Per Caritatem

Although this post is written informally and seasoned with irony, humor, and sardonic flare, it is nonetheless substantive and speaks to issues of which I care deeply, assumptions that need challenging, and claims that ought to be deconstructed. As a female in a (white) male-dominant profession, viz. philosophy, I often find myself in the company of my (white) male colleagues in the workplace, at conferences, etc., engaged for the most part in intense, intellectually stimulating conversation. However, there are those awkward moments, which, honestly speaking, baffle, and, truth be told, frustrate me completely. For example, my otherwise savvy, thoughtful male counterparts somehow believe that being a woman or being a person of color gives one a free pass when it comes to academic positions, interviews, and the like.  Here are some common assertions that I encounter on a regular basis: (WM= white, male colleague) (WTF?= I assume that this is fairly clear. If not, google it.)

  1. WM: “I didn’t get the job because they gave it to some woman, and these days the women, African Americans, and other minorities get all the jobs.” Me: “And where did this ‘woman’ earn her Ph.D.?” WM: Notre Dame.  Me: “That is, after all, an excellent institution. Has she published anything?” WM: “She’s published 5 or so journal articles in peer-reviewed journals.” Me: “And have you published anything?” WM: “I’ve been working on this piece for 3 or so years; it’s just not ready for submission yet.” Me: “Perhaps this ‘woman’ was given the job because she earned it and not simply because she is a woman.” WM: “Look, I know that you get upset with the whole ‘woman’ issue and that you are a feminist. So let’s just talk about something else.” Me: (Baffled, but silently thinking—is this not a classic example of a red herring?)
  2. WM: “If my last name were ‘Sanchez’ or ‘Hernandez,’ then maybe I’d have a chance on the academic market.” Me: (Silently thinking, “I can’t believe he just said that. That’s incredibly racist.”)
  3. WM:  “This is my friend, Cynthia Nielsen. She recently accepted a position at Villanova. Being a woman and all, she was kind of a shoe-in.” Me: (Baffled, but silently thinking, WTF does that mean?)
  4. Me: How’s the job hunting lately? WM: It’s not going well. How about you? Me: I submitted 50 applications and had 4 interviews. WM: “Wow, you had four interviews this year. Well, I guess that makes sense given that you are a woman and all.” Me: “Could it be that the institutions actually value my work and  have a genuine interest in my past and current research projects? Would you say to your African American or Latino colleague, ‘you got the job/interview only because you are black/Latino?’ WM: “Oh, I forgot that you are really hypersensitive about these kinds of issues. Just calm down.” ME: (Baffled, but silently thinking, WTF?)

I would love to hear from my female colleagues and from people of color in the academy who have had similar experiences.  I would especially like to hear how you respond to awkward moments of this sort and whether any of your critical conversations with male colleagues have had positive results.


21 Responses so far

If you want honesty, then here goes.

I have set on many search committees and I am now responsible for hiring. There are many factors that go into a search. There are multiple EEOC requirements that must be met, there are departmental needs that must be considered. Other factors like what the current make up of the department is, what the job is, where the person has his or her degree from, does the candidate have publications, etc.

There is usually a threshold that everyone has to meet, man or woman. I have set both male and female, hispanic, and African American applications aside because they do not meet the requirements of the job; for example if the candidate has only taught and written in political philosophy and the job is mainly to teach metaphysics and ethics, then I do not care what the race, ethnicity or gender of the person is. Something else in the application might catch my eye to change my mind, but for the most part they don’t make the short-list. But if three people meet the thresholds, and two of them are women and one is a man, and if my department only has one woman, and I can only bring two to campus, the two women will be brought to campus. If they bomb, then the man will be brought in.

If I have three men and one woman, all of whom clear the threshold, the woman is definitely coming to campus. If she bombs, well then hopefully one of the men will not. The same would go for race and ethnicity.

The point is everyone has to meet the job description, and then other things and departmental needs are then brought to bear on who comes to campus.

EEOC has strict requirements in place. You must give an explanation for each applicant, why they were not short-listed, why you rejected each short-listed candidate, and why you selected the candidate that you selected.

