(Cultural) Taxation Without Representation?
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How Educational Developers Can Broker Discourse on Black Faculty Lives in the #BlackLivesMatter Era
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Predominantly White institutions (PWIs) in creative class cities offer contradictory experiences for Black faculty, who engage in invisible additional labor in response to racial aggressions, termed cultural taxation (CT). With an understanding that equity-minded faculty development is an essential space in which to respond to this reality, our study employed a phenomenological focus group design to investigate how Black faculty at a research-intensive PWI located in a creative class city buffeted by racial tensions navigated their service and community experiences. While finding their work meaningful, the participants shared experiences of the multifaceted nature of CT, their stress from teaching about race, and the burdens of providing extra support to the next generation of scholars of color. Participants viewed the campus and community as interconnected and CT as a wage they were willing to pay. At the same time, participants regretted the lack of recognition for this work in the academy. We proffer recommendations for developers and centers for teaching and learning that endeavor to support Black faculty and faculty from other marginalized identities.
Keywords: cultural taxation, Black faculty, predominantly White institutions, community, service
Although predominantly White institutions (PWIs) have made strides in diversifying their faculties since the 1960s (Turner et al., 2008; Turner et al., 1999), gaps remain in the percentage of Black faculty at PWIs (Patel, 2015) and in job satisfaction among Black faculty compared to peers and faculty at historically Black colleges (Allen et al., 2000). Part of this experience for Black faculty is cultural taxation (CT): expectations placed on faculty of color to attend to diversity-related work and the extra burden experienced due to their commitment to equity issues linked to their race (Joseph & Hirshfield, 2011; Padilla, 1994). Black faculty navigate challenging campus climates, finding that education and class do not insulate these scholars from everyday racism (Dyson, 2009; Swim et al., 2003).
In response to such racial aggressions, Black faculty stand up when others are unfairly arrested, craft op-eds, and participate in social justice movements, all of which require that they pay a “tax” of time (Cohen, 1998; Griffin, 2012). Choosing not to engage also presents a price. Thus, Black faculty are untenably positioned to sacrifice effort that could potentially be applied to promotion-tied research. This labor operates in the background of Black faculty at PWIs. Centers of teaching and learning and educational developers may be ideally suited to empathize and act given the field’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, identity, and justice (Hawkins & Smentkowski, 2018). With a fuller understanding of how Black faculty live in PWIs and their surrounding communities, we believe educational developers can essentially support growth for these scholars. Given the virtual stagnation of the percentage of Blacks at PWIs and promotion/tenure rates (“Full-Time Instructional Faculty,” 2019), this article shares how Black faculty negotiate the “tax” on their lives while accepting these obligations to sustain a thriving Black intellectual community. Recent events at PWIs that amplify scrutiny of diversity and microaggressive environments for people of color on campus, such as racist graffiti at Syracuse University and racist comments, including asking “why don't we have a white history month?” directed toward Black students at BYU, suggest that it is apt to revisit these experiences (Rudner, 2015; Shepherd, 2020; Weaver, 2019). Furthermore, the ongoing discussion in the educational development field of equity-minded faculty development (Haynie, 2018) makes this conversation essential and urgent. As Tuitt et al. (2018) note, “Faculty and educational developers working in TWIs [traditionally white institutions] can no longer stand on the sidelines.”
In this article, we synthesize literature on the experiences of Black faculty at PWIs and research examining challenges for Black professionals in creative class cities, noting Austin, Texas, as a bellwether city in this category (Breen, 2000; Tang & Falola, 2016). These threads support CT as a theoretical framing for the study.
Experiences of Faculty of Color and Black Faculty at PWIs
Banks (1984) was the first to examine Black faculty experiences at PWIs. Banks detailed the paucity of investigation on Black academics and discussed the tensions inherent in faculty experiences as “constituencies in conflict” (p. 327), with Black students seeking mentoring and advising, whereas White colleagues pedestaled productivity and research expectations, neglecting the community uplift aspect of early Black faculty members’ work:
The pressures of conflicting role expectations, social isolation, and personal adjustments take a heavy toll on younger black intellectuals. . . . For [successful members of the majority] the rules of the game are simple: A scholar’s first obligation is to the discipline. (Banks, 1984, p. 337)
His analysis resonates with much of the literature since then, as Black academics confront issues of cultural congruence in the academy. Researchers have posited how climate issues and campus protests impact retention and create a sense of unrest and a microaggressive environment for Black faculty (Hunn et al., 2015; Kelly et al., 2017). More recent scholarship depicts that Black faculty are underrepresented and cope with the same pressures Banks described 35 years ago, with further disparities among gender lines (Griffin et al., 2013; Ryu, 2008). Furthermore, numerous investigations of faculty of color inclusive of Black faculty underscore the persistence of CT in committee work, mentoring of students of color, and other invisible labor (Stanley, 2006; Trower, 2003; Tuitt et al., 2009).
