Prof laments 'insidiousness of silence and whiteness' in academia

An assistant professor at Georgia State University has published an academic journal article lamenting the “insidiousness of silence and whiteness” on college campuses.

Whiteness in the academy: using vignettes to move beyond safe silences,” published June 28 in the journal Teaching in Higher Education, was written by Stephanie Behm Cross, who teaches classes related to math instruction for GSU’s School of Education.

Through an analysis of  “fictionalized vignettes” depicting the professor’s experience witnessing microaggressions, Cross says she hopes to “reveal the insidiousness of silence and Whiteness in the academy.”

The problem of whiteness and silence is especially acute for professors like her, she explains, because “white women like me dominate the field of education” but have difficulties speaking up about racism to their colleagues.

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The first vignette describes a meeting at which faculty members discuss the “Educator Teacher Performance Assessment” (edTPA), which most of the educators believe “professionalizes teacher education,” but which Cross criticizes for failing to focus on “issues of race, critical pedagogy, power, and politics in schools.”

When one of her colleagues objects that “this is the focus in other courses,” Cross responds in a quaking voice that “this should ALWAYS be our focus,” but eventually drops the matter when a white female faculty member tells her “we don’t have time for that right now.”

Several months later, Cross finally becomes fed up with spending two hours every day filling out the edTPA forms, and sends an email requesting a meeting with the white female faculty member, saying, “I will not do this. I will not submit.”

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In another vignette, a female professor’s school sees its U.S. News & World Report ranking fall due to low GRE scores for admitted PhD students, and responds by mandating that no applicants with scores below the 50th percentile would be admitted.

Faculty members object to the plan, pointing out that “78 percent of African American examinees had combined scores that fell below 300, as did 66 percent of Puerto Rican examinees,” and that therefore the proposed standards would adversely affect those subgroups.

Despite such “passionate” objections, faculty members make no effort to oppose the standards in a subsequent meeting, even after Cross demands a vote, and the standards are adopted.

In the second scene, an applicant faces the need to retake the GRE to bring his scores up despite an otherwise impressive resume, to which a white professor can only tell him “I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful” because her hands are tied by the new policy.

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Cross acknowledges that there are many white faculty who try to resist academic norms in order to benefit minority students, but laments that those efforts often fall upon deaf ears.

“These scenes represent, in part, stories of resistance from White faculty (in this case, me) who attempt to speak up and out against continued racial inequities in university spaces,” she explains. “So we speak up…but only a little. We use vague language and ask questions instead of articulating what we really think” [emphasis in original].

Further contributing to the “silence” of white academics, she asserts, is the academic climate’s failure to “support or reward” professors who engage in “debate related to the standardization of curriculum, access, microaggressions in the academy, and more.”

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Towards the end of her paper, Cross explains how the silence of white academics on racial issues in academia contributes to oppression.

“Remaining silent may itself be the luxury of white privilege and may reinforce oppression,” she notes. “This is particularly true when working as a White faculty member, operating with high levels of White fragility, within a system of higher education cloaked in Whiteness.”

Cross concludes by expressing hope that her article, “alongside our continued use of vignettes as a tool to uncover Whiteness in the academy, helps us to seek justice and speak truth in the academy.”

Cross did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Campus Reform.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen