Fit as a Euphemism for Whiteness in Higher Education Hiring Practices

Introduction to the Issue

Hiring practices in higher education are long overdue for a critical evaluation and overhaul of current racist—even if it’s subtle or unintentional—policies and practices. Ashlee (2019) sheds light on the harmful practices systemically rooted in our hiring practices. More specifically, the author explores the pervasive notion that the term “fit” is used as a euphemism for white supremacy in higher education.

The author illustrates this urgency for change by telling their story on how they got offered a job at an Ivy League institution in the New England area. Ultimately, Ashlee (2019) identifies their combined race and gender (a white man) as being the sole reason for them being hired. Despite being underqualified for the position, and for coming from a vastly different background than the population in which they’d be working with, the author was hired for the role. The author uses a conversation with the director as grounds for making their claims. When asked whether it mattered that the author graduated from the prestigious institution when working and conversing with alumni, the director responded by saying, “…you look like a younger version of most of these guys…you’ll fit right in” (Ashlee, 2019, p. 196). Already frustrated with the flawed job search process in student affairs, this interaction left the author pondering the concept of fit in higher education hiring practices. Because the author had the same outward-facing identities as most of the alumni population, they were perceived as being a good fit for the role despite their lack of experience. This reasoning allows for fit to be used as a “thinly veiled preference for white candidates” (Ashlee, 2019, p. 198).

The author’s narrative highlights an even larger and more pervasive issue in higher education and student affairs. The unintentional and habitual use of the term fit as reason for hiring or rejecting someone’s candidacy for a position is not “a localized phenomenon of individual bias” (Ashlee, 2019, p. 198). Instead, it is one small-scale example of how our biases perpetuate systems of racial oppression. Continuing on this path, higher education environments will be lacking in the rich talents and unique skills offered by People of Color in a place of dignified scholarship.

The author makes clear that racism in higher education is not a new phenomenon. The resilience of white supremacy and the ways racism shows up both explicitly and invisibly in our practice has remained consistent over time. Leaving this practice uninterrupted and unchallenged allows for white isolation to continue at colleges and universities resulting in a culture where participants are accustomed to “white racial tastes, perceptions, feelings, and emotions” (Ashlee, 2019, p. 201). Allowing for a legacy of whiteness to continue to manifest promotes solidarity exclusively with white people and establishes a normalcy for racial segregation, hierarchy, oppression, and the patriarchy. The term to describe this is habitus of whiteness. More specifically, habitus of whiteness is defined as “the racialized, uninterrupted socialization process that conditions and creates whites’ racial tastes, perceptions, feelings, and emotions and their views on racial matters” (Ashlee, 2019, p. 200). By continuing to silently adhere to these current ways of existing in higher education, we foster an environment the produces racist practices in our hiring practices.

Implications for Practice

After reading Ashlee’s (2019) work, I find it vitally important for me to critically examine what it means to refer to someone as a good fit for a position. The author’s deeper analysis reveals that fit is “coded language used to maintain the status quo of whiteness and weed out candidates with different racial and cultural perspectives” (Ashlee, 2019, p. 203). It is no surprise that organizations struggle to diversify their teams when the hiring practices are dripping in a cultural habitus of whiteness. In order to successfully hire, and adequately support, People of Color practitioners must actively challenge oppressive practices.

Ashlee (2019) details specific ways in which we can implement strategies that confront whiteness in higher education hiring practices:

  1. Become racially cognizant
    1. White people charged with leading out hiring efforts must develop practices that center race and racism
    2. Embrace the truth about when, where and how whiteness shows up in the job search process
    3. Develop and implement required, high-quality and sustainable implicit racial bias trainings
  2. Use Critical Race Theory (CRT)
    1. Familiarize ourselves with and adhere to the tenets of CRT 
  3. Use critical whiteness studies (CWS)
    1. Familiarize ourselves with and adhere to recommendations put forth as a result of conducting CWS
  4. Evaluate and eliminate racially coded language
    1. professionalism” – the term professionalism is ambiguous and undeniably a tool used to uplift white people in hiring practices. If a candidate does not display enough “professionalism”, that usually means they did not adhere to the vision and culture white people have created. We must challenge the mold and expand the definition of what it means to be “professional” in your workplace.
    2. qualified” – oftentimes this is used a reasoning for not hiring a more diverse team in higher education. There is an underlying assumption that People of Color decrease the quality of an applicant pool and therefore are discarded from the hiring process. This assumption is systemic and when used is simply forcing candidates to be in accordance with white expectations of professionalism.
    3. attitude” – oftentimes, candidates of Color are dismissed under the guise of “bad attitude”. This is rooted in white fragility and linguistically related to the “Angry Person of Color” trope.
    4. communication skills” – this should not be a leading criterion for hiring decisions as it promotes the use of a white-only standard of communication.
    5. enthusiasm” – using this as a criterion for hiring decisions only benefits white candidates who do not experience racial hostility and emotional exhaustion that People of Color face working at predominantly white institutions.
  5. Go beyond hiring practices
    1. Racially unjust practices transcend department or staffing practice. The author urges readers to look beyond hiring practices when working to actively interrogate the inherent white supremacy at our institutions.

