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Presumed Incompetent

The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia

edited by Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. González, and Angela P. Harris

Publication Year: 2012

Presumed Incompetent is a pathbreaking account of the intersecting roles of race, gender, and class in the working lives of women faculty of color. Through personal narratives and qualitative empirical studies, more than 40 authors expose the daunting challenges faced by academic women of color as they navigate the often hostile terrain of higher education, including hiring, promotion, tenure, and relations with students, colleagues, and administrators. The narratives are filled with wit, wisdom, and concrete recommendations, and provide a window into the struggles of professional women in a racially stratified but increasingly multicultural America.

Published by: Utah State University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-viii

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pp. ix-x

For several years and at different junctures in the evolution of this book, Aldo Ulisses Reséndiz Ramírez, Brittny Nielsen, Rae Wyse, and Marianne Mork helped me consolidate, format, and manage this monumental manuscript. From the first stages of formulating lists of contributors and calling for papers to the very...

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pp. xi-xiv

When This Bridge Called My Back, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, was first published in 1981, women of color in the movement and universities across the country greeted it with deep joy and near reverence because it so accurately reflected and validated the realities with which they had been contending...

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pp. 1-14

As editors who are also women faculty of color, we produced this volume to provide a framework for understanding the contradictory culture of academia. On the one hand, the university champions meritocracy, encourages free expression and the search for truth, and prizes the creation of neutral and objective knowledge...

I. General Campus Climate

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pp. 15-31

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pp. 17-19

When I told a young black woman faculty member I was writing a foreword for a book about women of color in the academy, her response surprised both of us. She slowly repeated the title—Presumed Incompetent—and tears sprang into her eyes. “That was exactly my experience in grad school,” she said softly. “You just don’t...

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1. Facing Down the Spooks

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pp. 20-28

Early in my academic career, a white male administrator scolded me during my annual pretenure evaluation. He did not have any problems with my teaching or service or scholarship. The problem he stated was that I did not tell him and my colleagues enough about my personal life. He said I was beginning to be much...

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2. Waking Up to Privilege: Intersectionality and Opportunity

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pp. 29-39

A metaphor best expresses the way my understanding of white privilege has operated and changed over the years. I think of white privilege as lighting my path of professional development. Over the course of forty years of academic life, I have come to see how this light made travel over the rocky and difficult road...

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3. A Prostitute, a Servant, and a Customer-Service Representative: A Latina in Academia

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pp. 40-49

During my first time teaching introduction to comparative ethnic studies as a newly hired, tenure-track faculty member, I was about to begin class one day when a white male student raised his hand. I acknowledged him, and the following exchange ensued:...

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4. Black/Out: The White Face of Multiculturalism and the Violence of the Canadian Academic Imperial Project

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pp. 50-64

Critical race scholar Patricia J. Williams is only one of many who have poignantly argued that racism achieves a violence that is psychological, embodied, and cultural (P. Williams 1991, 228; see also Alexander and Knowles 2005; Essed 2002; S. Hall 1996; Myers 2005). This essay is both a personal narrative and an...

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5. They Forgot Mammy Had a Brain

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pp. 65-77

In one of the earliest studies that examined the climate for African American women scholars at predominantly white institutions (PWIs), Moses (1989) declared that their professional development or job satisfaction was not achieved without constant struggle. The findings noted some of the typical problems experienced...

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6. Present and Unequal: A Third-Wave Approach to Voice Parallel Experiences in Managing Oppression and Bias in the Academy

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pp. 78-92

Ruminations on questions similar to those posed in the opening quote by political scientist Richard Iton guided the inquiries and resonated with the voices of the black and Latina women professors who shared their experiences of recognizing and responding to the complexities at the four traditionally white universities...

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7. Navigating the Academic Terrain: The Racial and Gender Politics of Elusive Belonging

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pp. 93-109

When considering whether to write this chapter, I had all the reservations so eloquently articulated in the introduction to this book, cognizant that I should be spending my time laboring on that single-authored book that will contribute to my next promotion.1 However, reflecting upon the journey that...

II. Faculty/Student Relationships

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pp. 111-127

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pp. 113-115

Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia is not a book just for women of color: it is a volume about women of color but one that is for men and women of all races and ethnicities. It provides rare insights for those of us who are not women of color into the experiences, perspectives,...

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8. Visibly Invisible: The Burden of Race and Gender for Female Students of Color Striving for an Academic Career in the Sciences

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pp. 116-132

The twin themes of too few students of color and too few female students in the pipeline for careers in science, engineering, or mathematics are certainly not new. Many have written expressing their concern and warning of the effects of not having these populations properly engaged in these fields. However,...

