Do Students’ Racist And Sexist Stereotypes Affect Your Teaching?

Note: this blog post was originally published on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Vitae (here)Dr. Manya Whitaker is an assistant professor of education at Colorado College and a regular contributor to Conditionally Accepted.

Do Their Stereotypes Affect Your Teaching?

“Stereotype threat” is a well-known social psychological construct in which people live down or up to the expectations others have of them based their gender, race, age, or other such characteristics. As professors we are careful — or we should be — not to translate our personal beliefs about students’ capabilities into our expectations of how they will perform academically, but we rarely think about how students’ expectations of us affect our performance.

In particular, faculty who are women and/or members of racial minority groups run the risk of becoming stereotype threatened: feeling anxiety about whether they will either confirm or disprove students’ stereotypical beliefs.

If you don’t think students — or all people — have ideas about what a professor looks and sounds like, try this exercise: Ask a few people who don’t know you’re an academic to describe the “average” professor. Undoubtedly they will paint a picture of an older white male who may or may not be wearing a tweed jacket.

That description is true for only some of the 58 percent of full-time faculty who are white males. And it’s utterly false for the remaining 42 percent of us, who must do our jobs knowing that at least some of our students are surprised to see someone who looks like us standing in front of them. We are always competing with students’ expectations of what we should be teaching, saying, doing, and assigning. And when we don’t perform according to their (usually) unspoken expectations, we pay the price in our course evaluations.

To complicate matters, students have different expectations for faculty of different ethnic and racial backgrounds. Asian professors, for example, are supposed to be meek but very intelligent while Black professors are expected to be loud and aggressive. Males and females also face far different challenges in the classroom. Men are stereotyped as smarter than women so it’s no wonder that students often challenge women about their qualifications, and evaluate them more harshly than men.

Faculty of color, female faculty, and especially female faculty of color often choose to respond in one of two ways:

  • Confirm students’ stereotypes. Most professors want to build strong relationships with students and it’s much simpler to do that within existing frameworks than to start anew. Challenging students’ beliefs can create tension, and sometimes that tension can cause students to disengage. Consequently, some faculty perform a certain “act” that aligns with what students expect of them. I’ve seen this most often in Black female colleagues who embrace the stereotype of the loud, sexualized Black woman who is always ready to argue. These women leverage the archetypes of Jezebel and Sapphire as a point of entry into the white imagination. From there, they can construct relationships with non-Black students from a position of familiarity.
  • Disprove their beliefs. This response is more common, albeit less intentional. I don’t think female and nonwhite faculty are enumerating all the expectations students have of them and then trying to do the exact opposite. Marginalized professors usually are just vigilantly being themselves. In other words, they aren’t actively trying to disprove stereotypes, but they are aware of how they counter students’ expectations. Women who are stereotyped as less intelligent might begin class by citing their pedigree. Black men who are stereotyped as aggressive or hostile avoid standing too close, speaking too loudly, or using harsh language. Asian faculty who are stereotyped as “naturally smart” might make self-deprecating jokes.

I find both approaches troubling but understandable. Students will perceive you the way you present yourself. Your style of dress, your language, your gender, your height, your skin color — all contribute to students’ perceptions of you. People evaluate others based upon their proximity to their own in-group. The more you are like me, the more I understand you, and the more I like you. The less you are like me, the less I understand you, and the more I have to rely on heuristics to make sense of you.

I advocate a third option. Instead of confirming or disapproving their stereotypes, I just present my real self. I acknowledge that I am Black, young, female, Southern, and a football fan. I tell my outdoor-enthusiast students that I don’t like going outside and have no interest in skiing, climbing, hiking, or anything else of the sort. I am honest in expressing my feelings about living in a very white, very conservative city. Importantly, I don’t recite that autobiography on the first day of class, but weave it into my pedagogy throughout the course. I share pieces of myself as they are relevant.

Students tend to take the pieces they want and leave the rest — which is fine by me. They take the pieces to which they can relate, and that connection becomes the foundation of our relationship. Those points of overlap allow me to comfortably say things like, “Just because I’m Southern doesn’t mean …,” or, more commonly, “Just because I’m Black doesn’t mean …”

Those introductory clauses are my attempts to clarify who I am, likely in response to a student comment or question about urban families and contexts (I teach about social and political issues in education). I use myself as a model of contradiction to their stereotypical beliefs about Southerners, Black people, and women. That approach has two benefits: First, it allows me to personalize what students sometimes view as impersonal issues. Second, it allows me to negate stereotypes without explicitly making students feel bad for having stereotypical beliefs (I do my best to avoid the rabbit hole of white guilt).

That is not to say that I avoid conversations about difference. It’s actually quite the contrary. Soft entries like these facilitate in-depth discussions of the intersection of self-identity, cognitive processing, and life experiences. Students aren’t horrified that I’ve acknowledged I’m Black and presented an alternate form of Blackness from what they expected. They are willing and excited to step up and ask themselves why they thought I’d be something I’m not.

While they engage in self-analysis, I engage in self-regulation. I must be careful not to express my anger, hurt, or incredulity when they reveal their stereotypical beliefs. Most of the time, those beliefs are the result of a lack of exposure rather than willful ignorance. It is my responsibility to provide both exposure and opportunities for reflection.

Bias is always present, and nothing I can do will erase the racialized, gendered, and classist structures in which we exist, but I can work toward erasing the racialized, gendered, and classist beliefs that bolster such structures.

