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  • Standing Up and Standing Together:Feminist Teaching and Collaborative Mentoring
  • Lisa A. Costello (bio)


I began my career in rhetoric and composition at Georgia Southern University, a noncollective bargaining, medium-sized, regional university in southeast Georgia with about twenty thousand students. I started my job with what I thought were eyes wide open; that is, I believed what I read in graduate school. Academia was known for its ruthless competition, but departments protected their junior faculty. Academia was filled with highly educated people, so it valued progressiveness and equality. Within two months of being on the job, I learned that the academic workplace was even more difficult to navigate as a woman precisely because of these myths. My eyes were not wide open at all; I began my job essentially blind.

In my first semester, my department chair assigned me to eight different department and college committees. The reduced course load I had negotiated in the hiring process had to be renegotiated every semester instead of being a given for the first three years. The mentor I was assigned my first semester refused to meet with me. My chair was fired, and we got an interim. We got one new dean and then another. We hired a new chair, who was brought up on fraud charges two years later. We got another dean and another interim chair. This long chain of specific events and rotating administrators is probably unusual, but the instability I felt as a new hire was probably not. I felt alone and unmoored, which overlaid my already potent anxiety about teaching well, publishing often, and serving admirably in my new position. Since my institution did not provide any formalized mentoring, I sought out any mentorship that could help me navigate the institutional expectations toward tenure and promotion and support me as a junior faculty member, but it was hard to find.1

Once I reached associate professor status, I thought my anxiety and workload might abate slightly, so that I could pursue innovation as a teacher-scholar. Unfortunately, in such cases, women are often asked to increase their duties across campus, because of their institutional experience or "demonstrated leadership abilities" that tenure formalizes. When I earned tenure, I was immediately asked [End Page 1] to chair a search committee, chair the department personnel committee, and serve on two other university committees, including the Quality Enhancement Committee for Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) Accreditation, for which I wrote the eighty-page campus-wide plan.2 My chair said my new rank made me an "important face for the department at the university level and a leader in the department" who would influence the growth of the major. The increase in rank seemingly brought more stature but did not give me more time with students or for teaching, which, at a regional comprehensive university, is supposed to be my focus. I felt overwhelmed, and I continued to muse upon the lack of support structures I encountered at every level of my career. Was I really alone or was this an institutional challenge?

I began researching mentorship and talking informally to colleagues around the country. Joya Misra and her colleagues cite studies of four-year institutions that show that "tenured women [as opposed to men] … devote[d] more time to teaching, mentoring, and service, and particularly to activities that may be seen as building bridges around the university. Yet, these pursuits hold less value in promotion cases in many institutions" (Misra et al. "Ivory" 2). I wondered about the experiences of women at universities like mine and at community colleges. Where were their voices and experiences? I discovered Judith Glazer-Raymo's groundbreaking research on women in higher education at a variety of institutions, where she found an alarming trend of higher numbers of women in contingent and part-time faculty positions (5–6).3 Why might these trends exist for women and not men? As Misra and colleagues suggest, it is not just that men are better researchers or teachers. The literature suggests that promotion criteria are too vague and that women and men spend their time (and are assigned, as I was) work time differently...


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