Asking to Speak to Other People of Color on a Campus Visit

Today’s post is adapted from an email followup from a client, who wanted to report back to me her experience as a black female job candidate on a campus visit.  In a webinar this client had asked whether or not it was a good idea to ask the search committee to arrange a meeting or meetings with other faculty of color from anywhere across campus beyond the department. Her insights show that my response in the webinar was incorrect.

I am happy to be able to share better advice now.

Thank you, dear client!

The short version is: if you are a scholar of color, of course ask to speak to other scholars of color on campus, no matter where they may be located.  A really savvy and sensitive search committee (are you reading this, search committees???) will make arrangements for this proactively, without you having to ask.  If any department is shocked or offended by such a request, it speaks volumes about the climate.

All-caps in original; bolding added by me.

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Thank you for writing such a phenomenal resource. I am a recent graduate (2015) with a PhD in [Humanities] from U of XX, and I got 2 (!!) job interviews and 2 offers on the market this year after a successful postdoc year at U of XX. I accepted a position as an assistant professor of [Humanities] at the University X.

Aside from reading your book several times (particularly during the plane rides to both interviews), I did your Job visit/on campus interview workshop and it was so invaluable to me. I used all of your advice (even down to brushing my teeth before I met the committee member at the airport), and all of it helped me feel confident, prepared, and relatively calm during both of my interviews.

I wanted to email you to offer a little more insight on a question I asked during the webinar that seemed to have stumped you a bit. I wondered if it was appropriate to ask to speak to black people – ANY BLACK PEOPLE – when I went on a campus interview to a SLAC.  You suggested that it might be weird to ask to speak to someone who wasn’t at least in my field, and would turn unnecessary attention to race during the interview period. [KK:  Just to clarify, my advice was that she should definitely ask to speak with other faculty of color in the department or a closely related department, but not to ask to speak to “anyone from anywhere”  across campus]

After speaking to two different black, woman professor friends, I decided to disregard that advice and I did mention that I wanted to speak to someone (particularly a black woman) who would have some insight on issues of diversity in the community.

The response was that one of the committee members appeared to be shocked that a meeting with the SOLE other black faculty member (who was in Math) wasn’t already scheduled. She personally rearranged several of my meetings to make it happen. And it was EXTREMELY insightful. I did not choose that job based on a lot of things I learned in that meeting.

I should add here that the institution I accepted offered me a very comparable salary + research package despite its being a much smaller/non-research school.

After speaking to a few other professors about the issue, it is pretty clear to me that if the university and the committee aren’t very upfront about issues of race and diversity then it’s probably not going to be great place to work and live as a non-white person. If the committee is shocked or put off by your request, they will also probably be shocked and put off when you bring up any of the many things that you will, no doubt, encounter as a faculty member of color– this especially if you are also a woman.

It cannot and should not be an unspeakable mystery to your future colleagues that you are facing unique challenges that need to be addressed. Based on my limited experience and the anecdotes of others, a great committee will have thought of this prior to your arrival. Well-meaning folks will take your request seriously and understand why it is important to you.

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Comments

Asking to Speak to Other People of Color on a Campus Visit — 1 Comment

  1. I’m amazed that this school actually had a black mathematician.
    Mathematics is a field that is particularly and uniformly hostile to diversity and inclusion considerations, in addition to the generic racism in academia. This might have skewed what this faculty member had to say.

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