By not engaging in a war on stereotypes and instead focusing my energy on cultivating genuine teacher-student relationships, I do indeed force students to confront themselves. When I don’t adhere to their notions of femininity or Blackness, I am prepared to push back against their pushback. When I do happen to confirm their expectations of Black womanhood, I am quick to ask them why that might be the case. In offering students my whole self without cautionary tape restricting our interactions, students begin to understand me beyond my social markers, and thus, begin to understand themselves in relation to their social contexts.

It is not my job to tell students what to believe; it is my job to challenge their beliefs. I’ve found that the best way to enhance their thinking is to complicate it with real-life evidence. I am that evidence.

When The Sociology Of Religion Isn’t Critical Of Religion

SumerauDr. J. Sumerau is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Tampa.  Zir teaching, research, and activism focuses on intersections of sexualities, gender, religion, and health in the experiences of sexual, religious, and gender minorities.  In this post, Dr. Sumerau reflects on zir observations of a conference in the subfield of sociology of reflection.  In particular, ze highlights the surprisingly high number of religious scholars in the field, and the exclusion of critical and marginal perspectives on religion.

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Pray the J Away

Last year, I did something I had avoided since I first entered the academy. While I study religion in contemporary society, I had yet to attend a sociology of religion conference. I must admit that my reticence to attend such a conference came from three interrelated experiences during graduate school.

First, I attended sociology of religion gatherings and roundtables at American Sociological Association meetings as a graduate student, and generally felt very uncomfortable in these spaces wherein it appeared that everyone but me was, in fact, religious. Simply put, all but two sociologists of religion I encountered at the time offered feedback along the lines of “well, we have to understand the importance of religion to living a full life” and “well, in my church this doesn’t work like this.” In fact, more than a few asked me “what faith” I practiced and explained to me the importance of their “faith” in casual conversations.

Second, I attempted to publish my master’s thesis in a sociology of religion controlled journal, only to be rejected after multiple rounds of revision. Despite many positive reviews and multiple R&Rs (revise and resubmit decisions), the paper was rejected upon the editor finding a reviewer who basically said they did not “believe” in qualitative methods. When I asked a colleague more familiar with religious studies about this, he explained (himself having published in the field for years) that the experience was not uncommon for manuscripts that that took a more critical approach to religion (see here for a more recent discussion of this issue in sociology of religion).

I also read sociology of religion controlled or focused journals and noticed very quickly that, as Avishai and colleagues point out in their recent review, very little knowledge concerning gender and sexualities studies ever found its way into these journals, and there was rarely much mention of inequalities. And, these journals often use the term “traditional” to refer to anything Judeo-Christian created historically (i.e., traditional marriage in these journals meant the very recent historical construction of Christian marriage rather than the many forms this institution has taken across the world throughout time). There was also relatively little discussion of, for example, non-Christian, non-heterosexual, non-cisgender, and even nonreligious people in such journals, though more recent years have seen some discussion on these topics.

After locating and spending time with some nonreligious people who worked in the sociology of religion, however, I decided maybe I should give one meeting a shot. Importantly, I made sure to have a supportive network at the conference just in case. This was incredibly fortuitous since I basically walked into (what felt like) a church called a conference.

Sociology of Religion As “Church”

If you asked critical questions, for example, people got very uncomfortable and quickly ended the conversations. Similarly, like many academic conferences, everyone seemed to subscribe to a “Sunday best”-style dress code that, with slight variations, meant most people looked like they went to the same uniform shop before the meeting. Unlike other academic meetings, I couldn’t really find any exceptions to the dress code other than my companion and me. I was asked four times by people in these uniforms what “someone like me” (whatever that means) was doing at the conference; I was mistaken for “the help” or “someone lost” twice. It was also the first time that I’d been at an academic conference where someone offered to pray for me after speaking with me for a few minutes. In fact, the moment it truly hit me that I had accidentally entered a church came in the midst of my own presentation.

As I spoke, I looked out into the audience and saw someone actually praying. Now, I will admit by the time I gave my presentation, I was basically doing my own mini-ethnography to try to see just how church-like the place was, and thus I made sure to offer a different type of presentation style than anyone else in the session. Specifically, I took a casual conversational style for my presentation wherein I engaged the audience with questions about the subject, used personal anecdotes to contextualize my approach to studying religion, and utilized explicit language about sexual acts and practices to drive home points.

I wanted to see whether conformity trumped research or the other way around. That said, I didn’t say or do anything that I haven’t done at other conferences, or that, at times, hasn’t gotten me praise and/or free drinks at other conferences. I hypothesized that conformity would rule as is common in religious services, and I was thus not surprised that everyone in the room (other than my companions whom I work with regularly) seemed incredibly uncomfortable and spent a lot of time fidgeting and looking at the exit. I was surprised, however, when an audience member started praying. One of my companions actually saw a second person praying whom I didn’t notice at the time.

I had already long become accustomed to the religiosity embedded in the sociology of religion. One need only look to Mark Regnerus’s study and the support it received from many prominent sociologists of religion in an open letter or findings from editors of pro-religious bias in the subfield’s main journals for examples. But, I was rather surprised to see it so openly displayed in the midst of conference proceedings. It made me wonder where the line is drawn (if it is) between a sociology of religion and religious sociology? It also made me wonder what, if anything, we really know about religion sociologically at this point in time where it appears that religious believers run most of the subfield?

