#ACSP2012 Reflections 2: Mentoring across difference POCIG/FWIG panel, thinking about LGBTQ concerns

Georgia Tech’s Catherine Ross and Tufts’ Julian Agyeman were kind enough to join me for a POCIG/FWIG joint session on “Mentoring Across Difference.” We had a terrific discussion, and there were three questions that really gave me some food for thought.

1: How do we help ACSP promote accountability within departments for making sure that university departments understand the differences that faculty and color face during promotion and tenure?

Julian had a terrific answer to this question, and it concerns the idea that we should have cultural literacy required in our core master’s classes. Now, this strikes me as a great idea, with some potential dangers. The great idea part: if we get master’s students to truly begin to see how entitlement and privilege work differently for different groups, they will understand these differences going forward into PhD programs, and onto faculty.The potential problem is that requiring these classes could involve yet more teaching about their own experiences with oppression on the part of faculty of color, at least to start out with, and that can translate into more work to fight oppression among those who are already burdened as victims of oppression. And in departments like mine, where most of the power is held in the hands of economists and political scientists, this approach may not improve matters as these scholar would not necessarily be obtaining cultural literacy skills.

Finally, LGBTQ sensitivity may not be reflected in cultural literacy by default, and I think we need to have that conversation given the particular barriers directed at African American men and women who are LGBTQ

2. One of the most fraught situations for dealing with difference concerns invitations to homes and other personal advances, as the mores and prestige of spouses can then get pushed onto family.

It occurred to me that while we discussed this question almost entirely in terms of race (appropriate to a POCIG panel), it is a big concern for LGBTQ faculty–particularly if they are not strictly out. What’s the right way to respond to ostensibly friendly invitations if you are not 100 percent clear whether the host is really open and receptive? Assuming that your family will be welcome and well-treated is a privilege of heteronormativity.

3. Assuming competency.

An audience member related an experience where he felt patronized and condescended to when, as an African American man, he had colleagues who were repeatedly checking in on him and offering him advice. I think his exact quote was “Look, you hired me because you thought I could do the job, let me do the job.”

This one threw me for a loop as a white woman because I often try to reach out to other faculty members as a way of making sure they are not isolated. I find the work lonely and difficult, and so I appreciate the lunch invites and the expressions of concern. But I could see how, when filtered with through the experience of somebody who is often treated as less–less educated, less competent, that could feel intrusive and condescending.