Black professors have credibility obstacles at predominantly white universities


cornel-west teaching.jpg I have a colleague who is one of the only black professors teaching at a conservative Christian college in the southeast and has received some of the nastiest student reviews that I've ever seen. The stereotypes of the strong black woman ("sapphire") do not work in white evangelical space. I feel bad for the sista! I hope she stays there if she can stand it. (Now, I'm not saying her evals are critical ONLY because she's black but they may not be as objective as we want to believe).

Overall, the research indicates that black professors will, on average, receive lower ratings on course evaluations because of perceptions (stereotypes) of competency and race. The most successful attribute for black professors at white colleges is being perceived as "warm" (and non-threatening). If one's "blackness" scares white students the black professor is doomed. Black professors should not use facial expressions, hand gestures, and the like, that communicate aggression or feed white stereotypes about black people. I wish someone had told me this in graduate school. Black professors will have to put their own cultural norms aside and adopt those that communicate "caring," and "warmness." For some, taking acting classes in grad school may be a good idea (I'm unfortunately not kidding).

One the articles demonstrates that black professors at white schools have about a 5min window in the first day of class communicate that they do not fit black stereotypes. Whew!

Here are just a few articles.

Research Report: Race and Gender Bias in Student Evaluations of Teaching
by Therese Huston, Ph.D.
Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning
Seattle University
October 31, 2005

One of the interesting dimensions of this research is that the direction of the bias depends on whether the feedback is perceived as going directly to a person of color or whether the feedback is perceived as going to some other third party.

When Whites rate the performance of a person of color with the understanding
that their judgments would be communicated to a third party for the purposes of
evaluation, Whites consistently rate performance negatively
(e.g. Henderson-King & Nisbett, 1997; Lambert, Cronen, Chasteen & Lickel, 1996).

When Whites rate the performance of a person of color for the purposes of
giving feedback to that person directly, however, the Black person being
evaluated actually receives significantly more favorable marks than the White
person being evaluated (Harber, 1998). In light of this research, it may be helpful to consider whether students view their evaluations for administrative, summative evaluation purposes or for the instructor to improve his or her teaching.

Bias, the Brain, and Student Evaluations of Teaching by Deborah J. Merritt, John Deaver Drinko/Baker & Hostetler Chair in Law, Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University

Professors of color have published poignant accounts of harshly negative student evaluations. The few empirical studies examining instructor race and student ratings confirm that minority faculty receive significantly lower evaluations than their White colleagues. The contradictory nature of the student comments on evaluations of minority faculty, the high levels of express hostility, and the occasional direct references to gender or race raise troubling questions about the role of bias in these assessments.

White faculty members have also noted the possibility of bias in their student evaluations, particularly based on gender, appearance, or political ideology. Throughout the academy, faculty have questioned whether student evaluations of teaching accurately reflect a professor's success in helping students learn; many charge that evaluations undermine learning by encouraging lenient grading and superficial classroom

The role of perceived race and gender in the evaluation of college teaching on RateMyProfessors.Com.
By Landon D. Reid
Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, Vol 3(3), Sep 2010, 137-152.

Abstract The present study examined whether student evaluations of college teaching (SETs) reflected a bias predicated on the perceived race and gender of the instructor. Using anonymous, peer-generated evaluations of teaching obtained from, the present study examined SETs from 3,079 White; 142 Black; 238 Asian; 130 Latino; and 128 Other race faculty at the 25 highest ranked liberal arts colleges. Results showed that racial minority faculty, particularly Blacks and Asians, were evaluated more negatively than White faculty in terms of overall quality, helpfulness, and clarity, but were rated higher on easiness. A two-stage cluster analysis demonstrated that the very best instructors were likely to be White, whereas the very worst were more likely to be Black or Asian. Few effects of gender were observed, but several interactions emerged showing that Black male faculty were rated more negatively than other faculty. The results of the present study are consistent with the negative racial stereotypes of racial minorities and have implications for the tenure and promotion of racial minority faculty. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved)

Also read:
(1) Silences as Weapons: Challenges of a Black Professor Teaching White Students Author(s): Gloria Ladson-Billings Source: Theory into Practice, Vol. 35, No. 2, Situated Pedagogies: Classroom Practices in Postmodern Times (Spring, 1996), pp. 79-85. (this is kind'a depressing but you need to read it).