Exclusion And Uncritical Perspectives

Considering that historically men, whites, cisgender people, heterosexuals, and other scholars from privileged groups missed a whole lot about gender, race, cisgender privilege, and sexualities, I can’t help but wonder what religious scholars (i.e., scholars who identify as religious themselves) have missed about the social operation of religion in the world. While it seems intuitive that religious people would be interested in studying religion and I think that these perspectives are useful and helpful for understanding some aspects of religion in society, it is unlikely we’ll understand much about religion overall without also gathering the perspectives of religious minorities and the nonreligious. One may simply imagine the same scenario in other subfields to visualize this idea. If, for example, sexualities scholarship was almost entirely controlled by heterosexuals, racial scholarship by white scholars, and gender scholarship by males, we might expect the same patterns we see in the sociology of religion wherein critical or inequalities focused studies are relatively rare, and positive depictions of existing sexual, race, and gender systems are the norm. As the editors of the newly formed Critical Research on Religion journal asked, I wonder what a more diversified approach to the study of religion might reveal (both positive and negative) about this social system.

While I can’t begin to answer this question at present, I do know from experience just how awkward it can be to be nonreligious while studying religion in the current academic marketplace. When, for example, one comes across questions from conference-goers or journal reviewers that effectively say “be nicer to the religious folk” or “you need to recognize the importance of faith,” it is a constant reminder of the taken-for-granted privilege and dominance of religious perspectives in our society. At the same time, when conference-goers and reviewers in other fields downplay the importance of religion to the existence of contemporary social inequalities (i.e., our racial, classed, gendered, and sexual systems all rely heavily on religion for their initial and continued existence), one has to wonder how much religious privilege influences “which” inequalities we are able to discuss and debate. In fact, considering that around 70% of professors express some form of religious belief, one has to wonder just how much of the academy itself is shaped by religious assumptions and perspectives.

I also know from experience that religious journals often don’t want research that critiques religion, and that mainstream journals often reject the same pieces because (they say) such work belongs in religious journals. As another friend of mine put it succinctly, “Religion wins because religious outlets protect it and critical scholars don’t want to question it.” Although critical work on religion does occasionally appear in mainstream sociology of religion journals (i.e., Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion and Sociology of Religion) and journals with more critical orientations have risen in recent years (i.e., Secularism and Nonreligion and Critical Research on Religion), most work that critically evaluates the good and bad of contemporary religion finds voice in other places and by focusing primarily on other issues (i.e., race, class, gender, sexualities, and health) while utilizing religious samples. In fact, in my experience, one seeking to publish critical work on religion must be ready to fight with reviewers (i.e., about what it says about religion instead of about say theory or the data itself) even if one receives some editorial support for their submissions.

As a result, I (and the thankfully growing number of other scholars I know who take a critical approach to religion in society) find myself in an awkward academic position quite often wherein it feels like sociology attempts to pray or otherwise do away with empirical findings that call religion into question. I cannot help but wonder what this says about contemporary sociology, and how other nonreligious people manage this dilemma throughout their academic endeavors.

Notes

1 It is noteworthy that after the experience contained herein, I attended another sociology of religion conference put on by a different professional organization. In this case, I only went to one nonreligious and one gender session, but experiences in these sessions were much more like my experiences in academic conferences as a whole. I don’t know if this is because of the organization, because it was in combination with other meetings instead of a stand alone conference, because I was only there for about two hours (i.e., two sessions), or if it was simply because I only went to sessions engaged in more critical-oriented niches within the larger subfield. I did not present at this second meeting, but I also escaped without anyone offering to pray for me.

Confessions Of a Poverty-Class Academic-In-Training

Grace Cale photoGrace Cale is a PhD student in sociology.  Having gained her undergraduate degree from a college that specifically accepts marginalized and impoverished students, she is a passionate ally to many causes of social justice. Her research interests focus on political participation, social movements, neoliberalism, markets, and financialization. In the first part of this two-part essay, Grace reflects on the invisibility of scholars from working-class and  poor families, and the struggles these scholars face in academia; to rectify this, she calls for community-building among working-class scholars in academia.

Confessions Of A Poverty-Class Academic-In-Training

When I set out to write this essay, I had little concrete idea of what I sought to achieve. I knew that there was something unique about becoming an academic from a situation of clear poverty, and that I needed to make a case for this experience as existing along a real line of marginalization. Or at least call for recognition of the unique difficulties with which poverty-class academics struggle. While we certainly exist as a group, poverty-class academics seem curiously quiet about our origins, compared to academics of color and the LGBT academics, who fought (and still fight) long and hard for their visibility. The question I am left with is, what can we do to better advocate for similar recognition, and why is this important?

There is certainly a need for communal resource-sharing. It seems likely that we are all haunted by the threat of “Ph.D Poverty”, or the possibility of becoming bright, well-trained victims of the adjunctification crisis. And many of us know that we can look forward to heavy bills to pay from ballooning student debt, whether or not we are able to get a job matching our qualifications in an increasingly break-neck, competitive market. I hope that by coming clean about a history some of us actively hide, others might do so as well, and we might share our experiences and expertise regarding how to live in this academic environment which for so long had been quite happy to retain its white-middle-class, homogeneity.