There are also disparities in rank, tenure, workload, and satisfaction among Black faculty. Allen et al. (2000) analyzed data from 35 African American faculty out of a larger dataset of 1,189 faculty from six universities that reported increased retention and graduation of African American students. They found that “despite three decades of antidiscrimination legislation and affirmative action” (p. 124), African American faculty were underrepresented on university faculties. In addition, by faculty rank, years at institution, tenure, teaching workload, administrative workload, student relations, and overall satisfaction, “African Americans were systematically and significantly disadvantaged on all measures compared to Whites” (p. 125). Noting the scarcity of Black representation due to a system of individual and institutional racism, Allen et al. averred “absent affirmative action programs that aggressively seek out, recruit, and hire Black faculty members, the pitiful, current underrepresentation of Blacks among the nation’s professorate can only be expected to worsen” (p. 126).
This prognosis is echoed in a plethora of examinations of Black faculty experiences at PWIs (Aguirre et al., 1993; Cohen, 1998; Turner, 2003; Turner et al., 2008). These concerns are familiar to faculty of color: heightened advising responsibilities (Gay, 2004; Murakami-Ramalho et al., 2010) and neglect of “diversity work” in promotion/tenure decisions (Sámano, 2005). Furthermore, researchers have acknowledged the centrality of additional service in the minority faculty experience at PWIs (Baez, 2000; Brayboy, 2003; Griffin & Reddick, 2011).
Microaggressive and Microinvalidating Interactions and Campus Climate
Extant research on Black faculty at PWIs describe a challenging and stressful existence, manifest as racial microaggressions (Pittman, 2012; Solórzano et al., 2000) that can lead to “racial battle fatigue” (Smith et al., 2007), a psychological stress response to these challenges. Far from being minor irritants in Black scholars’ day-to-day existence, the challenges have enduring effects on the satisfaction of this population. Pittman (2012) noted the racial gaps on teaching evaluations (Hamermesh & Parker, 2005; Vargas, 2002) and further noted that students rated Black and African American faculty as less intelligent than White faculty (Hendrix, 1998; Rubin, 2001). Pittman (2012) discussed that “the foundational work of getting diverse faculty on these campuses is only the first step” (p. 90), positing that campus climate greatly impacted the experience of the participant faculty.
In a study of 33 Black faculty members in education, McGee and Kazembe (2016) found that when these scholars presented their research at conferences, their research, methods, and personal appearances were frequently ridiculed—while the more scholarly aspects of their work tended to be invalidated. More recent research suggests issues of isolation, a lack of effective mentorship, opaqueness surrounding tenure/promotion, and fewer opportunities to assume leadership persist as concerns for Black faculty at PWIs, despite institutional claims of inclusivity (Ross & Edwards, 2016). These challenges have been operationalized as “cultural taxation” (Padilla, 1994), and we posit in the following section that such experiences are endemic to Black faculty members’ existence at PWIs.
Cultural Taxation as a Context of the Black Faculty Experience at PWIs
Researchers have summarized and named the continued high- to low-level stress experienced by faculty of color and, by extension, Black faculty at PWIs. Padilla (1994) used the term cultural taxation (CT) to describe the battery of experiences inherent for underrepresented faculty at PWIs. Padilla (1994) defined CT as “situations . . . imposed . . . by the administration, which assume that we are best suited for specific tasks because of our race/ethnicity or our presumed knowledge of cultural differences” (p. 26). Padilla (1994) notes six spheres of CT experienced by underrepresented faculty:
1) Being the “expert” on matters of diversity; 2) Being called upon to educate majority group about diversity; 3) Serving on affirmative action task committees; 4) Serving as liaison between the institution and ethnic communities; 5) Sacrificing time from one’s work to serve as “solver, troubleshooter, or negotiator” for conflicts among administration, students, and community; and 6) Serving as translators for non-English speaking visitors to the campus. (p. 26)
Gay (2004) termed CT as “problematic popularity” (p. 284) in discussing the experiences of graduate students of color, noting that “[t]heir status of being the ‘only one,’ or ‘one of the very few’ in their programs of study causes them to be in popular demand for many service functions . . . frequently called upon to make guest appearances in classes” (p. 284). Gay further problematizes this burden by exposing the power differentials between those who request the service (advisors, deans); the “symbolic participation without having any substantive influence” (p. 284); and the precarious nature of these demands. Although Gay’s focus is on graduate students of color, the dangers she describes relate to faculty of color as well, who might have greater protections in some regard but also greater liabilities (harming one’s opportunities for promotion). Indeed, scholars researching faculty of color have homed in on the greater service burdens of these populations, especially compared to White colleagues (Baez, 2000; Griffin & Reddick, 2011; Tierney & Bensimon, 1996; Turner, 2003).
