Race and the Professoriate

I was concerned that as in many other areas of politics on this campus, things were going to get unnecessarily polarized.

—Rick Doner, Associate Professor of Political Science

Race and the Professoriate
Perception and vision in Emory's intellectual community

I was concerned that as in many other areas of politics on this campus, things were going to get unnecessarily polarized.
Rick Doner, Associate Professor of Political Science

I don't want to say no, it's not a hostile environment or yes, it absolutely is, but we don't come to Emory thinking we're coming to Candy Land.
Dianne Stewart, Assistant Professor of Religion

Tenure Progress
Non-medical tenure-track assistant professors hired between 1987 and 1996

Executive and Managerial Positions
Full-time, held by African Americans in 2001-02

Executive and Managerial Positions
Full-time, held by Whites in 2001-02

Academic Freedom, Privilege, and Responsibility
Is the university ready to chart a new course beyond the status quo?
Eugene K. Emory, Professor of Psychology

Reconciliation Begins at Home
African-American contributions
at Emory and Oxford

Mark Auslander, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Oxford College
December 2001/January 2002 issue

Difference Politicized
Reflections on Contemporary Race Theory
Mark Sanders, Professor of English and African American Studies
December 2000/January 2001 issue

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Academic Exchange: How did you get involved in these small-group faculty discussions?

Rick Doner: I was concerned that as in many other areas of politics on this campus, things were going to get unnecessarily polarized. That the more active parts of the African American community began to see whites as monolithic against them, and many whites didn’t understand what was going on. So a few other people and I thought about trying to get small groups together where people could talk about what was a case of racial hostility, did a case constitute a pattern, how do we really understand what’s going on at Emory. I figured that really there were two narratives of these things, and that one of the challenges was how to get folks to see why a black person would view a case in such a frame and why a white person would say, Is that what you’re talking about?

At the first meeting, the question we posed was, How do we move forward? And we moved forward by going backward. People told their stories a little bit. It certainly was not as though there was any meeting of the minds, but it helped. There were a couple of whites and African Americans that had never had a chance to be in this kind of discussion before. As hokey as it sounds, just talking about it and hearing why somebody else felt the way they did was helpful. There were a number of people who said, We’re not going to agree on how we see the world, but we want to hear each others’ stories and then move forward. So somebody suggested that we do another meeting of this group and try to create some basis of trust and then figure out how to maybe constitute this as a kind of model.

AE: What do you think have been the most important aspects of those conversations?

RD: One is recognizing the fact that there really are different lenses here. One of the things that interests me is, If this is a racist place, what’s the data? Now that’s a trick question. Let’s say someone makes a remark at a dinner party. It was intended as an innocent comment. But maybe a listener later thought about it and thought maybe it revealed a racist attitude. Was it a racist comment? It’s in the eyes of the perceiver, to some degree. He might have thought it was racially motivated because he had been in other situations with this same group of people when something else questionable was said. So if something happened in another situation, he might presume it’s part of this pattern, and he’s heard stories of things happening to other people somewhere along those lines in other departments, and so on. Some of these incidents are confirmed and some are not. So there’s the question of how do you figure it out?

The tendency I think is for white people to feel like we’re being called the oppressors. And I don’t think that’s by and large productive. How do I respond to that? I may have privileges that you don’t have, but am I the oppressor? No, or hopefully not. So there’s getting people to trust each other a little bit, so that when stuff happens as it inevitably will, the person who feels aggrieved has the standing and security, if she’s a junior faculty member, to go to a senior faculty member and say, Look, you just said this to me and I frankly take offense at it—is that what you meant?

As a white person, you’re just not going to hit these things by definition because you’re in the majority. And even when they do occur, you are not predisposed to see certain things as a big deal. And I imagine some of those little things are themselves open to different interpretations. There are plenty of people who are confused about it, and the people who are confused need to come out and say, What’s going on? I don’t understand.

AE: Why was it important to you to step up and do this?

RD: I think the faculty needs to take the initiative. One thing I’ve heard again and again is that the faculty have to be more engaged, in terms of guiding students and figuring this stuff out. It’s really a challenge. My big passion is that this place have good, ongoing, deliberate debate. We have not had enough good debate in which people really talk to each other and argue strongly. I see this as an opportunity to engage.