Having frequently struggled with gaps in social, cultural, or human capital, and in struggling to access vital resources, I came to desperately seek social class-based advice for making it through graduate school. Given the few working-class folk in my own department, and knowing my poverty-born friends in other departments were having the same struggles, I called upon the surely endless fount of Internet wisdom available. Spoiler alert: the pickings were scarce. How could this be? Surely there are others besides me and a few peers who wrestle with class-based marginalization in academe. Surely there are others who have felt keenly a lack of resources and solidarity. Yet, despite a few out-of-date websites that attempted to address this gap, there was nothing with the scale, specificity, and upkeep as with those for communal resources aligned to other social equity movements (race, gender, sexuality, etc.).

Growing Up In Poverty

To clarify, let me return to the personal context: growing up, my family of four had an annual income between $8,000 and $12,000. We lived in a rural county in Appalachia, in which, as of the 2010 US Census, there was a 25% poverty rate. Without even needing to ask, all students in all levels of district schools were enrolled for the income-based program for government-subsidized breakfasts and lunches. It was common for our high school classes to have more students than textbooks. Very few of my classmates attended or graduated from college. As a child and teenager, I struggled to understand why every minute expenditure, even for our $1 lunch meat or an occasional $1.25 soda was such a difficult, stress-fraught decision. It was difficult to deal with seldom being able to visit friends from school or try high school sports, not because of time commitments, but because we couldn’t afford to use that much gas for the car. A computer left on overnight was a grave offense in our household, as there was legitimate doubt we could pay for the extra electricity.

Multiple studies support the claim that experiences of childhood poverty follow us well into adulthood, yielding not only socially observable effects, but even effects upon our physiology and genetics.1 In keeping with the findings of other researchers, I have certainly felt that as a young adult, such moments had deeply affected my development as an adult. My sister and I still battle powerful guilt for any purchase that is not materially necessary for our survival or basic health – even when we have had the disposable income. The process of paying bills, a generally unpleasant task for any person, is a viscerally fearful task which each month leaves me trembling and taking deep breaths to force a return to calm – even when I can cover each cost. There is always a nagging fear that no matter how careful and organized I’ve been, a bill has been forgotten, or an overdraft has occurred. We avoid most routine medical care, and only seek medical attention when our bodies cannot function, because we are so used to not being able to afford office visits or medication. Experience tells us that it is nearly impossible to get an invoice for medical services in advance of receiving care; it is usually easier to go without and hope for the best. I had my first-ever eye exam at 23 years old, upon discovering my graduate health insurance covered one annual exam. Turns out I need glasses. Might even get them someday.

Class-Based Struggles In Academia

I do not recite this tale to earn pity-points; despite these issues, I actually had a very happy childhood. But as my sister and I entered adulthood, and as I entered graduate school, these uncertainties and anxieties took on new, more powerful forms. Little differences began to creep into my graduate experience in small, subtly alienating ways, and I suspect that many of these examples will be familiar to readers. Some of these are issues that are generally just a nuisance for many academics, but could be damaging to the career prospects of someone with no savings account or trust fund, no credit, or no experience in which questions to ask their mentors.

  • I learned that people have different definitions of being “broke.” For some, it means “not much spending money”; for me, it meant the money does not exist. I literally have no money. Bank balance: $3. No cash. No credit. I no longer use the term in conversation; it has become too frustrating to continue doing so.
  • Some might have the feeling that other students somehow knew something that they didn’t. We have no summer funding in our program, but somehow I felt like the only one in a genuine panic about how to pay my rent for three months, let alone conduct the expected research and study. The possibility of having to beg to stay with my sister in her one-bedroom apartment was a dangerously imminent reality after one summer job, without notice, put all employees on two-plus-week leave due to lack of work to give us. This, after the hard realization that this job did not offer the full-time hours I was promised in the first place. How do so many other students appear to flawlessly “make it work” for these months?
  • Some may struggle to articulate why many departments’ reimbursement-style travel funding would not allow them to attend conferences for the so-vital-to-success networking experiences. In my case, it was because I did not have any money or credit with which to pay up-front. It wasn’t that it was committed elsewhere – it did not exist. To lay down over $500 worth of registration fees, airfare, and hostel reservations after struggling to buy food, with a possibly six-month wait for reimbursement was tragically laughable. Unfortunately, this funding style is not at all unique to our fairly average university; I see stories of such funding style splattered across various websites, blogs, and forums created as common spaces for academics.
  • It is also difficult to explain to others in a meaningful way why I did not simply take out loans to bolster my available funds. For people from backgrounds of poverty, debt is a tricky beast. Some have embraced it all too easily, only to suffer afterwards, and others struggle to get access to even small loans. My family lives with a vague, ever-present fear of debt – a fear I inherited as a child. To us, debt is something that can ruin lives. Whether these views are technically correct, they constitute an aspect of socialization with which poverty-class academics must struggle every time we see a need we have which cannot be fulfilled on our stipends or summer jobs. The decision to use credit is seldom a light one.

A Call For Community Among Poverty-Class Academics

These are just a handful of the starker experiences one may struggle with, and yet other subtle day-to-day moments may also reinforce socialized and lifestyle differences. The interesting thing about these experiences and the insidiousness of class-based gaps in cultural, social, and human capital is that I believed these struggles were due solely to my own shortcomings and lack of sufficient efforts and dedication. I felt underserving of the right to complain, feeling that, endlessly, I could have exerted more effort in depriving myself of small joys in order to save money. Really, nobody needs to visit a café. Ever.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized many of these issues were not unique or limited to personal shortcomings. There are many of us, quietly working our way through the graduate socialization process, atomizing ourselves in an attempt to narrow the capital gap; we believe these to be private missions. We have all labored to produce our own solutions, possibly failing to realize that we can benefit from finding each other and pooling our resources and experiences, with the hope that we and others can avoid having to learn every lesson the hard way. In some ways, it makes the most sense for us to band together and take advantage of the resources that we can offer ourselves; our more equipped peers certainly are.

