Dear Washington Post,
After reading the article by Dr. Marybeth Gasman, “An Ivy League professor on why colleges don’t hire more faculty of color: ‘We don’t want them’, I am struck by my 11 year silence. Today, I am ready to share my experience and rather dramatic exit from academia because of this policy, “We don’t want them.” I am a white lesbian woman and at the time of my hire I was a white straight woman living with a black man. I applied to for an adjunct position at one of the most racially diverse liberal arts colleges (U.S. News & World Report, 2001) in the country. I was in my last year of course work for a doctoral program in the Boston area and during the interview I shared my non-ABD (All But the Dissertation) status. I got the adjunct gig and after teaching for one semester, the Department Chair and the Dean encouraged me to apply for a full-time position that was “opening up” in the psychology department.
During the interview, I heard phrases including, “You get what we mean by diversity,” and “You remind me so much of myself when I was at…” Both the dean and the chair had gone through my doctoral program; as we know, shared commonalities are key for a successful interview. When the hiring team is able to see themselves in the candidate, it increases likeability. They certainly saw themselves in me in terms of looks (re. white) and shared interests in our field, as well as assumptions they made regarding our shared sexuality, gender and socioeconomic status.
One of the rules of being white is not asking other white people to elaborate on what they mean by any type of “diversity” talk. I knew not to ask them to elaborate on what they meant by telling me so many times, “you get what we mean by diversity.” I knew they did not mean sharing my life with a black African immigrant, becoming curious about my sexuality, and sharing my social circles with my closest friends, who were from China and the African American community. I got the job and quite honestly it was the easiest job I ever got. I only met with the faculty from the department and the Dean who was from the psychology department. There was no hiring committee. No human resource professional was involved.
During my first year, an adjunct teaching position became available. I did what most of us do when a position opens up: we tell our friends. My circle of friends included a black woman with a PhD in hand from one of the most elite Ivy League Institutions in the country. My friend, whom we will call Lauren for the purposes of this article, did ground breaking research in her field. Her CV included accolades, conference papers, publications and field research, not to mention an extraordinary amount of student affairs experience.
Lauren got the adjunct job and similarly met with the department faculty and the Dean. Similarly, within the semester of teaching, a full time position was about to become open. I got word of the opening from a faculty member in this department within hours, before the position was even posted. I contacted Lauren to see if she was interested. She was, and she presented her resume again to the Dean, who shared it with the President’s Assistant, who like Lauren had a degree in this particular social science. He deemed it, “not a good fit” as her field experience was not aligned with what he stated they were looking for in a social scientist. This all happened before the position was posted, and I knew at that moment what they meant by “diversity.”
I was quickly learning why colleagues of color with degrees from better institutions and more qualifications than I, did not have the type of job I had: the Chair and the Dean saw themselves – their whiteness – in me.
I immediately shared this event with more senior colleagues and worked behind the scenes to put pressure on the administration to create a formal hiring process for the open position. A cross-departmental hiring committee was convened and each candidate met with the committee, the President’s Assistant and the President. Each candidate was asked to conduct a micro-teach and teaching evaluations were reviewed. A human resource professional was not involved.
Lauren’s reviews from students – who were in fact a very diverse group – were absolutely glowing. The students clearly saw themselves in her, and it impacted how they saw themselves and thought about their futures. At the end of this very contentious hiring process, Lauren was not hired. This process unveiled the lies about why this college couldn’t hire faculty of color. Claims of “they aren’t out there” and “they want more money than we can pay them” disintegrated and Dr. Gasman’s identification as “We don’t want them” was all that was left. The emperor had no clothes and I was deemed the key instigator for having unveiled this spectacle.
Within months of this, I was accused of “telling off” the President at a holiday party. For what was actually a brief and superficially friendly conversation, I received a letter in my Human Resource file that I had been “inappropriate” and appeared “inebriated.” The sole witness to my alleged conversation with the President was the new white faculty member who had been hired into the position Lauren applied for. Needless to say, she did not come forward to contest the President’s version of events. As I write these words, it seems like it was a movie or at least a television mini-series. Then I wake up 11 years later and yes it is true.
I knew I could never stay there as an employee after witnessing this hiring scandal and I had no desire to maintain my silence at my own undoing whilst maintaining my dream of teaching. I never did complete my doctorate after this experience and I left academia. My friend Lauren left academia too and is now living abroad. We loved our students and our students loved us and we get what “they mean by diversity” and “they don’t want them.”