Adventures in College Diversity:An American Tragedy

05 Feb


Boys and girls I am going to tell you a story, it could be construed as a tale of sound and fury signifying nothing, but I hope not. The names have not been changed to protect the innocent,but to protect me from lawsuits. This is a woeful tale, told only from my point of view, I have needed to tell it for a looooooong time and now I can.Let’s pretend it is a Fairy Tale, a Morality Play, something that might have happened, could have happened and should not have happened if it did! 🙂 Here is my novella!

In 2003 I left a job as an assistant history professor to take a job as a director  at a southern Research 1 institution. In the 9.5 years I was there I developed several educational initiatives from classes ( Diversity 101 and 201) to symposia, to a diversity summit. I also consulted when someone made a mess in their unit by saying or doing something offensive, sometimes egregiously offensive. What I did not do, could not do, can never do,  is change the basic way diversity was approached, managed and evaluated on that campus.

In the 9.5 years I worked there I never had a supervisor that understood diversity work, at least not as I understand it, as activism, advocacy, instruction and assessment. They did not have a grasp of anything except not making anyone mad and not causing any waves that might jeopardize their healthy pay checks. Now, I am not going to be too critical because they all made either twice or almost three times as much as I did. If they had offered me that kind of money  who knows, I might have become one of the master’s tools myself. I cannot say I do not have a price, I can only say nobody has ever come close to making me an offer that would permit me to put my own enrichment above the social justice health of the campus or society.

So, the office operated like this, one other director ran programs for students, I ran programs for everyone, ones that I thought up, staffed with no money and oversaw. I am not sure what the head of the group did. In the 9.5 years I was there I would say that I was directly asked to do something by a supervisor fewer than ten times, and two of those times were requests to put out fires in departments where something offensive had taken place.

In other words, had I chosen to do so I could have run a small business, played video games, worked from home or simply vegetated for eight hours a day. I was recruited to the university to do a diversity assessment, neither of the professional staff at the time had any kind of assessment or research or academic background. I did what I was asked, pulled together a 35 person Task Force, ran every meeting , met with every sub-committee and then saw my supervisor take credit for it all and receive an award for the good work. My name was not mentioned at the awards ceremony.

So, I was learning quickly that doing good work did not necessarily mean getting credit for it. Oh, my supervisor gave me plenty of kudos in private and postured that ” people do not give you the credit you deserve.” Neither did the supervisor. Being a native North Carolinian of the ilk that I am naming Arciest Nativa it was probably not something one could help. These are black people who have internalized the idea that black people are inferior to white people. Their habits include talking nastily about white people when there are no white people present and pulling their forelock and saying yessir boss and fawning on white folks when then are present. They are eternally grateful to be allowed the crumbs from their masters’ table and would die rather than rock the boat they are so comfy in despite the fact it is based on classism and racism. I am always reminded when confronted with Arciests that all slave revolts were betrayed by other slaves.  Oddly enough most white people are not fond of them, or better put they are fond of them but do not respect them. It is better to be respected than liked, although generally the two are not exclusive if you are among decent people. In their true nature I do not think Arciest like white people, they fear them , but they do not like them. Several times I was confronted with the idea that perhaps I was too fond of them, some of my colleagues seem to not understand that I like all kinds of people and advocate for all kinds.

. After I finished the Task Force work and the following Diversity Plan Committee ( I got smart and insisted that I be named co-chair publicly on this one) , my boss had nothing for me to do. I often wondered why they had not hired me as a consultant for the task, but who knows how the minds work or people like that.

So, I had to find myself something to do. I joined committees, work groups, started initiatives and generally made my mark on the campus. Yet, when my boss decided to move on  having  been basically found out to be wanting, was I promoted? Nope, my colleague, with less education, less experience, less intelligence ( okay that was not nice but it is true) and certainly less judgement ( this person later used racial slurs against two of our students) was promoted. Why?The individual had friends in high places, that is why. Being in a band with upper level administration counted for more than my degrees and experience. So much for integrity and reward for initiative, it was evidently better to have a friend who could do something for you.

Anyway, with my new boss things got a bit worse. Instead of the office having no real leadership, no mission, no strategic plan and no benchmarks for performance we now had none of the above and someone who was delusional enough to believe they had been sent there to rule the world. My doorway was soon filled with irate people from all over campus who mainly asked ” what is wrong with ______?” I had to shrug and tell them that I had no nickel in that dime, they would have to go elsewhere with their complaints.

Fast forward, Boss 1 is gone, Boss 2 is replaced by Boss 3, a person who came in and gave me great hope, which was quickly dashed when it became clear the person was a clone of Boss 1 without that one’s savvy at staying on the good side of the right people. This one was an Arciest, but did not return phone calls or emails and was never on time for anything. Boss 3 seemed to view the job as ceremonial, only requiring infrequent public appearances.

So, my friends, I had to go. My new boss made it clear she did not want me there, it quickly became apparent she was afraid of me and I found out later she probably needed to be. As long as I was there she would be in my shadow, not because of my brilliance but because of her deficiencies. We chatted, I told her I would be glad to retire. One boss who is a disappointment, okay, two, not good, three, no way. I packed my grip and came back North.

The state of diversity offices in most majority white institutions today is pitiful . People are hired based on their promise to do nothing or to pretend to do something but change nothing. Do not take my word for it. Do your own research. Ask to see the strategic plan of the diversity office. Ask what the budget is for the office, ask to see the benchmarks required of the office, what it does and why it does it and what are its results. Ask about what assessment has been done on its programs. There are a few exceptions that are bravely led and actually accomplish something, but they are rare as hen’s teeth. In my opinion the new methodology is to hire someone at a big title and big salary to manage diversity, give them no power and no benchmarks which permits them to throw up your hands and say ” see we are committed to diversity, look how much we are spending, it is not our fault nothing is changing.”

The administrations of many white institutions of higher learning seem to find great comfort in incompetent blacks. It not only reinforces their stereotypes it allows them to relax and be confident that nothing will change. Of course, I am not sure if the blacks are actually incompetent or just sell outs!

I have said it before and I will say it again, in the words of the great Audre Lorde, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” As it currently stands the master’s house is only suited to the master’s kind. I am saddened that diversity is either moribund or regressing, but It is no longer my business. I am going back to teaching where you can make a difference a few students at a time. I have lots of disciples out there and I am ready to make a few more!

1 Comment

Posted by on February 5, 2013 in Uncategorized


One response to “Adventures in College Diversity:An American Tragedy

  1. 14theagesByron K. Ward

    February 5, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Cookie. Good for you!


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