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9. Stepping in and Stepping out: Examining the Way Anticipatory Career Socialization Impacts Identity Negotiation of African American Women in Academia

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pp. 133-141

Higher education has been a means for underrepresented groups to gain access to higher standards of living and better jobs in the United States, especially since the 1950s and the civil rights era. Often thought of as a key component of pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps, women, people of color, and/or those of...

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10. Silence of the Lambs

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pp. 142-151

For an untenured faculty member, perception is everything. It matters how her students, her senior colleagues, the greater university, and outsiders at other institutions perceive her (Carbado and Gulati 2003b).1 The way that an untenured faculty member uses those perceptions, or in the words of Professors Devon Carbado...

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11. On Being Special

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pp. 152-163

I think I thought I was special—immune to the realities of racial discrimination. Because I grew up in the heart of black middle-class privilege in a mostly white suburb of New Jersey, instances of blatant racism were few and far between. Moreover, because of my elevated social class, the “good family” I came from,...

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12. Are Student Teaching Evaluations Holding Back Women and Minorities? The Perils of “Doing” Gender and Race in the Classroom

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pp. 164-185

Teaching is important. Among the traditional three main responsibilities of the professoriate—teaching, scholarship, and service—teaching is probably the most important from the public perspective. The Association of American Colleges and Universities has recently challenged its members to focus more...

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13. Notes toward Racial and Gender Justice Ally Practice in Legal Academia

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pp. 186-197

The many ways that academia generally and legal academia specifically produce and reproduce hierarchical norms and standards of race, gender, sexuality, ability and class have been explored in the articles in this volume and many others. Because the university is both a location of the production of knowledge...

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14. Where’s the Violence? The Promise and Perils of Teaching Women-of-Color Studies

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pp. 198-218

When I am asked what I teach, I respond somewhat reluctantly that I teach women’s studies and often add that I teach women of color studies. Recently I was asked by a white man, “What is that? White male bashing?” and I surprised myself with the directness of my answer. I said, “No, actually, it is probably...

III. Networks of Allies

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pp. 219-235

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pp. 221-223

Stereotypes and oppression manifest themselves in a multitude of ways. Attuned to the power structures of the day, they operate simultaneously at overt and subconscious levels that are both deeply personal and profoundly political. Their targets and victims are thwarted and injured as individuals and as members of groups....

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15. Working across Racial Lines in a Not-So-Post-Racial World

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pp. 224-241

Both women of color and white women may face a presumption of incompetence when they enter the law school classroom as professors. Due to centuries of excluding women and people of color from the professoriate, white men “receive a benefit of the doubt, a little chip of ‘you belong here,’ that others may not receive...

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16. Native Women Maintaining Their Culture in the White Academy

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pp. 242-249

Issues of women and work are an important part of feminist scholarship, including studies of women’s experiences within the academy. However, Native women’s experiences are often overlooked, and women working as staff, rather than faculty, are excluded. Drawing from qualitative interviews with five women, as well as...

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17. Dis/Jointed Appointments: Solidarity amidst Inequity, Tokenism, and Marginalization

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pp. 250-265

What follows is our story arranged in multicolored pieces, the remnants of material we imagine was gathered by the brown, worn, and wrinkled hands of grandmothers, tucked away for star quilts in anticipation of upcoming giveaways. Yet none of us have learned to sew. Perhaps like the womyn who have come before...

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18. What’s Love Got to Do with It? Life Teachings from Multiracial Feminism

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pp. 266-276

I first “met” Audre Lorde in the late 1980s while attending a midsized liberal arts Lutheran university on the West Coast. Because I grew up in a predominately white working-class town and attended college with mostly white middle-class students and professors, Audre Lorde’s work was my introduction to multiracial...

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19. Sharing Our Gifts

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pp. 277-282

Presumed incompetent. In thinking about my contribution to this volume, it occurred to me that, in my career, such presumptions have many times come from those around me and, at the worst times, become my presumption about myself. Many people have helped me learn to overcome this way of thinking and...

IV. Social Class in Academia

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pp. 283-299

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pp. 285-286

This is a remarkable publication that describes the complexity of the internal workings of many of our colleges and universities. Although each institution has its own culture, these descriptive narratives provide real-life examples of the culture and challenges faced by women of color in academia....

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20. Igualadas

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pp. 287-299

Igualada is a condescending term often used by upper-class women who hire domestic workers in Mexico. An igualada is a subaltern who wishes to possess the same riches and privileges as her upper-class employer, especially one who hopes to give her children a level of schooling, clothes, and standard of life that she does...