The greatest danger of CT, then, is that these commitments are often time-consuming, sapping one’s ability to tend to pressing academic responsibilities; the activities have little institutional effect; and they straitjacket faculty of color into limited roles. But far from being solely confined to the labor of Black scholars on campus, CT also radiates into their lives in the larger community. The vast majority of investigations on CT place the institution at the center; however, we see a gap and necessity to examine how CT impacts the satisfaction of Black scholars and scholars of color on campus and beyond. This inquiry is particularly salient in urban university communities, often operating under the veneer of progressive social attitudes yet with significant social inequity under the surface. Although CT manifests itself in many ways on and off campus, oftentimes, it is in the campus context that the burden appears.
Black Faculty and Interactions in Progressive Communities
Urban theorist Richard Florida (2002a) posits that socioeconomic development in postindustrial cities is dependent on the growth of the “creative class”: “people in design, education, arts, music and entertainment, whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology and/or creative content” (p. 8). Florida’s terminology seems to be an academic definition of what Brooks (2000) terms latte towns—“upscale liberal communities, often in magnificent natural settings, often university based, that have become crucial gestation centers for America’s new upscale culture” (p. 104), such as the Boston-Cambridge metroplex, Silicon Valley, the North Carolina Research Triangle, and Austin, Texas.
Florida’s (2002b) theory places diversity at its core but purposefully avoids “political hot buttons” and makes no explicit mention of racial diversity; rather, the creative class desires harmonious acceptance and tolerance. This definition of diversity is limiting as it focuses primarily on music, food, and thought; race is conspicuously absent. This veneer of inclusion and acceptance also envelops the ivy walls of the college; unfortunately, the specter of racial bias and racism does not disappear with diverse cultural offerings. As Grollman (2014) remarked in an essay on his silence regarding #BlackLivesMatter:
I regularly feel as though I am defending my right to exist before a jury each time I teach about race and racism . . . I am further exhausted by attempting to toe the line of neutrality, for fear of retaliation from racist—and even “post-racist”—minded students.
Punitive responses to the expression of Blackness in creative class spaces, such as arrests, threats of retribution, and silencing of speech, have a chilling effect on Black academics who concurrently process challenges in the academy (Allen et al., 2000; Dyson, 2009; Reddick, 2011; Turner & Myers, 2000).
Racialized incidents in creative class cities highlight realities that Black faculty may face, necessitating a renewed focus on their experiences both inside and outside of the confines of the college campus. Austin, for instance, is the home of 27 institutions of higher education and is at the top of several “Best Places” lists; yet, according to a Black business advocacy organization, “There is a general perception in Austin’s Black community that this town is a less than ideal city to live in” (Austin Blackpages, 2006). In measures of poverty, infant mortality, and HIV infection, Black Austinites bear the brunt of inequities (Tang, 2012). Therefore, while creative class cities like Austin, Portland, and Denver are often viewed as “cool places to live” (Dougherty, 2009), professionals of color often have contradictory experiences.
While several studies have investigated the impact of specific campus environments on the experiences of Black faculty, relatively few have looked at specific community environs and engagement within the constraints of urban areas (Alexander & Moore, 2008; Butner et al., 2000; Turner & Myers, 2000). At the same time, it is likely that some aspects of CT are endemic to PWIs, regardless of the features of the communities in which they are placed.
It is an appropriate time to reflect on the status of Black academics in their communities given the heightened interest and engagement in scholarly discourse around the positioning of Blackness in the American context. #BlackLivesMatter, landmark literature analyzing racism and its impact of Black citizens (cf. Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me), continual evidence of systematic police brutality directed at Blacks (in the cases of Sandra Bland [Prairie View A&M] and Samuel Dubose [University of Cincinnati], directly tied to institutions of higher education) makes this analysis timely. True to its bellwether status, the city of Austin and the 27 local colleges and universities witnessed the effects of these cultural events.
In Austin, the fall 2015 semester began with the decision to remove statues of Confederate Jefferson Davis and segregationist Woodrow Wilson (August) and ended with Justice Scalia’s incendiary commentary in the Fisher v. University of Texas Supreme Court case (December):
There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into [UT Austin] . . . as opposed to having them go to . . . a slower-track school where they do well. . . . I'm just not impressed by the fact [UT Austin] may have fewer [blacks]. Maybe it ought to have fewer. (qtd. in Mencimer, 2015)
Although Scalia’s comments were directed at students, many Black scholars took this to be an invalidation of their merits as well; virtually all of them were once undergraduate and graduate students at PWIs (Arnett, 2015). Furthermore, Austin’s institutions of higher education are intriguing cases to examine today, given that issues pertinent to the presence and satisfaction of Black faculty are evident there (like at many PWIs).
In this article, we apply CT to better understand the additional service obligations of Black faculty at one of the Austin area institutions, Praesidium University (pseudonym), and how their lives are affected by these concerns. Faculty carry identity, social/positional capital, and power of advocacy across multiple contexts. Given the potential for social impact, CT research must incorporate civic contexts. This is a unique application of the CT framework, and although studies have examined communities in which faculty of color work (see Butner et al., 2000; Turner & Myers, 2000), there is a need to examine CT from an intra- and extra-mural perspective to promote institutional equity and social change agendas.