I would chalk up the behavior of your male counter-parts to being hurt that they have not landed a job. I have heard many women do the same. “Well, of course, you got the job. You are a white man.” At some level that is equally insulting to a man, who lands a job. I know we don’t get to say that, but it seems true.

As anyone who has ever been rejected and rejected and rejected by the job market knows, it can be a painful process. People often react by putting up defense mechanisms. One sometimes has to have an outlet for these feelings of failure and the anxiety it produces.


Jeff, thanks for your comment. I agree that certain requirements must be met for whatever job one has in view. However, it seems to me that often what is at work in the comments/dialogue I mention in my post is an unacknowledged assumption that (white) males are the standard for who “really” ought to be hired (because they are intellectually superior, the “main” wage earners or “ought to be,” etc. etc.) and that women and people of color ought to be thankful that we (white males of a certain stripe) let them have a place at *our* table. I can’t imagine introducing one of my male colleagues who recently landed a teaching position by stating, “This is John Smith. He was selected by the X search committee for a postdoc because he is, after all, a white male.” That is, unless the institution is a known patriarchal institution where women are rarely if ever hired in philosophy, theology, or other “traditionally” male-dominated disciplines. Whiteness (primarily with respect to males, but also applicable to females when issues of “race” arise) remains invisible; however, one’s “gender” and “race” do not. Women and people of color are constantly confronted with essentialist assumptions about their intellectual abilities by their white male counterparts (of course not every white male academic holds such assumptions; I have several white male colleagues who are attuned to and committed to addressing feminist concerns—Philipp is one such colleague). As you recall, we both sat at a table where noted academics (all white males) made negative comments about Cornel West to the effect that he had his job at Princeton only because he is a “black” man, with the emphasis on “black.” I hear comments along these lines all-too-often.

Of course, one has to also factor in the particularities of the institution—whether it values diversity, takes the history of discrimination in the workplace against women and people of color seriously, seeing it as a social justice issue that must be corrected over time by various means that likely will change over time depending upon how successful diversity policies have been, etc.

Whatever one thinks about affirmative action, one has to remember that—whether a female/person of color who is student or a professor and is admitted to an institution or given a teaching position—that person still has to “perform” well in order to earn academic honors, degrees, teaching awards, obtain tenure etc. They don’t get a “free pass” just because they are “minorities.”


Cynthia,

First of all, congrats on the Villanova position. Somehow I missed that update (I have been reading your blog for awhile).

Second, I think that you have an excellent point – many of these discussions that I have also been involved in assume that the WM’s are allowing others to their table. This has to be changed, but I honestly do not know how (as an aside, it is extremely disturbing to me that you are observing this in the field of philosophy. I know that such a view has a long tradition in the sciences, but I tend to expect that the field of philosophy would outdistance others in its thinking).

Third, your interaction with Jeffrey represents a tension for me that I think we need to acknowledge. As you state, women and minorities who earn positions are not given them – they have earned them with their hard-work, publications, etc. However, there is a concomitant reality that Jeffrey brings up – if all things are equal, the need for non-WM voices within the academy does give an advantage, however slight, to non-WM candidates. I support this, but I have many WM colleagues who do not (and many who are embittered by it). I wonder if the way through this is to focus on the “WMness” of the academy and the need for equally qualified voices from other viewpoints. This is currently where I take these types of conversations, although it is not always a successful journey.


