A new generation of young, Black scholars is working diligently to infuse the Ivy League with fresh perspectives and intersectional analyses, but, for some, getting through the heavily protected gates is a crash course in systemic racism in and of itself.
These scholars often find themselves huddled over applications which ask the pivotal question:
Should I check the ‘race’ box?
Dr. Stacey Patton, senior enterprise reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Education, decided to explore the pros and cons of checking ‘Black’ or ‘African American’ when seeking employment in higher education.
Are these institutions truly seeking diversity or are they trying to weed out people of color?
What Patton discovered is that fears of racist exclusion are in some cases justified; but, more often than not, those fears — manifest by choosing not to racially identify — can have adverse effects.
Read more from The Chronicle of Higher Education:
If you’ve applied for any kind of an academic job, you’ve seen it: the form that asks you to disclose your gender, race, and, if applicable, disability. And you’ve probably taken note of the assurances that your reply is optional, it’s confidential, and it will have no influence on the hiring process.
So maybe you’ve stared at that form and asked yourself: Should I check the race box?
That’s a particularly pressing question for candidates of color. Ask them how they feel about disclosing their race, and you’ll learn that there are two schools of thought on the matter. While some scholars are wary, others think it might be an asset.
I wanted to get a better read on their attitudes. So this past fall, when I attended the Institute on Teaching and Mentoring conference in Arlington, Virginia, I brought a short, anonymous survey with me. (The conference, which is hosted by the Southern Regional Education Board State Doctoral Scholars Program, gives scholars from underrepresented groups an opportunity to network with each other. There’s no other academic conference where you’ll find so many Ph.D.’s of color gathered under the same roof, so it’s the perfect laboratory.)
Here’s what I learned: Most candidates of color do end up filling out the affirmative-action forms in full, but they do so for a variety of different reasons. Of the 324 attendees who took the survey, 272 said that they check the race box.
Some of those applicants do so because they think revealing their race will give them a leg up. “In my field—electrical engineering—companies compete to find qualified black women,” said one respondent.
But others complete the form reluctantly. Many fear that leaving the box unchecked will diminish their chances of landing an interview—because employers may assume either that they don’t know how to follow directions or that they are trying to hide their race.
“Sometimes I do not want to check my race,” wrote one scholar, “but I follow through and still check ‘black.’ I do so because I want people to know that an intelligent, career-ready, black person is applying.”
But what about the 52 respondents who said they leave the box unchecked? Some believe race shouldn’t matter if institutions are genuinely committed to inclusion.
One black Ph.D. from Purdue University, who is on the job market and asked not to be identified, explained that concern: “I used to check the box next to ‘black’ or ‘African American,’ but I never got interviews. Just out of spite, I’ve checked ‘white’ or left it blank, and I got interviews. When I showed up, I got surprised or disappointed looks. Those interviews didn’t last very long.”
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