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Why are staff and faculty of color leaving?

Opinion | April 23, 2018

In the past month, it has come to our attention that at least 11 professors and staff of color have announced that they will be leaving Tufts University. These are some of the individuals who have shaped our most meaningful experiences at Tufts, and when we heard they were leaving, the two of us were angry and upset. The few spaces in which we felt a sense of comfort at Tufts felt threatened, and our course selection, learning, and academic plans felt stifled.

It took us many conversations and moments of reflection to realize that, in our anger, we were missing something. Women’s Center director K Martinez reminded us that our personal frustrations should not be directed toward the individuals leaving. This was about more than our feelings. K and others leaving are doing what was best for them. We realized we are too comfortable thinking about staff and faculty of color as commodities, as here to serve us, hold our feelings and traumas with us, and help us unpack our marginalized histories. We realized the huge—and often invisible—burden placed on staff and professors of color. It made us question: why are so many staff and faculty of color leaving?

 

Tufts brands itself as an elite institution committed to diversity, global leadership, and civic engagement, but does so without providing support to the programs and community members that enact those values. We are deeply concerned that Tufts seems unable and unwilling to invest in hiring or supporting people of color—especially individuals in offices, programs, and departments that bring non-white and queer perspectives to the University. Professors, staff, and students of color are used as token diverse bodies on brochures, diversity pamphlets, and banners. But we are not supported as students, staff, and faculty living the marginalized experiences that Tufts loves to advertise.

 

Black student activism during the #threepercent movement demanded an increase in both student and faculty diversity, and cited that while Tufts advertised a highly diverse student body, Black students and faculty made up only three percent of the campus population. We hesitate to use Tufts’ demographic data. In one version of the data, international students are counted as their own category without distinction between White students and students of color. In a second version, mixed-race students are double counted. Adding up self-identified non-international Asian, Black, Latinx, and mixed-race students, the number comes out to only 27.7 percent of undergraduate students. The number of faculty and staff of color totals to 19.5 and 21.1 percent respectively following these same metrics.

Starting from this discrepancy, this year’s mass exodus is particularly alarming. Some individuals leaving are widely-loved staff and professors that have been at Tufts for less than a year, while others announced their departure after recently receiving tenure. The University is losing an incredibly distinguished and accomplished group of people of color who, frankly, are leaving for better opportunities, where they will (hopefully) be treated with the respect they deserve, and where their lives and careers will be properly invested in. While the turnover of professors and staff of color disproportionately affects race and ethnic studies and the G5 centers, recruiting and retaining professors and staff of color is crucial across the university. And with many students and professors under the belief that Tufts has instituted a hiring freeze, there is no certainty that any staff and faculty of color will be hired to continue the critical scholarship and support of students of color.

 

This neglect is not limited to academics. The Group of 5 Centers (G5) were created to support and uplift historically marginalized communities and provide a space for students of these identities to come together. They remain the few Tufts institutions that do this work outside of the classroom. Though they remain imperfect, and there are certainly students who have not found community at the Centers, the Centers are limited by the resources they are allocated and staff who are hired. The Africana Center had more staff 30 years ago than the two staff it has today. The University has a history of leaving Center staff positions unfilled, and, at this moment, there are unfilled staff positions in the Latino Center, LGBT Center, and Women’s Center. Every year, the G5 Centers—excluding the Women’s Center—run peer leader programs which support students of marginalized identities as they transition into their first year in college; however, these programs are staffed by students who are also of marginalized identities, and whose labor is unpaid.

 

We want to know: why are the offices, departments, and programs at Tufts vital to marginalized histories and identities understaffed and under supported? The two of us wanted to be Asian American Studies and Latino Studies minors. However, given that this upcoming fall there is only one course in both Asian American and Latino Studies that directly discusses Asian American or Latinx content respectively, and the other, cross-listed courses barely teach about these histories, it is simply not feasible. This year is not unique. Moreover, Tufts does not have an Indigenous Studies program, and the two relevant courses listed for Fall 2018 are both without a designated instructor. Indigenous Studies classes have been frequently taught by White professors. How can one or two classes in underfunded departments be representative of the incredible diversity within our communities of color?
Observer staff member Chris Paulino spoke to us about how professors of color have impacted their experiences while at Tufts: “Faculty of color—particularly Black women—have been one of my most vital support networks on this campus, undoubtedly as a direct result of their ability to commiserate with many of my frustrations (personal, professional, and academic) rather than simply sympathize. Professor Christina Sharpe in particular, whose classes are some of the most expansive and theoretically stimulating I have taken, has been an immense source of comfort for me between her writings, our advising meetings, and just running into her on campus.”

 Osage Professor Jami Powell would have been the perfect person to grow an Indigenous Studies program at Tufts. Her research and teaching speak to Indigenous art and creative forms of resistance, and they do so through a commitment to community engagement and conversation. This semester, Professor Powell brought her Indigenous Ethnographies class to museum exhibits, introduced them to renowned Indigenous academics and artists, and invited students to panels and discussions, in turn connecting the class with a vibrant network of Indigenous scholarship developing outside of the University. Professor Powell is starting a new position at Dartmouth where she will be the only indigenous curator in a mainstream museum in the country.

 

K Martinez, a Queer Gender Non-Conforming Afro-Latinx person, served as the Director of the Women’s Center for most of this year. Their time here has come with many challenges from both the student body and Tufts administration, and yet they have achieved so much, forever enriching the lives of the students they have met. Personally, K helped me, Kira, to print the first copies of my zine about loving queerness in myself. They gave me book recommendations and hugs—they have cried with me. From here, they will be moving on to be diversity director of a LGBT health center in Philadelphia where we are sure they will continue to do this amazing work.

These are a few of the narratives of the staff and professors leaving this year, and others include Pawan Dhingra, Chair and Professor of Sociology, Professor of American Studies; Cedric de Leon, Associate Professor of Sociology; Natalie Masuoka, Associate Professor of Political Science; David Harris, Provost and Senior Vice President; Amy Freeman, Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Provost; Kyle Kamaiopili, Graduate Instructor in American Studies; and other professors who cannot be named at this time. Alongside the other departing individuals, they have fostered meaningful intellectual community for countless students.

 

We, as two students of color, are tired of seeing our professors and staff who support us treated as un-valuable commodities. We cannot know the reasons behind every individual’s departure, but in listening to our professors and staff’s stories, we have heard their fears, their feelings of unsafety and mistreatment at this University. Please know: we will stand firm as we demand that Tufts commit to hiring, supporting, and retaining faculty and staff of color. There are other qualified people who are as accomplished and inspiring as those moving on from Tufts this year. The question is: will Tufts invest in them and hire them to stay?
Looking forward to our fight to hold Tufts accountable to these demands, we as a community must remember that race and ethnic studies programs and the G5 centers come from a history of resistance. They were created out of protest and remain ours to defend. Supporting our professors and staff who nurture these programs means honoring their decisions to stay and to go and making visible their humanity within an institution that frequently does not. Let’s celebrate our mentors as they move on, and support and uplift those who stay and those who will come.
And finally, to all of our professors and staff of color: we see you, thank you, and appreciate you for all the work you do to support our learning and being. To those leaving: we congratulate you, and we wish you the best of luck in the next steps of your journey.