Patterns of Gender and Racial PrivilegePlease see "How Priviledges of Gender and Race Affect Academic Life" at the end of the article
When Dr. Juanita Johnson-Bailey became a full professor, she expected her life to change. Surely she’d finally have the credibility some people can take for granted.
“Guess what, you’re still a woman and you’re still black,” she told WIHE. “The only thing that changed was probably my mindset.”
His race and gender have given Dr. Ronald M. Cervero credibility since long before his latest promotion. Both are professors in the University of Georgia’s department of lifelong education, administration and policy. He’s department head and she is associate head.
He was her mentor from the time she was a graduate student. When she joined the faculty at Georgia College, she talked with her old mentor about the stereotypes and assumptions she encountered. “He never tried to rationalize away what was happening,” she said. Instead he saw parallels between her experiences and what he was hearing from other women and minority faculty.
Their conversation continued after she joined the faculty at the University of Georgia. A teacher of Women’s Studies invited them to speak to the class about white privilege. Taking turns, each recounted a way they’d been treated (or ignored) because of their race or gender. They spoke to more and more classes and eventually to the American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference in Chicago in April.
She told WIHE that after such presentations, students would invariably ask him, “Did this really happen to her?” He replied yes, it did, but they should really be asking her. Some had the grace to be abashed.
When she made full professor she thought that wouldn’t happen any more, but it did. Even more telling was the incredulity of colleagues. One asked whom she had to sleep with. Another noted critically that a certain man hadn’t gotten his promotion yet. A third said, you got promoted, maybe I should apply—“as if they’d lowered the standards and that’s how I got through.”
She fell into a period of depression and anxiety, instead of the joy she’d expected. “My psychological salvation has been that I wrote about this,” she told WIHE. As a friend with a similar history pointed out, at full professor you’re no longer a sweet little thing—you’re a threat.
Behavior that’s expected of men counts as aggressive in a woman. Women who come on strong or try to negotiate clearly don’t know their place. A job offer to one African American woman was rescinded after she tried to negotiate her salary, apparently proving herself a trouble-maker.
That reaction isn’t limited to white males. Johnson-Bailey said students expect her to be the mammy—women students as well as men, black as well as white. It’s a running joke.
“Whether we’re black or white, we’re still socialized the same,” she said. “I’ve had people knock on my door and ask if Dr. Johnson-Bailey was in. I’m sitting behind the desk. That might be a clue.”
This summer she co-led a student trip to southern Africa with a male junior colleague. People kept approaching him as the authority. He had to refer them to her as the boss.
White male privilege is an issue in much of the world and across the United States, north as well as south. The unconscious assumptions behind it cross gender, ethnicity and discipline.
Just because we’re in women’s studies or multicultural studies doesn’t make us immune. “We have this habit of anointing ourselves: we get it, we have arrived,” she said. We need to consistently examine ourselves to make sure we don’t replicate unconscious patterns.
We can also seek teachable moments to raise awareness around us. By reflecting on our experiences, we can be prepared for those teachable moments instead of realizing later what we wish we’d said.
Awareness is only part of the solution. “I don’t think it was a surprise to the women in the audience that they’re treated differently,” Cervero said about their AERA presentation. For some it was validation. If you think this has happened to you, you’re not crazy.
Their list of ways race and gender affect daily interactions is so powerful because it illustrates the political with personal stories, all of them true. “The things in the table are symptoms of the underlying problem, which is about power,” he told WIHE.
In addition to raising consciousness, it’s important to “put structures in place to move people along who don’t want their consciousness raised,” he said. We need measures of accountability that start at the top.
He gets more organizational response by talking about talent and resources than by focusing on social justice. “We waste a tremendous amount of talent in academia by creating barriers,” Cervero said. He’s worked with the dean to establish a mentoring network for new women and minority faculty (also open to white men). Their department has become a model of African American enrollment for other parts of the university, in part because students can see faculty who look like themselves.
Consider how often African Americans (but not whites) carrying laptops get stopped as they leave a building. Training for security staff can use it as a case study.
Consider the well-documented tendency for student evaluations to give women and minorities lower ratings than white men. Cervero has worked with the dean to be aware of this bias when using student evaluations in promotion and tenure decisions. Johnson-Bailey called this “making sure the system understands the penalties people pay for showing up as who they are.”
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