That, I suppose, is my call, and the purpose of this piece. I find it rather surprising that a group of people as resourceful as we are have failed to truly gather those resources. I think we need to better advocate for ourselves. We need to be unafraid to admit our own existence, come out of the poverty “closet,” and share our stories. What lessons did we learn the hard way? What recommendations would we make to new graduate students and new faculty from the same backgrounds, to help lift each other up? Which tips and tricks have we developed to get through our theses, dissertations, and grant deadlines; tips that don’t assume we have the money to attend a retreat, get noise-canceling headphones, or even barricade ourselves in a café? I know that together, we are a veritable fount of knowledge. As researchers, teachers, and scholars more generally, we’ve dedicated ourselves to sharing it with the world. How about we share some of it with each other, too?

See the second part of my essay, “Getting It Done – Whatever ‘It’ Is,” in which I offer my own tips and tricks for surviving and thriving in academia as a poverty-class scholar.

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Notes

1 Sandoval, D. A., Rank, M. R., & Hirschl, T. A. (2009). The Increasing Risk of Poverty Across the American Life Course. Demography, 46(4), 717–737.

 

For Us, Self-Promotion Is Community Promotion

Photo source: Aaron Gilson (https://flic.kr/p/cPbD2C)

Photo source: Aaron Gilson (https://flic.kr/p/cPbD2C)

This post is not about “leaning in.”  Or, maybe it is.  I haven’t read Sheryl Sandberg’s book yet.  But, I have skimmed some critiques of her work, namely that asking women to “lean in” more to advance within sexist institutions does too little to change those institutions.  And, when women lean in, they may be smacked in the face (literally and/or figuratively).  But, this post isn’t about “leaning in,” I think.

Self-promotion is on my mind again.  A year ago or so, to my surprise today, I shared the following wisdom on Twitter:

Self-promotion is just as much promotion of my communities as promotion of myself.

Unfortunately, this gem along with other possible gems I’ve shared on Twitter were lost to subsequent self-doubt.  I buckled under the nasty criticism of anonymous trolls who, at the time, seemed to read and critique my every tweet and blog post.  I let cowardly colleagues bully me into silence, temporarily at least.  In the process of recovering my voice, I have had to face the reality that speaking out (or not) is just as much about me as it is the communities to which I belong.

Impostor Syndrome: A Symptom Of Oppression

I will grant that self-doubt is not unique to scholars from oppressed communities.  But, that is where the commonalities with our privileged colleagues end.  For working-class scholars, scholars of color, women scholars, LGBTQ scholars, scholars with disabilities, immigrant and international scholars, and fat scholars, our personal bouts with impostor syndrome — feeling as though we do not belong and/or are not as good as our privileged colleagues — are a symptom of systems of oppression that operate through academia, just as they do through every other important social institution.  We cannot help but feel as though we do not belong because academia was not built by us or for us.  We had to fight to be let in the front door (and still do), and continue to fight to be included fully; when we do get in, subtle and explicit efforts are made to undermine us at every corner.

I encourage my fellow marginalized scholars to make this realization a crucial part of their professional consciousnesses.  I imagine that there are countless scholars who suffer(ed) from impostor syndrome all throughout their careers because more and more experience is not enough, more publications are not enough, tenure and promotion are not enough, and so on… to eradicate institutionalized bias against marginalized people.  It is not that we are more likely to experience self-doubt than our privileged counterparts because we are not as experienced or productive as they are.  We doubt ourselves because academia, and society in general, doubts us.  Effective treatments for impostor syndrome, then, must entail raising one’s consciousness and, ideally, changing institutional norms and policies.

I cannot speak to any overlap with Sandberg’s “lean in” philosophy.  But, I know for certain that my new found consciousness, including linking the promotion of my own work with the promotion of my communities, has been inspired by the good Lorde — Audre Lorde, that is.  Nearly on a daily basis, I am reminded of the undeniable truth that silence has never, and will never, protect me. Further, “[w]hen we speak, we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”  And, “[w]hen I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”  By self-promoting and speaking out, I am advancing my communities; thus, with so much more at stake than my personal well-being, my temporary discomfort is unimportant.  (This is a point I attempted to make on U Maryland’s Parren Mitchell Symposium panel on intellectual activism [see 00:56:30].)

Self-Promotion And Community-Promotion

Beyond recognizing self-doubt, I sometimes force myself to accept invitations (if my schedule allows) as a harsh means to overcome it.  For example, in March, I served on a public sociology panel at the Southern Sociological Society annual meeting alongside Drs. Barbara Risman (current SSS president), Philip Cohen, and Neal Caren.  I was the lone tenure-track professor, liberal arts faculty member, and the only queer person and person of color.  The sole reason I accepted the invitation was that I forced myself to do it, ignoring the internal voice that pointed out that these are successful and visible experts while I just finished Year 2 on the tenure-track.

