Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

"Unsettling Relations": Racism and Sexism Experienced by Faculty of Color in a Predominantly White Canadian University

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

"Unsettling Relations": Racism and Sexism Experienced by Faculty of Color in a Predominantly White Canadian University

Article excerpt

This article is a qualitative investigation of the experiences of nine women of color in a predominantly White Canadian university. Although the sample size is small, this study underscores racism and sexism pervading in some contexts, situations, and relationships for women of color in academe. Minority instructors perceive racism as infusing most aspects of academic life such as curriculum design, evaluations, administrative support, and mainstream student reactions. This analytical inquiry recommends a revamping of curriculum design and evaluation criteria, an implementation of ongoing anti-racism training for mainstream faculty, and most importantly, hiring a "critical mass" of women of color to "unsettle relations" and create a more congenial, affable, supportive and equitable academic environment.

INTRODUCTION

A revolutionary study on the hiring of "visible minorities" defined by the Federal Contractors Program as " persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-White in color" (Guide to Equity Resources at Queens, 2004), at Canadian universities made headlines in The Toronto Star, a leading newspaper of Canada. In the article, Dr. Chandrakant Shah, an awardwinning professor, who has taught in the University of Toronto since 1972, professes that, hypothetically, it would take more than 25 years before visible minorities represent a critical mass of even 15 percent of professors (Rushowy, 2000). According to Shah, "critical mass is understood to refer to reducing the potential for minority colleagues to feel isolated and marginalized" (Rushowy, 2000, p. 3). The figures that Shah used were not based on a quota system. Instead, he used a mathematical model of probability that assumed the university fills an average of 15 percent of all job openings with a visible minority candidate, that is, in a faculty population of 1,710 and an annual rate of new hires of 5 percent (or 85 job openings). Shah's findings revealed the dearth of faculty positions held by members of so-called visible minorities-a selected group under the Federal Contractors' Program-a program that mandates the hiring of four target groups of women, visible minorities, the disabled, and people with different sexual orientation.

Importantly, women of color are underrepresented in Canadian academe (Henry & Tator, 2005). Furthermore, it has been pointed out that women of color hold 18.7 percent of doctoral degrees in Canada, and yet, constitute an average of only 10.3 percent of faculty positions nationwide (Kobayashi, 2002). A similar trend is prevalent in American universities. Trower and Chait (2002) write in the Harvard Magazine that, "despite 30 years of affirmative action, and contrary to public perceptions, the American faculty profile, especially at preeminent universities, remains largely White and largely male" (p. 33). According to Trower & Chait (2002), this bleak picture indicates:

* 94 percent of full professors in science and engineering are White; 90 percent are male.

* 91 percent of the full professors at research universities are White; 75 percent are male.

* 87 percent of the full-time faculty members in the United States are White; 64 percent are male.

* Only 5 percent of the full professors in the U.S. are Black, Hispanic or Native American.

* The gap between the percentage of tenured men and the percentage of tenured women has not changed in 30 years.

This alarming state of affairs illustrates that women of color are underrepresented in most predominantly White, North American universities. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that women of color (Black, Native Canadian, and Asian or "visible minority faculty") experience sexism and racism in academic environments. Racism and sexism "are two systems of oppression and inequality based on the ideology of the superiority of one race and/or gender over others" (Ng, 1994, p. 41). This article explores the experiences of women of color in a predominantly small-town White Canadian university, with an overriding White population, and it investigates the manner in which this trend can be addressed. …

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