We are a group of faculty of color who were previously employed as tenured or tenure-track faculty at the University of Missouri, Columbia (MU) and have since left the institution. Our reasons for leaving MU are multiple and varied. However, we all agree that part of the reason for our decision to change institutions rested on our experience related to being racial and ethnic minorities on a predominantly White campus.
The recent events at MU are long standing and embedded in a historical context of racial oppression. Overt acts of vandalism have been ongoing. In 2010, two White male students scattered cotton balls on the Gaines Oldham Black Culture Center during Black History Month, invoking images of slaveholding plantations. The students were arrested, charged with a hate crime, plead guilty to a misdemeanor, and left the university.
During Black History Month in 2011, "nigger month" was spray painted on a statue outside of a residence hall building by a White male student. He was arrested, charged with vandalism, and left the university. The Legion of Black Collegians has faced repeated harassment for their annual "Black Homecoming" event.
There are numerous other incidents that have been reported to the administration over the years that have not been widely publicized, and we are aware that some of these incidents were kept secret in order to avoid negative publicity. Countless students have shared with us their experiences of being called "nigger" while walking on campus and fearing for their safety.
Moreover, racial microaggressions are rampant. Faculty and students report feeling tokenized, encountering hostile stares, and their intelligence doubted. The university's inability to retain faculty of color contributes to these subtle, everyday racialized experiences. We as faculty of color have also faced hostility from students and in systemic racist practices that are embedded in the larger institution at MU.
We write this letter to affirm our support for the Concerned Student 1950 and numerous faculty, staff and administrators who still work at the institution and continue to face obstacles associated with race, gender and class.
One of the demands of Concerned Student 1950 is "to increase the percentage of Black faculty and staff campus wide to 10 percent." The number of Black tenure/tenure-track faculty is miniscule and has hovered around 3 percent for the past 5 years (recent data reported on MU Diversity website). While we agree with the need for more Black (and other racial ethnic minority) faculty on campus, it is important that MU be able to retain such talented faculty.
In this letter, we document our collective experiences and observations of interpersonal and structural racial oppression while at MU, and the impact on faculty of color. Many of the sentiments have not changed from the Report of the Task Force for Campus Climate and Training produced more than 10 years ago by a campus-wide task force chaired by one of the coauthors of this statement. Many of the recommendations from that report have been left unaccomplished despite longstanding and repeated efforts to see them through to fruition.
With this history in mind, we draw your attention to the following points:
- Tokenism is a problem but it has been treated like a solution. For example, as long as there are a handful of representative people of color on a committee or in a department, there is an assumption that there is no more discussion needed. Rarely are issues of institutional oppression or inequity addressed. Being the only, or one of a few, faculty of color in a department is an alienating experience which can contribute to faculty of color leaving the institution. Interacting with colleagues who minimize the challenges faced by faculty of color contribute to this alienation. In many cases, being the only faculty of color leads to higher service loads.
- Compositional diversity is emphasized almost exclusively over inclusion and a campus climate that truly values diversity. Repeatedly, when problems related to diversity and inclusion are identified, the solution seems to be recruitment of more students of color, recruitment of more faculty of color, recruitment of more staff of color. These so-called solutions persistently seem to be rhetorical and lack substance or resources. In addition, the narrow focus on increasing the numbers (or percentages) of people of color among students, faculty, staff or administrators ignores some of the central problems that prevent the university from retaining those who come to Mizzou -- recruitment gains cannot be sustained when the campus climate for diversity and inclusion are so consistently ignored.
- Students can and do harass faculty in ways that are dismissed and ignored. Many of us have multiple experiences of having students question our legitimacy as faculty, questioning our competencies or capabilities as instructors, as scholars, as intellectuals. Harassment from students is a frequent reality for faculty of color, and our consultations with our colleagues or department chairs and others have frequently been rebuked, dismissed, and ignored. Yet when we consult with one another we find that we share very similar experiences that are also recognized and documented in the scholarly literature. There is pervasive rhetoric at Mizzou about valuing diversity and about the importance of teaching, but in our experience many faculty of color live in isolation because of everyday harassment and microaggressions delivered by students who feel empowered by a culture of denial. Student harassment and hostility towards issues of diversity often leads to lower teaching evaluations among faculty of color. These factors can ultimately affect tenure decisions and retention.
- While there are White faculty allies, for the most part activism and issues of diversity on campus are relegated to marginalized faculty to advocate for themselves and the students of color. This is true not only for on campus but also in the curriculum. Discussion of race and racism are regulated to specific designated courses and rarely discussed in other courses. Faculty of color are often the ones teaching courses related to race and racism, these courses typically aren't required, and White students consider faculty of color as pushing an agenda, thus raising defenses in the classroom. Rarely are issues of diversity, race, or racism explored within larger departments when policies and procedures are considered, or with regards to graduate admissions and retention.
