A Collective Response to Racism in Academia

Dear Editors at the Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE),

As a collective of faculty of color and Indigenous faculty who identify as women, gender non-conforming and two-spirit, at different ranks and disciplines in academia, we, the undersigned write in response to the April 29, 2018 “Tell Us About Your Experience of Racism in the Academy” survey (https://www.chronicle.com/article/Tell-Us-About-Your-Experience/243261). Based on our collective experiences, we know that because white cisgender heteropatriarchal power is the dominant organizing force in academia and academic publications like CHE, even a “well-intentioned” survey like this will produce the following outcomes:

  • Pity and further subordination from the white gaze through yet another experiment of crowdsourcing suffering;
  • Potential for violent threats from white supremacists targeting already institutionally vulnerable survey participants;
  • White faculty “White-splaining” why our experiences of racism are “not racism” and charging us with reverse racism;
  • Lastly, even more emotionally-draining, time-consuming invisible labor that ultimately asks us to do the work of validating our own oppression to our oppressors.

It is alarming that the editors of the CHE seem oblivious to the fact that the information the survey seeks about our experiences, namely what it “will take to improve the climate” and changes in our disciplines, already exists. Asking us to repeat our experiences of racism in the academy in detail is akin to asking us to be not only complicit in our own oppression, but to also participate in contributing to the systemic racism, sexism, toxic and hostile work environments which already exist in the various academic spaces we occupy. This request made by CHE is more than a microaggression: it is an insult to our presence in the academy as it invalidates our collective experiences we grapple with daily. Others remain immune while weaponizing their whiteness against BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) even as they demand BIPOC perform the thankless labor of teaching a white academic audience about racism.

We believe that editors of and contributors to the CHE, as well as their readership, who seem sincerely interested in the experiences of faculty of color and want to help transform academia, should critically engage with existing material on this topic, and thus consider the key texts published on this very subject over the last two decades (We have included a brief list of references at the end of this letter).

On May 3, 2018, the CHE followed up their original article with a report that published “a selection of feedback from readers” (https://www.chronicle.com/article/We-Asked-About-Your-Experience/243328). While we are appreciative that CHE anonymized the edited samples published and did not include the real names and institutional affiliations of people as the original article intended (which would have put a target on the backs of already vulnerable BIPOC faculty), we find this follow-up report to be highly problematic too. It attempts to reduce us to objects rather than subjects, whittles down our voices and experiences to easily digestible sound bites, fetishizes our collective experience in the academy, and promotes the practice of tokenistic showcasing. Such maneuvers allow those reading the report to feel good, cleansed, and altruistic, rather than taking action to assist in transforming systems of racial injustice. This is window dressing: a facile way to acknowledge issues of systemic and institutional racism with little cost or even reflection, let alone meaningful change.

Instead of participating in reproducing systemic injustices and avoiding tokenism, we encourage CHE to consider some alternative ways to collect information on “how racism manifest(s) itself in higher education,” such as:

  • survey non-BIPOC faculty on the various ways they benefit from the unearned privilege of whiteness and ask them to detail how that privilege diminishes opportunities for faculty of color.
  • present narratives shared by white faculty on the ways that they have utilized their power to oppress, marginalize, discriminate against, and eliminate opportunities for faculty of color.
  • publish a piece detailing how editors of the CHE have fallen short of taking seriously racial oppression in the academy and their complicity in maintaining white supremacy; and, moving forward, how they will use their platform to mobilize the academy to aggressively dismantle all the forms of discrimination, marginalization, and oppression inherent to its organizational culture and institutional identity.
  • publish an investigative report detailing how the CHE itself has emboldened white supremacists, for example, under the guise of free speech (whilst ignoring very real hate speech) as well as ‘viewpoint diversity’, that end up reinforcing white supremacy in the academy, and express a commitment to doing better and setting an example for others in the future.
  • take a page from George Yancy’s “Look, A White! Philosophical Essays on Whiteness” and join the arduous task of decentering whiteness as normal and un-raced.

We hope for an adequate and appropriate response as well as constructive and meaningful work from the CHE and fellow academics. Thank you.

Signatories:

NB: In order to ensure that they will not be retaliated against or attacked for signing this letter, we have included the option for anonymous signatories with identification related to specific identity, rank, and university type [e.g. SLAC (Small Liberal Arts College), R1 (Research University Tier 1), HBCU (Historically Black College or University), PWI (Predominantly White Institution)]

Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt, Professor, Linfield College
Zulema Valdez, Professor, University of California, Merced
Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Distinguished Professor, Syracuse University
Maimuna Islam, Professor, The College of Idaho
Nalini Iyer, Professor, Seattle University
Piya Chatterjee, Professor, Scripps College
Eliza Noh, Professor, California State University, Fullerton
Bernadette Marie Calafell, Professor, University of Denver
Priya Jha, Professor, University of Redlands
Movindri Reddy, Professor, Occidental College
Kashi Johnson, Professor, Lehigh University
Shazia Rahman, Western Illinois University
Radhika Gajjala, Professor, Bowling Green State University
Devika Chawla, Professor, Ohio University 
Dia Da Costa, Professor, University of Alberta
Richa Nagar, Professor, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Elora Halim Chowdhury, Professor, University of Massachusetts Boston
Minoo Moallem, Professor, University of California, Berkeley
Monica H. Green, Professor, Arizona State University
Sharmila Rudrappa, Professor, University of Texas at Austin
Jennifer Ho, Professor, UNC Chapel Hill
S. Charusheela, Professor, University of Washington, Bothell
Sharon A. Suh, Professor, Seattle University
Kakali Bhattacharya, Professor, Kansas State University
Elaine H. Kim, Professor, University of California, Berkeley 
Farhana Sultana, Associate Professor, Syracuse University
Kimberly J. Chandler, Associate Professor, Xavier University of Louisiana 
Elizabeth F. Desnoyers-Colas, Associate Professor, Georgia Southern University 
Southeast Asian-American, Associate Professor, SLAC, Midwest
East Asian American, Associate Professor, SLAC, West (PWI)
Anita Chikkatur, Associate Professor, Carleton College 
Person of Culture, Associate Professor, Muhlenberg College, PA
Terah Venzant Chambers, Associate Professor, Michigan State University
Susana Loza, Associate Professor, Hampshire College 
Priya Kapoor, Associate Professor, Portland State University
Seeta Chaganti, Associate Professor, University of California, Davis
Leslie D. Gonzales, Associate Professor, Michigan State University
Margarita Bianco, Associate Professor, University of Colorado Denver
Rebeca Burciaga, Associate Professor, San José State University
Neha Vora, Associate Professor, Lafayette College
Kami J. Anderson, Associate Professor, Kennesaw State University
Monique A. Guishard, Associate Professor, CUNY — Bronx Community College 
Kinitra D. Brooks, Associate Professor, University of Texas at San Antonio
Karsonya Wise Whitehead, Associate Professor, Loyola University Maryland
Muslim Asian American, Associate Professor, Midwestern Research University
East Asian American, Associate Professor, Midwestern Liberal Arts University
Neepa Majumdar, Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh
Sandra Rodriguez-Arroyo, Associate Professor, University of Nebraska at Omaha
Cynthia Wu, Associate Professor, University at Buffalo (SUNY)
Deepti Misri, University of Colorado Boulder 
Andreana Clay, Associate Professor, San Francisco State University
Seo-Young Chu, Associate Professor, English, Queens College, CUNY
Anita Mannur, Associate Professor, English, Miami University
Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez, Associate Professor, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
Melinda Luisa de Jesús, Associate Professor, California College of the Arts
Kumi Silva, Associate Professor, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
Nicole Marroquin, Associate Professor, Art Education, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Pallavi Rastogi, Associate Professor, Louisiana State University 
Ji-Yeon Yuh, Associate Professor, Northwestern University
Rabab Abdulhadi, Associate Professor, San Francisco State University
Crystal Parikh, Associate Professor, New York University
Zenzele Isoke, Associate Professor, University of Minnesota
Caroline K. Hong, Associate Professor, Queens College, CUNY
Courtney R. Baker, Associate Professor, Occidental College
Adriana Estill, Associate Professor, Carleton College
Erica Lorraine Williams, Associate Professor, Spelman College
Rachmi Diyah Larasati, Associate Professor. University of MInnesota, Minneapolis
Anita Say Chan, Associate Professor, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Carol N. Fadda, Associate Professor, Syracuse University
Nerissa S. Balce, Associate Professor, State University of New York at Stony Brook 
Nhung Tuyet Tran, Associate Professor, University of Toronto
Mariela Núñez-Janes, Associate Professor, University of North Texas 
Dorothy Kim, Assistant Professor, Vassar College
Jessica Pabón-Colón, Assistant Professor, SUNY New Paltz
Felice Blake, Assistant Professor, University of California at Santa Barbara 
Anneeth Kaur Hundle, Assistant Professor, University of California, Merced 
Rumya Putcha, Assistant Professor, Texas A&M University 
Jennifer Nelson, Assistant Professor, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
South Asian, Assistant Professor, HBCU
South Asian, Assistant Professor, SLAC in the Midwest
Southeast/South Asian, Assistant Professor, M2
Black/South Asian, Assistant Professor, R1
Vietnamese American, Assistant Professor, SLAC/PWI on the East Coast
Isa Rodríguez-Soto, Assistant Professor, University of Akron
Jamie Friedman, Assistant Professor, Linfield College
Hanna Garth, Assistant Professor, UC San Diego
Susana Y. Flores, Assistant Professor, Central Washington University
Indigenous Latina, Assistant Professor, R3/PWI in the South
Arab-American, Assistant Professor, PWI in the Northeast
María del Rosario Zavala, Assistant Professor, San Francisco State University
Rosemary Briseño, Assistant Professor, HSI in west Texas
Rachel R. Hardeman, Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota 
Gender-Queer Latina, Assistant Professor, California State University 
Black and African American Assistant Professor, PWI in Alabama
Indigenous Xicana, Assistant Professor, CSU San Bernardino 
Black, First Generation American, Assistant Professor, Southeastern HBCU
Woman of color, Assistant Professor, University of Akron
Kyra Gaunt, Assistant Professor, SUNY at Albany
Latina, Assistant Professor, R1 in the Midwest
Becky Martínez, Assistant Professor, University of Missouri 
Saiba Varma, Assistant Professor, University of California, San Diego 
Latina, Assistant Professor, California State University, Stanislaus 
Latinx, Assistant Professor, PWI in the Pacific Northwest 
Asian American, Assistant Professor, California State University
Christy Byrd, Assistant Professor, University of California, Santa Cruz 
African-American, Assistant Professor, California
Brittany Y. Davis, Assistant Professor, Allegheny College
Debjani Chakravarty, Assistant Professor, Utah Valley University 
Smita Ramnarain, Assistant Professor, University of Rhode Island
Lena Palacios, Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota Twin Cities 
Melina Juarez Perez, Visiting Assistant Professor, University of Arkansas
Carolyn Finney, Assistant Professor, University of Kentucky
Aimee Bahng, Assistant Professor, Pomona College
Brigitte Fielder, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Sima Shakhsari, Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota
Wendy Allison Lee, Assistant Professor, Skidmore College
Asian American, Assistant Professor, R1 on the East Coast
Melissa Y. Rock, Assistant Professor, SUNY at New Paltz
Josen Masangkay Diaz, Assistant Professor, University of San Diego
Sami Schalk, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Christine Mok, Assistant Professor, University of Rhode Island
African American, Assistant Professor, PWI in Kansas City, MO.
Kimberly McKee, Assistant Professor, Grand Valley State University
Candice Hargons, Assistant Professor, University of Kentucky
M. Shadee Malaklou, Assistant Professor, Beloit College
Woman of Color, Assistant Professor, California State University, Fullerton
Asian American, Assistant Professor, UCLA
Marisa Zapata, Assistant Professor, Portland State University
African-American, Cisgender Queerly Straight, Assistant Professor, PWI, R1 Smalltown, KS
African-American/Caribbean, Assistant Professor, R1 in the South
Christina V. Cedillo, Assistant Professor, University of Houston-Clear Lake
Yumi Pak, Assistant Professor, California State University, San Bernardino 
Daisy Hernández, Assistant Professor, Miami University
Donatella Galella, Assistant Professor, University of California, Riverside
Woman of color, Assistant Professor, College of Education & Human Services, large regional university in Pennsylvania
Ching-In Chen, Assistant Professor, Sam Houston State University
Woman of Color, First Gen American, First Gen College, Assistant Professor, SLAC/PWI in the Northeast
Shanté Paradigm Smalls, Assistant Professor, St. John’s University 
Yasmiyn Irizarry, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Austin 
Filipino American, Assistant Professor, SLAC in the Midwest 
Filipina American, Assistant Professor, SLAC/PWI
Black Woman, Assistant Professor, PWI