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21. The Port Hueneme of My Mind: The Geography of Working-Class Consciousness in One Academic Career

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pp. 300-312

In a certain respect, being working-class and becoming an academic is an oxymoron. Academics aspire to genteel, professional success; working-class life rejects the genteel for the overt—at times even rude—acknowledgment that life is difficult. Academics revel in a world of carefully chosen words and phrases; subtlety...

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22. On Community in the Midst of Hierarchy (and Hierarchy in the Midst of Community)

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pp. 313-329

When I began teaching, I attended the Association of American Law Schools’ (AALS) Workshop for New Law School Teachers, as did most of my colleagues. We received much good counsel, were advised on potential pitfalls and problems, and, if lucky, formed bonds with our fellow new law teachers....

V. Tenure and Promotion

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pp. 331-347

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pp. 333-335

The essays in this volume drove me back to one of my favorite books, Spivak’s Outside in the Teaching Machine. As I move ever closer to the “inside”—training as I am for a position as a higher education administrator—I see far more clearly the sheer, utter necessity of testimony, of analysis, of wit, and more, of...

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23. The Making of a Token: A Case Study of Stereotype Threat, Stigma, Racism, and Tokenism in Academe

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pp. 336-355

Ethnic/racial-minority faculty continue to be underrepresented in the US professoriate, representing only about 6 percent of all professors in the academy (Garza 1993). Obstacles to reaching the academy abound, including institutional racism, socioeconomic barriers, and, for Latinas, traditional...

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24. Lessons from a Portrait: Keep Calm and Carry On

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pp. 356-371

In 1990 the Berkeley Women’s Law Journal asked me to write an article for a special issue on the lives of black female law professors.1 I was a young pre-tenure professor learning to juggle all the responsibilities of teaching, research, and service, and I was very excited that the journal had invited me to participate. Even though I was...

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25. “No hay mal que porbien no venga”: A Journey to Healing as a Latina, Lesbian Law Professor

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pp. 372-392

This has not been an easy project for me to undertake. I knew I would have to revisit painful memories. Even though I have told and published the stories about my experiences of being presumed incompetent a few times now (Arriola 1997, 2005), I wanted this rendition to be different because time has allowed me to heal...

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26. La Lucha: Latinas Surviving Political Science

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pp. 393-407

As a little girl growing up in New York, I was one of three girls in a sea of boys in my close-knit family.1 I learned that—to survive among my cousins—I had to play rough and not be thin-skinned. I never thought those childhood lessons would be relevant to my professional life as an adult. However, today I find myself...

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27. Free at Last! No More Performance Anxieties in the Academy ‘Cause Step in Fetchit Has Left the Building

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pp. 408-420

The following discussion is a long-overdue narrative analysis of the challenges and rewards I have faced as an African American woman pursuing a meaningful and comfortable fit in the academy. It was a struggle to write this chapter, in part, because its anomalous content is peculiar to my personal and professional journey...

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28. African American Women in the Academy: Quelling the Myth of Presumed Incompetence

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pp. 421-438

African Americans have consistently been at the heart of education.1 Upon emancipation from human bondage, Reconstruction governments led by African American legislators instituted free public schools for all citizens along with other forms of democratic government and social legislation. In fact, for many years, education was...

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29. The Experiences of an Academic “Misfit”

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pp. 439-445

As I reflected on my past and present academic career, I wondered if there was anything specific about my journey that would be of any value to a discussion of the experiences of women of color in academia, for I no longer work full time in the academy. I am currently a public servant in federal service with the Department...

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30. Lessons from the Experiences of Women of Color Working in Academia

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pp. 446-499

Women of color face harsh realities in their professional lives as university faculty members. At the same time, even within the walls of these oftenpernicious academic environments, women of color can assert their voices, effect change, find allies, and not only survive, but thrive. These are...

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pp. 501-504

As a twenty-first-century Latina, I came across many obstacles in my quest for tenure and particularly an epistemological gap in academia: an emptiness in the journey from graduate school to an assistant professor to full professor. To my knowledge, there was no one document readily available for new PhDs...


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pp. 505-540


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pp. 541-554


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pp. 555-570

Back Cover

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p. 586-586

E-ISBN-13: 9780874218701
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874218695

Page Count: 512
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Women college teachers.
  • Women college teachers -- Social conditions.
  • Minority college teachers.
  • Women in higher education.
  • Sex discrimination in higher education.
  • Feminism and higher education.
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