Sunday, April 22, 2007

When Race and Gender aren't parallel

I have lots of things in my portfolio as vice provost for faculty affairs. Among the most interesting is the work I do to help diversify NYU’s faculty. I’m particularly intrigued that dealing with racial and ethnic diversity, on the one hand, and gender diversity, on the other, calls for different strategies. I also get vastly different reactions to the work I do in each arena. When it comes to issues of gender, I have lots of support and allies. I’m sure there are people who look askance at the recent seminar that I co-sponsored with the Faculty of Arts and Science Women’s Faculty Caucus on women and negotiations. But no one raised an issue. Plans for a conference on women and leadership at NYU, planned for the fall has garnered great support from around the campus. When the provost and I hosted discussions for women faculty in the sciences last year on gender climate issues, most showed up. I suspect that women who don’t want to be identified by their gender simply ignore such events.

Lately, I’ve decided to work on environmental issues for faculty of color. I have had a number of faculty of color, especially but not limited to junior faculty, express how isolated they feel teaching at NYU. There are more minority faculty here then many suspect but we are spread out across the university. This place is very large and some long for the camaraderie and support that comes from knowing other people who share minority identity. I began to see that making these connections influences whether faculty stay at NYU. In response, I decided to have two receptions for faculty of color this spring. I especially wanted to target untenured faculty. I asked the provost to join me in this effort. Without hesitation, he agreed and we sent out email invitations.

But who is a faculty of color and how do we find them? What do we do about those faculty of color who do not want to be identified by race or ethnicity? I decided to cast as wide a net as possible by using the racial and ethnic codes used by Academic Appointments. I was hopeful that those who did not want to attend such a reception would simply ignore the invitation, just as many women ignored the Women’s Faculty Caucus workshop on negotiation. By in large, most of those uninterested must have simply deleted the email invitations; one person accused me of being ‘misguided’ and out of date. Personally, I’m not so allergic to identity politics; but I do recognize many of the pitfalls of racial solidarity. As someone who is invested in diversifying the NYU faculty, I’m trying to create a culture here that is broad enough to appeal to faculty of color on all sides of this issue. I believe that NYU is a complex enough community to accommodate those differences.

It is also interesting that non-faculty of color have felt comfortable raising questions about the receptions. One group asked me how were people of color supposed to relate to the larger faculty. I was a little surprised by this question. The receptions were not meant to be prescriptive—to create segregation within the faculty. Similar questions had not been directly raised about any of the gender diversity initiatives coming out of the provost office. This is just another instance in which the analogies between race and gender, which are often helpful, breakdown.

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