Things I want at work to better help with the BLM movement

I’m a university professor.  Here’s places I think the university should be throwing resources.

  • Bystander training both for general situations for everybody and for what the professor can do in class.  I would very much like to expand my tool-box about what I can say when a student says something racist.  Especially when it’s something racist out of the blue.  I’m generally better at dealing with racist comments when I can guess what they’re going to be and am expecting them (like when I’m teaching something with common misconceptions that I can treat as such), but in the past I’ve been shocked at students out of the blue denying the fundamental humanity of immigrants, or interrupting a statistics lecture to go on a racist screed about Hispanic-Americans (that last guy has a restraining order against him and was escorted out by police the last time he visited the department and thankfully dropped my class before the midterm after not doing any of the homework meant he could not pass mechanically).
  • I want my colleagues to get training on how to make a comfortable environment for underrepresented people to speak.  Things like allowing time to write down the answer to a question before cold-calling.  How to sure cold-calls are evenly distributed, etc.
  • Another student climate survey.  The last one was done 4 years ago, generally every 5 years seems reasonable for these kinds of surveys, but so much has changed since then, it makes sense to do this one early.  Maybe even annually for a while.
  • A major problem is that there are a small number of faculty, mostly contract or untenured (but also me and one of my white male colleagues who just got tenured this year) who are getting the bulk of the emotional pressure from when our underrepresented students are treated poorly.  It is hard and we don’t get service credit for it and the contract and untenured folks are endangered by it.  I’m brainstorming with my chair and another chair they’re bringing in about this problem later this week, but either we need to spread this out somehow or we need to concentrate it into an ombuds-type position and give the faculty member service credit for it.
  • Before the Corona virus we’d had reports of several students across several sub-fields in several classes say horrific things that denied non-white-non-US-non-etc. their basic humanity.  (Things like, if it’s in the US’s best interests, shouldn’t the US government encourage dictators to genocide?  Also basic Fox news talking points about why children deserve to be in cages because their parents “broke the law” [sic].  )  When it gets to this level, it needs to be addressed somehow from a department-wide basis in order to show support for underrepresented students and to show bigoted students that their behavior is really not acceptable across the board (and not just in one class from one teacher).  But how?
  • Bringing in outside people as consultants who are not horrible, preferably minorities with consulting businesses who are probably going to (and should) be terribly expensive this coming year.  But it can’t just be “we brought in a consultant for a 3 hour training”– the training has to actually be more helpful than harmful.  And it shouldn’t just be an implicit bias training– our leaders need training on how to make systemic change, and we need advice on things like how to shut up white conservative Christians who have joined the student diversity committee to “provide the voice of victimized white conservative Christians” (have I mentioned again that we live in the heavily white Evangelical South?).  Given the Corona situation, I’m hopeful that some of these expensive consultants will make video trainings available, but we probably also need to have leadership talk with an expert about our specific situation.  And we need someone to tell the dean that having agendaless “conversations” to which everyone is invited (including white police officers?!) and given equal time is going to shut out underrepresented groups.
  • Getting rid of that last bigoted statue on campus and replacing it with the prominent black alum one they’ve been talking about since the 1990s WITHOUT requiring private donations to do it.  Come ON.  One of my colleagues just donated $500 for it and my dean wanted to make a big fundraiser among our faculty, but this is something the University should be doing.  I know we’re getting budget cuts and no raises for the foreseeable future, but this should have institutional weight behind it.  (That said, if an outside private donor wants to give the university a restricted donation, I’m aok with that.)

 

What else should I be suggesting?  What would help you at work to help your marginalized students/coworkers/etc.?

21 Responses to “Things I want at work to better help with the BLM movement”

  1. Michael Nitabach Says:

    I think you forgot HIRE BLACK FACULTY & SUPPORT THEIR SCHOLARSHIP W MONEY SPACE & TIME?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Who is hiring anybody in this environment? But the uni already has programs in place for this (hiring underrepresented people, and also the internal study one of my colleagues is in charge of showed no differences in lab size or office size or startup packages and we do annual salary studies combined with equity bumps that have brought salaries up) and right now I’m interested in protecting the black faculty members we have in ways that we haven’t been working on. For example, they still do more service, and they’re still getting this emotional burden that most of the male white faculty aren’t.

      But yes, Yale should get on that. I bet you’re not paying my mentor anything near what she’s worth. It’s much harder to get salary equity when salaries aren’t public knowledge,

      If anybody’s uni hasn’t been working on hiring more underrepresented faculty and giving them the resources they need to succeed and making sure their salaries don’t drop, those are first order things for a university to do. There’s NSF grant money available to help implement these changes (which we used to help rebuild after we lost some of these programs to the last recession).

  2. Steph Says:

    This is a really good list. I’m in a weird place because I’m starting my faculty job in ~6 weeks, but I haven’t OFFICIALLY started yet so I feel limited in what I can do from afar. We had a department discussion on Wednesday as part of the academic strike, but it became clear that many of my colleagues don’t want to confront issues around student climate. There’s another pre-tenure person who seems invested in making changes, but I think I might need to wait to talk to them again, until I have a better sense of the politics (sigh).

