We Need to Thrive: A Manifesta

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In the face of a recent exodus of women faculty of color, our institution has asked us to articulate “what we need to thrive” at the college. Each of us might ponder this question, and generate our individual lists of complaints, grievances, needs, and interests. Each of us, of course, is an individual. Each of us carries distinct racial biographies, life conditions, scholarly trajectories, worldly habitations that make us particular in ways we treasure. Each of us has suffered a history of specific indignities that come from living and working as women faculty of color at a predominantly white institution in a conservative rural small town. So yes, we can each answer individually to the question of what we need to thrive as individuals at the College.

Yet as we generate our individual lists from our distinct life stories, we also let ourselves be further individuated. We stand apart from each other. We lose our sense of what makes us the “we” from which we speak. We thus participate in the institution’s gut impulse to see the exodus of women faculty of color through a narrative of individualization (“she left because….”) that blinds it to systematic patterns and institutional accountability. We submit to the ideology of diversity that would rather celebrate our differences than see us as differently positioned within the structures of our institution. We let our critiques be transformed into privatized problems that can yield to technical solutions. We become docile subjects who speak in the passive voice.

And so, we claim our collective voice here. In the active voice. We articulate our needs as a public good. We register our complaints as structural complaints. We demand institutional redress for us all, together. We say:

  • Over the years, we have participated in multiple surveys, climate studies, and requests for data. Enough. No more extractive meetings and conversations that deplete our energy, perform other people’s labor, and reinforce our minority status.
  • Hear us when we speak. In faculty meetings. In Department Chairs’ meetings. When we show up to your office.
  • Support our intellectual projects, especially ones that emerge out of our collaborations.
  • Provide us with funds to connect with family, friends, colleagues, communities that are far away from the racially isolating environment of Walla Walla.
  • Compensate us for the additional labor we do mentoring and supporting students of color who vastly outnumber us and often seek us out when they need help. We are counselling students on racism and sexism while experiencing it ourselves.
  • Compensate us for the additional labor we do on campus mentoring and supporting each other.
  • Compensate us for the additional labor we do recruiting new faculty of color.
  • Pay us fairly and equitably, with respect to our white colleagues, and each other.
  • Reconsider departmental autonomy in ways that support us when our colleagues harass and disrespect us, devalue our expertise, and treat us as disposable.
  • Recognize the ways that evaluative instruments are racialized and gendered and retool them accordingly.
  • Hire our spouses and make college resources available to them at the same rate that white faculty spouses are hired and given access to those same resources.
  • Assist us with down payments on housing so that we might form the same attachments to place as our white colleagues do.
  • Hire Visiting Assistant Professors of Color for longer contracts.
  • Raising multiracial kids in a predominantly white community without familial and communal networks in town is challenging. Make the College hospitable to our childcare needs. Provide on-site daycare and sick care. Make meetings child-friendly. Subsidize daycare off-campus for research trips. Synchronize the college schedule to the public school schedule.
  • Provide support for those taking care of elderly or incapacitated parents in a town whose facilities are not hospitable to residents of color.

In articulating our needs, we also stand with our male faculty of color colleagues, many of whom face challenges at Whitman and in Walla Walla, some similar to ours, others more specific to their situations. And we invite the solidarity of all colleagues, staff, and students who are genuinely committed to working toward a more equitable and just Whitman College.

 

Signed,

Dalia Biswas, Associate Professor of Chemistry

Shampa Biswas, Professor of Politics

Leena Knight, Associate Professor of Biology

Nicole Pietrantoni, Associate Professor of Art

Elyse Semerdjian, Associate Professor of History

Yukiko Shigeto, Associate Professor of Japanese

Lisa Uddin, Associate Professor of Art History and Visual Culture Studies

Jacqueline Woodfork, Associate Professor of History

Wenqing Zhao, Assistant Professor of Philosophy

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