Looks Like Them

What I don’t get is the idea that students need a professor “who looks like them” in order to learn. That is, black students. Nobody says this about Indian, Chinese or Ukrainian students.

First of all, I’m not sure how the “looks like them” criterion is applied. Do we assume that “all black people look alike”? Or do we take into consideration that a black person from Ghana looks nothing like (to anybody but a total racist) an African-American student from St Louis?

Another issue is how that makes the professor feel. You go to school for many years, learn, read, write, publish… and then get hired because of your “look”? And what, the people at the interview evaluate you in terms of the “look”? Like, whether you are black enough? Like in, “yeah, but she’s Indian black not black black?”

I feel very uncomfortable participating in these conversations about “the right look.”

18 thoughts on “Looks Like Them”

  1. It’s another of these unfortunate euphemisms & also, unfortunate explanations.

    All people regardless of race have a right to be selected for teaching jobs — not just white people.
    All students are well served if they see that people of their race can do things other than manual labor and domestic service. In addition, people from different places / classes / races can bring a variety of perspectives to subject matter, etc. Is all of this so difficult to see?


    1. You are talking as if there were some complot not to hire non-white people to teach. Everybody is desperate to hire non-white people to fill the quotas. They don’t apply, that’s the problem.

      We have black male students who are flunking out at ridiculous rates. It’s very easy to fixate on the search for a professor with the look that’s going to demonstrate how black men can do anything but manual labor (which one would think they could have noticed when Obama was in office but ok) because that’s not doing anything. It gets us all off the hook. No, it’s not me and my shitty teaching. It’s just that I don’t have the right look. If only I had the right look and the right perspective … But I don’t, so there’s nothing anybody can do.


      1. “complot”

        I think the word you want is ‘conspiracy’..

        ” black male students who are flunking out at ridiculous rates”

        Do you still think leftists or progressives care about that? HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (they don’t) it’s all about optics and not graduation and employment rates.


        1. We have black students failing out of Calc 1 and Calc 2 at enormous rates. Does anybody honestly truly believe it happens because a professor with the right look hasn’t shown them the black perspective on calculus? And once they see a black professor, they will exclaim, “Oh! I now know I can be anything I like, even a mathematician!” and they’ll immediately ace the equations.


      2. Yes, I think that part of the problem is that there are not enough African-American Ph.D.’s. And then the question is always shifted to faculty, who are told that we’re not doing enough to recruit Black faculty. At one committee meeting, a professor said that she puts out job ads not only with the national organization for her field, but also with the African-American national organization in the field. My own thought when I heard this was, So you don’t think Black people are smart enough to look for jobs through the main national organization in their field (the non-identity based one)?


      3. \ No, it’s not me and my shitty teaching. It’s just that I don’t have the right look.

        If other students succeed, must the main problem lie in “shitty teaching” of college profs, instead of being unprepared to take Calc 1 and Calc 2 because of lacking a mathematical basis?

        Unlike Spanish or history, a math course at university level must rely on extensive prior knowledge.

        Do black students succeed at your department / courses?


        1. I have absolutely no idea what’s causing this. We were prohibited from finding out by the diversity folks because, as we were told, the correct answer has already been found and if lies in the wrong look area.

          In my department, in the 10 years I’ve been here, we’ve graduated one black student. So no, it’s not good. We also haven’t had a single black candidate in the 3 job searches I participated in.


          1. // We were prohibited from finding out by the diversity folks

            Must they know what you’re doing at your own department? How can trying to help be prohibited, unless most professors didn’t want to try in the first place?

            // the correct answer has already been found and if lies in the wrong look area.

            I think Israeli answers may be more helpful. Israel has numerous pre-academic preparatory programs for new immigrants, other programs for Haredim (who study math till ~ 6 grade only at their schools) and yet numerous different programs for students who haven’t fulfilled usual requirements but still want to study. (I posted 2 examples below.) If African-American students experience special problems, they need special pre-academic programs tailored to their needs, not a white / black / purple with pink dots professor.

            For instance,

            “Mechina (pre- academic) Preparatory Program
            Lacking basic STEM education required for entry into academia, the majority of Haredi students participate in JCT’s intensive pre-academic preparatory program. The program offers students the opportunity to fast-track their education and become college-ready after a year of intensive study. JCT provides counselling, extensive tutoring as well as reinforcement courses in English and math to ensure each student receives the academic and emotional support they need to succeed. The College also offers psycho-didactic evaluations to students suffering from undiagnosed learning disabilities. We believe that proper diagnosis significantly impacts their chances for success.”


            “Academic Preparatory Programs for New Immigrants – these programs are for eligible candidate (cut off age- 23) who completed their high school in their country of origin and hold a high-school diploma which is not equivalent to the Israeli matriculation (the United States, Russia, Ukraine, South Africa, Latin American).
            TAKA- Pre-Academic Program- for eligible candidate who are exempt from Mechina (cut off age- 30) with or without academic. The program operates in conjunction with the Department of Adult Education of the Ministry of Education, The Jewish Agency for Israel and academic institutions.”


            1. My department doesn’t want to do anything about anything. We are against doing. 🙂

              Some professors from across campus wanted to explore what was happening but we were told we are all racists and white saviors. So we desisted because it’s not worth the aggravation.

              What’s really funny, what we were trying to propose is very similar to what you describe with these preparatory programs.


      4. No, I’m not. The whole phrase is just about the desirability of also hiring a variety of people, if available, and about looking at the (in)equality situation.


  2. —I have absolutely no idea what’s causing this. We were prohibited from finding out…

    From finding out or from speaking of obvious causes? Meaning that due to historic reasons there is a strong correlation between race and socioeconomic status. (And I do not think one is prohibited from telling that, as long as one does not claim that the reasons are instead biological.) Next, given that k-12 schools are to a large extent funded through local taxes, the schools in poor areas get underfunded. And many teachers, regardless of the color of their skin, do not want to devote their life to working there. Because it is depressing, and unsafe, and many other reasons. So yes, there is lack of suitable role models, but this lack presents itself at much earlier stage than university/Ph.D./faculty hiring.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s more complicated than that, though. The problem is with male African American dropouts. Female black students are doing fine. It’s 80% to under 20% graduation rates of female vs male black students. You go to the African American graduation ceremony, and they are all women. It can’t be accidental because it’s year after year and the difference is too huge.

      They are admitted at the same rate, so it’s something happening in the process of studying with us. Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out what’s causing this? Especially given that there are schools without this disparity.


      1. Interesting… Could it be a phenomenon similar to what one can observe in FSU and Eastern Europe, where women, on average, seem to have better adapted to economic hardship, and changes in the society associated with the fall of the communism? In part because they felt that they cannot count on anybody’s help? And somehow men did not feel this way (in some cases because of the support of their mothers or female partners) and therefore did not adapt that well?


  3. Talk to a bunch of African American students and see what they think, and then talk to some African American faculty members about how they work with students, inside and outside the classroom. This is what I’ve been doing, due to a new admin role (which I didn’t want, but there you go). I won’t tell their stories here, but suffice it to say that the situation of African Americans at US universities is weird and complicated and difficult. It’s a historically rooted situation that’s specific to that group and not generally applicable to Indian, Chinese, or Ukrainian students. It’s hard to figure out what to do. But getting to know students is the only way to make a dent into the problem.

    There’s a great new book on historically black colleges and universities, Shelter in a Time of Storm, by Jelani Favors. It focuses on HBCUs and activism, starting in the 1830s or so, but mainly it provides angles on higher ed that you probably haven’t thought about before. At least I hadn’t.


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