The other day a renowned anthropologist told me I was not her colleague. Her reply came moments after I had told her that I defended my dissertation less than a month ago.
This happened during a lunch where anthropology graduate students were sharing their feedback about our department with visiting faculty. The three anthropologists were there as reviewers of the program. A routine department evaluation apparently happens every couple of years. During the lunch, I shared concerns on the career and professional development of our department. I expressed regret given that aside from a few professors/advisors, the department as whole, is not preparing PhD students to be the faculty’s colleagues. As I sat on a faculty search committee last year, I didn’t see myself as competitive with the candidates we interviewed. The department replicates many structural barriers that privilege some students above others. To which she said “But you are not my colleague”.
In the past, I have expressed reticence about my future involvement in an academic setting. This incident served as the last drop in a serious of microagressions in the last seven years.
I got fed up. I’m not here for a white medical anthropologist to tell me that I am not her colleague; that I am not part of her club. Because this has happened one too many times and is too frequent for me to let it go. Like last year’s SfAA (Society for Applied Anthropology annual conference) where a White Anthropologist (badge from the conference and all) asked me if i was his taxi driver, despite me not being remotely in the vicinity of a yellow vehicle. I was merely existing in the lobby of the hotel.
I knew I wasn’t trained for the club. But this future colleague broke the fourth wall of academic double-speak that ‘encourages’ minorities to be part of the faculty’s ranks. Especially for a person of color like me who is a member of an underrepresented minority in higher education. A study last year showed that prospective graduate students–applying to graduate school–who were women and/or belonged to racial minorities received fewer email responses from faculty than White men in most disciplines. How discouraging is this?
What does it take to be a colleague then? My clue is that it lies in being a tenure track professor. Every other career path–although similar in nature in regards to research–is not the same. Even adjuncts, with similar work loads, are as liminal as some graduate students in the academic culture. I resist such rankism; it reeks of eurocentrism in western institutions.
So how do I keep decolonizing my experiences as a PhD recipient from a Research I university of the US? Because I still go back to the experience that spurred this post, and I think… what else? What else could an academic want from me? I jumped all the necessary hoops to receive the highest attainable degree in my discipline.
Still, my work should lie on important issues. I hope that my future career demonstrates a commitment to decolonize anthropology as well as to conduct applied research that matters.