One of the great things about where I work is that they take quality in-house professional development seriously. Case in point: in early October, Human Resources emailed everyone about starting a “book group that focused on gender equity and higher education.” The book in question? Disrupting the Culture of Silence: Confronting Gender Inequality and Making Change in Higher Education.
Um. YES YES YESSSSSSSS.
Believe me when I say I signed up for this so fast. To be placed into one of the five groups, the main organizer asked for an explanation on why we’re interested and how it would benefit us. I think she was looking for a blurb, but I busted out an essay about working in a male-dominated field and wanting to examine what gender equity looks like when you add in racial identity. I would have done tap dances and back flips (read: probably not, as I am as nimble as uncooked pasta) to get into that Book Group, because it has two of my favorite things: discussions about gender with other people, and reading. My inner nerd was all about this.
After I got in, I started to read the book and look at the book and hug the book. Because HOLY BATMAN, Disrupting the Culture of Silence is awesome. By no means does it tell the story of every identity within a gender lens (at least, I think. I am on page 65), but there is some variety. The selections on being a women of color in academia and student affairs are vast and plentiful. Do you want to talk about work-family politics, or queer facility experiences? Done. And there are CASE STUDIES, YA’LL. Case. Studies. Case studies are personal narratives with a learning-centrist twist. I. Love them. Emmergawd. May my workload never keep me too busy to thoroughly read and process this book, please please please.
And I am so glad the university created this Book Group, because it is absolutely needed. My work community is great, but no school can escape the realities of gender inequality in higher education, and we need to talk about it. As you look up in the student affairs ladder, the number of women in leadership positions get smaller and smaller. According to 2014 data, only 26% of college and university presidents are women, which is interesting when you consider that 57% of college students are women. Female Chief Student Affairs Officers are less likely to aspire to university presidency than their male counterparts. And this is just looking at data that’s exclusive to VPSAs and presidents, not to even talk about the personal anecdotes I’ve heard from trusted mentors, or some of the (to be honest, horrific) experiences told by members of my book group last week.
I have been very lucky to work in environments that, for the most part, get it. And sometimes, people don’t get it. And I need this space because I want to both make sure I don’t perpetuate inequality through my actions, and because I want to fight for gender equality in higher education. What does that work look like when I have limited control over institutional oppression? Some days I don’t know, so I’m glad that for now, I have this Book Group, this space, to help me figure it out. Because I personally need a space to talk about gender inequality in student affairs as well.
I need it because there is nothing more interesting to talk about gender equality in front of a table of old White men who kinda cringe every time they hear the word “patriarchy” come from your table. We (quietly) joked about that in our table, which almost kinda took away the hurt I felt when I came into the coffee shop, and my sunny smile to them was met with stony looks back.
I need it because I have said something in a large group staff meeting, and one of my (male) bosses only heard and recorded half of what I said. Until another (male) coworker said the exact same thing, and my boss recorded this response. This led me to believe that I did not even say the full response (am I going crazy? Maybe I didn’t say my full sentence) until one of my coworkers looked at me across the room and mouthed “I heard you.”
I need it because it low-key annoys me that this book isn’t part of a required reading set for all faculty and staff. A few of the Book Group participants (not in my group, but others) are men, which is good. But not enough. How are we going to solve the problem if we only talk about it between ourselves and preach to the choir?
I need it because I constantly play the game “Did That Person Not Respond Well To Me Because Of Who I Am?” And maybe I AM paranoid, and some people simply don’t respond to me because I am too quiet/bad at my job/not personable enough/need to do better, and not because I am a Black woman in a leadership position. But the fact that I even need to question this, the fact that I even play this exhausting game on a daily basis, the fact that I know many of the students I work with play this game, makes me so tired I just want to go and take a nap and not think about gender inequality and what that looks like when you add other marginalized identities, but I can’t not think about it and pretend it doesn’t exist because it is EVERYWHERE.
So. Yes. Yes I am grateful that this is a professional development opportunity.
We’ll see how I fit into this group over time. Something that quickly stood out to me is my status as the only woman of color in the group, so this has the potential to get interesting. Already, I had one of the participants tell me that “yes, but I think that all woman struggle with this” when I was talking about how the Angry Black Woman archetype may hinder me in the workplace. The Angry BLACK Woman. In the title lies the focus of this stereotype. Ma’am. It is Day ONE of this Book Group, and I already kinda want to throw hands. Just let me tell my story, please.
Luckily, the Book Group Leader (who I already can tell may be #InMyCorner) gently steered the conversation back to my experiences , and to the “Challenges of Race and Gender for Black Women in the Academy” chapter. But still. Gawd. I really don’t want to fight for my place in this Book Group, when I have to already FIGHT FOR MY PLACE IN THIS UNIVERSITY.
Overall, though, I’m glad I’m in the Group. And, as per usual, I am actually really excited! On week three, the Book Group Leader and I are going to lead the session on “Exclusionary Cultures: Intellectual and Identity Inequalities.” Keep me in your positive thoughts that I don’t make a complete fool out of myself during week three (I’ve gotta represent well, you know), and I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes!