Karen Flynn is an Associate professor in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies and the Department of African American Studies Program at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests include migration and travel, Black Canada, health, popular culture, feminist, Diasporic and post-colonial studies. Dr. Flynn’s book: Moving Beyond Borders: Black Canadian and Caribbean women in the African Canadian Diaspora (University of Toronto), won the Lavinia L. Dock Award from the American Association of the History of Nursing.
The email read:
Dear Dr. Flynn,
“We want to bring to your attention to this exciting opportunity at [X] for a faculty position that will span two disciplines [X&X]…We feel your work is a natural fit for this position. It would be our honor if you would consider it carefully and seriously.”
These invitations, whether by email or phone, to apply for faculty or leadership positions, are a recruitment strategy that, on the surface, appears innocuous and even flattering. Because Black women are under-represented in the academy -we account for about 2% of full-time professors– these recruitment strategies are all the more enticing. For some of us, these opportunities demonstrate that our scholarship and leadership skills are valuable in the academic marketplace. Others like me, after the sting of one too many dubious experiences, question the efforts and motives used to persuade us to consider these requests. We recognize, and call attention to the bogus and shady recruitment strategies designed to exploit us. Spread the word, Black women see you! Listen, and take us seriously!
It is also important that as Black women we know how the game is played. While I believe that most institutions are well-intentioned and put forth a good faith effort in hiring Black women, there is ample evidence that indicates some are disingenuous.
My name was forwarded to *Joanne (not her real name) Associate Dean for Academic Advancement. I was open to the possibility of relocating and scheduled a phone conversation with Joanne. At some point in the conversation, she asked, “what would it take to get you here.”? I was flabbergasted and uncertain about how to respond. I had yet to secure a campus visit and wondered whether the question- was appropriate. My sista friend and colleague, Isabel Molina, Associate Dean of Diversity & Inclusion, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign offered this advice. “Get as much informal information as you can about them. It’s not legal for the recruiting unit to do that, we all know they get information about us from their predominantly white networks and engage in biased evaluations about us and our work to make their decisions – especially when we are the token whatever.” That advice would have served me well.
I was selected for the campus interview and began to prepare in earnest.
None of the information I read, or the mock interview, prepared me for my visit with the Dean, who from the start of the conversation, launched into a litany of complaints about the faculty and students. As she droned on about a faculty member “who left to follow her man,” a student-led summer program with Mexican immigrants that she clearly resented, the voice in my head started speaking. “This white woman thinks I’m the Black side chick that she can dump on;” “ she thinks she’s the plantation mistress and I’m the smiling mammy.” Yes, I was smiling! At no point in our conversation, did this Dean discuss anything related to the faculty appointment. As I said my goodbye, she said, “I enjoyed talking to you, I could talk to you for hours.” This comment served as confirmation: the voice in my head knew what she was talking about.
It is clear these institutional leaders are unfamiliar with the black tax.
Recruiting Black women, as one Twitter user pointed out, “to diversify the pool knowing there’s a slim chance in hell we will be seriously considered for the position” is a huge problem. Tricia knows this only too well. “I too have had people ask me what it would take to get me to their Research 1 institution. One psychology department in the south had never had a Black faculty member. The white older male Chair asked me the question knowing that he had no plans to make me the first,” she explained. Black women are not oblivious to how we are being used to satisfy the fiction of diversity which has yet to be actualized. We are also not Olivia Pope! Do not hire us to clean up your messes!
Most recently, I received multiple calls from a friend, “Betty,” encouraging me to apply for a leadership position. According to Betty, she was friends with the Associate Dean, Natalie. A quick Google search and I discovered allegations of sexual misconduct in the program; a fact Betty conveniently neglected to mention. Clearly, someone was worried about the position being filled. To encourage me to apply for the position, Betty reassured me that my salary would be significantly higher than my current earnings. She also mentioned telling Natalie about my partner, an IT specialist. Instead of asking “what would it take to come here,” Betty calculated mine and my partner’s increased salary in tandem with other enticements to sweeten the offer. People like Betty see Black women like me as desperate for their affirmation. They assume that we are naïve to their shady intentions because we listen to them and in some cases, even apply for these jobs.
As one of a few experts in her scholarly field, Tamara is consistently recruited as a target of opportunity hire (TOP). Her recruitment stories are both disheartening and instructive. During one recruitment conversation, Tamara realized that the starting salary “offer was 60% of what male associate professors were making on average.” In the same conversation, she was repeatedly called “sista girl” by a man of color, which made Tamara uncomfortable. Since George Floyd’s murder, Tamara has been heavily recruited. When she inquired from one headhunter about the latest recruitment, she was told that, in addition to being the face of the department, they needed someone to bring healing and unity to the department. According to Tamara, “there was a generational divide-older white men-and younger women faculty.” And there were also allegations of sexual misconduct. A token hire, Tamara was expected to fix institutional and structural problems while participating in the illusion of diversity and inclusion.
We want anyone interested in recruiting Black women to recognize that we are geniuses. Your institutions will not survive without us; get your recruitment house in order. This is Public Service Announcement. We are prepared to call names.