As many of my colleagues voiced issues of resistance and notions of solidarity within their institutions, there were friendly reminders of the ways in which more senior faculty have navigated these spaces. While this blog will focus predominantly on race as a marginalized identity, it is clear that other elements aid into our presence at such institutions. Reflecting on valuable information and my own construction of the obstacles I have already faced and have yet to encounter, I will offer some thoughts on what are the realized and perceived expectations of new faculty of color at PWIs.
Professors are evaluated on their teaching, research, and service with various levels of importance depending on the type of institution. In terms of teaching, faculty members of color are expected to provide new and interesting ways to engage their disciplines. As a social scientist within a sociology department, my marginality directly facilitates what, how and why I teach what I teach. As a younger professor, sometimes students question my authority. This is even more problematic for female faculty members. Most students will not assume that you know what you’re talking about. At times, you will feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. In addition, you will feel this unknowing pressure to “perform” in the classroom. But it is important to remember that you are the authority. You control how discussions develop, how rigorous the material is, and how you create your own narrative in and out of the classroom. Classrooms are our battlefields in which we hold the greatest power. They are places where knowledge is created and biases are destroyed. Be the professor that you have always admired or the professor you wish you had.
In terms of research, this is who you are beyond the campus. Depending on your institution, you will have higher or lower requirements for tenure. Regardless if you like it or not, research is important. You will likely have fatigue after slumming your way through graduate school but now, you are an independent researcher. Look toward colleagues within the field and stay active within your professional associations. Different opportunities to publish come out of how much you network. As a new faculty member, you will also likely carve out aspects of your dissertation into publishable journal articles or a book but it is important to think beyond that. Find the next big thing that you want to undertake and set out realistic goals in working towards being a known scholar within your discipline.
Lastly, as a faculty member of color, you are now the expert on anything and everything concerning “Race”. No matter your discipline, you will be asked to serve on a million and one committees as well as discuss your trials and tribulations as being “the other” within your discipline or within academia more broadly. Since most institutions function on a deficit-oriented approach to diversity, it is important for you to be mindful that service is important. However, research and teaching are more important in the long run. Establishing yourself as a valued teacher as well as a formidable scholar will elevate your career beyond your departmental or institutional walls. Having a protective chair or an advocate among the senior faculty will help shield you from service.
Navigating this nexus of teaching, research and service will be tiresome. One lesson I learned this past weekend was that “self-care is not self-indulgence, but self-preservation.
Your presence on campus may be contentious. You may be walking into the crossfires of political debate or long feuds of academic disharmony. And your invisible labor will not always be realized or appreciated. However, you must create your own narrative and remember why you got into this career in the first place. Only then will you find the beauty within the struggle of being the “other."