American Teachers Have Higher Expectations Of White And Asian American Students And Lower Ones For Black And Latino Ones
“You teach English?”
I look up at the young man in front of me, white with shaggy brown hair, and late for class.
It was my first day teaching adjunct (part-time and untenured) at a new community college, and the students near the front of the room stopped talking because the young man was now standing in the aisle down the side of the room, looking me up and down.
“You teach English?
As opposed to Spanish. I knew what he meant.
“Yes, I teach English. Find a seat.” I pointed to one of the few empty seats near the back of the room.
It was only my second semester teaching at the post-secondary level, and I was teaching two classes at two different colleges, running out of one class in one county, and driving like hell on the freeway to another college in another county. It’s what part-time instructors do to make ends meet. Before going back to college, I was a preschool teacher. Preschoolers, I was learning, had better manners. Pre-schoolers almost always liked me. They didn’t judge me based on my brown skin or make assumptions about me based on my Spanish surname.
In all my years of teaching at the college level since that first semester out of high school I’ve learned that most students aren’t as overtly racist as this guy, but being a five foot morena has made it difficult for some students to see me as an authority figure. I could blame my gender, my size or the color of my skin, but the problem isn’t me at all.
The problem is a lack of people of color in academia, a lack of people of all shades, shapes, and sizes deemed worthy as being seen as authority figures in the ivory tower.
Latinas and Black women (as of Fall 2016) make up only two percent of the full-time faculty teaching in degree-granting higher education institutions (two year and four year) – just two percent of Black and Latina professors teach full-time with benefits. Meanwhile, white men professors make up 41% of the professors teaching full-time in higher ed, and white women make up 35%. Worse yet, during the 2016-2017 school year, 69% of students in California attending community colleges, state schools and universities identified as non-white when only 32% of the tenured faculty (full-time instructors who can be more accessible to students and their needs because they are not driving the freeway between schools) were people of color.
This startling lack of equity in the classroom shapes the minds of young people, coloring who they see as credible authority figures and who they view as worthy of being educated or educable.
If this were a classroom lesson, this is where I would stop talking and ask the class “what questions should we be asking right now?”
Why aren’t there more people of color teaching in two and four-year colleges and universities?
Why are there so few black and brown women teaching?
Why are the majority of black and brown women teaching part-time and not being hired in full-time tenure track positions?
Why are there so many more men teaching in higher ed?
Does not having teachers who look like us send a message that we don’t belong, that we aren’t worthy of education, or even educable?
Let’s focus on answering the final question.
According to researchers Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng and Peter F. Halpern, Two meta-analysis (examination of data) that were completed within twenty years of each other both found that teachers routinely have higher expectations of White and Asian American students and lower expectations of Black and Latino students. This finding is particularly troubling when 41% of professors in higher ed are white men and 35% are white women. This finding is even more troubling when you pair it with the evidence that students perform better when taught by a teacher of their own race/ethnicity . The fact that teachers routinely have higher expectations of White and Asian American students is potentially devastating to our youth when you understand that students of color make up the majority of students in seats in schools (all levels) across the country.
I repeat, students of color make up the majority of the students in schools in America; meanwhile, teachers of color only make up 20% of the teacher workforce.
In spite of the dearth in Latinas teaching in higher education, we do exist, and we teach all different subjects, not just Spanish. We teach English, gender studies, Chicano studies, food studies, border studies, math and science, but getting there wasn’t easy. Many Latina professors teaching in higher education are first-generation college students, come from mixed-status families, or relatively low-income families. The majority began higher education in less-affordable community colleges, much more affordable institutions that make it more possible for low-income students to spend time exploring courses to develop a passion and find a major. In the classroom, many Latina profesoras have encountered racism, experienced micro-aggressions from colleagues, and just generally had to work harder to prove they are smart and not simply diversity hires.
Getting a full-time, tenure track job in higher education is not easy for anyone because there are never enough positions for all the people who want one, but as the statistics have shown it’s particularly difficult for black and brown women. Therefore, some of the profesoras that you will meet below hold full-time positions and some do not. One is on fellowship, writing her dissertation, and another is actively seeking teaching positions, but each profesora brings her culture, cultural experiences and knowledge, and a particularly important intersectional representation to higher education that can help her better see all of her students and their potential.
Dr. Michelle Téllez
Doctora Téllez is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mexican American Studies at the University of Arizona. Her areas of teaching include Chicana feminisms, U.S./Mexico border studies, gender and migration and Chican@/Latinx popular culture. Téllez holds a B.A. in Sociology with an emphasis in Chicana/o Studies from UCLA (1996), a Bilingual Elementary teaching credential from San Diego State University (1998), a Master’s in Sociology and Education from Teachers College, Columbia University (2000) and a Ph.D. in Education from Claremont Graduate University (2005), and she is a first-generation college student.
In an interview with Fierce by Mitú, Dr. Téllez said that her Mexican-born mother received a 6th grade education in a small town in Jalisco, Mexico, saying, “Like many first-generation students, I struggled with feelings of not belonging that often continued into the professoriate. I remember watching all of my peers’ families moving them into the dorms my first days at UCLA while I was already working and mopping floors at the cafeteria because I needed to find employment right away.”
While getting her bachelor’s degree, Téllez only had one female professor and no professors of color. In her early days of teaching she was never assumed to be the professor when walking into a classroom, and even her own colleagues had difficulty calling her Doctor. Still, Tellez asserts, “I come to the classroom with a commitment to a non-hierarchical practice of engagement but in a very competitive and patriarchal environment, it is a challenge.”
When asked to comment on the fact that Latinas only make up 2% of full-time college professors, and that the majority of the Latinas teaching in higher ed, teach part-time, she said, “It’s devastating, honestly, because I think about my entire journey and I remember every single peer who dropped out along the way. I don’t think it’s only about representation but about shaping knowledge production inside and outside of the university.”
Go here for a list of scholarly articles written by Tellez on the topic of gender rights at the US/Mexico border.
(Soon Dr.) Marlen Ríos-Hernández
Marlen Ríos-Hernández is a PhD Candidate in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Riverside. She has taught Introduction to Chicano Studies as a Lecturer and has worked as a Teaching Assistant for Ethnic Studies courses from 2014-2018. Ríos-Hernández is the recpient of
of a $20,000 dissertation fellowship from the American Association of University Women.
The focus of Ríos-Hernández’s doctoral dissertation is Latinx in punk rock, “We Were There’: From Alice Bag to Emos The War on Punk and Sonic Latinidades in the Time of Ronald Reagan and Other Decadas Podridas,” traces queer Chicana/Latina participants in the Los Angeles/Southern California and Latino diasporic punk scenes from 1977-2008.
When asked if she is a first-generation college student, Ríos-Hernández, said, “Damn, right! I grew up in a Spanish speaking household in Huntington Park, Ca. My parents’ access to education was different than ours so all three of us Rios-Hernandez kids were raised to speak Spanish at home to perhaps retain aspects of my parents’ culture which would quickly become a little overwhelming, for me at least, while navigating the American education system.”
Even after graduating high school and attending community college, Ríos-Hernández didn’t have plans to pursue a degree, she said, “One day, I was walking through campus when a young brown woman tabling for UCLA stopped me and explained that I could transfer. It had never occurred to me that a young woman like me could attend a school like UCLA.” Ríos-Hernández, who always introduces herself to her class by showing her class a picture of her parents said, ” first and foremost I am the daughter of immigrants and I owe my work ethic and pedagogy to my parents.”
When asked to consider the fact that Latinas only make up 2% of full-time college professors, and that the majority of the Latinas teaching in higher ed, teach part-time, Ríos-Hernández said,” My first reaction is anger. I have seen many colegas, femtors, and mentoras be treated unfairly and issues of retention for junior faculty just doesn’t get enough attention. My second reaction however is motivation. While 2% is the number, the bodies and labor behind that 2% far exceeds any quantitative calculation. The Latina academics that inspire me to stay in academia are mujeres that to this day are not afraid to be themselves in front of the classroom and the rest of the academic world. With my PhD in hand, I intend to help change that number. Movimentos don’t just start from nowhere.”
Dr. Mireya Loza
Doctora Mireya Loza is an assistant professor at New York University where she teaches courses in Food Studies. Dr. Loza is also the author of
Defiant Braceros: How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial, Sexual and Political Freedohttps://www.uncpress.org/book/9781469629766/defiant-braceros/m (UNC Press).
Loza double-majored as an undergraduate student and holds a BA in anthropology and Latino/a studies from University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and she has two Master’s degrees, one in Anthropology and the other in Public Humanities. She earned her doctorate in American Studies at Brown University.
Loza who, like the others, is a first-generation college student. A daughter of Mexican immigrant parents who wanted her to go to college had to learn about how to navigate the system and find help on her own, she said, “Figuring out the college application process was a challenge and I had to rely on programs to learn to navigate the process.”
When asked to comment on the fact that Latinas only make up 2% of full-time college professors, and that the majority of the Latinas teaching in higher ed, teach part-time, she said, “I experience it profoundly, when I look around and see very few people who look or sound like the people I grew up with. I’ve also experienced an extreme generosity from senior tenured Latinas from across the nation, who have given me a lot of guidance and support. “
Dr. Wanda Alarcón
Doctora Wanda Alarcón is a Lecturer in the English Department at UCLA where she is teaching a course she designed called, “Butch-Femme Worlds in LGBTQ Literature,” under the topic, “Queer Literatures and Cultures after 1970.” After attending Coastline Community College in Fountain Valley, Alarcón earned a BA in music from Cal State Long Beach, an MA in English from at Binghamton University, and a PhD from UC Berkley.
Rooted in her undergraduate work in music, Dr. Alarcón is particularly expert in the field of sound studies. She began to think about sound critically after reading a short story by Luis Alfaro, and she explains sound studies this way, “How we learn to listen is critical — we can learn to tune out the very same things we do not wish to see about the world we live in — racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia — and therefore we must interrogate our listening practices. A simple exercise is to think about the way we feel when someone speaks a language we don’t understand. Is the way someone communicates aurally threatening to us?”
When we asked Alarcón about the fact that Latinas only make up 2% of full-time college professors, and that the majority of the Latinas teaching in higher ed, teach part-time, she discussed the inequitable workload placed on the few Latina professors in college departments:
” As a graduate student, there was only one tenured Chicana professor in the entire college of Letters and Sciences. So, to approach this professor about serving on my dissertation committee meant that she could easily have said no, as I would be one of at least twenty other doctoral candidates she was advising. All of the Chicana graduate students across campus naturally sought out her advisement, yet from a labor point of view, it’s easy to see the deep inequity. It’s simply not sustainable. To devise a way to be fair — to students and to yourself — is a hidden part of the job many Chicanas and Latinas do when there is not a critical mass of colleagues to share the work–let alone to simply have colleagues who recognize your field of study and why it matters!”
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