Even when I win, I don’t

I’m a Latino philosopher on the job market for the nth time. I’ve had a few interviews, but no more than would be expected for a candidate of my caliber. Every time I talk about the job market with people, they say, “oh, but you’ll have such an advantage over other people because you’re Mexican.” But I’ve never noticed an advantage. What I *have* noticed is that whenever I get an interview, people say it is because I’m Latino. When I don’t get an interview, it has nothing to do with race. So all of my good outcomes are discounted because of my ethnicity, but none of my bad outcomes are. How can there be such an advantage if three-fifths of Ph.D. and M.A. programs in philosophy have NEITHER a Latino nor a black philosopher?

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How are you going to handle white students?

I was on the job market this past fall. At the end, there was a lengthy exit interview that occurred as the final step of a three-day, on-campus interview. The exit interview consisted of approximately six white males, one white female and myself—a person of color and a female. The following interchange took place:

White Female: “You realize, of course, that virtually everyone here at [the university] is white and you are not, right?
Me: “Uhm, yes, I guess….”
White Female: “So, our question to you is how are you going to handle that in the classroom? What strategies will you use to handle that situation?”

While I provided a list of everyday strategies for being a good teacher (giving everyone a fair hearing on all topics, etc.), I was struck by her complete lack of sensitivity to the fact that the real question should have been how would the DEPARTMENT support ME in my teaching the students at that institution. Obviously, this was not a question that had been contemplated by the department members. And just as obviously, this was not an institution where I (or anyone else of color) would be provided the kinds of support that faculty of color in philosophy currently need to succeed in the discipline.

It is important to understand that this lack of support and consideration persisted despite a sincere desire on the part of the faculty to hire a person of color. They just did not understand the relevant issues. Until this mindset changes, and until top quality diversity training becomes a regular part of, for example, new faculty orientations and/or REQUIRED faculty continuing education in philosophy, nothing will change. Faculty of color will continue to feel uncomfortable and unsupported in the discipline, despite recent efforts to dramatically increase the number of persons of color in philosophy through large-scale recruitment efforts.

Merely a Box to Be Checked

Job applicants who have been deemed diverse are thrown into a system that seemingly values their diversity. However, their value is determined by individuals with biases and individuals who are forced to meet certain standards determined by their bosses and HR departments. We (those deemed diverse) are asked to identify, prove, and convince others that unchosen features of our being adds to the value of our candidacy, when those very same unchosen features can be used against us. And in the instance that our unchosen features contribute to our appeal as a scholar and colleague, then we are left wondering if our unchosen features override our accomplishments. If this is the nature of the academic market and despite my accomplishments I am merely a box to be checked by a search committee, then my value is not as a productive colleague but rather as a way of meeting a quota.

I discuss my experiences as a diverse job candidate in the academic job market at http://www.bioethics.net/2015/01/how-are-you-diverse-how-the-academic-job-market-aggravated-my-racial-insecurities/

The Model Minority

I am Asian-American and an immigrant. While I was in graduate school, a few colleagues and I were discussing race and class issues. I made a remark about what it is like to be a minority and one of my colleagues said, “You aren’t really a minority. You are like a white person in yellow skin.” After getting my first academic job, I talked to the chair of my department regarding whether I constituted a minority hire. He said Asians are not a minority. I did a quick survey of my University (a large state school) identifying  4 tenured and tenure-track faculty members in the humanities and mathematics (out of a pool of over a hundred). Still, the fact that there were few Asians among tenured and tenure-track faculty members did not convince him. Indeed, the chair looked at me and said, “But, Asians are so successful.” In a wave of a hand, he dismissed all the racism I experienced and all the social injustices that many Asians endure.

Bias in the Hiring Boardroom

Our department was having a meeting to discuss the merits of a job candidate (who is a person of color). Many faculty members were questioning whether the candidate really knew anything about the things he mentioned in passing during his job talk. These things were details of the relevant literature. This job candidate was a tenured philosophy professor at a major university, and the details of the relevant literature are not particularly difficult to grasp. They are covered in advanced undergraduate classes.  I have never seen similar doubts raised for white tenured professors teaching at major universities. Nothing close to this. People just assume they know what they are talking about.  Sadly, this is not just an anecdote. There is plenty of empirical literature to back this up.