Why black professors matter on college campuses
I am a Muslim black woman and throughout my years in education I have had a black teacher. I can only speak for myself here and tell you this is the most difficult obstacle I have had to go through. Every day there is a new microaggression to face. For years, I endured classmates calling me insults without a single teacher protecting me. During my time at Shorecrest High School in Shoreline, I never had a single teacher who looked like me, who could understand me. Black teachers are rare, and black teachers in Washington state are even rarer. A database from the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Education shows that 86.8% of teachers in Washington are white, while 1.5% of teachers are black.
I study social sciences at the University of Washington and I can see that after all these years of study, not much has changed. When I ask my friends in Washington state how many black educators they’ve had, they usually say one or none. In predominantly white institutions (PWI) like UW, it can be incredibly difficult to be a black student and go through your entire college career without having a black professor.
I am not speaking for the black community. I speak for myself as a black person. I know that if there were more black professors in PWI my college experience would be better. I wouldn’t have to deal with the constant ignorance of non-black professors who talk about black issues over which they have no authority. I would have more access to mentors and professors who could show me what it would be like to work in the areas I specialize in as a black person, and who would know how to stand up for myself and create a more inclusive and safe space. for their black students. But this can only happen if PWI administrations change the culture of their campuses to make them a safer and more productive environment for black staff.
In the spring of 2020, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and many other African Americans led to the summer uprisings that took place to demand social justice and fairness in this country, and organizations female students from my university took part in this. The hiring of more black professors was among the seven demands that the Union of Black Students of UW made to the administration. UW employs just 99 black faculty members, representing about 2% of the 4,760 faculty members, according to a 2020 university backgrounder. The vast majority – 3,191 faculty members, according to the fact sheet – are white. This imbalance in staffing can create an incredibly uncomfortable dynamic that generates a lack of trust and understanding between black students and predominantly white staff.
“There have been many times that I have had to correct non-black professors for whitewashing the history of Africa, and it happens all the time,” said Mahilet Mesfin, an international studies student and president. of the UW Black Student Union. “When black students are in space[s] where they have to constantly correct non-black teachers and students, especially on black subjects, which can so easily create burnout and burnout. “
As black college students we often find ourselves as college students and teachers when we shouldn’t have to. Black students across the country want change now. We want to see more black teachers. To effect this change, Mesfin stressed the need for universities to focus on retention as well as on hiring.
“Black professors and professors are so miserable and lonely with their campus experience that they don’t stay,” she says.
Honestly, I had never thought of it this way before. Black professors are placed in the same tense environment as black students. The danger for professors is that if they speak out in the dangerous environments they find themselves in, their work could be at stake.
I had the pleasure of meeting Rickey Hall, UW Diversity Manager, to talk about the importance of culture, community and faculty representation on campus.
“We should always be in recruiting mode, that it’s not just leadership, but every college and department should always stay committed to diversity,” he said. “It has to be a culture change. I sincerely believe that diversity, equity and inclusion lead to innovations and that innovations lead to breakthroughs. ”
It’s been a year since UW Black Student Union and UW Black Lives Matter made seven requests to create a more inclusive campus, and they still haven’t been met. Supporting these organizations and publicizing these demands is a task that anyone can do. Much has happened since the uprisings last summer, but we as a community need to step on the accelerator and keep pushing until change happens.
There are amazing programs in place to recruit high school students from underrepresented communities at UW. But what is it worth if once these students arrive on campus, they don’t see themselves represented by their professors at all? Students of color who come to this renowned, well-funded institution might not find a mentor or professor who can guide them as they navigate a predominantly white space.
I hope UW and all predominantly white institutions will remain committed to diversity and inclusion for students and faculty. Witnessing so much violence against black people over the past year and still having to go to class every day with no one to understand the difficulty we have been through has been the most difficult time to go through as a student. If there were more black professors, then future black students and staff would know that they are not alone, that there are people on campus who can relate to them and share a level of comprehension. The presence of more black professors can and will change the lives of so many students for the better.