Thank you very much, Bryce, for the congratulatory remarks and for your engagement with this topic. In preparing for a section of my recent course on “Modernism and Postmodernism” in which the portion of the course was devoted to “race” and critical “race” theory, I read some interesting statistics regarding African Americans and the academy. In the article, “The Snail-Like Progress of Blacks Into Faculty Ranks of Higher Education,” the author points out that African Americans constitute only 5.3 % (2003) of full-time faculty in US colleges and universities. The author goes on to state that “while blacks are 12 percent of the total enrollments in higher education, the black presence in faculty ranks is less than half the black student enrollment figure.
In considering these statistics it is important to note that approximately 60 percent of all full-time faculty at the nation’s historically black colleges and universities are black. The thousands of black faculty members at these institutions mean that the African-American percentage of the total faculty at the nation’s predominantly white institutions is significantly less than the 5.3 percent total for full-time faculty nationwide.
The U.S. Department of Education data also shows that while blacks are increasing their numbers in holdings of faculty posts, the progress has been slow. A quarter-century ago in 1981, blacks were 4.2 percent of all full-time faculty in American higher education. Today, as stated earlier, the figure is 5.3 percent.
If we were to project into the future the progress blacks have made into full-time faculty positions over the past quarter-century, we find that it would take about 140 years before the percentage of black full-time faculty equaled the current percentage of the black population in the United States.” (To read the article in its entirety, click http://www.jbhe.com/news_views/54_black-faculty-progress.html). Thus, I wonder if the claim that minorities have some grossly unfair advantage (which is not what I take you to be stating) in the academic job market is not another one of those dominant culture mythic assertions with no basis in reality. I’ll have to do some research on how the stats compare with females, but in my (limited) experience, female philosophers with tenured positions are pretty rare–at my previous institution there were no full-time faculty members in the philosophy department; however, I do know that the current chair was not pleased with that situation. A separate but related issue is the unequal pay among equally qualified men and women. White women earn approximately 77cents for every dollar men earn and for women of color the situation is even worse (AA women, 69cents, Latinas 59cents; see http://www.now.org/issues/economic/factsheet.html). The “arguments” that I have heard for these disparities, and I am sure that there are other arguments, involve gender essentialist assumptions correlated with gender essentialist roles with respect to the (so-called “ideal”) family.

I do very much like your idea of focusing on the WMness of the present academy and trying to encourage students to think through these issues and to become more aware of white privilege and how it has shaped the history of this country.


Thank you very much for this post. As a student of color and a grad student, I have definitely heard comparable assertions from my white, male colleagues. What upsets me most about such assertions is that women and people of color often internalize them. They come to perceive themselves through the eyes of the “threatened” white male and question the reality of their own knowledge and abilities. I say this as someone who is currently in the midst of the grad school experience and has seen almost all of his colleagues doubt themselves at one point or another. The problem is that the self-doubt of a female grad student or a grad student of color (or a female grad student of color) is much more difficult to overcome than that of a white, male grad student. The white, male grad student can simply tell himself, “I need to stop doubting myself. Clearly my professors see something worthwhile in me; otherwise I would not have been admitted / passed my comps / been accepted as an advisee.” Non-white and non-male grad students, however, can’t necessarily tell themselves this — especially if they have internalized the oft-repeated claims that they have only accomplished such things because they are female, black, Hispanic, or what have you. I think that we have to do a better job of acknowledging that some departments laudably value faculty (or student) diversity, while at the same time vehemently contesting the notion that such diversity can only be advanced at the cost of the quality of the faculty (or student body). This perspective is grounded, as you say, in a belief that white males are “the standard” and that any deviation from this standard is necessarily a decrease in quality.

One other thing that came to mind as I was reading this is the frequency with which white, male grad students seem to make the sort of comments that you mention to women and people of color. While I am not privy to any conversations that only comprise white males, I find myself doubting that they talk about such things all that frequently among themselves. Is there some sort of validation that they are seeking when they broach the subject with a woman or a person of color? Do they expect us to answer, “Yes, I am inferior; everyone that I have ever met has given me a free pass?”


Those statistics are both staggering and discouraging. Thanks for posting them – they will help me to paint a more effective, and realistic, picture when I am in such conversations.


Thank you so much, Michael, for your transparency and willingness to speak on a personal level about these issues. I can very much relate to your struggles having had similar experiences throughout grad school.


I found an excellent summary of ten myths associated with affirmative action (taken from a longer published collection of essays on prejudice etc. The original essay was first published in the Journal of Social Issues (volume 52, pages 25-31) and later revised in Plous, S. (Ed.). (2003). Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination (pp. 206-212). New York: McGraw-Hill. ). I highly recommend it: http://www.understandingprejudice.org/readroom/articles/affirm.htm

