What Mentorship? The Experiences of Black Female Faculty – WOC Guest Post

I am delighted to offer another guest post in my series of contributed posts by black women and other women of color. These go up on Wednesday.

PLEASE submit a post or an idea for a post for consideration! I want to hear from you! Email me proposals or drafts at gettenure@gmail.com. I pay $150 for accepted posts. The posts can be anonymous or not, as you prefer and can be about your experiences of racism/microaggressions in grad school or the career, your post-academic musings, hard-won advice for other students/faculty of color coming up, intersectional practices in teaching or research that you have found valuable, and also of course, makeup and clothes, or even tech gear you’ve found that helps in your work. More information can be found here.

Today’s author prefers to remain anonymous. She is an Assistant Professor in the counseling department at a private liberal arts university with over six years teaching experience. She is passionate about training multiculturally conscious counselors how to utilize culturally relevant interventions with diverse clients. Her scholarship explores issues related to race, privilege, and how social media and mediated images of minoritized persons intersect with racial identity development and various mental health challenges. She currently has over six book chapters and scholarly articles published in top tier peer reviewed journals on race and oppression. Working with several national counseling associations, she has dedicated her career as an educator, practitioner, and scholar to illustrating the powerful stories of those who have been historically silenced and over.


Currently, I am coming off the heels of not being offered a position at an R1 university. A disappointing outcome after being shortlisted for a tenure-track faculty position and having an amazing on-campus interview. Ultimately, I was informed that the candidate who was offered the position had a little more grant writing experience and a few more publications than myself. The news hit me like a ton of bricks and took me some time to overcome the what-ifs and the should-haves. The outcome also led me to reflect on my experiences with a lack of mentorship, excessive service responsibilities as a faculty member, and my challenges navigating my identity as a black woman in academia.

It was not until the end of my second year in my doctoral program that I realized that I was behind in publishing. By this time, I just took comprehensive exams and I was in full-blown dissertation mode. While talking to one of my cohort mates, he mentioned that he and one of our professors had submitted a manuscript that was recently accepted. He was excited because this was his third accepted publication. HIS THIRD PUBLICATION?! He was a classmate who I considered to be a friend. Why hadn’t he mentioned anything to me about writing sooner? Bigger than that, one of the two professors who he worked with, was one of my close mentors. Why hadn’t she pulled me in on a research project?  I was livid. 

I wrestled with doubts about my abilities and feelings of inferiority. What had I done wrong? I thought that I went out of my way to build relationships with the faculty. I sought their mentorship and expressed a desire to work with them on research. But did I try hard enough? Did they feel that I was not smart or capable enough to work with them

Fortunately, I was offered a faculty position at a teaching university in the Midwest a few months before graduation. During my first two years of teaching, I began writing like a madwoman. When I first began my position, a few white female faculty members approached me about working together on research. Initially, I was excited and felt this was my opportunity to finally receive the research mentorship that I did not receive during my doctoral program. They would bring up working together on occasion. I would then follow up through email, and poof, radio silence. It was almost as though seeing me would invoke some sort of weird obligatory urge within them to reach out to me to fulfill their, “I am a white ally” image. Within my first three months of teaching, I realized that I would have to push forward on my own. Which was fine. I figured it was my career and my responsibility. 

Unfortunately, my time writing was not uninterrupted. It was clear that many of my colleagues expected me to play the role of the resident service/mammy hybrid faculty member. Before long, I was the program’s official service mule and the resident mammy to all of our students of color. In fact, some of my white colleagues would refer our minority students to me. Students of color often flooded my office with stories of microaggressions and accounts of overt racism with both white faculty and white students within and outside of the program. 

As if that were not enough, I also realized that my white male colleagues were not being asked to participate in service activities as much as I was. In program meetings, they would talk about their five-figure grants and my white female colleagues shared their recent experiences flying to the east and west coasts for ally training. Meanwhile, I shared with the group the measly three journal articles that I had written. Which took the energy of writing 30 manuscripts, because of my nine-credit hour teaching load, 40 student advisee list, 3-4 weekly service committee meetings, and countless hours mentoring our students of color. As my grandmother would say, “something was not clean in the buttermilk.” 

Do not get me wrong. I enjoy working closely with my students. I am always honored and humbled that they trust me with their truth. But I was exhausted and frustrated. I dared not express my frustration for fear of being viewed as the “angry black woman”. On the other hand, I think my anger and resentment also grew as a result of not feeling safe enough to express my frustration with my co-workers. Most of our meetings were a two-hour long compilation of various complaints and rants from my white co-workers. Yet, I felt I had to censor myself to a group of people who were not the least bit concerned about my development as a junior faculty member. I was not only mad at them for not caring about me, but I was also even more upset with myself for caring about what they thought about me.

I view my experience as a double-edged sword. Unfortunately, my what-ifs and my should-haves do not amount to much beyond lessons learned. On the other hand, my what-ifs and my should-haves do amount to lessons learned. So, I will continue to feel a sense of gratitude for faculty positions as they come, write like hell, and take heed to these and other life lessons and carry them with me along the way. A friend recently asked me why I have not considered leaving academia. Simply put, for better or for worse, I love academia and I am not ready to give up on it, just yet.