- Opportunities for advancement are few and have many barriers for faculty of color, which is also something that is dismissed and ignored when concerns about diversity at MU are raised. For example, in 2013, out of 865 executive, administrative, and managerial staff, only 8.44 percent were non White, 4.16 percent were Black. MU lacks institutionalized structure for mentoring faculty of color and as a result, those who are promoted are often those with access to informal strategies for success, institutional acceptance, and non-institutionalized or hidden mentoring from White colleagues.
- Anti-inclusion sentiments are publicly displayed by some white faculty and administrators by the shear force of positional power, often ignoring scholarly evidence for inclusive excellence. For example, a longstanding proposal (since 1988) for a diversity course requirement in the undergraduate general education curriculum was introduced in 2011 and again 2013. Although the proposal was passed by the Faculty Council on both occasions, the faculty vote was negative both times. The debate on campus about adding a general education diversity requirement has consistently included anti-inclusion sentiments that run counter to the solid research and scholarship that demonstrate the benefits and positive outcomes of diversity in the curriculum. Experts and advocates of diversity are commonly ignored, dismissed or shouted down.
- Political cowardice is portrayed as a legitimate institutional policy position, especially when elected or appointed officials are involved in the debate. There are countless examples in our collective experiences across time when MU administrators have argued that politics in the State of Missouri are averse to policies on campus that favor diversity. This was true when sexual orientation was eliminated from the nondiscrimination clause at the system level. It was true when same-sex partners were denied benefits through discriminatory practices. It was true when state senators used intimidation tactics to "investigate" the relationship between MU and Planned Parenthood. These are only highly publicized cases. Some of us are also aware of other instances when political cowardice has been used as an excuse to avoid public efforts to recruit faculty and students of color, to advance the diversity requirement in the undergraduate general education curriculum, and in addressing sexual violence on campus. Some of us are also aware that political cowardice resulted in the failure of upper administration to address faculty of color being verbally and physically threatened by a senior faculty member.
- The recent focus on MU's AAU status has placed priority on specific metrics in which faculty of color are often not represented. Supporting and awarding research funded by large federal grants ignores deep structural and epistemological issues. Federal funders often prioritize certain types of research, such as experimental studies, that have been regarded as culturally insensitive by scholars throughout history. The push for status within AAU also limits conversations of "rigor" to quantifiable metrics such as citation counts and impact factors. These metrics privilege scientific journals with broad and general readership, which have historically excluded scholarship pertaining to cultural context and racial and ethnic minorities. It also privileges disciplines whose primary dissemination is publication in peer reviewed journals, such as social and natural sciences, and places disciplines such as the humanities at a disadvantage, which traditionally publish books, monographs and chapters.
- Faculty of color are often expected to do extraordinary amounts of service, particularly pertaining to diversity related issues, above and beyond their White counterparts. Faculty of color are often asked to serve on diversity committees which not only take time but also emotional energy. They conduct hidden service through additional advising loads, when students of color rely on faculty of color for validation and mentorship. They often serve in service of the surrounding community, to support local efforts of communities of color outside of the university. At Mizzou, like most other Research Intensive institutions, these acts of service are minimized and discounted at the time of merit evaluations, promotion, and tenure. The extraordinary amount of service of faculty of color is highlighted in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article.
- Faculty face many of the same overt acts of racism and racial microaggressions that students have faced. From being called "nigger" by White men in cars to having our competence explicitly questioned and disrespected by students. Students actively resist learning about race and racism in classes and complain about having racist ideologies challenged. Racial marginalization and alienation also occurs when interacting with faculty colleagues who have little experience with faculty of color. Faculty of color are often mistaken as "outsiders" at the university given historical assumptions of who professors are and what they look like; faculty of color defy those popular notions. Faculty of color are often left to navigate hostile students and classroom dynamics on their own without explicit support from their colleagues. These experiences form a culture of hostility (at worst) and neglect (at best).
While the President and Chancellor's resignations are a small start, it will take much more for institutional change to follow. We hope that this statement can inform real progress as MU works to heal and grow from its organizational and racialized trauma.
Zakiya R. Adair Ph.D. MU Assistant Professor Women and Gender Studies 2010-2015
Kevin O. Cokley, Ph.D., MU Associate Professor of Black Studies; Educational, School, & Counseling Psychology 2004-2007
Bryana H. French, Ph.D., MU Assistant Professor Black Studies; Educational, School, & Counseling
Treva B. Lindsey, Ph.D., MU Assistant Professor Women and Gender Studies 2010-2013
Alejandro Morales, Ph.D. MU Assistant Professor Educational, School, & Counseling Psychology, 2009-2013
Erica Morales, Ph.D. MU Assistant Professor Sociology 2012-2014
Helen A. Neville, Ph.D. MU Associate Professor Black Studies; Educational, School, & Counseling Psychology 1998-2002
Kenneth Wang, Ph.D. MU Assistant Professor Educational, School, & Counseling Psychology 2009-2014
Roger L. Worthington Ph.D, MU Professor, Assistant Deputy Chancellor & Chief Diversity Officer, 1997-2014