Education, Gender, Race, Universities

Why People in Underrepresented Groups Leave the University

Friday, 6th March 2020

This deserves to be spread around. I’m kind of obsessed with what I call “scholarly cognition”, which is the knowledge that is part of the embodied experience within the academy that doesn’t get included in policy documents, papers, books, and so forth. This is an example of that, and worth paying attention to both because of what it says about the experience of people from underrepresented groups, and also what it says about the knowledge that circulates but which is not accessible by the usual instruments we use. In this case, it took a closed Facebook group to bring these out.

I’ve seen this happen at my own institution and at others. If someone reads all these and thinks, well that would never happen where I am, they’re missing the knowledge that circulates outside of the usual channels. I’ve seen multiple people leave my own institution because of some serious problems, which are not even acknowledged by most administrators, or which are just blamed on the person leaving.

Anyway, the whole article and report are worth reading, but I was struck by the stories below. It’s easy to just say that these were malcontents, but I think it makes more sense to take these seriously and ask how institutions that usually pat themselves on their backs about their wokeness, are nevertheless not really open to anything new or more inclusive.

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In an attempt to collect honest rationales (in lieu of exhaustive climate surveys) as to why underrepresented and marginalized faculty and staff members have left their previous institutions, I asked a direct question, “Why did you leave?” to a large group of underrepresented faculty members on a closed Facebook group. I promised to maintain their anonymity and requested that they distill their reasons to 500 characters or less. The goal of this project was simple: to allow those who have left/resigned/been forced out to narrate in their own words the real reasons for their departures — those that climate surveys did not capture. Here’s what faculty said:

– I left because, in Sara Ahmed’s words, I was an “institutional plumber” and nobody wanted the real blockages in the system removed. They wanted the floral spray, the food and fiesta, rather than digging out the deep roots that were destroying the foundations.
– I left because I never felt included. My white colleagues promoted each other’s minor publications, while I never received any acknowledgment about any of my national-level publications or awards.
– I left because I received a hate letter on my department letterhead after Sept. 11 and my university refused to investigate. I found out later that there were two faculty members within the department who were active members in a white supremacy group in town.
– I left because I was disciplined for correcting a white colleague when she mispronounced my name.
– I left because my department chair started calling other colleagues at other units to tell them I am a “bad citizen” and they shouldn’t write for my tenure case. When I reported this abuse, the dean threatened me and the so-called civil rights office backed her up, saying I must have misunderstood her.
– I left because our associate provost protected the white abuser and not me. My white abuser continued her bullying to a point that I had to seek counseling.
– I left because my workload was much heavier than my white colleagues’ and I received two-thirds the pay of the male white colleague who came in next.
– I left because a Zionist in my institution started employing spies in my classrooms and reported to our administration that I was anti-Semitic because I taught my students about the plight of Palestinians. As an immigrant Muslim woman, I felt I had no real allies among our white but woke faculty.
– I left because I complained to HR that some of my white colleagues were harassing me publicly. Rather than holding these colleagues accountable, our dean protected these white colleagues and made them file a complaint against me for complaining.
– I left because my institution hired an outside investigator to investigate alleged hostile climate after two faculty of color left. The investigator held my institution responsible for not addressing the creation of a hostile environment. My administration voided the entire investigative report, saying that the African American investigator was incompetent.
– I left because my colleagues blocked me from participating in any major decision making. They marked me as “angry,” divisive” and “hostile” when I protested their white supremacy structures.
– I left because my chair said my book was an inferior publication from a substandard press. A reputable university press published my book. It won three prizes.
– I left because my department actively blocked my promotion to full professorship when I stood up against the bullying culture promoted by some of my senior white male colleagues.
– I left because I was told on numerous occasions that I only got the job because I am a person of color. I was also told that I would be tenured simply because I am a faculty of color, although my teaching evaluations and publications record exceeded the departmental standards for tenure and promotion. When I made the dean aware of such repeated microaggressions, she told me I was “overreacting.”
– I left because I was asked to resign as a result of supporting students of color and their demands for more faculty of color, programming and diversity training for many of their faculty and administrators. I had to also sign a nondisclosure statement to not sue the institution in my separation agreement.

As many of the respondents noted, toxic departmental climates and routine failure and negligence by those that hold institutional power to address various forms of micro- and macro-aggressions (and sometimes outright racism) continue to be pervasive features that female and minoritized faculty within academe face. When pre-existing conditions that create unwelcome environments are not seriously considered, retention of marginalized faculty and staff members poses a serious challenge. “You just can’t bring brown [and black] bodies into a white supremacy system and expect them to be OK,” noted Ebony O. McGee.

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