Note: this blog post was originally published on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Vitae (here). Dr. Manya Whitaker is an assistant professor of education at Colorado College and a regular contributor to Conditionally Accepted. Do Their Stereotypes Affect Your Teaching? “Stereotype threat” is a well-known social psychological construct in which people live down or up […]
I am sitting in my office, waiting to live for a collegial dinner to which I have been invited. More than 2/3’s complete with my first academic school year, I contemplate Dr. Whitaker’s words based on some earlier meditations I have made here as well as in light of teaching at an MSI (minority serving institution). The ‘stereotypes’ affecting my teaching have changed and, I externalize what Whitaker calls the “disprove their belief,” performance.
About a month ago, I catch myself sucking at my teeth, squealing for the umpteenth time about teaching Miranda’s Hamilton Mixtape. In the five years since I have had my own full college courses, my relationship to the love for the content is more exposed. I think of the senior scholar (mentor) who has a reputation for transitioning from street discourse to academic high theory discourse within the matter of ten minutes. I ‘channel’ that not because I feel that Victor Villanueva doing it means I can. I ‘channel’ it because, despite it being my first year, I have the inherent comfort to do so. I poke fun at the respectability the students accidentally break when they get too comfortable. I poke fun to recenter their comfort in translating what they consume into words with which they feel comfortable. The stereotypes are different and, here, the stereotypes are not up for struggle. At least, not in the way that diminishes relationships.
In a small rural town, the training I received, the ethnic, racial and LGBQ diversity of colleagues within the program reinforced the need to think about those stereotypes’ informing how students read us. From the what we did to our hair, from whether or not we wore ties, dresses, skirts, jeans or sneakers. These conversations primarily took place from the ‘usual suspects’ – black, brown women, & queer folks. The following quote sticks with me here and now, because of how stereotypes do not diminish relationships in the way they had during my years of training at a predominantly white institution.
“…students have different expectations for faculty of different ethnic and racial backgrounds.”
Here, they look for us. By ‘look,’ I mean they look for names. Senior colleagues make strategic requests to make sure new brown and black hires’ schedules work around ours so that students can have us as a majority. This is the MSI life where, I remind students that just because there’s 77% or so of the population, we are still not in a place that the same can be said of faculty. So they look for us because with us they can talk about the name struggles, because some of us talk hood, because some of us are sympathetic if not empathetic about undocumented struggles, because they are one of a few where they are and they want to find a place that’s not true.
Don’t get me wrong, some look for us thinking that solidarity means an easy A; those who accept the challenge that it doesn’t grow from us. Seeing this in my first year of teaching heals the wounds of looking over my ‘brown queer’ shoulder, wondering if they were assigning worth and value based on color and queer femmeness. ‘Family’ becomes an easier word to say here, with these students. The realness behind this inherent comfort allows me, for a hours a week, with them, trade war stories of these stereotypes and expectations. ‘war stories’ that keep having them arrive in class, eager to debate about movies, music, and research. The effect: an inherent comfort of doing my job.
Doing my job, then, becomes a question of looking at how much this comfort costs. More specifically, what this comfort in the classroom requires/expects/ignores during the other forty hours of the work week. Because how do we have the full-time tenure track positions filled reflect the 77%? In Gender, Ethnic Studies that can be easy, what about everywhere else?
The stereotypes that don’t affect how I teach, do inform how I read what goes on in every other department not as littered with color as mine. It affects how I try to include those absences in the conversations taking place within the space where brown, black, queer gets to be intellectual and real.