This phenomenological focus group study (Giorgi, 2000; Patton, 2014) evolved from a call for participants issued to all tenure and tenure-track faculty categorized as Black/African American in the Praesidium University Statistical Handbook; seven participants took part in the focus group interviews from which the data in this article were derived. To some, the size of the sample might suggest shortcomings in recruitment or a reason to question the trustworthiness of this study. However, similar qualitative studies on faculty of color also feature purposefully small samples (cf. Erwin et al., 2002; Johnsrud & Sadao, 1998): Black faculty have multiple demands on their time and even voice concerns about anonymity and confidentiality due to their small numbers (Reddick et al., 2015). The intimate, vulnerable nature of this inquiry suggests that not every Black faculty member would feel safe in such a discussion; however, for those who participated, the nature of the dialogue between the focus group members revealed shared concerns, endorsing Bradbury-Jones et al.’s (2009) statement that combining focus groups and phenomenology “might actually be advantageous” (p. 667). The data explicated from the focus group forms the basis of the findings shared in this article. The focus group lasted two hours, and the lead researcher, a Black male tenure-track professor, served as lead facilitator of the focus group.
The analytic process echoed that of other qualitative self-reported data (Kreuger, 1988; Mays & Pope, 1995; Morgan, 1988). Relying on themes derived from previously conducted individual interviews, we coded the data, particularly noting unique interactions in the group, such as when participants asked questions, changed perspectives, reinforced opinions, or shared narratives (Kitzinger, 1994). We were also mindful of discrepant data, or “opinions and examples that do not fit with the researcher’s overall theory” (Kitzinger, 1994, p. 301).
We use the term explicitation to describe the process of investigating phenomenon components and simultaneously keeping sight of the situational context (Hycner, 1999). Using Groenewald’s (2004) procedure, we explicitated data (investigating the phenomenon’s constituents while keeping the context of the whole) rather than analysis (breaking into parts, therefore losing understanding of the whole phenomenon) (Hycner, 1999). We attended to trustworthiness concerns by selecting different types of participants (Groenewald, 2004), audiotaping the focus group, and using professional transcription services, thus ensuring that the transcripts were verbatim records of the conversation between interviewers and participants (Kvale, 1996; Maxwell, 1996; Seidman, 2019).
The study site was Praesidium University, a public, four-year, research-intensive PWI. Although Austin enjoys a reputation as a “mind magnet” creative class city (Dougherty, 2009; Florida, 2002a), the city has also dealt with significant racial tensions, including the police-involved deaths of several youths of color, gentrification, insensitivity toward the loss of Black cultural landmarks, and a sense of not being a welcoming place for Blacks (Howard-Watkins, 2006; Smith, 2005). Interestingly, among large, fast-growing cities, Austin is the only one with a shrinking African American population (Maclaggan, 2014)—meaning that issues of hypervisibility and marginality are particularly salient for Black faculty on and off campus. The university itself is also emerging from a racist past (e.g., being segregated until the 1950s) and has made efforts to recruit and retain Black faculty in the past 20 years, including the establishment of a Black studies department (Duren & Iscoe, 1979; Rosales, 2010). Nonetheless, Black faculty did note that for many years, Black scholars had departed the institution for myriad reasons, including unsuccessful tenure decisions and recruitment from peer institutions.
The sample was comprised of seven tenured and tenure-track Black faculty at Praesidium University, which at the time of the study represented 7% of the full-time Black tenured/tenure-track faculty at the university. The focus group sample was diverse in many aspects (field of study, rank, years in the Austin area) but not as diverse in other identity categories (gender, partnered/marital status). To provide confidentiality and anonymity, the participants were assigned a pseudonym and had their region of origin and disciplines disguised. See Table 1 for a listing of participants.
|Name||Rank||Years in the Austin area||Age range||Partner status||Former city/region||Discipline|
|Yvonne||Tenured||6–10||36–42||Partnered||New England||Liberal Arts|
|Nathan||Untenured||0–5||36–42||Partnered||West Coast||Interdisciplinary Studies|
|Karl||Untenured||0–5||36–42||Partnered||New England||Interdisciplinary Studies|
Similar to previous studies examining CT among faculty of color (Aguirre et al., 1993; Baez, 2000; Brayboy, 2003; Murakami-Ramalho et al., 2010; Turner, 2003), participants in this study shared the multifaceted nature of their cultural taxation across campus and community contexts. While faculty indicated they experienced stress from teaching White students about race and felt burdened by extra mentoring and advising to support the next generation of Black scholars, they also found this work to be meaningful, or a tax worth paying.