It seems that in order for a fruitful dialogue to ensue, a distinction must be made between discrimination/discriminatory policies in hiring and diversity policies associated with affirmative action. Given the history of discrimination (purposed and intentional exclusionary practices, laws, customs, policies, etc. based on false, unfounded negative assumptions about “race”, “gender,” and of course the more recent issue, “sexual orientation”) against people of color, in particular African Americans and women, diversity policies are necessary. These policies promote inclusivity and representation among all genders, ethnicities, etc.; affirmation action is not based upon prejudicial views of a particular “race” or biased views of gender superiority/inferiority; rather, aa policies seek to overcome and correct these false assumptions. Even though progress has been made in the US with respect to gains for women and people of color, unequal pay among equally qualified workers (based on gender and “race”) remains a huge social justice issue. As Scott Plous notes in the essay mentioned above (see link), “Despite the progress that has been made, the playing field is far from level. Women continue to earn 77 cents for every male dollar (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2010). Black people continue to have twice the unemployment rate of White people, twice the rate of infant mortality, and just over half the proportion of people who attend four years or more of college (see Figure 1). In fact, without affirmative action the percentage of Black students at many selective schools would drop to only 2% of the student body (Bowen & Bok, 1998). This would effectively choke off Black access to top universities and severely restrict progress toward racial equality.”

Having a vagina or an Afro or whatever does not signal an automatic “free pass” for a job. Again, as Plous notes, it is against federal law for affirmative action practices/policies to select/hire unqualified or unneeded employees (Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, 2011). Affirmation action selection procedures always take place among equally qualified candidates.

If WMs wish to communicate what I have summarized above, then I think that there are clearer ways (which would not risk offending their female/people of color colleagues) to express those points.


Cynthia, I especially think your point in the comments about the “unacknowledged assumption that (white) males are the standard for who “really” ought to be hired (because they are intellectually superior, the “main” wage earners or “ought to be,” etc. etc.) and that women and people of color ought to be thankful that we (white males of a certain stripe) let them have a place at *our* table” is right on.

I think Jeff correctly brings up some of the tensions that make dialogues like this more nuanced then is often acknowledged (though I do not think this is the case in your post, at all), but it is the assumptions undergirding these dialogues that often goes uninterrogated.

I think, alongside that, and alongside the many other realities, some of which you point out—i.e. wage discrepancies between genders; the percentages of racial, gendered, and sexual minorities holding (tenured) positions in the academy; the gendered/racial problem with the ‘pipeline’ in academia, etc…—that 1) the comments by the “WM” is especially painful, and 2) even if it were the case that gender or race or whatever plays a factor in the hiring process, why should this matter, considering the current lack of diversity in the academy? Even *if* it were the case that women are favored in the current state of academia (bhahahahaha), it doesn’t justify the (what strikes me as often quite privileged and sometimes whiny) claims of the “WM.” At least, I don’t think it does…

Also, it seems like *many* of those who identify as liberal, at least politically (to be fair, that’s most of the people I know in the theological academy), seem to be not at all immune to the critique you make, which strikes me as telling/interesting/disconcerting…


At risk of stating the obvious — unless EEOC statutes mandate that MORE women than men must be hired (I have no idea whether this is the case), saying “my search committee has to offer interviews to women first” is actually a facade for “there aren’t enough women who are eligible and inclined to apply for these positions”.


Thanks Brandy and Ruthan for your excellent additions to this dialogue!

Ruthan, you make a great observation. Given that it would be illegal for EEOC to mandate that *more* women qua women must be hired than men–after all everyone has to meet a certain threshold–then why the WM frustration with bringing women to campus?

Also, the rejection letters that I received were incredibly vague and basically had the same content but with a different institutional letterhead. I also wonder about the relationship between HR and the actual hiring committee. The forms that I had to fill out identifying my “gender” and “race” were sent to the HR people so that they could keep their stats in order. If the hiring committee (and the faculty that vote for the person who gets the job) is not on board with diversity, then it seems one could have the following scenario occur: (1) Significant numbers of females, African Americans, Latinos, etc. are short-listed. This makes the HR numbers look good in terms of diversity. (2) However, WM committee thinks that affirmative action is silly, another form of “discrimination” etc. (3) Females et al. become the tokens/pawns used to make the stats look good. (4) The hiring committee can then say, “we gave them (the females et al.) a shot, but they bombed–just couldn’t cut it.”