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What Mentorship? The Experiences of Black Female Faculty – WOC Guest Post — 2 Comments

  1. Hi There,

    My experience is in ways very different from yours as I am a white woman. I hate to even add a caveat because I have no doubt about your particular experiences due to being a black woman in a predominantly white department.And in fact, I have never even achieved a full time position, so that is a difference as well. But there must be some similarity b/c your article resonated so much with me. From the beginning, as a graduate student, I never had proactive mentorship, no hanging out jogging and playing soccer with the faculty, who were predominantly white male. They never turned away my requests to meet and I think a few were genuinely interested in helping me, however, there was little follow up, and their time ended up being taken up by the male grad students who were particularly assertive and (seemingly) comfortable at the school I attended. It was an easier fit, in some ways, though I’m not making excuses for them. While writing my dissertation, I ended up moving back home closer to family due to personal issues, and finished my thesis while undergoing difficult medical treatment (that also sunk my husband and me financially) and dealing with other issues. I worked as an adjunct while all of this was going on to make extra money and finish my Ph.D. You may even know where I am going — I finally had a child right around the time I finished. Due to family commitments and distraction from medical issues, it took me longer and I didn’t publish anything from my dissertation or even try. I thought it was terrible (never realizing that everyone thinks that and still crawls out of bed and faces the dissertation to find what will work). I finished and chose not to go on the market right away b/c I got pregnant and had a child near the end. This has had brutal and quite likely permanent effects on my ever having a fulltime position. It’s been years, I won’t say how many! My disappointment is that no one in my grad school (by now I admit I was remote) nor the department where I was an adjunct and got to know everyone pulled me in proactively to mentor me, or try to give me advice about reviving my career b/f it was too late. In fact, my department was interestingly quite full of (white) women, and only one ever went to bat for me, even for a lectureship. That didn’t pan out due to budget cuts and a decimated humanities department. These women have been nice to me, they have answered my questions and worked with me on projects when I solicited their help (never publications), but they have let me flounder. I realized that I fit the profile of a first generation college student who did manage to graduate from college and even get a Ph.D., but who got stalled due to fitting other characteristics of such students (extended family loyalty and time, not knowing the system at all and not getting that there was a system to know in time — I was too awed by people’s seeming brilliance and have loads of imposter syndrome), and I made a choice to prioritize being with my child for the first few years rather than daycare and long hours at work teaching and publishing. What has been the result? Have these women and other folks, who write and fight for recognition of the plight of women with children who don’t have college degrees and need higher minimum wage jobs gone to bat for me, tried to give me a hand up to make up for hindsight failures? Nope. I think that the deeper I got in the pit of no return, the more I have been pushed to the side, and expected to realize I f—up, bound to leave academia or work as an adjunct. I have been passed up for several lectureships, even encouraged not to apply for at least one, now due largely to the fact that I have quite a bit of time in and require a higher salary than newbies (all of whom have…hmmmm…been male in recent years).

    There is plenty of ignoring to go around. In the mean time, I have watched deans and full professors groom (yep) men (and yes…white men mostly that I can tell) for interviews and positions, fighting to open positions for those men to (surprise surprise) be the best interviewees in the bunch! I go in with the best I have, but have been in SEVERAL interviews where a higher up treated me very contentiously in the interview, typically a man though there are women in the room, as if looking for a reason to say I wasn’t the right person. In one case, I found out immediately after the interview that the interviewer badgering me had been working with my competition for over a year to groom him for this newly opened position, and I suspect that was the case in others b/c the position went to other people who had been around the department. I have never had a higher up woman in my discipline/direct line of hire help me this way (not that I want anyone else badgered either!), and in fact, more men I have worked with have gone out of their way to try and help me (somewhat proactively) be prepared for the next position than women. I have had exactly TWO women full time faculty in my discipline over the years reach out and act proactively in any way for me when it came to a job. (I do have one constantly help remind me I am essentially washed up…or “help.” She is fairly proactive! ;))

  2. I could have written this blog post, except I never quite made it to the academic job (only repeated years of postdocs that do not materialize into anything more than securing another postdoc the next year) and I am now an independent scholar on my last fall on the market before going alt-ac next year.

    I am a black woman who also came out of grad school with very little mentorship, only that of a Jewish woman who happened to take a liking to me and offered a co-authorship with me. Unfortunately she was in a completely different department, so my first publication doesn’t quite “count” in my field. My field is dominated by white men, and not only was I the only black female graduate student, the one black male professor was not available to me at all. I had to constantly watch white male graduate students going to the bar with these professors, attending conferences together, being offered research assistantships and co-authoring together. This was always happening behind my back without me knowing. I was never even told that I needed publications, while they were cranking them out. I attempted to publish two of my own, but I had gotten many rejections that were a shot in the dark for me, I had no idea where I’d went wrong until I began finding connections in other departments by attending their seminars. Still, there was only so much they could do.

    I’m not even sure if my recommenders are giving me good ones or not–they are professors who I have good conversations with and will take the time to meet when requested, but our contact never goes beyond that a few times a year. I even asked one of them to see a copy of a past grant application that he wrote, and he declined. Not sure what that meant, but I’m now wondering if my lack of any job interviews has something to do with less than stellar recommendations from professors() who don’t seem to care all that much.

    I did receive my PhD, a lonely, isolating and difficult experience, but I feel it was all for nought. It was as if they didn’t care whether I got it, or whether I made anything of it afterwards. I am also a first-generation college student, so while my family were proud to have the first PhD in the family, it all feels symbolic. As much as it hurts to say this, I don’t think I would suggest a black woman even pursue a PhD anymore (at least not at an PWI/R1)–for all the talk of diversity in academia, there doesn’t seem to be any real desire to create this in many departments. They’ve figured out how to let us in, use our labor and simultaneously keep us out at the same time. A clever win-win for them that doesn’t actually lead to much real progress for us in the end anyway.

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