The Multifaceted Nature of Cultural Taxation
CT, typically viewed as a net negative, surprisingly emerged as the “glue” retaining many faculty. When reflecting on engagement outside of her official responsibilities, Yvonne, tenured, stated, “It is a wage. It is a tax. You can feel angry about it, but without it, I don’t think I would want to be here.” Throughout the interview, Yvonne discussed how working with students and colleagues on professional, academic, and social issues left her feeling not only drained but also needed in the community. Similarly, Nathan, untenured, saw himself as a repository of knowledge about academia. He stated, “Those are the things that I’ll pass on, and so, it’s also sociocultural capital.” David, a tenured institutional leader, noted how his experience of a “burden” meant there was also community:
I think [CT] is absolutely the case, but I wouldn’t have it any other way . . . to feel responsible to the community, it means there is a community to feel responsible to . . . because there is some kind of expectation and reciprocity one way or the other.
David summarized what many participants expressed: stresses about how to balance their time and energy were, in a sense, positive, because it meant their energies could focus on meaningful work, which casts CT in a slightly different, more necessary light than Padilla’s (1994) original conceptualization. CT spoke to a connectivity to a community, and the participants recognized that these very obligations were a consequence of their collective work in building support for Black students and faculty on campus and beyond. However, it appears that in a community with fewer Black colleagues or cultural connections, this understanding could be quite different.
Cultural Taxation vis-à-vis Student Support and Interactions
Black faculty also shared how CT manifested in interactions with students, discussing how their support of students spoke to a code of ethics in which the goals of community—specifically, uplifting individuals working for the advancement of the Black community—were paramount. Karim, tenured, described how Black faculty favored this approach, contrasting it with how another professor managed advisees. While the other professor prohibited access to mentees through rules about kinds of research and ownership of the intellectual enterprise, Karim described how he and other Black professors were conduits for their students’ self-fulfillment: “I’m trying to do all these things [with my advisees], but it’s more of a humane approach.”
A further manifestation of this philosophy was evident in Yvonne’s comment: “I feel like [Black faculty are] pretty privileged, and that we have a responsibility if we come from marginalized communities. It’s only because of the marginalized communities that we’re here.” She noted not all Black faculty held this belief: “It’s obvious that we have an on-going responsibility, but that creates friction . . . because not everyone lives like that.” Although not all Black faculty embrace this humanistic approach, Karim and Yvonne stated that they found it motivating in their work. Again, this novel interpretation of CT highlights the reciprocal nature of relationships between Black faculty and Black students; the faculty pay a tax yet still need these students to exist and thrive.
“Cultural Brokering” Without Recognition
In addition to academic responsibilities, Black faculty felt that they served as an “ad hoc chamber of commerce” for the city, encouraging students and faculty to persist. Karl stated,
People come here as grad students or as undergrads and, if they latch on to a couple of us, or a couple of you guys, then they might find that connection and say, “Okay, I can see a life for myself here. . . .” You’re getting people to stay here. I never really thought about how much [we do] that kind of work. Some of you in this room are legends; you’ve been doing this work for years. People come to you.
The act of being a “chamber of commerce” had impact in terms of the time and energy drain as well as on those who accessed this invisible chamber and stayed longer due to this work. Black faculty at Praesidium found themselves as community anchors and navigators for newcomer faculty, students, and other professionals beyond the university. Black faculty established the first Black community radio station, served in elected positions such as the school board, and led civic organizations. Even beyond these official leadership roles, participants found ways to make Austin more welcoming to Black newcomers. Malcolm mentioned how he assisted new faculty in becoming familiar with the city:
So, you’re talking about being the chamber of commerce . . . man, we do a lot of “chamber.” [Laughs.] Whenever somebody comes in and I really like them, I throw them in my pickup and we drive all over. We eat the foods that they want to eat, and you end up selling the place.
These ideas support the novel notion that faculty in this study embraced their CT to students and new faculty members of like-minded philosophy. CT seems a vehicle for transmission of cultural competency seen as necessary for both students and faculty. Although a tax, these faculty are “refunded” via connections with students and colleagues similarly navigating the community. Furthermore, this analysis presents a dimensionality to CT that extends past the university walls; the creative class city is also benefiting from the contributions of these faculty. By extending hospitality to colleagues and students, they are making the city welcoming in ways that speak directly to the experiences of Black citizens in Austin.
Stress from Teaching White People About Race
Another theme derived from our analysis is the often-invisible work of Black faculty in teaching and mentoring White students. Although rewarding, this work is also stressful and time-consuming. Yvonne sparked an energetic discussion reflecting on the experience of teaching courses related to race and/or aspects of the Black experience: “If you teach about race . . . most of [the] students are White.” She further shared how the psychosocial work of teaching such courses to a predominantly White student body creates stress with little opportunity to vent.
