From the Director - November 2015

January 12, 2016 / By: Dr. Ann Johnson, Director of Faculty Development, Professor of Psychology

People who study stress like to point out that not all stress is bad for you. Some forms can be energizing, while other types have a negative impact on health and performance.  A recent article in the Journal of Higher Educationexplores this idea by looking at various stressors affecting faculty and clarifies the negative impact of one particular stressor – experiencing subtle discrimination – on faculty of color.

As reported by the authors of this study, Black faculty are 2.5 times more likely to report stress related to subtle discrimination than their White colleagues, and women faculty report discrimination-based stress twice as often as men. Some of the experiences faculty of color report as stressful: Isolation, less support for teaching and research, and being treated by students as non-credible. Importantly, the authors report empirical links between discrimination-based stress and faculty productivity; experiencing this type of stress is correlated with reduced research output. And we all know how crucial scholarly production is for shaping tenure and promotion decisions.  

Of course we’d like to think that UST faculty are free from these stressors, but evidence suggests otherwise. Two recent UST surveys, the 2012 COACHE faculty survey and the 2013 Climate Survey reveal concerns about equity (reported by women faculty and faculty of color) and dissatisfaction regarding departmental engagement and access to promotion (reported by faculty of color).

We need to engage in sustained reflection about how we can address sources of racism and sexism within ourselves and within our institution* even while we work to provide effective support to our colleagues. One source of support now available to faculty is our institutional membership to the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity (NCFDD). Its founder, Kerry Ann Rockquemore, authored the book The Black Academic’s Guide to Winning Tenure Without Losing Your Soul, and she regularly offers smart advice for dealing with the unique stressors facing faculty of color (see for example her advice for faculty facing “racial battle fatigue”). Membership counters feelings of isolation by connecting faculty across the US through accountability groups and other avenues of communication.

Membership in NCFDD benefits all faculty in a variety of ways while providing targeted support for faculty of color. Be sure to activate your membership and spread the word to your colleagues. This month NCFDD is sponsoring a 2-week writing challenge, Nov. 9 – 22 (get more detail here). It’s a perfect way to jump into membership and find out how this organization can work for you.

If colleagues are feeling stressed and isolated, we can address that in a more personal way as well, initiating conversations about race, gender, and discrimination. Parker Palmer offers this wise advice from The Courage To Teach: “If we want to grow as teachers -- we must do something alien to academic culture: we must talk to each other about our inner lives -- risky stuff in a profession that fears the personal and seeks safety in the technical, the distant, the abstract.” Addressing the “risky stuff” is necessary for maintaining a vital faculty community that enables satisfying careers for all; our faculty learning communities help these conversations take place. If these issues concern you consider joining the the FLC on Introducing Race, Racism, and Racial Intersections in Predominantly White Classroomsmentioned below.


*The Faculty Learning Community (FLC) on “Introducing Race, Racism, and Racial Intersections in Predominantly White Classrooms” is meeting regularly this year and engaging topics of this type. Its leaders are: Rama HartConsuelo Cavalieri, and Stephen Brookfield. Contact one of these leaders or email me if you’re interested in joining.

How to activate your membership to the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity

  1. Go to https://www.facultydiversity.org/institutions/stthomas
  2. Click “Activate My Membership” and enter basic information to set up your NCFDD profile. 

References

Eagan Jr., M. K., & Garvey, J. C. (2015). Stressing Out: Connecting Race, Gender, and Stress with Faculty Productivity. Journal Of Higher Education86(6), 923-954.
Palmer, P. J. (1998). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher's life. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass.
Rockquemore, K., & Laszloffy, T. A. (2008). The black academic's guide to winning tenure--without losing your soul. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.