Profs call for 'redistribution of opportunities' in higher ed

Two professors are calling for a “redistribution of opportunities” in favor of “faculty who hold minoritized identities.”

“Despite continued scholarship and praxis focused on issues of ‘diversity’ and ‘social justice’ in higher education, postsecondary institutions remain bastions of oppression, threat, and harm for faculty who hold minoritized identities,” assert University of California-Los Angeles professor Jessica C. Harris and Southern Illinois University professor Z Nicolazzo in a recent paper published in the academic journal Critical Studies in Education.

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The professors argue that higher education is rife with oppression because of the predominance of white male faculty members, comparing the situation to the use of national borders by “dominant populations” to “strengthen their supremacy” by inhibiting the advancement of third-world cultures.

“Within the academy, white cisgender hetereosexual men, who often hold other privileged identities, e.g. upper class, able-bodied, construct the dominant culture,” they write, citing “tenure processes, policies concerning maternity leave, curriculum, and (lack of) ability accommodations” as examples.

Minority faculty, meanwhile, face “racism, genderism, sexism, and other forms of oppression,” all of which have consequences for their chances of earning a promotion or being granted tenure, the professors claim.

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To further explore this problem, Harris and Nicolazzo wrote each other a series of personal letters during their first year as faculty members. Since Harris is multiracial and Nicolazzo is transgender, they “engaged in the critical autoethnographic practice of letter writing” to share their feelings of marginalization while on the job.

Over the course of 13 months, they wrote a combined total of 17 handwritten letters, each of which spanned approximately eight pages. Describing the process as “sensuous,” Nicolazzo and Harris then analyzed their handwritten letters for common themes, which included “feeling not [good] enough” and perceptions of their own “invisibility.”

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Focusing on their study’s implications for faculty members with “multiple minoritized identities,” the professors suggest that “intersectionality theory” should be expanded to account for “intersecting structures of domination,” and that “cross-identity coalition-building” could help to promote “kinship.”

Beyond simply “increasing recognition,” though, they also say their exercise shows the need for “a redistribution of resources and opportunities and resources” in higher education to challenge “the hegemony of identities as monolithic, consistent, and/or coherent.”

Neither professor responded to requests for comment from Campus Reform.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen