Burdens of Women in Academia, Continued…

Citation #1:
Amani El-Alayli, Ashley A. Hansen-Brown, and Michelle Ceynar, Dancing Backwards in High Heels: Female Professors Experience More Work Demands and Special Favor Requests, Particularly from Academically Entitled Students, Sex Roles (2018) 79:136-150, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-017-0872-6

Citation #2: Marlene L. Daut, Becoming Full Professor While Black, Chronicle of Higher Education, July 29, 2019, https://www.chronicle.com/article/Becoming-Full-Professor-While/246743

My previous post was about how women in academia are especially burdened to perform uncompensated emotional labor. That theme continues today, albeit with a twist.

The article I had originally scheduled to read today is the first one listed above, which reports two studies conducted by the authors. The authors posited that university students have certain gender-based expectations of their professors, and that they expect female professors to conform to female-specific stereotypes of acting warm and nurturing. Accordingly, female professors are subjected to more scrutiny and more criticism than their male counterparts, especially if they are disinclined to act like “academic mothers.”

The authors further believed that a key variable in this phenomenon is “academic entitlement,” which indicates whether and how much the student feels he or she is owed this treatment by his or her professors.

To test this hypothesis, the authors conducted two studies. According to the results of study #1, in which the authors surveyed professors regarding their interactions with students, as well as their students’ requests for special favors and accommodations, the authors found that “the same academic job may require more time, personal, and emotional demands from female faculty than from male faculty.”

Study #2 involved surveying students, and the authors collected data to measure both the students’ gender-based impressions of hypothetical professors and the students’ degree of academic entitlement. According to the results of this study, “students with high academic entitlement have a higher expectation of female professors granting their special favor requests.”

The authors summed up the results of these studies as follows: “Aside from contributing to burnout and taking time away from career-enhancing activities, greater demands and special requests from students may affect female professors’ career advancement by causing them to get less favorable course evaluations and/or more complaints filed against them.  Students may perceive female professors as less fair than their male counterparts if female professors are expected to expend exceptional effort to help out their students in unrealistic ways, thus resulting in worse evaluations.”

This is an ideal segue into another article that I read this morning, one that was published today on the website of the Chronicle of Higher Education and that made today’s early-morning Twitter rounds with all speed and urgency. (A large number of the people I follow on Twitter are women in academia, so this makes sense). The article, entitled “Becoming Full Professor While Black,” was written by Professor Marlene L. Daut, a comparative American literature scholar who was recently granted tenure at the University of Virginia. According to her biography, Professor Daut “specializes in early Caribbean, 19th-century African American, and early modern French colonial literary and historical studies.”

(I have to admit, having been an English major many moons ago, that literature sounds a lot more interesting than the Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman to which I was subjected in college. But I digress…)

Professor Daut wrote this article to describe how her “career was threatened by everyday discriminatory and racist behaviors,” including “macro- and microagressions launched by students, professors, and administrators alike.” Her work and interests have often been minimized by both her peers and her superiors. For example, her interest in comparative American literature led her to choose Caribbean authors as her dissertation topic, a choice her white male advisor told her was too limited to be successful.

Despite this, she completed her dissertation and took a position as a tenure-track professor at another institution. There, she was subjected to “harassing and abusive emails” from a member of the faculty who disdained her scholarly qualifications as an Americanist. In addition, her accomplishments, including winning a prestigious grant, were routinely dismissed by her fellow professors, while those of others in the department (especially white men) were celebrated.

One aspect of Professor Daut’s article is particularly relevant to the reading that I have done over the last few days. Among the aggressions to which she has been subjected, she points out that she and the only other woman of color on the faculty were labeled as “bad teachers” because of course evaluation comments, in which students showed their “highly racialized perceptions of us as unintelligent, ‘mean’ and undeserving of their respect.”

This observation by Professor Daut ties in directly with my reading over the last two days. I would imagine that at least some of her students wrote these evaluations because they had, in some way, been disappointed that Professor Daut had not met their expectations of how a female professor, and especially a female professor of color, should behave. These students also likely had a sense of “academic entitlement” like that found in the study conducted by the authors of today’s first article.

My eyes have really been opened over the last few days to how we treat one another out in the world and within the hallowed halls of the university. I greatly admire Professor Daut’s talent and courage for getting to where she is today, despite so many odds being stacked so high against her, and her courage in sharing with us all the ways in which her tenure appointment is important, meaningful, and necessary. Primarily, she shows us that we all have work to do. She writes: “For women of color to succeed in academe all the way through the pipeline, they need support, programs, and opportunities target at the particular research and teaching obstacles blocking their way.  They also need institutions to actively combat racism by purposefully reprimanding students, faculty, staff, and administrators who engage in racist behavior.”

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