INVISIBLE IDENTITIES: COPING AND FINDING VOICE IN HIGHER EDUCATION

Part 3 of 4 in our series on "Academia/Activism and other (unnecessary) binaries"

To read Part 1, click here. To read Part 2, click here.

A'Keitha Carey, Texas Woman's University

Introduction

Purple haze, black rain—violet blood seeping through my pores                               Blackened eyes cry tears of blood                                                                                    The lies you told are like the lash taken to the backs of my ancestors                          My (w)hole body aches from your piercing tongue and the stabbing strokes of your keyboard

I am Ruined1

Ruined like the Congolese women who have been raped and tortured                       Ruined by rape, death, and beatings . . .                                                                            This is an assault to my character

DEATH

I am ruined by your filthy lies and this war of racism

A’Keitha Carey is an independent artist/scholar originally from the Bahamas. She completed her Certificate in Women's Studies from Texas Woman’s University where she is currently working to complete her PhD (Dance). A'Keitha created CaribFunk™ technique, a genre fusing Afro‐Caribbean (traditional and social dance), classical ballet, modern, and fitness principles and paradigms. Using her island gal sensibility she writes about theories and topics in the areas of: Dance Studies, Feminist/Womanist Thought, Critical Pedagogy, Critical Race Theory, Ethnic Studies, and Cultural Studies.

A’Keitha Carey is an independent artist/scholar originally from the Bahamas. She completed her Certificate in Women's Studies from Texas Woman’s University where she is currently working to complete her PhD (Dance). A'Keitha created CaribFunk™ technique, a genre fusing Afro‐Caribbean (traditional and social dance), classical ballet, modern, and fitness principles and paradigms. Using her island gal sensibility she writes about theories and topics in the areas of: Dance Studies, Feminist/Womanist Thought, Critical Pedagogy, Critical Race Theory, Ethnic Studies, and Cultural Studies.

I engage with autoethnography as a methodology to retell my story. This consists of creative writing that expounds on my wisdom, background, and observations often creating non-fiction short stories or poems. Employing autoethnography afforded me the opportunity in which I could address particular themes (racism, sexism, and various oppressions) discussing my personal narrative, interjecting elements of race and body politics. I utilize personal narrative to illustrate the culture in which I am immersed—academe. It is my hope that sharing my personal experiences in a reflexive manner will encourage the reader to survey, investigate, and analyze the culture from an interpretive and investigative lens, surveying the multiple layers of consciousness and realities that exist. From an activistic lens, I am interested in exploring strategies that will encourage and support junior faculty of color helping those who may be experiencing racism and other forms of oppression find voice. 

The Beginning

KiKi, my protagonist, the young, naive island gal never experienced oppression and marginalization while basking in the sun of the islands, enjoying a carefree lifestyle and eating succulent ripe fruits and vegetables native to her homeland. Growing up in the Bahamas, she never knew the depths of hatred and insecurity exhibited by some whites in the United States. She grew up in a country that was Black in power and leadership, surrounded by educated men and women who were professional, confident and robust in the expression of their Black identity and culture. After her experience as a professor in the ivory tower, she was disconcerted and unsheathed, forced to renounce her island gal sensibility when thrusted into the world of academe, one in which she had no experience resulting in estrangement and disorientation.

In 2011, I filed a complaint with the EEOC (an official complaint was made against a faculty member in the Department of Theatre and Dance on the grounds of racism and sexism) and Affirmative Action in the hopes of launching an investigation into my department acknowledging my allegations of retaliation, office bullying, a hostile work environment, and falsified personnel documents pertaining to my reappointment in the fall 2011. I assert that acknowledging the unprofessionalism, moral and ethical violations rendered me voiceless in my department and university, leading to severe physical illness and psychological stress.

How does one recover from such a calamity? Where does a young scholar of color find support during this crisis? Dance historian and activist Dr. Brenda Dixon Gottschild provided support. She is vigilant about discussing the omissions and invisibility of bodies of color. Gottschild brings to the forefront the continued “historical and systemic denial and invisibilization of the Africanist presence in American culture” (Gottschild 1996, 50) from the perspective of slavery and the ramifications and implications of the players (the oppressed and the oppressors), her mission, research, and passion for people of color is why I reached out to her. Dr. Gottschild, the social leader/activist that she is, took the call to action to the next level, sending my letter of resignation to influential scholars of color in the U.S. and internationally. Under her leadership, the “Coalition of Diasporan Scholars (CDSM) Moving” was birthed. CDSM is a non-profit voluntary organization whose members consist of dancers/scholars:

CDSM is our response to millennial-style racism in our supposed post-racist era. Like those involved in the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-20th century, we are resolved to be proactive. Our fledgling organization is creating a database, disseminating our Mission Statement, and gathering resources (including legal counsel). (CDSM 2011)

The link below provides more context to my story consisting of a conversation held between dance colleague Liana Conyers and myself discussing our experiences with academic racism that was featured on the “Movement Research” blog: http://www.movementresearch.org/criticalcorrespondence/blog/?p=7510

How to Fix This?