Why push myself even in the face of intense self-doubt?  There are several reasons.  I push myself because the impostor syndrome that I experience is the same symptom of oppression that my fellow marginalized scholars experience.  I push myself because every time I decline an invitation, there is a good chance another person like me may not be invited in my place or also will not accept the invitation; when this occurs repeatedly, we are complicit in the systematic exclusion of the voices of marginalized scholars.  I push myself because I cannot afford to turn down the few opportunities that come my way in light of the infinite opportunities that are denied to me because of my identities and politics.  I push myself because this job will never be easy; academia is a difficult profession by design, and can be deadly for marginalized scholars.

When marginalized scholars self-promote and speak out, we make space for other marginalized scholars, or at least inspire bravery in others.  I simply cannot imagine where I would be if W. E. B. Du Bois, Audre Lorde, Patricia Hill Collins, and the editors of Presumed Incompetent had not dared to speak out and promote their own work and perspectives!  I doubt sexualities would be the theme of the upcoming annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) if sexuality scholars (including ASA President Paula England) were too afraid to promote their work as a legitimate and important area of study.  Each time I promote my work and voice, I hope that I, too, am having the same positive influence on others.

Allowing forcing ourselves to be heard and visible in academic spaces benefits our privileged colleagues, as well.  By daring to promote our work and to speak up, we contribute to disrupting our own systemic exclusion.  We challenge the perspective and scholarship of white heterosexual middle-class “normal weight” cis men without disabilities as the default or standard.  We force our colleagues to take us seriously and see the importance of our work and our perspectives.  Hopefully, we also influence our privileged colleagues to prioritize our voices when citing scholarship, choosing panels and committees, and assigning readings in their courses.  To put it bluntly, the exclusion and invisibility of unique perspectives is bad for science and bad for higher education; in this way, we all benefit from diversity and full inclusion.

Concluding Thoughts

Tasking individual marginalized scholars with self-promoting to help advance their own communities is burdensome, I realize.  If you’re already feeling self-doubt, and the twinge of guilt for turning requests down, and the stress of being overburdened with service demands, knowing that you are either advancing your communities or letting them down is simply more pressure.  But, thinking of the positive flip side — that the promotion of your scholarship and perspective helps to promote your communities — may help to alleviate the self-doubt.

The reality is, it often is so much more than you.  When you are excluded, it is because most or all of the members of your communities are excluded.  When scholars who dare to speak up are attacked, they are simply targets for a larger assault on liberalism, higher education, anti-racism, feminism, and other causes that promote equal rights and/or social justice.   The self-doubt is, at least in part, an internalization of the bias against marginalized scholars in academia and society generally.  We ease the work of defenders of the status quo in academia when we are complicit in our own silence, invisibility, and exclusion.

We owe it to ourselves and our communities to be heard, and seen, and cited, and promoted, and included, and engaged.

Jackson Wright Shultz Reflects On Conditional Gender Privilege

shultzJackson Wright Shultz (@WriteRadically) is an adjunct professor of writing at New England College (see his full biography at the end).  In this guest blog post, Jackson reflects on his “conditional” male and cisgender privileges — contingent on others’ assumptions about his sex and gender identity — and how they benefit him in the classroom. 

Be sure to check out Jackson’s first guest post, too!

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On Conditional Gender Privilege

At the end of my first term as an adjunct, I nervously awaited the receipt of my student evaluations. From the moment that I submitted the final grades for my classes, I lived in a state of anxiety. I kept replaying the events of the semester over and over in my mind. Did I explain the course expectations thoroughly? Did I make myself available to students often enough? Was I approachable? Did my students actually learn anything? Perhaps my anxiety stemmed from being new to teaching, or perhaps it was rooted in the knowledge that as an adjunct my future employment depends in no small part on the evaluations my students give me, Several weeks after the term ended, my evaluations finally arrived. My hand over my eyes, I peered apprehensively through my fingers, reading each student comment with a combination of dread and excitement. The first evaluation was positive. As was the second. And the third! I continued reading with growing enthusiasm and relief. All of my students provided glowing reviews of my teaching.

For a full two minutes I was elated. My world was an idyllic sphere of thoughtful students who cared deeply about learning and who respected my pedagogical methods. Yet, as I re-read the evaluations, my blissful smile slowly sank into a frown. The words that had comforted me moments ago were suddenly glaring red flags: confident, awesome, interesting, organized, and even one gnarly. I knew that there was little hope, but I still desperately wanted to believe that these were objective, unbiased reviews. So, I called a colleague to ask how she fared in her evaluations.

“Don’t even ask,” she sighed, “One student wrote, ‘I’m not sure what was going on with her hair, but it was very distracting.’ It only goes downhill from there.”

I hung up, disheartened. I had wanted to believe that my teaching was as outstanding and gnarly as my students suggested, but as many women in academia have noted and countless studies prove, student evaluations are all too often biased along gender lines. I didn’t work harder than any of the other adjuncts in my department, and I had significantly less teaching experience than the majority of women with whom I worked. My excellent evaluations were the product of male privilege, and nothing more.

Recognizing And Using My Privilege

As a transmasculine individual and a feminist, it is critical that I recognize and push back on my gender privilege. My students see me as a white, able-bodied man and evaluate me as such. Not only is my male privilege abundantly clear in my evaluations from, and interactions with, students, other faculty, and administrators, my cisgender privilege is, as well. In my case, having cisgender privilege, sometimes heinously referred to as “passing” privilege, means that I am consistently perceived as a man and assumed to be male. It doesn’t matter that I am not cisgender: I still benefit from cisgender privilege. In part, this means that I have the option of whether or not I disclose to others that I am transgender – a luxury and a safety that many trans people can only fathom.