References

Ashlee, K. C. (2019). “You’ll fit right in” Fit as a euphemism for whiteness in higher education hiring practices. In Reece, B. J., Tran V.T., DeVore, E. N., & Porcaro, G. (Eds.), Debunking the Myth of Job Fit in Higher Education and Student Affairs (p. 193-216). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Intersectionality: Taking it to Heart

 

Introduction to Intersectionality

The term intersectionality is a relatively new one as it was originally coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in the late 1980s. She describes the intersectionality as “a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects.” In practice, Crenshaw developed the term as a means to interrogate a variety of injustices and social inequities that were centered around folks with more than one marginalized identity. Crenshaw realized that there were cracks in our legal system that allowed for prejudice on the basis of intersecting identities to take place. In her TED Talk in October 2016 she admitted that yes, we have laws in place to protect women. And she admitted that yes, we have laws in place to protect black people. However, we don’t have any explicit laws protecting black women. When defending the essentiality for new term she contended, ” where there’s no name for a a problem, you can’t see a problem, and when you can’t see a problem, you pretty much can’t solve it.”

Crenshaw brilliantly interrogated how we approach discrimination and discovered that we had siloed identities with no consideration for their overlapping impact on our lives. She noted that it’s unlikely that issues are only about race or only about gender or only about class or only about sexuality. Because humans habitually generalize things, Crenshaw made sure to specify that  intersectionality should never be utilized as a “blanket term” to mean “Well, it’s complicated” because when you say “It’s complicated” you are making an excuse to dismiss the injustice and not do anything about it.

Personal Experience

For me, it’s easy to take intersectionality to heart…literally. For most of my life, I suffered a severe heart condition that greatly impacted by ability to fully engage with the world. For a while, it kept me from playing competitive sports. As it worsened, I was unable to walk up flights of stairs. Then later, I had to avoid anything that could increase my heart rate—including activities as simple as laughing. While being disabled in this way greatly impacted my social engagement, I was still afforded many opportunities due to my other privileged identities. I was otherwise able-bodied and had access to enough financial resources to receive treatment that allowed for me to stay in school. Without the ability to gain appropriate medication and health services, I likely would have not been able to finish school and would have racked up more debt.

This experience relates to intersectionality because my suffering was made less severe due to having privilege in other areas of my life. While my narrative only touched on ability and socioeconomic class, I easily could have made the case that my white identity made my situation easier. Further, I could have discussed the discrimination that took place while being treated by male medical professionals. No situation is as simple as it seems and thanks to Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, I understand that the word that describes why this complexity is exists is intersectionality.

Future Implications

Moving forward, it is imperative that I/we realize the complexity of our struggles. Most prejudice is not rooted is the singular application of racism, sexism, etc. But rather in a combination of the “isms”. We are all guilty of silo-ing ourselves and others when looking to make meaning out of acts of discrimination. I hope that we all make a commitment to actively read between the lines and consider:

  1. What is the bigger issue here?
  2. What systems of oppression are at play?
  3. How does my experience differ (for good or for bad) from theirs?
  4. Who is being left out of the conversation?
  5. What issue can we not see?
  6. What element are we forgetting in this conversation?
  7. How does privilege show up in this environment?
  8. What exclusive systems do we have in place?
  9. What actions are further perpetuating white supremacy and the patriarchy?
  10. What can I learn from this?
  11. How can I help?

In order for any part of our world to get better, we need to consider how intersectionality is at play in every facet of our lives. My hope is that even after this this week’s lesson plan comes to a close, we all continue to work on finding ways to take intersectionality to heart—be it literally or figuratively.

References

https://www.ted.com/talks/kimberle_crenshaw_the_urgency_of_intersectionality?language=en#t-287131

https://www.law.columbia.edu/pt-br/news/2017/06/kimberle-crenshaw-intersectionality’

 

 

University Housing Costs

Everyone knows that going to college comes with quite the hefty price tag. When students are busy paying for tuition, books, and parking permits, they spend their time scrambling to pay for their housing. Since many Virginia Tech-like institutions require that first-year students live on campus, debates about pricey campus housing have been ongoing. As an up-and-coming university housing professional, I often find myself and my colleagues considering the following questions when thinking about how to alleviate the financial burden of on-campus residents:

  1. Do we decide on a flat rate that everyone pays regardless of the building they live in?
  2. Do we charge residents differently based on what space they live in?
    1. to account for various amenities such as air-conditioning, private bathrooms and other renovations (aka the “you get what you pay for approach”)?
  3. If we keep placing our “proven to be the best living experience” living-learning communities in newer buildings, how will we ensure that low-income students are able to opt into such experiences?
  4. If we stop charging student a “living-learning community fee”, how to do pay to run living-learning communities? Do we continue to charge residents an additional fee or seek funding elsewhere? Where?

Overall, the argument comes to be whether universities should be only offering housing at price points that students across the income spectrum can afford. Where this becomes tricky is when universities partner with private companies to shoulder the initial building costs of residence halls—this approach allows for university funds to be invested in teaching, research, and providing even more financial aid. However, as universities continue to face financial constraints that force private partnerships, lower income students are less catered to and therefore placed in less intellectually stimulating and visually appealing living communities.

It certainly seems classist to ignorantly allow higher income students to stay in the nicer housing while lower income students settle for older housing with less amenities. Though, in order to profit off student housing, a tiered housing model seems necessary. In the future, housing officials will need to consider more creative and inclusive means of developing residence hall environments that create equal opportunities and experiences for all residents regardless of family income. While this certainly seems like an impossible feat at this time, I believe it is not impossible if we are willing to take some risks and begin thinking differently about our traditional marketing model.

 

References:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/01/05/campus-divide-pricey-student-housing-triggers-debate-over-income-inequality/oGSCZ0q4nMkgu5nNMRs5tK/story.html

https://research.collegeboard.org/trends/college-pricing/figures-tables/average-estimated-undergraduate-budgets-sector-2018-