Black faculty teaching courses about race or the Black experience maintain an additional burden of managing stress inherent in being the “first contact” for White students’ knowledge of issues pertinent to the Black community. Yvonne reflected, “It’s a lot of work to register people through that threshold of understanding something about Black history and culture.” This is salient as Florida’s (2002a, 2002b) conceptualization of the creative class places diversity and access to diverse populations as a core aspect, yet Florida also acknowledges that Blacks in creative class cities tend to be underrepresented (Markusen, 2006). Hence, these faculty may be particularly targeted as resources given their underrepresentation and the interests of creative class professionals.
Participants also discussed some resentment for serving as primary instructor for White students on these issues. Malcolm termed this experience being the “gatekeeper of Black culture,” meaning that he was often the first Black person that White students had access to who could dispel stereotypes and myths while communicating authentic reflections on life as a Black person in America. In an effort to introduce their students to a race-conscious discourse, Malcolm, like Yvonne, used their lives as text, making the sacrifice to become native informants to both protect students of color from assuming this role and educate white students. This is a unique and more taxing burden than the types of support that all faculty engage in, because these revelations are both intimate and personal.
Participants further discussed how making a positive impression with White students could add to their mentoring load, with Karim noting: “There could be a White student saying, ‘This [professor] has been great for me.’ That student tells another, who says ‘Great, I’m going to go talk to them.’” As a result, these faculty sometimes collect additional advisees due to their race-specific research and teaching. One benefit was that White students working through their habituated prejudices were a symbol of hope for disrupting racially insensitive discourse, what hooks (2014) advocates as an advantage of the multicultural classroom. At the same time, the reward for exhibiting skill in helping White students navigate their initial forays into unpacking racism and White privilege seems to be greater amounts of CT for Black faculty.
Helping Students Navigate the Environment
Black faculty in the sample also undertook additional work assisting their (primarily Black) mentees to access networks and resources that were veiled in the PWI context. Malcolm discussed how he worked closely with a young woman embroiled in a domestic abuse case. Similarly, Alex, a tenured professor, detailed how he invested considerable time assisting a student from another academic unit and the inordinate effort he devoted to this work: “I spent the better part of a month helping her find grants . . . I think that kept her here.” This kind of work, while rewarding and essential for retaining underrepresented students, also took energy and exacted a psychological impact on the participants in the study.
The conversation illuminated how faculty found themselves “serv[ing] as general problem solver, troubleshooter, or negotiator” (Padilla, 1994, p. 26) for disagreements among colleagues and/or students due to sociocultural differences, all despite little or no recognition in academic reward structures, including promotion and tenure, for this work. As Alex remarked, “I contemplated going to the chair and saying, ‘What the hell are you doing? Why is she coming to me for money? She should be coming to you.’ But where would that get me?” Nathan concurred, noting, “there has been this cultural taxation—I know that I have been a cultural taxation, not just on faculty here, but on my mentor at [my graduate institution] and faculty of color all over the United States, asking questions.” Although this taxation exists, Alex’s comment that confronting the advisor would be fruitless illustrates one mechanism of nonrecognition and how it can be a source of conflict among faculty. Indeed, mentoring work of this nature “flies beneath the radar” except in the consciousness of those engaged in these particular endeavors.
A Tax Black Faculty Are Willing to Pay
Faculty discussed the role of CT in their work as invisible and done without regard to promotion. However, a novel aspect of their experiences with CT was that they also derived personal benefits of this work, describing it as a price they were willing to pay at an institution where they had voice and could speak forcefully on issues of importance to them.
As service was undervalued for promotion, faculty felt unappreciated and unrecognized by colleagues, administrators, and even students. Karim commented his work was generally appreciated and valued but, when those same conversations were formalized and consequential, his work did not retain merit: “They said, ‘that’s good, but we’re going to reward this other person because they do so much for the department.’” Faculty in our sample received mixed messages, a kind of double rhetoric regarding the value of their work.
Yvonne and Nathan reinforced the idea of invisible labor, articulating the mentoring role Black faculty tend to occupy was not seen as having the same institutional benefit as formal roles. Their discussion highlights a reality faced by many Black faculty committed to diversity work: an unrelenting sense of invisibility and lack of understanding of their endeavors. Yvonne evoked images of the job “on paper” versus the real job “having tentacles.” To others, her work fit neatly into a box; in reality, her work was amorphous and expansive, with a scope unacknowledged by others. Nathan expanded on this point when reinforcing the concept of invisible labor:
I think the university will never tell us that this work has some worth—not that we need that. I think we could all share some stories how we’ve done all kinds of things to keep people at this place, just by people seeing us and wanting to come here.
He hinted at an additional thematic finding: while Black faculty were aware of their lack of appreciation and invisibility, they did not shy from it. Indeed, for many this kind of labor gave them a sense of satisfaction and purpose in their work. The sample faculty’s knowledge of their contributions provided them internal fortitude to persevere, another unique reading of the CT experience.