If you factor in Brandy’s point with Ruthan’s, viz., “even if it were the case that gender or race or whatever plays a factor in the hiring process, why should this matter, considering the current lack of diversity in the academy? Even *if* it were the case that women are favored in the current state of academia (bhahahahaha), it doesn’t justify the (what strikes me as often quite privileged and sometimes whiny) claims of the “WM.” At least, I don’t think it does…”

Affirmative action is in place to correct an unjust system that has favored WMs. I won’t repeat the 10 myths of Affirmative Action–see the essay linked in my previous post.

Brandy, your point about many liberals in the academy being blind to the issues I raise about gender and race is right on. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with WM colleague who claim to be “liberals” and yet who at conferences treat women like objects, make jokes about “black” people, and say things like, “she’s pretty sharp for a woman.” I’ve even had someone introduce me, believe it or not, as follows: “she is as intelligent as ten men” (And who is the standard for measuring intelligence in the species? WM). The point you raise, Brandy, about liberals failing in these areas is precisely why it is crucial that critical race theorists and feminists have a voice in the academy. Among other things, they offer helpful correctives to classical liberalism (e.g. an ethics of care).

Thanks to all for your comments and participation in this conversation.


All you have to do is spend an afternoon googling philosophy (or theology!) dept. websites to dispel any myth that there is discrimination against white males. This is sexism and racism in its ugliest (and most cloaked) form.


Cynthia,

Great article! I love the bravery to still talk about topics that most people know are still important but, out of fear, would rather talk about something different.

It is very true that there is that feeling (resentment) among many white males that, if any woman or minority (especially if they are black, given the historical backgrounds) were to beat them out for a job, then it had to be because of some “affirmative action”-type of policy. They, of course, forget that (or are unaware of) the statistics still show enormous disparities in wealth, income and higher ranked jobs (lawyers, doctors, professors, etc) between blacks and whites (and if you reduce the selection to men only, the disparity is even worse–for a host of reasons) or that, (and this is no contradiction) that upward mobility in academic quarters (educational attainment)for blacks–especially women–have been rising, even outpacing the rate of whites (which, of course, makes statistical sense). They disregard, not only the great advantage they have as a group in “successful quarters” (white males), but that it is possible (as hard it may be for their ego’s to accept) that other people are just as capable of what they do–and better.

I think it is fair to say that, like Cynthia’s chief point, not only have many of these non-white male candidates earned these jobs/positions/achievements and must work to keep them (like the gentleman commented, if they “bomb” they are let go) but, as I would add–as someone who has studied the socio-economic structures of minorities, especially blacks, in the 20th century and on–that there is a very special quality that comes with a candidate who has done what it takes to succeed in a society that has historically–and contemporarily fashioned its values, its memetic cues, and paradigms outside (and sometimes, adverse) to that individual’s instincts and heritage. Not only is that an intangible that the so-called “color blind factors” can’t account for, but it is an intangible for which, hiring manager should happily seek. Meaning, if it does come down to a “tie” or close, it seems to make sense to opt for the more diverse option (not because you are “reverse discriminating” against the WM, but because the minority has, in addition to their other basic qualities, an intangible that some WM’s do not have.)

I don’t think any sensible (genuine) person is handing out free-bees to blacks or women just for the hell of it (although we know too well of reluctant underachieving scions who were handed high ranking roles with a team of “decision makers” and “cleaners” to make up for their clear unsuitability), and I’m not inclined to wrestle with the bitterness of those who read into a job turn-down as a cue to revert to old resentments against others-different to sublimate their personal disappointments and failures before their peers; for most blacks and women, not only is success not a-given, but when achieved (or “given”) it is surveyed under a stronger lens and observed with an additional racial/gender overlay. Most successful white men will never have to worry about that.

I have pasted an email I sent to Teach For America a few years ago, when I was informed that I did not make the final cut. It deals with some of what I have just said and what Cynthia wrote about, but from a different vantage-point. Hopefully it will add to the conversation. Cheers, friends.

