Cummings is currently an associate professor and associate dean of Academic Quality Assurance at the…
Lack of black Webster University faculty ‘discouraging’
Professor Emmanuel Balogun pursued his education without any black professors until he reached his doctorate program. He said only having one professor who looked like him throughout his entire academic career was frustrating.
“That’s my motivation. I’m going to become a professor so I can be a black voice in the classroom,” Balogun said. “I know how important it would’ve been for me to see more professors of color.”
Balogun is one of four full-time black faculty out of the total of 71 full-time professors in the school of arts and sciences. Balogun said the lack of full-time black professors at Webster’s home campus is problematic.
This is Balogun’s first year at Webster. He said the diversity of Webster’s student body is impressive and encouraging, and Webster needs to have an equally diverse team of faculty. Balogun said faculty needs to be diverse to provide cultural insight, diverse perspectives and foster the new generation. He said this is especially necessary for Webster’s values on diversity, inclusions and global citizenship.
“You can’t create the global without having a perspective from a marginalized population,” Balogun said.
Student Brianna Brown never had a black professor throughout her four years at Webster. Brown is the president of the Association of African American Collegians (AAAC) on campus. Brown said Webster prides itself in diversity and this needs to be reflected in full-time faculty in classrooms.
Brown said she experienced incidents where teachers made culturally unacceptable comments. She said some professors are simply not culturally sensitive, and it hurts students. She said not having representation in professors is frustrating.
“It’s absolutely disgusting,” Brown said. “It’s incredibly saddening.”
The underrepresentation of black professors is a major challenge for the few black faculty on campus. As a black full time professor, Eric Rhiney said there is a sense of obligation to represent minorities on campus.
Rhiney said Webster’s administration has a desire to have representation of minorities when it comes to making decisions. He said since there are only a few full-time black faculty members at the home campus, they are always called on to committees and meetings. This, in return, adds more to the workload to their plate of teaching and research.
“It puts a tremendous extra toll on us because now we have these other things that we have to engage in that get in the way of our primary responsibility,” Rhiney said.
Rhiney said minorities are called on, not because the administration is trying to hold them down, but because this representation is necessary for inclusion and diversification. He said minority voices need to be a part of Webster’s community.
Rhiney is one of two black full-time professors in the Walker School of Business. He said a lot of minority faculty across all departments may end up not getting tenure or a promotion because of other duties to represent their race. Minorities have extra pressure and obstacles to work through to move forward. Rhiney said this is where systematic racism comes, when one member cannot progress while the other can. He said this racism is unintentional, but it still occurs.
“That’s what racism is about, having additional roadblocks and additional things that you have to overcome that other people don’t have to overcome,” Rhiney said.
Rhiney said he loves being present in these decision-making meetings and loves to represent the black faculty. He also said the system needs to recognize and reflect this extra load of responsibility. He said minorities have to put in more effort to go a little bit further in their career than someone who is not a minority.
Basiyr Rodney is the only black full-time professor in the school of education. He said Webster’s condition is dependent on the society in which Webster exists.
Rodney said Webster is the way it is for the same reason America is the way it is. He said America has not built the capacity it ought to have to include all of its people. He said if the system wants black people to be involved, it needs to alter the structure to include them.
Changing the reality of the American society is difficult according to Rodney. He said white power in the U.S. does not work on integrating blacks with whites but rather on deepening the existing segregation. Rodney said this creates a certain type of norm for people to grow up hearing white is better than black and eventually start acting on it. It becomes a part of people’s psychology.
“You grow up in this crazy racialized society,” Rodney said. “I don’t think we understand how deeply racialized this country is. Everybody in America sees themselves in black and white.”
Rodney said this is a deeply racially stratified society and people are okay with it for the most part. However, he said Webster has improved throughout the years. He said, with Webster’s current administration, there has been a growth in the number of black faculty who actually stayed.
Webster itself has a female president and a non-local provost. This in itself shows Webster’s dedication to diversity. Webster has done well, but Rodney said there is still more work to be done. He said for change to happen, people need to be intentional and be aware of what is actually going on.
“It’s the nature of the space we occupy,” Rodney said. “You live in it and struggle to change it the best way you can and just know that that’s where you’re at.”
Professor Basiyr Rodney is the only full-time black professor in the school of education. He joined Webster 11 years ago and said things have gotten better throughout the years. Rodney stayed at Webster because his job makes him happy.
“Yeah I’m the only black guy here, I get it, but none of y’all are gonna stop me from what I think needs to be done,” Rodney said.
Rodney said what he does is worth keeping regardless of what the situation is. He said the lack of diversity will not stop him. He said students need to have access to professors of different races and backgrounds because all voices are important for the progress of society.
The lack of diversity among faculty is due to a number of reasons. Nicole Roach said many black doctorate holders have no desire to be full-time professors. Roach is the diversity and inclusion chief officer on campus. She said there is a growing need in corporations and organizations for people of color to bring in diversity to said institutions. These corporate positions may seem a little more attractive for black doctorate holders because of income and benefits. Roach said higher education institutions do not offer the same perks.
Roach herself is pursuing her doctorate degree. She said she would rather be a practitioner and an adjunct professor than be full-time. This way, she will be able to bring in real life experience to the classroom.
“I love being able to have that flexibility to teach part time because it allows me the freedom to do other things … so what I’m teaching is not just theory,” Roach said.
Simone Cummings said this is the case for many adjunct faculty. Cummings is the dean of the Walker School of Business. She said most professors in the business school are adjuncts. She said they like being adjuncts because they get to teach applied knowledge, which Cummings believes is necessary for students.
The business school has an open full-time faculty position for health administration. Cummings said the school has not received any applications from black doctorat holders.
“If you don’t have people applying, it’s difficult to bring them in,” Cummings said. “You can’t just hire people automatically. Things just don’t happen that way.”
Recruitment is very similar between the business school and the school of arts and sciences. Dean Tony Wallner said open positions run in publications with diverse target audiences and on specific websites. Wallner is the dean of the school of arts and sciences.
Wallner said Webster always makes sure to offer positions to the most qualified applicants. He said Webster can not simply hire someone because of their color. He also said diversity can be defined in a variety of ways. It can be gender, race, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status.
“I want people who are going to help us solve the big problems,” Wallner said. “That is, I think, a way to encourage the value of diverse opinions.”
To foster these diverse opinions, Balogun believes his role as a professor is to make a welcoming environment for students. For all students, black, white and all other races. He emphasized on black students because they do not have as much representation as white students on campus.
Balogun said with all the recent protests in St. Louis, black students need to have a place where they can voice their struggles and needs. He said students need to be able to have constructive and productive conversations.
“I feel a responsibility, especially for black students who want to affect change and look up to people in the classroom or for leadership in the school and able to be as voicetric and prolific as they want to be without fear of repercussion,” Balogun said.
Brown said there are some non black professors on campus who go out of their way to look after students of color. She said she appreciates their efforts, but it is different when she can talk to someone who comes from the same ethnic group. Someone who can identify with similar challenges.
“Students who are not of color, it kind of reinforces a kind of privilege. It’s like ‘I’m comfortable here, I belong here, I’m represented here’ and for other students, we’re not,” Brown said.