Participants were disdainful of faculty colleagues exemplifying the “on paper” version of academic life. Malcolm articulated this as a disjoint between professional and personal standards, illuminating the choice inherent in engaging in culturally taxing activities:
There’s a way to get the job done to meets the expectations of the university, but doesn’t move the ball forward in ways that are important to you. Folks will say, “What’s the big deal?” The big deal is your five hours took me 15, and there is a dramatic impact in terms of how many more of these students [of color] are here. Or, how many students have chosen to stay, instead of dropping out, because of the way you took responsibility?
Malcolm voiced he was acutely aware of this disjoint between his efforts and efforts of others: he was paying a tax in time and effort to conduct the work to meet his personal standards for impact. Instead of resulting in resentment, this investment manifested in anger, fueling Malcolm’s efforts and reaffirming his purpose. Nathan articulated this was due to the way CT connected to a “broader vocation” than those espoused by the academy and normative ideas of faculty productivity. CT, therefore, became a mode of resistance to outdated institutional evaluation systems. Paradoxically, faculty felt their work was undervalued and invisible, a tax on their time and energy, but a tax that also returned dividends—a tariff not to be avoided but embraced. David further discussed this idea, linking it into his identity as an activist:
I’m angry too, but that anger really feeds me . . . it makes me feel vindicated—it makes me feel like I’m actively doing things that are important. At this point in my life, I don’t feel like I have to be an activist outside of the university because there is a community here at the university . . . there is a struggle here.
While draining and frustrating at times, CT also served as a motivator for Black faculty to continue their work. Anger and invisibility translated to passion and commitment via the knowledge that their work was impactful and a vindication of social justice values.
By positioning themselves as resistant to a hegemonic institutional culture, faculty participants derived strength of mind and reaffirmed steadfastness to their work. Positioning themselves as activists inside the university, in a community context in which educational, economic, and health disparities particularly impacted Black Austin residents, permitted faculty “the ability to be ethically superior” to faculty not engaged in the struggle, in David’s words—in the vernacular, “being woke.”
Significance and Discussion
Understanding how Black faculty make meaning of their engagement within a creative class city and at a research-intensive PWI with a conflicted relationship with the Black community has significant implications for similarly situated institutions and centers of teaching and learning. In addition, the exploration of CT in institutional and community contexts, which blend considerably, contributes to the emerging scholarship considering the experiences of Black faculty in professional and civic spheres.
Our findings reveal creative class cities like Austin are not insulated from racial tensions, nor does the appellation of this terminology inoculate Black faculty from discrimination. We found fidelity in our findings with the work of Few et al. (2007), who argued the advice repeated to junior faculty (“just say no”) was a violation of cultural and personal values regarding assisting students of color and community organizations. This understanding speaks to the importance of an objective reframing of the faculty experience for educational and faculty developers, as Ellis (2018) describes. The assumption that strategies that help majority faculty will equally apply to Black faculty is in need of reexamination, and this is an opportunity for centers of teaching and learning to advance discussions on how racial realities in the community context impact teaching and living for faculty. Our findings emphasize that community racial tensions, whether or not directly impacting faculty, contribute to the miasma in which Black professors work.
The seamlessness of how many faculty viewed the campus environment and the community is an original insight from this study. In previous work, scholars have dichotomized the campus experience and the community experience (Butner et al., 2000; Few et al., 2007). This difference may be due to the affiliations that the faculty held in the Center for African and African American Studies and the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies—ranging from 100% to 50% to courtesy appointments. In addition to disciplinary “homes,” these faculty also had a “homeplace” (hooks, 1997), a place of belonging and self-actualization in the physical and social space of the center and department. While such sites are likely to emerge at institutions of the size of Praesidium, we would challenge centers of teaching and learning to step into this void if such spaces do not exist at institutions where educational developers work. Hosting forums where faculty can share perceptions of teaching and researching in their community contexts can spur this kind of affinity, keeping faculty and educational developers “engaged in difficult teaching moments” (Tuitt et al., 2018).
A major finding of this study is that faculty’s perception of their workplace is filtered through CT. Faculty members’ (in)visible mentoring and community engagement shaped their interactions with the university and influenced their opinions of how the university conducted its affairs related to diversity, recruitment, and retention. Faculty understood the purpose for their involvement in these activities but expressed concern that the primary responsible agencies and institutional agents were inadequate. Again, we see opportunities for educational and faculty developers to address these issues through activities such as trainings and discussion groups. As Haynie (2018) suggests, confronting imposter syndrome and explicating how faculty manage the aspects of their scholarly demands in a collaborative, rather than competitive, manner can help address systemic inequities that Black faculty and faculty of color face due to CT.
In addition, this study challenges us to think differently about CT, traditionally conceptualized as burdensome. Faculty in this study identified this work as a source of pride and an essential contribution to a fragile yet emerging Black community. Faculty associated their roles as mentors, supporters, and invested members of the university community with increased purpose and sense of belonging.