Yet both my male and cisgender privileges are entirely conditional. They are predicated on other people remaining ignorant of the fact that I am trans. They are privileges that can be revoked by coworkers “outing” me to my supervisors or students, by glancing at the extensive list of transgender-related publications on my CV, or by merely Googling my name. In some ways, these gender-based privileges are single use: once my status as a trans person is discovered, the scene roughly equates to the villagers descending upon Frankenstein’s monster with torches and pitchforks. Minimally, once my trans status is “discovered,” my cisgender privilege vanishes, my male privilege dissipates, and my acceptance as an instructor and scholar is retracted. In practical terms, being “outed” could easily result in me receiving negative student evaluations, experiencing harassment in the workplace, or even being fired.

Thus far, I have been extremely fortunate in my academic career to have an open-minded supervisor who hired me in spite of my lavender vita, as well as coworkers whom I can trust. I’m not naïve enough to believe that I’ll continue for much longer in my career without others in my department or on campus realizing that I’m trans. Alas, the internet exists. While many trans individuals in generations past transitioned and disappeared into the woodwork, the anonymity that they were able to achieve is difficult, if not impossible, for a generation raised on the Internet. My online presence is hardly stealth, and comes with calculated risks. By blogging and publishing without the use of a pseudonym, I hazard that my coworkers, supervisors, or students may soon put two and two together, and the consequences for me could be dire if they do–particularly as an adjunct (a topic for future discussion).

For the time being, however, my open presence online allows me to frame the conversation about myself as a trans scholar. Likewise, in the office, my cisgender and male privileges, though conditional, afford me the agency to advocate for transgender colleagues and students who are not in safe positions to self-advocate, as well as to call out sexism and misogyny in the workplace without risking the scorn, scrutiny, and career-hampering that women often face for the same actions. I am fully cognizant that I was once in their positions and could be again, and I act with an awareness that dismantling the institutions that uphold and enforce sexism benefits everyone. My hope is that if and when my conditional privileges are stripped away and I am no longer in a position to self-advocate or frame the conversation about myself, maybe I will have affected enough micro-level changes that my students and colleagues will be able to engage in constructive dialogues around gender and leave the pitchforks at home.

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Biography

Jackson Wright Shultz is an adjunct professor of writing at New England College. He obtained his MALS degree from Dartmouth College (2014), and will begin his Doctorate of Education in the fall. He recently gave a TEDx Talk on transgender liberation and gender equity. His personal research interests include technology law, social media studies, women and gender studies, critical race studies, queer theory, composition pedagogy, higher education administration, and oral history. His first book, Trans/Portraits, will be released in October 2015 from the University Press of New England.

Sex Work+Academia=Whorephobia

Juniper Fitzgerald (@juniperfitz) is a graduate student and sex worker, as well as a writer.  In this guest post, Juniper reflects on the presumed contradiction between academia and sex work, detailing some of the challenges and bias she has faced in the academy because she is a sex worker.

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Sex Work + Academia = Whorephobia

juniperAlthough surprisingly adult-like for someone who believed in Santa Clause until the ripe old age of thirteen, I nonetheless remain embodied in my nerdy, greasy-haired self of girlhood. A painfully awkward child, that space of insecurity was further squared off by a single-parent, barely middle-class household in the heart of the Bible Belt. Unattractive, unshaven, and terrified of Homo sapiens – if ever there were an unlikely candidate for sex work, I surely fit the bill. But even the trope of the “unlikely [insert any of the numerously broad, oversexed caricatures of women in our culture]” is uncomfortable at best. Indeed, it necessitates a “likely [insert any of the numerously broad, oversexed caricatures of women in our culture].” Who, exactly, is the likely stripper? The unsurprising porn star? The totally foreseeable whore? In the decade I spent peddling eroticism and intimacy, I never once had the pleasure of meeting such a predictable person.

And yet, discourses surrounding so-called sexual deviants have vested interests in these kinds of distinctions. While exploited sex workers and victims of trafficking necessarily have our cultural empathy, those for whom “victim” is not a salient identity garner less warmth. As someone whose choice to enter the sex industry was only modestly constrained by poverty, I exist in the ambiguity of agential sex work – ambiguous insofar as agency is tricky under a capitalistic, white supremacist patriarchy. Now that I am in academia, that ambiguity is difficult for colleagues, namely because the conversation surrounding sex work has, historically, been one of exploitation. There is a distinct lack of language through which to express my experiences.

And I am not alone. As the bloated face of capitalism pokes its stars and stripes into all that is holy and sacred, as the authentic pursuit of knowledge becomes privatized and as graduate assistantships and adjunct labor become little more than indentured servitudes, more and more people supplement their university pay checks with sex work. And it is certainly a tricky balance. Not only do sex workers navigate two extreme identities, we must also work harder at convincing academic colleagues of our intellectual rigor and of the seriousness of our research (especially if we happen to also focus our research on gender and sexuality). Our struggles are not unlike those of mid-late century feminists and queers. In fact, of her struggle as a feminist in the academia, Caroline Ramazanoglu (1987) wrote:

It is my contention that I am not a crank. I am not a freak. I am not unprofessional. I am not a totalitarian fascist determined to impose my will on others. I am not sexually deprived, I do not seek revenge on men, but I am labeled as these (and worse) to my face and behind my back, because of my lack of deference and my persistent failure to accept my “proper place” as a subordinate female in a patriarchal, competitive, and hierarchical system (69).

