it is one of the reasons I’m attracted to my extraordinarily small college (400 students, less than 40 faculty). I really do deal with things on a case by case basis and by continuing to ask the hard questions, which for me, emerge more around interactions with students than with colleagues because I have so very few colleagues.

She also agrees with me (and, yes, that’s one reason why I felt a click) that there is a dominant power structure in the feminist academy: “I do think the ‘old girls’ club is real and that it is largely white, and that creates a climate in which homogenous expectations are established (4: This footnote links to Notes From an “Angry Woman of Color”: Academic Policing and Disciplining Women of Color in a Post (Fill in the blank) Era).”

And so I would like to expand the question by making clear that while the thoughts and questions in the original post imagined larger institutions with Women and Gender Studies programs and departments, I think the different dynamic at smaller colleges needs to be considered as well. The collection as a whole has essays by scholars of color from different kinds of institutions, and I’d like this essay to reflect a similar diversity. The stakes are different at smaller schools (higher or lower, I honestly don’t know or if that measurement even works). I’m also wondering about the generational shift Moravec’s own research reflects and what it suggests about how feminist scholars interact with one another more broadly. Years ago, when I was a very new assistant professor, my colleague, the film critic and scholar Paul Arthur, introduced me to feminist film critic Amy Taubin. The three of us had dinner, and the conversation turned to the different instances of tensions (of all kinds) among academic feminists that I’d seen, heard, and been a part of since graduate school. She summed it all up rather neatly in a way I’ve never forgotten. She proposed that it’s sometimes easier to talk to your grandmother than it is to talk to your mother. It seems an apt metaphor and a useful way to think in a more nuanced way about the state of the academic feminist union in this current moment, when we have multiple generations of feminist scholars at different levels of success in academe.

Finally, while I am happy to have Moravec’s response, I am happy to hear about bits and pieces of people’s experiences, thoughts, and ideas.

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Of Clicks and Cliques: White Women, Women of Color, Diversity, and Tension

In The Feminist Promise: 1792 to the Present, historian Christine Sansell describes a moment of connection that occurs between women who recognize a common struggle:

…the penetrating critique of life-as-women-lived it was a point of contact between strangers and far flung-sympathizers, when other signs of affiliation were absent.  This is what Jane O’Reilly meant in 1971 when she described the “click,” feminist shorthand for the decisive moment when women’s eyes met across a room, in unspoken recognition of some outrage disguised as normal life, men’s petty dominion over women’s time, attention, labor, and self-esteem, whether expressed in monopolizing a conversation or expecting a female employee to take notes at a meeting (234)

It’s a lovely notion—the feeling that at any moment one might suddenly know with certainty that she is not alone in the face of oppressive systems.  And I think it’s a moment that feminist academics seek.  This is not necessarily because they are women, though women are undoubtedly socialized to think in terms of community, but because the success of feminist ideological, curricular and political agendas within colleges and universities are built on such connections. Perhaps more than any other discipline, Women’s and Gender Studies links activism, scholarship, pedagogy and community building.  I tease a friend of mine about how many retreats women’s studies faculty attend and joke, “you all really have to get along, don’t you?”   They do.  We do.

My question, one that must be addressed in order to have a full consideration of the main issues this collection addresses, is this: what happens when that “decisive moment,” when that “click” doesn’t happen?  What happens if the dominant group of academic feminists (middle-class white women) doesn’t share similar oppressive experiences or, perhaps more importantly, have wildly different coping mechanisms?  My sense is that instead of a click there’s a sharp separating—an almost physical, huge step backwards that leads to a sharp divide. If the phrase, “the personal is political” is one of the key tenets of late 1960s feminism, the academic is personal seems foundational to the structure of Women’s and Gender Studies.  I recognize that there are other rifts (generational and economic come to mind immediately) but I am most interested in thinking about the racial divide.

Here’s what I’m noticing.  Many white women academics collapse their struggles with the struggles that face academics of color and this leads to a kind of blindness where they simply can’t see the oppressive realities that faculty of color face and, by extension, don’t see themselves as oppressors. The language institutions use to lump groups together exacerbates the problem. Consider, for example, the phrase “women and people of color”–a designation that pairs up two different kinds of marginalized groups in ways that can lead to conflict instead of collaboration. It prompts white women academics to see themselves as natural allies with the same challenges when faculty of color are always marked as racialized and, therefore, have a different set of obstacles to overcome.   In other words, while white women and women of color share some of the burdens of gender bias, it is all too easy for white women to lose sight of their own privilege and for that blindness to result in discriminating practices that extend into the evaluative process.

I am remembering how white women in grad school were much more comfortable working with women of color in crisis or turning to them for wisdom then sitting across from them as peers.  And I’m trying to work out how that pattern of engagement influences interactions around evaluative processes.  To further complicate this tension, generally speaking, women of color respond in completely different ways to oppression than their white peers. We have needed (and developed) a different skill set to survive the academy and we have been both punished and rewarded in complicated ways for our coping mechanisms.  I think this mode of coping can feel like an indictment to those who struggle differently and in a world founded on “clicks” that relies on the notion of a common battle they can be quite threatening.  The problems are often generational and exacerbated by a white privilege that is sometimes masked by the mixed- up ideas (part myth, part reality) of a shared oppression.

We, all of us, reproduce ourselves in our personnel decisions, and when we add in the complications of Women and Gender Studies departments that rely on faculty working closely together under the umbrella of “community” things get tricky and people are evaluated not so much on their skills and accomplishments but on whether or not they “click.” My sense, taken from the countless stories I have heard over the years, is that white women in the academy forget how far they’ve actually come and, worse, they run the risk of setting up oppressive systems that don’t actually replace patriarchal hierarchies they want to challenge but simply rewrite them along feminine lines.  This plays itself out in myriad ways—namely in the expectations placed on new faculty to support Women’s and Gender Studies agendas through service.  These expectations tend to have a moral element to them since the work of Women’s and Gender Studies is so closely tied to activism and advocacy.  Pretty much everyone agrees that there has been a long-standing tension between white women and women of color in feminist movements and I count this as progress. But how does that problem play itself out in the halls of academe? In other words, is there a dominant culture of Women’s and Gender studies that is inadvertently hostile to racial diversity? If so, what can be done to fix it?  What problems have you seen?  Have you seen this issue addressed directly in your institution?

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