Professors of color deserve equal treatment from all universities

A “diverse” campus should allow students to gain valuable real-world experience during the four-year road to obtaining their bachelor’s degree. Adjunct professors from minority groups have time and time again been hired for their potential to introduce a more “diverse environment” on college campuses — and then have been denied tenure for doing just that. Even more unfortunately, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, college students tend to find male professors of color “intimidating” and “unfair” — more so than white professors — when they assert themselves and enforce rules. In other words, being a firm yet fair teacher won’t get a minority male professor the course evaluation grades necessary for him to secure the job.

According to the Chronicle, minority female assistant professors must see the same objective as an impossible feat. While male professors of color do experience backlash from being assertive in their stances, minority females are often seen as pretentious when trying to promote themselves or simply preserving their dignity. All members of academia — students, administration and faculty, including those at USC — must begin to acknowledge and address this problem if they want to maintain a commitment to a diverse educational experience.

This discrepancy has led some professors, such as a  black assistant professor who chose to remain anonymous when speaking to the Chronicle, to hire white, often female teaching assistants to act as their “cheerleaders” and lighten the heavy mood students claim they endure during class. His efforts prevailed, and he went on to receive generally high course evaluations and is currently awaiting his decision for tenure.

Another method the same professor used to score higher on his course evaluations was engaging in what he referred to as “customer service.” He would “coincidentally” bump into his students during lunch or study hours and implore them about how their days were going. When asked as to why the professor thought up of this method, he replied, “The students feel like I care now . . . I’m not the big, black scary boogeyman anymore.”

As opposed to a white assistant professor, who is not only expected to but encouraged to emphasize his strengths and somewhat cover up the entirety of his weaknesses, a female assistant professor of color is expected to first and foremost acknowledge her weaknesses and consequently her presumed “inferiority” and then follow up with what she could offer if given the position.

In other words, a white assistant professor approaches his superiors with a clean slate, and then goes on to boast about himself from there. On the other hand, a minority female assistant professor must confess to her supposed lack of technical skills compared to the rest of her competition, whether it be a white or minority male, and then attempt to recover herself after an unavoidably terrible start.

In some cases, a minority assistant professor may even win the support of his or her department yet still be denied tenure by the president of the university. According to the Washington Times, Juan Rojo, an assistant professor of Spanish, felt like he had the job in the bag just before the president of Lafayette College rejected him, citing the lack of “distinction” in Rojo’s teaching methods. Essentially, she wanted him to offer even more different and radical concepts in his teachings as a minority assistant professor. This case only furthers the phenomenon that minority assistant professors must go the extra mile in every aspect of their jobs, from building a connection with their students to either highlighting or downplaying their novel lectures, in order to make it in higher education.

The fight assistant professors of color  have to put up with has tremendous negative mental and physical side effects, such as the case of Jennifer R. Warren, who was attempting to appeal her denial for tenure at Rutgers University but is now currently seeking a job outside of higher education for the sake of her health and that of her family. Additionally, Mr. Rojo staged a hunger strike to bring awareness to and protest the implicit discrimination in the workplace of higher education. Mr. Rojo was also forced to seek work in another field after his efforts failed to bring enough attention.

Still, the fight is not all but lost, as social media has played a major part in encouraging action among college students to back up their professors of color. Twitter campaigns such as #fightforfacultyofcolor and #don’tdodartmouth have blown up over recent years, and now the problem has been and probably will continue to be addressed in school newspapers. Students could very well be the key to truly improving diversity on school campuses, because they ultimately form the socioeconomic backbone of universities and therefore will have the most influence in the long run.

The idea of diversity in higher education should not only be used to entertain, but enlighten the thoughts of college students. Assistant professors of color are often hired for the same reason they’re fired because students and faculty members alike would love to think they’re “culturally sensitive” and “open to new ideas” when in actuality they are unable to commit to being so. Many times assistant professors of color aren’t even given a chance before they open their mouths, because their physical beings don’t match up with that of a stereotypical, stock image of a college professor.

1 reply
  1. Don Harmon
    Don Harmon says:

    An interesting but very disturbing assertion, if Jerry Lee’s reference is correct. It would mean that white students judge instructors who are of color unfairly harshly. Whether conscious or unconscious, this would be unacceptable, of course.

    So what can we do? We can think about our own perspective on our instructors! This matter provides a strong teaching moment for USC students. We need to consider how we view instructors of color, and then to take care to rate, or describe them, fairly and impartially.

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