So today wraps up my first semester as a first year professor in higher education as a Black female and I want to share my reflections. I intentionally included the “as a Black female” part because I believe my identity as a Black person and as a woman intersects with my identity as a college professor…and not that it’s a good thing or a bad thing, it just is what it is. I begin each point with a question I created and then I’ll just answer the question.
- I don’t represent all Black people, all Black professors, nor all Black female educators! No, of course, I don’t!! I decided to receive a PhD and become a professor because I wanted to, not because I’m trying to represent the whole collective of (beautiful) Black womanhood in America. BUT, I do want to acknowledge that I feel like my presence has made a difference in how my students understand the diversities in the identities of educators. Although I don’t represent all Black female professors, I believe that my identity and presence does communicate the diversity of who and what a Black female can be–and that’s a beautiful thing.
- Am I expected to have a child/family? I remember when I first started, a colleague asked if I had a child. Now, this question, had absolutely nothing to do with the conversation we were having, but she asked because she somehow turned the conversation into being about access to childcare as a professor. I don’t have children, nor did I ask her about childcare at all, so I didn’t understand why she asked that question. I wondered if she asked, because of the socialized expectations of women. Or perhaps, she asked that question because it’s a stereotyped assumption that many young Black women are also single mothers. In any case, I don’t know why she asked, but I must confess, that I didn’t appreciate her asking that particular question, nor did I think it was appropriate or relevant to the matter at hand. Nor was it any of her business, to be honest.
- Respect the title and position. I think this is a big one. Perhaps, because I have a youthful look to my appearance, other people may not automatically consider me as a professor. I’ve already heard the phrase “girl” being used in reference to me (as compared to “lady”, “woman”, or “professor). And then I had one small instance, where a student referred to me as “Ms.” I had to tell him, no sir, it’s “Dr.”! I confess, that as a Black female professor, respect has to be established and commanded. People are not going to always “see” me as a professor; but I have to make sure that they do understand and respect me for the title and position I have.
- I have to be intentional in “Protecting My Melanin”. I realize that as a professor, I’m in a very different space. The academy is a space that has historically been (and still is in many ways), a very Eurocentric, privileged, male-dominated space. I confess that I have to be very careful and intentional about protecting my melanin. In other words, I make sure to practice self-care on a daily, continual basis. What does this mean for me? It means affirming my self-love daily. It means taking time to write in my journal. It means taking time to rest and relax when I need it. It means writing and researching at a Black-owned coffee shop in Brooklyn from time-to-time.
In writing this post, I realize that what I’ve discussed here a lot is the topic of expectations. Now, let me say something about expectations–the only expectations I adhere to are the ones I CREATE ABOUT MYSELF!!! I only live for the expectations that I set and establish for my life and where I’m headed. That’s it.
I just wanted to share some of my confessions as a first-year professor. I do want to say, however, that I absolutely LOVE MY PROFESSION!! It’s what I absolutely live for!
I love being able to have the CREATIVE FREEDOM to teach what I want to teach!!! There is no one telling me that I can’t teach this or that, or that I can’t talk about this topic or that topic. I’m very glad that I made the decision to receive my PhD and enter into the academic setting. It’s truly a joy!