Our experiences are similar, though I might replace “I do not seek revenge on men” with “I do not indiscriminately seduce men.” It was almost a decade ago that I was wittingly “outed” by local media—an unexpectedly titillating account of my life of vice. Subsequently, colleagues, professors, and students started propositioning me behind closed doors, a testament to my perceived hypersexuality. As a graduate student, I dull out infinite justification for my research; I wade through tomes of student reviews claiming my “seriousness” is at odds with my research interests, which happen to be gender and sexuality as they relate to the sex industry. Colleagues claim that I am “fringe” and unscrupulously mock my work. I am perceived to be biased or, on rare but notable occasions, suffering from false consciousness. In one particularly haunting example, a national research project was stalled because of my participation in it while working as a sex worker. I am often accused of “inappropriateness” – my dress or my demeanor or my interactions with male colleagues are perceived to be laden with sexual overtures. A battlefield of eggshells, I am constantly tip-toeing over the sensibilities of my peers. My nerdy and bookish sense of self is continuously competing with cohorts’ insistence that I exist only as a perfidious harlot. It is, of course, a form of whorephobia.

Whorephobia in academia speaks to larger issues of sexism and classism in universities. Because of that nagging belief in the “likely sex worker,” academics box their sex-working colleagues into unforgiving stereotypes: vindictive, untrustworthy, unstable and, of course, unworthy, just to name a few. And it is important to recognize that said stereotypes are engendered from a fundamental distrust of women and the systemic denial of bodily agency, particularly as it plays out for poor and blue-collar women.

Supporting sex workers, whether they be colleagues or otherwise, is indeed a progressive position. Acknowledging sex workers’ complicated and infinitely unfolding humanity is one way we, as academics, may begin to close the gap between the ivory tower’s insiders and outsiders.

References

Ramazanoglu, Caroline. (1987). “Sex and Academic Life, or You Can Keep a Good Woman Down.” Pp. 61-74. In Women, Violence and Social Control, eds. Jalna Hanmer and Mary Maynard. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press.

Find Your Own Pocket Of Protection In Academia

It is too easy to look back on stupid things I said, did, or thought in my youth.  But, at times, I can look into my past with pleasant surprise regarding a thought or action.  “Wow — how did I know what the heck I was talking about then?”  Since I started the countdown to finishing my PhD around this time last year, I have been reflecting a lot on my college years.  Maybe I am looking back to compare my experiences as a college student to what I imagine my students experience.  There is also a bit of nostalgia because — well — graduate school was just a different beast.  Related to that aside, I also find myself reflecting on the past because I actually knew things before grad school (despite the implicit messages I received)!

A Culture Of Opposition

One memory that, now, looking back surprises me is giving advice on navigating what I called a “culture of opposition” in academia.  As a graduating senior, having served as president of the student activities group that year, I was invited to give parting advice to incoming student leaders.  In planning events on campus, involvement in other organizations, and advocating for greater services for LGBT students on campus, I had amassed experience in working with students, staff, faculty, and administration.  Through my experiences, it seemed you could assume most people were either not interested or invested in your efforts, and a few even took an extra step to get in your way.  So, while attempting not to be a pessimist, I emphasized that one should not be naive about others’ willingness to support you.

April 2007, UMBC

April 2007, UMBC

A Pocket Of Opportunity

In the picture above, you can see the poster I created as a visual aid for my advice to incoming student leaders.  That is me on the right, going through my South Pole clothing phase.  The ominous mass on the outside is the aforementioned “culture of opposition.”  I recall seeing a shocked face on one staff member’s face when I misspoke, saying “culture of oppression.”  (I thought it was funny.)

On the inside of the circle, in the center, is what I referred to as a “pocket of opportunity.”  I made an attempt to draw a pants pocket that is releasing little hearts into the air.  For me, this pocket was student life.  The fellow students with whom I worked, but more so student affairs staff, offered a safe, encouraging space that provided what felt like limitless opportunities for me to pursue my passions.  They, along with a few faculty and administrators, supported me in my efforts to create a campus resource center for LGBT students.  Within an otherwise disinterested and, at times, oppositional culture on campus, I found this small pocket of protection, encouragement, and support.

Find Your Own Pocket

I am reemphasizing a (provocative) point I made before: we, as marginalized people, do ourselves a disservice by buying into the fairytale of academia as a safe, inclusive, and equal place.  Despite my wisdom about the “culture of opposition” as a graduating senior, I made the mistake of assuming the best about academia as I entered graduate school.  And, I embarrassed to admit I did so again as I started as a professor (albeit to a lesser extent).  There is no place that I can think of that will automatically be “home” for me, that will automatically be welcoming and encouraging for people like me.

In order to survive and thrive, we have to find our own pocket of protection/opportunity/support.  Unfortunately, I do not have advice beyond knowing that we have to search, for it is not a given for marginalized individuals.  I cannot say that I have readily known where to look, but it became clear that I had to look for allies, mentors, sponsors, and supportive communities.  This has meant broadening my search beyond my own cohort, department, university — and, outside of academia.