Academic journal article Adult Learning

Academic Incivility and Bullying as a Gendered and Racialized Phenomena

Academic journal article Adult Learning

Academic Incivility and Bullying as a Gendered and Racialized Phenomena

Article excerpt

Abstract: The continuum of bad behavior within the academy, from incivility to aggressive bullying, is analyzed using examples that occurred over a two-decade career. The author posits that the cases, which involved both faculty and students, were significantly impacted by the participants' gender and race positionalities.

Keywords: academic bullying, incivility in academia, intersection of gender and race, professoriate, Black women professors


When I reflect on my 20-year career in the professoriate, I am delighted that despite my fears, I chose the career of my dreams. Oftentimes when I asked, why I decided to become a professor, I respond with the flippant remark, "It's the best job on the planet. You get free books and free travel." But the answer as to what this career choice has held for me is much more complex. In looking back over the years, I am saturated by joyful memories and I am made glad by the journey, most especially the PhD's I've minted, the courses I've created, and the publications that I've produced. However, my remembrances are somewhat obfuscated by my existence in America as a Black woman in the sacred academic domain. I cannot help but recall the painful moments that left behind broken places. The complications along the way, the bumps and --bruises, the moments of cognitive dissonance when I was forced to confront academic bullying and incivility, were the times when my positional power as the professor did not provide protection. These situations were made all the more devastating because of my naive assumption that educated people would be progressive and the academic environment was a place awash with fairness and tolerance. Imagine my astonishment when I discovered this revered place was not sacrosanct, but an American workplace that did not exist apart and superior to the outside world--above the clouds in an ivory tower.

Ultimately, I am disappointed that in our academic workplace we shy away from examining instances of bullying and incivility. Although bullying was researched in the workplace in the 1990s (Leymann, 1990), it is only recently that research on bullying has been extended to include the academy (Keashly & Neuman, 2010; Misawa, 2010; Simpson & Cohen, 2004; Twale & DeLuca, 2008). A functional definition of workplace bullying, that has been gleaned from the literature, is offered by Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, and Cooper (2003):

   Bullying at work means harassing, offending,
   socially excluding someone or negatively affecting
   someone's work tasks.... Bullying is an
   escalating process in the course of which the
   person confronted ends up in an inferior position
   and becomes the target of systematic negative
   social acts. (p. 15)

According to Keashly and Neuman (2010), our idealized notion of the academic workplace retarded the natural progression to look at our own environment. In their seminal research, Faculty Experiences With Bullying in Higher Education: Causes, Consequences, and Management, they maintain the academy provides an ideal environment for bullying given that faculty subjectivity is employed to assess a colleague's membership and rank, tenure and promotion. It is the use of this assessment power that leads to threats to professional status and isolating and/or obstructional behavior, the most common bullying actions (Einarsen & Mikkelsen, 2003; Twale & DeLuca, 2008). However, what is missing from the literature is the understanding that when you introduce race and gender, bullying and incivility can occur regardless of rank. Therefore, a junior male faculty member can effectively bully a senior woman colleague, or a White colleague of lesser rank can bully a higher ranking faculty member of color. It is the possession of race privilege and/or male privilege and the accompanying accorded rights from androcentric and White-dominated systems that will, by default, support such hostile actions. …

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