    In our STEM field, we’re less likely to get the kind of outbursts that you mentioned, but there are widely documented issues of Black and NBPOC students being shut out of discussion and study groups, subjected to microaggressions, all those small things that will drive them away. I want training on how to better facilitate student groups and manage those smaller interactions.

    This is an article about a Physics department that managed to do a lot of those things – their original motivations were about how to welcome female students & faculty, while all the faculty were still white men. But their interventions extended to race, and they seem to have been successful at including students of color as well, so I think it’s still relevant. https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.2.20190912a/full/

  3. EB Says:

    “(Things like, if it’s in the US’s best interests, shouldn’t the US government encourage dictators to genocide? Also basic Fox news talking points about why children deserve to be in cages because their parents “broke the law” [sic]. ) When it gets to this level, it needs to be addressed somehow from a department-wide basis in order to show support for underrepresented students and to show bigoted students that their behavior is really not acceptable across the board (and not just in one class from one teacher). But how?”

    This is really tough, and unfortunately, I don’t think it can be addressed from a department-wide basis, because what would that look like? some sort of pronouncement that students are not allowed to voice any opinion that reflects dislike or disapproval of any person from a marginalized group? that would be too vague, and if it’s a public uni, it would even be illegal. And in a classroom, the goal cannot be to silence people (which only makes them go underground, anyway) but to educate them in the context of understanding the facts and basic human values like the rule of law.

    What you can do is counter those types of comments/questions with true facts and Socratic questions. So for the children in cages comment, you would say “Oh, so if your Dad commits a crime, you should be kept in a cage?” and for the genocide one, it could be “Actually, many countries including the US at times have supported genocidal leaders of other countries. However, it is against international law and human rights to do so, and propping up genocidal leaders puts you on the wrong side of history.”

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think it needs to be addressed from a department-wide basis though. Because we have a handful of students doing this across several classes and it’s always a huge shock to the professor in the moment. It’s easy to think of what one should have said later.

      I would also like to increase my toolbox of dealing with off-the-wall racist comments (see above points). Because I don’t need my Hispanic students hearing anti-immigrant screeds when they’re trying to learn regression analysis. Discussion needs to be relevant and respectful or it silences vulnerable students even as it allows privileged white racists to speak. So… I would argue that yes, I would like to silence assholes who are taking away from other people’s learning experiences. Especially those who love to play “devil’s advocate” and waste everybody’s time because they’re too mentally lazy to actually deal with the material at hand. I teach @#$#2ing math classes.

      • EB Says:

        Oh yes — if what you’re dealing with is a few provacateurs then definitely bring them in and give them what-for, and especially if what they are bringing up is off-topic. This actually used to happen when I was in one of the first classes to admit women, in the ’60’s. Some of the men were not happy about it, especially in the hard sciences. And said so. A couple of professors were the designated “you need to stop that” messengers.

      • becca Says:

        I think just putting a very generic respect for other students clause in the syllabus might be enough to give you something to point to in a myriad of situations. Maybe throw in a stereotype threat citation or something.
        As long as you emphasize the problem isn’t that they are Wrong but that they are Behaving Disrespectfully, I think it can work. And it makes a lot of sense to get the department as a whole to adopt it, because it will send a much clearer signal.

        Not to be snarky, but I get the feeling that *because* you teach math you feel you shouldn’t *have* to do this. But people who teach history, or philosophy, or definitely comparative religions will have tips for how to shut down unproductive opinions (or possibly foster an atmosphere where other students in the demographic category of the offender will naturally shut it down FOR you, which is often a great outcome if that’s how it works out).

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I think you’ve ventured into snarky, or rather, condescending. Also I should mention that my department now has a restraining order against one guy who regularly went on racist tangents in my methods class before dropping out (I don’t know why, but he did get escorted out by police several years later). In any case I do have some things in my toolbox already and I don’t *just* teach math courses—I also teach classes that very much deal with poverty, discrimination, etc. But racism does show up even in my math classes which is ridiculous. And I think we all can use more tools. And no, a statement in a syllabus is not enough.

  4. rose Says:

    Given all the “Free speech amendment means I can say anything I want at any time in any place”, especially as a ‘victimized white evangelical’s’. I’d appreciate hearing how professors are instructed to deal with such interrupters safely, politely, legally and effectively.

  5. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    I welcome suggestions, but like I said above, I’m not doing nothing. I just want more tools. And we have had an increase in somewhat frightening bigoted students who massively disrupt class (my stats class was too scary so one of last years guys harassed me until the chair paid for him to take it online instead—he was only in half the first day of class but said I bullied him by asking the class to move up a few seats—apparently he’s been a major problem going on racist and sexist tirades in his other classes and harassing female students, but he’s not the only one! The encourage genocide guy was someone else entirely!)

  6. C Says:

    I’ll echo doing what we can to support BIPOC colleagues and students – showing up to events they’re putting on (especially for students, especially when they’ve invited me), trying to be a “hype man” when they have teaching and research successes, etc.

    In terms of tools to deal with student disruptions – I have syllabus language about community climate and my expectations, and if in any of my (humanities field) classes we’re approaching a topic I think might push buttons – either in terms of content notes or people saying offensive things – I’m upfront about what we’ll be dealing with and what my expectations are for their behavior towards me and each other. I’m also super upfront that “being a devil’s advocate” isn’t a thing that I want to see happening in my classes. Emphasizing that there is a difference between thinking through different perspectives and dialogue and “devil’s advocates.” That said, when I’ve had students or colleagues have said terrible things, it’s been in a context where I’ve been able to react immediately and where they didn’t just come out of the blue like it sounds like your students have. The one personal example where I can think of where it was out of the blue, which I don’t feel like I can describe more because it would be identifiable, I was in a more vulnerable professional position and took my concerns to colleagues who took the incident seriously and addressed the issue with the student in a way that the student could learn from, and ensured that it wouldn’t happen again. However, if my colleagues hadn’t done that, I don’t know what my next steps would have been.

    I’ve reached out to our diversity office people about the things our institution is doing and said explicitly, I want to help shift the burden of education and emotional labor related to racism away from my BIPOC colleagues, and offered to facilitate work with my fellow white colleagues. We’ll see how that goes.

    The training for allowing people to speak and listen better would be fantastic! I participated in a few trainings about that a few years ago and it was so helpful for me, I wish everyone I work with would also develop those skills more.

    So after this late-night rambling, a short list of things I have found to be effective in addressing classroom incidents: 1) ask students why, what evidence supports whatever offensive thing they’ve said; 2) directly say, that is an offensive thing to say and here is why, also please come talk to me outside of class; 3) frontload the importance of an inclusive and brave classroom community and do what I can from day 1 to build it with relationships and expectations; 4) call in support when necessary, and document any issues in writing ASAP; 5) I kicked a student out of my classroom once.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Great suggestions! I will note that with 1) they often have Fox news or breitbart talking points. Though by the end of their time with us they know they’re not good sources.

  7. CG Says:

    I teach at a very diverse, urban university and I’m in a field that people don’t usually pick unless they’re on the progressive side, so I’ve never had a major problem with a right-winger (I did once have a Black grad student from another department who told us he was a conservative and had voted for he-who-shall-not-be-named and that led to some pretty interesting conversations). I’m more worried that I’m going to say something dumb/offensive without realizing it during a conversation about race, so I’m always walking on my own eggshells trying to be careful. One topic I think our students are less up on is immigration since our area has fewer than average immigrants, so I spend a lot of time talking about the benefits of the free movement of people and the racist motivations for most US immigration policy. I continue to think about what more I can do as a teacher to make sure all our students feel respected and supported. A work in progress, for sure.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Always a work in progress!

      Sometimes when I screw up in the other direction a student talks to me after class and I apologize or clarify (if I literally misspoke and forgot a “not” or something) next class. Or as I’ve been getting better, they assume I misspoke and correct me politely during. Not so much the students saying scary things.

      • CG Says:

        And that, folks, is how we engage in a productive dialog where we learn stuff and get better. Well done, students. And you.

  8. First Gen American Says:

    Hopefully college is a time for learning and fixing some of those mistakes in one’s perception of the world. When I was 18 and 19, just starting out, I truly believed that “I was poor and I got out….They are just don’t want it bad enough.” I had no sympathy at all for other poor people of any race because I was working my butt off. I don’t think I was a bad person but I was truly ignorant about a lot of stuff at that age. Thank you for being one of the good ones setting people straight.

    Spending time and learning from culturally and ethnically diverse colleagues was such a gift. I wish I could Magically bestow diversity into all job functions and life experiences. My first manager and long time mentor is African American and he taught me SO SO much about everything In life. We travelled a lot together and he would point out the people staring at us (Not in a good way). I was totally oblivious until I learned to see it too….and then it was everywhere.

    I think a lot of white people are starting to learn how to see racism and that’s awesome.

    So a small part of me hopes that some of these kids just don’t know any better yet and will come around. And I really hope the millennials start to vote and vote out all the people who encourage and embrace the bigoted behavior.

    Thank you for posting this and all you do.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I have been blessed with so many Black mentors. I don’t know what I can do except try to pay it forward.

      A lot of kids do learn stuff in college, but some of these new ones just seem to completely lack empathy. There aren’t many, but even one or two can be very disruptive.

      I also hope there’s a lot of voting out of bigots! Even with Republicans purposefully making it difficult for younger people to vote in many states.

      • EB Says:

        And a final observation: over the years most of my students have been older, and working. They may not be particularly progressive, but they are past the age of wanting to be oppositional just for the sake of it. They lack that “you’re not the boss of me” attitude that you can find in the 18-24 year olds. They are not reacting to progressive positions and narratives with a “what about me?” sense of fear. In short, they are adults.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Sadly that guy with a restraining order was a returning student, as was the one who bullied himself out of my stats class (he is actually in his 40s!) but yeah, most of the people who ask questions like, “why CAN’T we do experiments on prisoners, aren’t they bad guys?” are college-age.


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