Some references:

Ahmed, Sara. 2012. On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. North Carolina: Duke University Press.

Allen, Brenda. 2010. Difference Matters: A Resource on Diversity, Identity, and Communication. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Bonner, Fred A., aretha faye marbley, Frank Tuitt, Petra A. Robinson, Rosa M. Banda, and Robin L. Hughes, eds. 2014. Black Faculty in the Academy: Narratives for Negotiating Identity and Achieving Career Success. New York: Routledge.

Brown, Karen Harris, Patricia Alvarez McHatton, and Michelle Frazier Trotman Scott, eds. 2016. Faculty of Color Navigating Higher Education. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Harris, Michelle, Sherrill L. Sellers, Orly Clerge, and Frederick W. Gooding Jr. 2017. Stories from the Front of the Room: How Higher Education Faculty of Color Overcome Challenges and Thrive in the Academy. Rowman & Littlefield.

Matthew, Patricia A., ed. 2016. Written/Unwritten: Diversity and the Hidden Truths of Tenure. University of North Carolina Press.

Muhs, Gabriella Gutiérrez y, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. González, and Angela P. Harris, eds. 2012. Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.

Stanley, Christine A., ed. 2006. Faculty of Color: Teaching in Predominantly White Colleges and Universities. Boston, MA: Anker Publishing.

The Latina Feminist Group. 2001. Telling to Live: Latina Feminist Testimonios. Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books.

Vargas, Lucila, ed. 2002. Women Faculty of Color in the White Classroom. New York: Peter Lang Inc., International Academic Publishers.

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