Betwixt Safety and Shielding in the Academy: Confronting Institutional Gendered Racism-Again

By Cobb-Roberts, Deirdre | Negro Educational Review, April 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Betwixt Safety and Shielding in the Academy: Confronting Institutional Gendered Racism-Again


Cobb-Roberts, Deirdre, Negro Educational Review


Abstract

This article represents a critical reflection of a Black African American female associate professor who, while teaching a diversity course, unknowingly enabled systems of power and privilege to undermine her faculty role in the course and in the academy. The author revisits a story of this experience and its vestiges using Critical Race Theory (CRT) and an autoethnographic approach. In doing so, she comes to terms with her complicity in supporting White supremacy and patriarchy and reclaims a voice previously suppressed yet still vulnerable in the matrix of institutional power. Two significant shifts are captured in this account-a narrative shift from the individual to one that includes the institutional and a political shift from a position of naiveté to critical consciousness. These shifts, illustrated by the metaphor of safety, reflect the dissonance experienced by the author in seeking to negotiate a balance between the personal, professional, and socialized traditions of academia.

Introduction

This counter-narrative represents the unguarded and unsafe version of a case study written about and published four years ago. In revisiting the case and providing an in depth analysis, I counter its previous crafting through the lens of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Critical Race Feminism (CRF). The incident, previously framed as an issue of a student's cognitive dissonance, is reexamined and (re)storied here through my analysis and reflection to provide a counter-narrative in which I reclaim a voice once suppressed in the academy concerning the case and my career. This counter-narrative of a Black African American associate professor in a predominantly White institution (PWI) is a lesson in power, White privilege, and voice.

The writing of his article has been troublesome at best for it has meant reliving thoughts painful to bear and recognizing that I have been in agony. My counter-narrative is a testament to what Maya Angelou has poetically stated, "there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." (Maya Angelou, n.d.). I entered this writing to revisit a previous incident I once believed was only a matter of race. However, in my (re)visitation and analysis I realized that race and gender mattered. This realization reflects an awakening of an "Angry Black Woman Scholar" (Williams, 2001, p. 94). I became angry towards the end of the incident described in the following case; an anger that has intensified in the intervening years. Even while preparing this manuscript, my anger escalated.

Revisiting a Case: Past Meets Present

The following excerpt from the article "When the Dialogue Becomes Too Difficult: A Case Study of Resistance and Backlash," co-authored by me and published in 2007 represents the summary of what occurred in one of my classes several years ago. At that time I was an associate professor with tenure and had been at my institution since 1997. My history and track record with the college and university was exemplary. I believed that I had carved out a space of belonging among colleagues who respected my research, service, and teaching performance. However, I found that I was not protected from the reach of White male privilege and patriarchy. The names in the following case are pseudonyms.

Dominique Stevens is an African American associate professor who has taught diversity related graduate courses in a predominately White institution for nearly a decade. She is keenly aware how racism shapes students ', particularly White students ', reactions and responses to her as a teacher and to her as an expert on how race informs college student affairs practice. Yet, she was surprised and frustrated by the events she endured one semester while teaching the Diversity in Education course.

After attending a few classes, a White male student, Kent Peterson, contacted Professor Stevens via email, indicating his discomfort with her course and the comments she and his fellow students made about race and racism. …

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