Race and the Professoriate

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

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

Return to Contents


Academic Exchange: Would you describe Emory as a hostile racial environment?

Dianne Stewart: 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. Just because some of us are saying there is institutional racism doesn’t mean we didn’t think it before. It’s just that now we’re being asked to talk about it. It doesn’t mean we’re sitting around angry and frustrated. It’s a part of life. Racism is a part of the American legacy. I do think we need to look at class in addition to race when we think about how hostile it might be for some. We have a lot of African American laborers here whom I believe in many cases experience Emory as a hostile environment, based on some of the stories I’ve heard. When we do a class analysis of this campus, many of them would be in the lower socioeconomic strata. It wouldn’t surprise me that they would feel more isolation, injury, or insult from day to day. There’s a certain kind of protection and privilege that comes with the title of professor. If you talk to black support staff (administrative, custodial, security, culinary, etc.) and they decide to be honest, it would be interesting to see their picture of Emory. And keep in mind for everything that is reported, how much goes unreported. A lot of it has to do with the fact that people decide it’s not worth it. I can’t spend my time and effort fighting this. I won’t be able to manage my life if I have to do this.

And certainly people have talked for years about how racism functions in terms of tenure and promotion in the academy. I remember when I was offered this job, a black female faculty member at another institution said to me, “You know, Emory doesn’t have a good track record with tenuring black women.” I didn’t know what to say to that. And my first year here, two black faculty did not get tenure. Some of the junior black faculty were feeling unnerved about it. We didn’t jump to any conclusions, but it was not a pretty picture. Some of the senior professors in African American studies really talked with us and tried to help us understand some of the dynamics at work. And it might not be that anyone’s out to get anybody, but it might have to do with an absence of mentorship and the added responsibilities heaped upon African American professors at
predominantly white institutions.

AE: Is that absence a matter of racism?

DS: Racism is prejudice plus power and privilege. The ideology is that people believe that they merit certain opportunities, when in reality systems and structures have been set in place to give particular people certain advantages. One group is
guaranteed a head start, such as mentoring and collegial support, while other groups have no such guarantee. It becomes very complex.

I don’t know how an institution can exist in America and not carry some of that legacy with it. It would have to work very hard to overcome institutional racism, but I think institutions can move in that direction. It’s a deliberate choice that has to be acted out accordingly through specific measures and directives. I really do believe it requires compelling certain kinds of activities or programs. I know some people don’t believe that, but I’m a beneficiary of compelled transformation. For some people, though, it would feel very much like an infringement upon their rights and their freedom.

AE: What would you say to a colleague who is confused about what is and isn’t racism?

DS: I think a lot of people get stuck on intentional racism versus unintentional racism. And it clouds the issue. You can make a personal choice to first of all know what it is—read about racism. Know how it’s been analyzed by sociologists, legal theorists, philosophers, etc. Understand the difference between an active racist and a person who participates in a broader system of racial injustice. That’s the first level, which apparently a lot of faculty here have not even broached. We would have a totally different dialogue if people would just do that basic work. The professor who asks why it is acceptable for black rap
artists to use racial epithets (the “n” word) needs Racism 101: every oppressed group has made the argument for appropriating derogatory expressions and using them in subversive ways—undermining the power of the oppressor to define who the oppressed is. Any person who really understands racism wouldn’t even ask that question.