Dear Joshua Briggs,

I hesitated responding to your e-mail, because you state upfront that you do not provide feedback as to why applicants are not chosen for your program. However, I am very disappointed in the fact that I did not make it into the corp, and feel that an explanation should be offered. I feel this way because of two reasons. The first reason, which is the least important, but should be the easiest to explain, is how you “objectively” decide who is accepted and who is not. As stated by one of your interviewers, when asked about the process, the application process is a combination of various factors that are numerically valued for and are calculated into a particular (and according to him, “highly intricate”) algorithm that provides a sort of “scoring basis” that each applicant accrues through out the process. The results of those scores should be easy for you to release to the applicant who is denied. This is helpful for them, so they can see and understand what it is that they did (or failed to do) in their interviews that was not able to secure them a place in the corp. However, this is the easier of the two reasons.

My second reason, carries a heavier weight yet to me, and I would hope to you, deserves its importance and its explanation. Teach for America is seen just as it is declared, to be a movement that addresses educational inequity. To be more specific, this movement is concentrated mostly in inner-city schools where this inequity has had its historical grip upon its residents since these cities locked in these residents. The fact that the historical color of these residents has disproportionately been black, is no secret (and in most of the cases, nearly completely black). And your mission statement addresses the fact that you are aware of this. Moreover, it is also no secret that most of these African American children who wake up and go to these schools that are either underfunded or broken in spirit, wake up in homes where no father is around (we all know the figures: close to 7 out of 10 black children are born into single parent homes) and the black males that they see hanging around their neighborhood, often times tend to be dubious role models—and are certainly not sufficient father figures. I say all that to say this: black male role models (and not the kind that black children see only when they turn on the television set, but the kind that they should see when they go to the grocery store, take out the trash, or discuss their progress reports with) are a rarity in low-income urban neighborhoods. Where my disappointment comes in, is in the belief that: whereas one would dare to raise even a few objections at the acceptance of a black male who has graduated from a university into a program that sends its members into schools that are disproportionately black, poverty-stricken and disadvantaged, to not only teach children, but to be a role model for them, almost none would even think twice as to, whether to hire that same student, who graduated with honors at one of the nation’s more competitive schools, who has conducted research in the field of urban disadvantage while holding down a full-time job because he too, understands the weight of economic disadvantage while the importance of academic success. And it is for this reason why I am disappointed in not being selected, because this undermines the manifest function of Teach for America Corp: which is not just preparing our nation’s future leaders, but in providing fresh energy, direction and needed hope to our nation’s present victims.

I have read the diversity report of last year’s corp members. However, I also read the Census Bureau’s report of the hyper-segregation that continues in our inner-cities (home, to more than a third of our nation’s black population). While you may report that your corp is 10 percent African-American and a combined 29 percent “non-white”, the schools in which your program is concentrated, on most occasions are 60 to 70 percent black, and in some cases over 85 percent black. Which simply means, you can never have “enough” black members in your corp, and certainly can not find much justification in not accepting an honors black candidate who has invested his education in addressing these very same problems.

It is my hope, that you, at least, read this e-mail and respond to it. It is my greater hope that you rethink my application and any other applicants like myself. For as James Truab once wrote, schools can only do so much for disadvantaged inner-city youth, it is the home that bears the most weight the community that can play the largest role, and positive figures among them, to which they can immediately relate, that can make the most difference. So should your organization see, that any opportunity that can bring “home-like” figures into these schools, to not only teach but stand in as a role model, is an opportunity one must not pass up.

Sincerely,

Collins I. Aki


Thank you, Collins, for your thoughtful response. What you state in the following paragraphs is especially salient:

“not only have many of these non-white male candidates earned these jobs/positions/achievements and must work to keep them (like the gentleman commented, if they “bomb” they are let go) but, as I would add–as someone who has studied the socio-economic structures of minorities, especially blacks, in the 20th century and on–that there is a very special quality that comes with a candidate who has done what it takes to succeed in a society that has historically–and contemporarily fashioned its values, its memetic cues, and paradigms outside (and sometimes, adverse) to that individual’s instincts and heritage. Not only is that an intangible that the so-called “color blind factors” can’t account for, but it is an intangible for which, hiring manager should happily seek. Meaning, if it does come down to a “tie” or close, it seems to make sense to opt for the more diverse option (not because you are “reverse discriminating” against the WM, but because the minority has, in addition to their other basic qualities, an intangible that some WM’s do not have.)

