PBS: Blame Conservative Crackdown on DEI for ‘Chilling Effect’ on Black Female Professors

Thursday’s edition of the PBS NewsHour featured another way for the taxpayer-supported news outlet to section off certain subjects from balanced discussion — a “Race Matters” segment on the alleged struggles black women face in academia had no dissenting voices, just the host and the guest agonizing over the purported problem.

The story was driven by the suicide of a college administrator in Missouri and also, more puzzlingly, by the travails of black academic Claudine Gay, who resigned as president of Harvard after her offensive performance failing to condemn anti-Semitism on her campus, followed by proven instances of plagiarism in her academic work. Was it because she was black? That’s what PBS wants you to consider.

Three black female academics appeared as talking heads to make rote complaints about “microaggressions” and lack of institutional support, though frankly it’s hard to believe liberal academia wouldn’t bend over backward to help black professors succeed.

Academia is especially toxic for political conservatives, but don’t expect that to make the NewsHour anytime soon.

The stilted segment format allowed Bennett to suggest conservatives were hurting black female academics without being challenged.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives have recently demonstrated their uselessness in actually protecting minorities who are truly disadvantaged on college campuses — Jewish faculty and students. That’s another topic that won’t make tax-funded PBS.

PBS NewsHour

3/14/24

7:31:07 p.m. (ET)

Geoff Bennett:

The death of an administrator at Lincoln University in Missouri earlier this year has sparked outrage and broader concern about the treatment of black women in higher education.

Antoinette Candia-Bailey died by suicide in January and left scathing letters where she alleged a pattern of bullying and harassment at the hands of the university’s president, John B. Moseley. He is now on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.

That came just weeks after Harvard’s former president, Claudine Gay, resigned under pressure, all of it leading to a dialogue in academia about the particular challenges and pressures that black women face.

We spoke to a few women about this as part of our ongoing coverage of Race Matters, and here’s part of what they told us.

Kecia Thomas, University of Alabama at Birmingham: I’m Kecia Thomas. I’m at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Candace Parrish, University of North Carolina, Wilmington: My name is Dr. Candace Parrish, and I am currently a visiting assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

Chaya Crowder, Loyola Marymount University: My name is Chaya Crowder and I am an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Kecia Thomas: I certainly had not been exposed to a case as tragic as Dr. Bailey’s, although, for those of us in higher ed, especially those of us who are in senior positions or leadership positions, it is often a conversation around the chronic stress that we experience, the burnout that is experienced, but also the isolation that has followed us for our entire careers.

Candace Parrish: I was very sad that it had gone so far and that she felt like she did not have the resources or what she needed to overcome this sort of situation.

And it just got me thinking about how many more people like myself actually experience the sort of travesties in academia.

Chaya Crowder: I have absolutely experienced microaggressions with regard to the intersection of both my race and gender. In my entire time in my Ph.D. program, there was never another black person above me or below me in American Politics.

And so it was a very isolating experience.

Kecia Thomas: I have had those experiences, as have my colleagues, and it’s not simply within our career. It starts in college and graduate school, and some of us even earlier.

And so many of us see our education as an investment in our future and the futures of our families.

Candace Parrish: In my Ph.D. Program, it was a very, very tough experience in which there were several periods where I almost quit. There was a lack of support and there were people who are in charge of my academic destiny as a Ph.D. student who were manipulating things to go against my favor.

Chaya Crowder: With everything happening in the world right now, when there are coordinated efforts on the part of individuals and institutions to attack the credibility of your academic work, and that’s already something that brings anxieties, it can be particularly distressing.

Kecia Thomas: Some of what we have talked about today, I have heard similar complaints from colleagues in law, in medicine, industries across the board. I think higher ed is different because oftentimes we are so severely underrepresented.

Candace Parrish: I have actually stopped recommending academia as a valid job and community position to young people who want to pursue Ph.D.s in teaching. I cannot vouch for their experiences, knowing the horrible things that I have gone through and how much emotional time and space it has taken.

Geoff Bennett: Let’s talk more about the particular stresses that black women in academia face.

Dr. Bridget Goosby is professor of sociology and co-director of the LifeHD Health Disparities Research Lab at the University of Texas at Austin.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Dr. Bridget Goosby, The University of Texas at Austin: Thank you so much for having me, Geoff.

Geoff Bennett: Two consistent themes we heard from the professors who spoke with us, the sense of isolation and a lack of support.

How does that square with what you found in your own research?

Dr. Bridget Goosby: That is definitely commiserate with what we’re finding in the work that we’re doing right now, collecting data on Black women faculty on the tenure track, that they do experience forms of isolation, feeling like they are left out.

Networks are not available to them. They’re available to their colleagues. And the experiences of this lack of support that they have is definitely something that we’re seeing in the work that we’re doing.

Geoff Bennett: And we should say that academia can be a high-pressure, high-stress, intense, some might say toxic environment no matter one’s background. What are some of the particular pressures that Black women face in higher education?

Dr. Bridget Goosby: This speaks to what the women in the interviews were already saying, which is that we tend to be underrepresented. We make up 3.7 percent of overall of tenure track faculty in the United States.

And so, when we think about the high pressure of the positions of being faculty members, this means that, on top of the stress and demand of being researchers, productive researchers, successful teachers, we also are in a space where people may not even recognize that we are the onlys, and that our experience is unique, and that we are more likely to experience racism and sexism, the intersections of those things in those spaces.

We’re also more likely to be cut out of networks because we don’t fit necessarily because we are so underrepresented. So, there are a litany of different situations that make our experience as Black women unique in the stressful conditions that we face as tenure track faculty or faculty in higher education.

Geoff Bennett: What do viable solutions look like at this point?

Dr. Bridget Goosby: Well, viable solutions would be, one, identifying the stressors that Black women are facing and trying to mitigate the situations that they’re in, protections for women who are experiencing racism, harassment, discrimination in these spaces, recognizing the fact that we come from a historically disadvantaged group and are underrepresented, which means that, in these spaces, we are experiencing a lot of these kinds of stressors without the kinds now — increasingly, possibly without the kinds of protections that we would like to see more of moving forward.

Geoff Bennett: How has the conservative crackdown on DEI initiatives, diversity, equity, and inclusion, how has that affected the effort to attract and retain Black women in higher education?

Dr. Bridget Goosby: So, this is — we’re still in the nascent stages of this, but I will say that it is definitely something that’s going to continue to have a chilling effect on the ability to recruit and retain Black women in academia.

As was mentioned, can you really advise women to go into — Black women to go into these spaces, when we’re being publicly kind of singled out and discredited, and now without the kind of protections of DEI, which was — as a system, was there to kind of help with increasing diversity and inclusion overall being gone?

This means that this could be complicated situation for Black women to be in, without having the kinds of protections that might have been put forward by DEI previously.

Geoff Bennett: Dr. Bridget Goosby, we appreciate your insights and your time this evening. Thank you.

Dr. Bridget Goosby: Thank you.

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