Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Assessing the Impact of Racism on Black Faculty in White Academe: A Collective Case Study of African American Female Faculty

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Assessing the Impact of Racism on Black Faculty in White Academe: A Collective Case Study of African American Female Faculty

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the 1990s, many predominantly White institutions of higher education (PWI) put forth deliberate efforts to increase the number of faculty of color in the academy (Harvey & Anderson, 2005). Such was the case at the large, Midwestern institution that provides the context for this study. A multi-year directive from the university's governing body to increase the number of underrepresented students of color also resulted in affirmative actions to increase the numbers of faculty of color. Within this majority White institution of 26,000 students, 2,000 faculty (including 17 faculty of color) we were a part of the education department faculty from 1995-2000. At this time, we made up the largest number of faculty of color within any one department, and therefore we were viewed as a critical mass.

At the end of the 1998-99 academic year, each of us received a low performance assessment at our annual review. Despite our high achievements and being a critical mass of 12% of the department faculty, we were assessed to be the least productive faculty members in a department of 41. This article covers a case study span of five years (1995-2000) and a debriefing and analyses (2014). The nearly 15-year delay to release a collective experience of racial discrimination is due to the silence that many are forced to maintain to avoid professional backlash. Furthermore, this article focuses on the impact that racism can have on a critical mass of black female faculty in academia.

This article and similar literature illustrates that the struggle of faculty of color to move forward on equal footing with their White peers requires more than a diverse critical mass (Dade & Rios, 2015; Sidhu, 2013; Cole Robinson & Clardy, 2010; Etzkowitz, Kemelgor, Neuschatz, Uzzi & Alonzo, 1994). It is often expected that employing a significant number of faculty of color will address all diversity issues. One assumption that has been discussed in the literature is that a diverse and critical mass of historically underrepresented people in a given place will naturally lead to their individual success (Stanley, 2006; Turner, Gonzalez, Juan & Wood, 2008). However, we did not find this to be true at this institution. Collectively, we still experienced racism much like our individual counterparts despite representing a critical mass.

Many research studies have examined the recruitment and retention of faculty of color into predominantly white institutions (Stanley, 2006; Turner, Gonzalez, Juan, & Wood, 2008; Ware, 2000). Yet, little is known about the impact of being a part of a critical mass of faculty of color in a single department or the career and personal experiences of African American female faculty. This collective case study examines the impact that being a part of a critical mass of faculty of color had on the occurrence and effect of micro-aggressions, faculty resilience, and sense of belonging. This case study helps to elucidate the multiple layers and dimensionality of racism (Coates, 2011) as it occurred in the academy, and is instrumental in providing deeper understanding about the complexities, and particularity of female faculty of color, in the academy (Stake, 2006).

Recruitment and retention of faculty of color is important for every aspect of the university, including diverse faculty. Yet, this article confronts the assumption that when underrepresented groups increase, things will turn around. Specifically, this article looks at the case of African American females in the education department who were brought closer together by an act of blatant discrimination. It demonstrates how our significant numbers did not make a difference in protecting us against overt discrimination nor did our presence as a critical mass result in the institution critically reviewing its practices.

The Collective Experience: What's in a Number?

Each of us made notable academic and professional contributions throughout the time period highlighted in this article. …

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