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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.