Academic leaders wanting to recruit and retain a diverse faculty should be aware of the way Black faculty filter their institutional experiences through CT. Supporting the vital work of Black faculty will require re-conceptualizing tenure/promotion processes, as articulated by the American Council on Education (2005) and underrepresented scholars across the United States (June, 2015). In addition, external reviewers with a keen understanding of the additional efforts many Black academics invest in their communities are vital in promotion/tenure processes. Additionally, as hooks (2014) notes, it is important that educational developers and institutions discuss and interrogate Whiteness—how it privileges White faculty and pushes faculty of color, and particularly Black faculty, to the margins of academia.
Far from being a reactive minority caste, Black faculty were powerful agents of change; their investment in the lives of students and colleagues transformed perceptions of the city as culturally vacant for Blacks to one in which Black people could find satisfying cultural, ethnic, and political venues. Their willingness to share experiences, welcome newcomers, and share social networks made transparent how to establish a viable life in a racially challenging civic context. Participants perceived their professional service identities as central but unrecognized.
Although faculty acknowledged the negative facets of CT, a theme noted in the literature (Griffin, 2012), they ultimately recognized it as a mechanism for supporting unification with peers. This cultural tax created opportunities for the propagation of their sociocultural capital to the larger community. At times, participants described the intensity and breadth of their service as “overwhelming.” However, many faculty believed their efforts would produce scholars with strong community and mentoring orientations. This “social reproduction” demonstrates how Black faculty are using this strategy to bring like-minded protégés into academe to shift the status quo. Meaningful purposes for faculty energies were important in environments with few Black colleagues or cultural connections.
The stress and effort to support students and colleagues, as well as improve life in the campus and Austin community, were not a call for pity, though. Rather, institutions should assist Black faculty (and other underrepresented populations) in reaching their fullest potential. Praesidium University does this administratively through an administrative division of diversity and community engagement and academically through the aforementioned department and center (along with an urban policy institute). Recently, the Praesidium center for teaching and learning led workshops for graduate students crafting diversity and inclusion statements for faculty job searches—paralleling many experiences discussed by this study’s participants. Other creative class located PWIs have enacted similar initiatives (see the University of South Florida’s Community-Engaged Scholarship Toolkit, 2020).
Our focus group participants were exceptionally forthcoming in their reflections; however, the focus group of seven cannot represent the spectrum of experiences found in the Black faculty population at Praesidium University. Furthermore, our goal of gender diversity was not met as only one participant was female. The sample was diverse across rank, with full, associate, and assistant professors participating; however, the majority of respondents were in the humanities and social sciences. Nevertheless, the reflections of the professors who devoted their time and intellect to the study provide critical perspectives of value to institutional leaders.
In an era where the specter of Trumpism and the Tea Party’s presence looms, reclaiming the shibboleth “no taxation without representation” seems apt. Our findings indicate there is a lack of awareness among institutional leaders regarding the impact of the advising, mentoring, and welcoming activities of Black faculty. In a time of increased activism, perhaps it is time for senior Black faculty and allies to organize as Alinsky (1971) advocates: rubbing resentments, fanning hostilities, and seeking out controversy. Scholarship such as this study, and the work that inspired it (Butner et al., 2000; Turner & Myers, 2000), can be promoted by educational developers and centers for teaching and learning; while time and technology have advanced, the experiences of Black faculty at PWIs remain strikingly familiar. The experiences of other underrepresented academics (e.g., Latino, Asian, queer, and working-class faculty) in creative class cities also need to be shared. Making the invisible visible moves us toward an academy where the taxed reap benefits for their sacrifice.
Dr. Richard J. Reddick is an Associate Professor and Associate Dean for Equity, Community Engagement, and Outreach in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin, where he is affiliated with the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies. Reddick is also faculty co-chair of the Harvard Institute for Educational Management. Reddick’s research focuses on the experiences of Black faculty and faculty of color at predominantly White institutions and mentoring relationships between faculty and Black students.
Dr. Beth E. Bukoski is an Associate Professor of Practice and Co-Program Coordinator of the Program in Higher Education Leadership at The University of Texas at Austin, where she is a faculty affiliate with the Center for Women's and Gender Studies. Bukoski’s research focuses on issues of social justice, equity, and diversity, particularly the persistence and success of underrepresented students and faculty and leadership/administration across the P-20 pipeline. Her work centers on identity intersectionality and performativity, particularly constructs of gender, sexuality, and race.
Dr. Stella L. Smith is the Associate Director for the Minority Achievement, Creativity and High-Ability Center in the Whitlowe R. Green College of Education, Department of Educational Leadership and Counseling at Prairie View A&M University. Smith is an experienced qualitative and quantitative researcher with a focus on mentoring and leadership development of underrepresented populations in higher education, particularly African American women, access to higher education for underserved populations, community-university partnerships, and strategies for P-20 educational pipeline alignment.
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