As discussed in Harper’s forthcoming book, Race Matters in College, college and university faculty members are the byproducts of their own educational experiences. Whether in K-12 schools, college or graduate school, too few of us were given sufficient opportunity to learn about race and racism or meaningfully engage with others from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
As a result, too little attention has been paid to the problematic and stereotypical ways we have been socialized to think about people of color. Naturally, the failure to challenge such biases prior to entering the professoriate has allowed prejudicial racial attitudes of some colleagues, particularly white faculty who are the overwhelming majority of college and university professors, to inform racist pedagogical practices in their classrooms.
The recent case involving a first-generation Latina student, Tiffany Martínez, at Suffolk University, is but one example. An accomplished undergraduate, published journal author and McNair scholar, Martínez wrote a personal blog post titled “Academia, Love Me Back.” In her heartfelt plea, Martínez first recounts an experience she described as both disrespectful and invalidating and then explains that a sociology professor accused her of plagiarism, not privately, but in front of the entire class. The professor’s claim was further illustrated by emphatic written statements on her paper such as “this is not your word” and “please go back and indicate where you cut and paste.”
One such comment was written in the margin near the word “hence,” which the professor had circled, an important detail, given Martínez merely used it as an appropriate transition to connect two related sentences. Was it that surprising to Martínez’s professor that she knew how to appropriately use a transitional word?
Although some may dismiss this as a minor incident, Martínez reminds us of the internalized racism and self-doubt resulting from years of educational violence. Like the many students of color from whom we hear similar stories in our campus climate assessments, what transpired for Martínez was yet another debilitating and painful experience of marginalization.
In this case, Martínez’s professor was in disbelief that a Latina student was capable of using language consistent with what is regarded as strong, academic and scholarly writing. Such disbelief is likely to have been informed by common stereotypical portrayals of Latinas with which Martínez’s professor was most familiar, which are unlikely to have been reflective of the intellectually rich contributions of Hispanic, Latina and Chicana scholars like Laura Rendón, Gloria Anzaldúa and many others. Instead of acknowledging that Martínez is as capable as her white peers, the professor assumed intellectual incompetence and publicly reduced her demonstrated genius to an act of theft. Such assumptions and actions were not only pedagogically irresponsible, but demonstrably racist.
It is imperative that our colleagues stop being surprised when students of color are able to thoughtfully articulate themselves in their writing and in class discussions. Such low expectations of students of color who have, at minimum, earned admission to our institutions effectively erases their demonstrated capabilities and ongoing potential to meet subjective academic standards.
Furthermore, it is categorically unfair that students of color are routinely targeted and attacked with allegations of academic dishonesty due to the limits placed on their genius by the white imagination. Not only are white students not subjected to the same scrutiny and humiliation by their same-race professors, but they are also regularly excused and validated when proven to have committed the very offenses that the academy abhors.
Charles H. F. Davis III is on the faculty in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Davis also serves as director of higher education research and initiatives in the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education.
Faculty members play a critical role in how ethnic and racial minorities and women interpret the rigors of graduate school, according to a new study to be presented at the upcoming meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education. Analyses of 29 student and alumni interviews and focus groups in four doctoral programs in the sciences and engineering suggest that faculty mentors’ reframing of student experiences of struggle or failure, honestly discussing the way social identity affects one’s experiences in academe, validating students’ competence and potential -- what the paper calls “cognitive scaffolding” -- all support persistence and well-being by warding off isolation and a sense of not belonging.
The paper’s author, Julie Posselt, an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California, said via email that “Ph.D. students, maybe counterintuitively, see faculty as a last resort for academic support” and feel safer approaching peers and postdoctoral fellows. Graduate students often worry that professors “will judge them negatively if they show signs of weakness,” she said, but “when faced with doubts about their ability to make it (for example, impostor syndrome) they benefited greatly from a faculty support,” in the form of cognitive scaffolding.
Professors help students reframe their struggles and self-doubts, focusing on growth and the long term rather than the stress of immediate experiences and perceived failures, Posselt said. “Also very meaningful to students was honest talk about the ways that race and gender affect their experiences in the academy; they appreciated frank conversations about this from both same-race and same-gender faculty as well as mentoring across social identity.”
Racists posters appeared Thursday morning at about 20 locations around Iowa State University, the latest university this fall to see such posters. Photos of the posters were posted on social media (right) and alarmed many students and others. The institution took the posters down.
A statement from the university noted that "free expression is fundamental to the educational experience" at the university, but added that the posters violated Iowa State rules. "We continue to defend any individual’s right to free expression; however, attacks directed at any individual or group are inconsistent with the principles of the Iowa State community: respect, purpose, cooperation, richness of diversity, freedom from discrimination and the honest and respectful expression of ideas," the statement said.
Black students at Florida Gulf Coast University are planning a protest today over the university's failure to respond with a campuswide notification when a threatening slur was found on a classroom whiteboard, The News-Press reported. A statement with a slur suggested that black people should be killed and it was accompanied by a stick figure showing a figure hanging from a tree. Students say the university should have notified them, because many students said they found out about the incident through news reports.
As students were preparing for the protest, President Wilson Bradshaw did send out an all-campus email. "We read about these kinds of things happening on campuses and in other public places across the country, but it is personally distressing to see it here, a place that cares so deeply about and intentionally works so diligently to foster a community that supports each other in our diversity and inclusion," he wrote. Students said that this comment, as they were preparing a protest, did not ease their concerns that they were not notified when the university discovered what was written on the whiteboard.
Michael Bérubé publishes follow-up to his 1996 book about his son with Down syndrome. Jamie’s now a working adult who’s offered his dad, who has become a leading figure in disability studies, a whole new education.
Students and administrators at Xavier University in Ohio are denouncing two racist images linked to students at Xavier and circulating on social media. One shows a woman in blackface with the tagline "who needs white when black lives matter." The other appears to show an African garment over a skeleton next to a banner supporting Donald Trump.
The Reverend Michael J. Graham posted a statement on Twitter in which he said, in part, "I am outraged and deeply troubled by recent racist images connected to Xavier students. Racist actions are unacceptable on our campus, and we have mechanisms to respond in a responsible and thoughtful manner. When one of us falls short, we all fall short." He added that "many of our students, of all races, are in pain" over the images.