(2)White Student Confessions about a BlackMale Professor:A Cultural Contracts Theory Approach to Intimate Conversations about Race and Worldview.

Author: Ronald L., III Jackson
Publication: The Journal of Men's Studies (Refereed)
Date: September 22, 2003
Publisher: Men's Studies Press
Volume: 12 Issue: 1 Page: 25(17)

I really wish I had known this is graduate school.


Any sort of differentness seems to have major adverse effects on student evaluations. At OU there seems to be a consistent drop in scores for non-native English speakers, regardless of the quality of the speaker's actual English! Many of the other TAs are great teachers and there English is no harder to parse than mine is, but they sound different and therefore any troubles the students have can easily be blamed on the teacher's differentness.

That said, I think most academics who give lectures or teach standardized material would benefit from acting classes. A bit of theatricality can be a powerful tool.

Norman, actually it's not "differentness" it's "non-white-maleness." White maleness are presumed to be more competent no matter what. This is another aspect of white male privilege. Congratulations! Based on the research, I would say that white males can pass on the acting class because it won't affect their careers as much but non-white males are in jeopardy of never getting tenure without them. Tough.

I have taught at traditionally white institutions (TWIs) all of my career and have experienced this story first hand. It is so sad that as much as the articles deal with student evaluations I have also found that these issues are exacerbated by colleagues. African American professors who do brown on brown research and writing adds yet another layer to the lack of respect issue. In the end we have to love what we teach, love who we teach and just teach. In the end students get it and I have found that over time a strong core of students grow to support you and your teaching.

Brutha, Dr. Watkins, WOW!!! I can totally see that. I think the experience of blacks at TWI's especially those in the Christian tradition is worthy of a separate study (article or book). These articles I've been reading have been like punches in the stomach. These were things I never thought about before to this extent. I knew they were bad but I had NO idea how extensive the data and research is on this topic. These are things that blacks in grad school need to know about if they aspire to be in the academy.

Anthony, I haven't had a chance to read the studies, so I'll defer to your familiarity on "non-white-maleness" versus "differentness." My only support is anecdotal evidence that white males with thick German or Danish accents also seem to take a hit in evaluations, but it's entirely plausible that the studies you cite tell a different story.

From the perspective of in-group/out-group bias, I'd want to know, e.g., the racial make-up of the students in the Reid study. I would expect in-group/out-group to be the dominant effect, modulated by secondary effects of social norms (read: white privilege) and the effects discussed in the Huston study. I don't think that's been looked at formally, but it would certainly make for an interesting study.

Did Reid's experimental design allow him to look at in-group/out-group effects? If not, one would expect, based on that alone, that the ratings would be biased against ethnic minorities not represented in the student body. Gender, being almost evenly divided (typically ~60% female) wouldn't be expected to have a measurable effect on that basis unless he was able to look at male and female group responses separately.

Norman, the issues is whether or not the professors fits with the ideal image of what is means to be an AMERICAN white male (or better). So your accent point holds. HOWEVER, the only thing better is being a white male and having a British or an Australian accent. Those are preferred about all.


In your personal experience, to what extent have you experienced this at the evangelical institutions at which you've taught?

I have been a Black Male professor teaching at a christian college in Southern California. I was told by my white female students that when I first arrived on campus, they, "did not know if I was going to teach them or rape them." It was a sad and horrible experience. Even the few Black students ran from me so as not to appear in league with the "angry Black Professor." It seems my animated speaking style was mistaken for anger. I left after three years and a lot of racially demeaning episodes. Evidently Christianity is not colorblind.

This is my first year teaching at the college level. For more than 20 years, I taught secondary school in large, diverse, urban/suburban cities. Now I am teaching at a university in rural northwest Tennessee. There are only 12 faculty members of color on the campus. Of those members, 90 percent are about to retire, or are already in post-retirement. I am used to interacting with colleagues from diverse ethic backgrounds, but I am also used to working with people who look like me. How does one survive in an environment in which one rarely sees another person of the same race? The nearest major city, Memphis, is a 2.5 hour drive from my campus.

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This page contains a single entry by Anthony Bradley published on June 16, 2011 6:44 PM.

Trailer: Black and Tired, Anthony Bradley was the previous entry in this blog.

Helping black professors deal with race bias at evangelical schools is the next entry in this blog.


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