I don’t think any sensible (genuine) person is handing out free-bees to blacks or women just for the hell of it (although we know too well of reluctant underachieving scions who were handed high ranking roles with a team of “decision makers” and “cleaners” to make up for their clear unsuitability), and I’m not inclined to wrestle with the bitterness of those who read into a job turn-down as a cue to revert to old resentments against others-different to sublimate their personal disappointments and failures before their peers; for most blacks and women, not only is success not a-given, but when achieved (or “given”) it is surveyed under a stronger lens and observed with an additional racial/gender overlay. Most successful white men will never have to worry about that.”

At my previous institution I experienced what you describe above on a daily basis, both as a grad student and as an adjunct professor. For example, given that the institution is extremely conservative and patriarchal, the student body tends to reflect those values. When I entered the classroom as a (female) philosophy professor, I had to *prove* that I was worthy of my students’ respect, and this became extremely evident when I discussed “race” and “gender” issues. I constantly had (white, male) students approach me in person and via email, informing me that I “don’t grasp Augustine”, claiming that I do not know how to grade their essays, etc. etc. Interestingly, I had a handful of female, Latino, and Asian students who met with me in office hours and who wrote me private emails stating how much they appreciated my willingness to discuss issues of “race” and “gender” and how shocked they were at their classmates behavior toward me in class. My African American colleagues have shared with me similar experiences.

Again, thanks for your excellent comments!


Cynthia, thanks for your stimulating post. I am about to depart to Amsterdam to attend the IntSBL meeting, so my response has been delayed.

Reading your WM colleagues’ comments, my initial reaction was, “you’re kidding me.” But sadly, it’s reality. We see job postings encouraging women and underrepresented persons to apply, but that’s not encouraging because it tells who are dominant in the academy. And when a minority person applies for such a position, usually they compete against other minorities. That’s what I learned in the last academic year. I submitted eleven applications, had four interviews at the SBL meeting, and was invited for a campus interview. Reactions from some people were like those of your WM colleagues. In my case, they are not only WMs. Consider that I am an Asian woman, not an Asian American. There may be many factors in determining “the best fit.” Not only gender and race/ethnicity, but also culture, nationality, language, class and so on. Despite various identity factors, however, I believe that women and minority scholars need to encourage and support one another. That’s why I strongly support a minority candidate even though I applied for the same position and failed to be selected. Thank you again for bringing this issue to our attention.


Thank you, Jin, for taking the time to comment on my post, especially in light of your travel schedule! Thank you as well for pointing out that there are other factors such as culture, nationality, language, class etc., (and I would add sexual orientation) that come into play with respect to the issues I raised. I heartily agree that women and minority scholars need to encourage and support one another, and I can say that I have found wonderful support from such scholars over the past few years–support which has kept me going at crucial moments in my academic career.


I’m a WM partnered to a WW. We are both doctoral students. When speaking with an established scholar in our field he (WM) told my partner: “of course you should go into academia, you’re a woman you won’t have to do a thing to get a PhD or a job.” He then turned and looked at me and said: “you are screwed.”

The prevailing racist and sexist logic says that as a WM I’m somehow supposed to “win” in the oppression olympics that only WMs seem compelled to compete in. Looking at the hires made at all three of the institutions I have attended all of them have hired WM. All the departments have gotten less diverse. Clearly the rhetorical trope deployed by WMs of not getting hired b/c they are WM is an easy way for them to note have to deal with the fact that the fe/male POC’s and WW’s hired might actually more qualified and more suited for the job than they the WM are.


@David–I want to say “unbelievable,” but given what I’ve experienced, what you describe is quite believable. Thanks for your comment.


Yes, I should have added sexual orientation, too. Thank you. Best of luck on your new venture!


Thank you, Jin. I am so thrilled to be at VU–my colleagues are excellent.


[...] am grateful to Cynthia R. Nielsen for her recent post on the academic job market and current hiring practices re: race and gender, especially in the humanities. Like Prof. Nielsen, I’ve also encountered embittered white [...]