            For this blog, I wanted to provide five pertinent points that I believe are essential in the move towards attaining equality in academia in the U.S. for female faculty of color. This may seem like a utopian ideal to some but we must start somewhere. The more we provide discourse and scholarship concerning these issues, the greater ability there is to facilitate change, change in approach to language, behavior, curriculum and programming:

1. “In addition to programs that support diversity, having a college president or chancellor who is demonstrative about his or her commitment to diversity . . . ” (Fields  2007).

2. “Creating a hospitable environment for faculty [of color], revising the standards upon which tenure is granted, facilitating peer mentor relationships, expanding the ranks of Black [and other] students [of color], and including [faculty of color] in the decision-making process can improve the morale of faculty [of color]” (Fields 2007).

3. Supporting the implementation of “faculty development programs” (Fields  2007).

4.  “Women and faculty of color must be made full institutional partners by being duly awarded tenure and promotion” (Evans 2007, 133).

5. Recognize the need and the inclusion of diversity roundtables and anti racist workshops (Evans 2007, 137) in intuitional orientations and literature.

Coping Mechanisms

My research revealed that mentorship, seeking external relationships, and engaging in some form of spirituality are essential coping mechanisms (Henry and Glenn 2009). Mentorship is a major component in strategically circumventing some of these issues female faculty of color encounter. It is paramount that women seek mentors of color in the academy. The lack of critical mass often times creates an obstacle, forcing women of color to seek support outside the department and/or the institution; women of color are encouraged to seek mentors who are of the same race (Henry and Glenn 2009) suggesting that they have a better understanding of intersectionality in academe and other social settings.

            Seeking relationships through external sources are strongly encouraged. Support groups at places of worship, social organizations, and with family and friends are recommended. These relationships provide much needed emotional and mental support (Henry and Glenn 2009). This interaction encourages and promotes identity and is a method that can assist in managing on the job stress. Establishing connections within professional organizations locally and nationally has proven to be immensely beneficial. I affirm that professional organizations can provide a community that is more inviting and supportive than the academy.

Spirituality is suggested as a vehicle to counter marginalization, isolation and oppression in academia, researchers suggest that engaging in spirituality and including faith as a coping mechanism further constructs the positive identity of women of color (Henry and Glenn 2009).

Conclusion

            I am still working on many of these suggestions myself. I am grateful that I was able to glean this information and now have a platform to assist and aide other scholars of color in finding the help that they need. This is my form of advocacy and activism.

 

1 Reference to the play Ruined by Lynn Nottage

Bibliography

Carty, L. 1992. “Black women in academia: A statement from within the periphery.” In unsettling relations: The university as a site of feminist struggles, eds. H. Banjeri et al., 13-34. Boston, MA: South End Press.

Chang, Heewon. 2008. Autoethnography as Method. Walnut Creek, CA. Left Coast Press.

Coalition of Diasporan Scholars Moving. http://cdscholarsmoving.tumblr.com/.

Evans, Stephanie Y. 2007. “Women of Color in American Higher Education.” The NEA Higher Education Journal. pp. 131-138.

Fields, Cheryl D. 2007. “A morale dilemma---black professors on white campuses---includes related article on mentorship programs for black faculty---Cover Story.” Diverse Issues in Higher Education. Accessed September 14, 2012. http://diverseeducation.com/article/7747/.

Gottschild, Brenda Dixon. 1996. Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance: Dance and Other Contexts. Westport: Praeger.

Henry, Dr. Wilma J. and Nicole M. Glenn. 2009. “Black Women Employed in the Ivory Tower: Connecting for Success.” Advancing Women in Leadership Journal. 29 (1): 1 Accessed November 27, 2012. http://advancingwomen.com/awl/awl_wordpress/black-women-employed-in-the-ivory-tower-connecting-for-success/

Movement Research. 2013. Critical Response—“The Coalition of Diaspora Scholars Moving, part 2—A Conversation with A’Keitha Carey and Liana Conyers.” http://www.movementresearch.org/criticalcorrespondence/blog/?p=7510.

Williams, Lisa D. 2001. “ Coming to Terms with Being a Young, Black Female Academic in U.S. Higher Education. eds. Mabokela, Reitumetse O. and Anna L. Green.  In Sisters of the Academy: Emergent Black Women Scholars in Higher Education. Sterling,VA: Stylus Publishing.