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  • The Hidden Costs of Serving Our Community:Women Faculty of Color, Racist Sexism, and False Security in a Hispanic-Serving Institution
  • B.A.L. (bio)

All but three students had left the classroom after a particularly tense discussion. One of them, a tall male in his late twenties or early thirties with a shaved head and long, red-tinged facial hair, rose out of his seat, clapping his tightly laced combat-style boots firmly against the tile. He—let us call him John—positioned himself directly in front of the room's only exit, blocking my passage as I attempted to leave. He stood over me, leaning down with angry eyes and red-flushed face. Out of his mouth spewed a series of accusatory questions about my competence and legitimacy as a professor. "Did you announce that we were having a quiz? Are all your tests so nit-picky?" the student demanded, after failing an in-class reading quiz I gave at the beginning of class in week two of the semester in a course on intersectionality of race and gender.

I am not easily intimidated, but my classroom hardly felt like a safe space in that moment. John had been visibly displeased for the entire class period, making disapproving faces when I and other students spoke, even launching into two long, angry tirades, protesting the "biased" content of the class. I pointed out that, in fact, the two questions on the quiz were nothing short of essential to the main argument of the assigned text. I explained that the quiz, almost entirely insignificant to his course grade, was intended to help students to check their own understanding of the text. He dismissed my explanation, persisting in his attack on my competence as a professor and intellectual in front of the two remaining students, both men.

Attempting to defuse the situation, I suggested discussing the matter further during office hours, a suggestion I previously offered verbally and through email, only to be ignored. And then he said it: "You said you hate white men—that's the problem." Taken aback at such a shocking accusation, I assured him that no such thing had ever crossed my mind, let alone come out of my mouth. I explained that he may have misunderstood a point I was making in class about the ways the exclusion of minorities from dominant historical narratives reinforces white supremacy. "I don't have time for this," he cut me off, and stormed off while I was mid-sentence.

This incident disturbed me deeply. I wondered what had gone so terribly [End Page 176] wrong. In my search for answers, I came across Chavella Pittman's powerful 2010 article, "Race and Gender Oppression in the Classroom: The Experiences of Women Faculty of Color with White Male Students." In that title, I found a compelling explanation for John's behavior and read the text eagerly. Therein, Pittman exposed the ways racial and gendered oppression work to undermine the authority of women faculty of color, isolate them, and otherwise render them more vulnerable (Pittman, "Race"). She finds that women faculty of color experienced the most consistent and significant challenges to their authority in the classroom from white male students.

Pittman's research paints a bleak picture of work life for women faculty of color at Predominantly White Institution (PWIs)—by far the most common type of institution of higher learning in the United States. I found some comfort in knowing that I was not alone in experiencing these student aggressions, but I continued pondering what I saw as a central paradox in my experience: While I had certainly experienced these same aggressions while teaching at PWIs, John's threatening behavior had occurred not at a PWI, but rather at a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI)—one in which over 90 percent of the students were Latin@. This incident seemed to contradict the prevailing view of minority-serving institutions (MSIs) as more welcoming and inclusive climates for minority faculty due to the higher numbers of minority students, faculty, and staff usually represented in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges (TCs), Asian American, Native American, Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions, and HSIs...


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pp. 176-195
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