I don't know if I'm tired or I'm angry but I'm probably both: my own personal hack-a-hairdryer

Dec 11 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

Goddamitall. My shorts they are frosted.

Let's start with the background: When I arrived at my new almost-MRU I helped organize a group for women faculty. It's one of the things I took on as service when I got here, a place that takes service seriously.  As I started organizing, various women in other parts of the university were "volunteered" to helping with this organization. One of the things that has happened at many medical schools is that the proliferation of mid-level administrators who have almost-relevant higher degrees, and many of these people want/get  faculty appointments. They may have "dean" in their title or the word "senior".  What such people do not do is teach or research. The women in these roles have become enthusiastic in organizing/leading the Group for Women at almost-MRU.  My response to any involvement was great. I try to encourage people to take things over, even when the-taking-over leads to something I didn't anticipate/want/think is right.  The new direction could or could not be a good thing. It might be and it might not be great for women at almost-MRU. However, the group has ceased to be meaningful for the tenure-track women faculty.

Many of the activities that this group is organizing speak to the interests of the non-tenure track women: a social for all women, service to the community (a criterion for achievement/excellence/promotion), and a small dollop of "personal empowerment". As one of the junior faculty I mentor her told me: "I don't have time for this shit, Potnia, I need to get tenure". Implicit in her comment is her perception that what this group does is not helpful to her.

So I suggested to the group that we might be organizing something that would be specifically for, and helpful to, women who had the word "professor" in their title (note: not many lecturers here, and postdocs would be welcome). Women who have an "up or out" decision in their career line. I took a poll to find out what was wanted & needed and one of the other faculty took the lead (this was A Very Good Thing) and organized a series of small workshops on things like negotiating and holding your own in arguments and communication. All good.

Then all of a sudden, I get a poster for these events that had multiple problems, but the biggest one was the picture promoting this activity. This is not the picture on the poster, but its close:

Young (student? 20s?) white women. WTF? If I saw this poster, I would not think it was for me. If I was a 40 year old 5th year assistant professor, I would not think this poster was for me.

The cover email noted that Mark in PR had been "so helpful" in putting together the poster. Guess what, Mark is a 20-something white male. Personally, I thought that this was a no-brainer. I wrote to the whole committee saying that I thought this wasn't going to work, it had a couple of -isms attached to it, but mostly did not speak to the people we want to come (who are largely Gen-Xers, late 30s through 40s).

But the image wasn't the worst. The push-back I got was ... well surprising doesn't make it.

"Potnia, how could you be so ungrateful when we got free design help?"

"Potnia, I don't think every poster needs to look like me, why do you think it needs to look like you?"

"Potnia, what do you have against pretty young girls, don't you think that it would be attractive - isn't this what we want to look like?"

and from the woman (admin assistant who was responsible for organizing flyer):

Regarding the photograph, Mark and I worked for quite a bit of time to identify an image that was appropriate for the session content.  The image selected was the most suitable of those that were available.  In the future, we may consider not utilizing images in our promotion, as it would be nearly impossible to include a visual representation of every member of our female faculty and staff.


I wrote back:

This image is NOT appropriate. We do not need to include “a visual representation of every member”. That is a red herring for this issue. These images are not what is needed here. Our faculty members are not in their 20s. They are not all white. We are having issues with getting our faculty (tenure-track, basic science) involved in our activities. This poster will not encourage any of those people to attend this activity.  

And all I got back was that it was time to move on, and we women shouldn't be squabbling over little things like images on posters.

The time to move on is for me.




14 responses so far

  • Ola says:

    This type of situation, in which the almost-faculty adminfolk dictate the agenda and real faculty are just expected to go along with, is not rare. It's almost as if there's an entire sub-culture/parallel universe, where they sit around all day arguing about font sizes and which catering firm to use for their latest reception, as if anybody gives a flying fuck!

    At my institution, there are 3 separate organizations on campus, all essentially tasked with the same job of enhancing minority participation at every level. They do their thing, and fight with each other about who should do what. Meanwhile the URM faculty largely ignore them and get on with their shit. I try to use every possible opportunity to highlight the parasitic nature of the adminfolk.

    • potnia theron says:

      Yes. yes. yes.
      I've had some discussions about the expansion of this mid-level administration. Some of it makes sense: the requirements from AAMC for medical school accreditation have grown tremendously.
      But its the "we are really faculty" part that gets me. argh.

  • AEMcDonald says:

    It's disappointing that you got such a defensive and dismissive response. I'd suggest starting your own group to address the needs of the female faculty and splintering away from these folks. Do it under the radar if you have to; the women you are hoping to help will thank-you for it since they are looking for practical advise that can be delivered effectively.

    • potnia theron says:

      I'm going to work on a "faculty" group - that will include men of color (there are a few here). I don't have to be under the radar, as I am tenured. And that is a sad statement about academia in general.

  • Hermitage says:

    I like how including *anyone* not white was equivalent to having to painstakingly google image for a model that perfectly emulates every faculty member's race, height, gender, weight, and ponytail preference. #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen indeed.

    • potnia theron says:

      From my (aging) perspective, and really that of the women I mentor, its both race and age. That somehow we all want to be 25 again. I recognize this is a different issue from race, and as a white woman, work hard towards listening, supporting and standing with the POC.

      I also think that ugly women, fat women and old women face a lot of problems that get overlooked.

  • Former Technician says:

    As a woman of mostly Celtic heritage*and a an Administrative person (director of a program, not a professor), I would still not attend anything with such an image on the poster. Thanks to genetics, I look only 10 years older than the women in the photo, but I am nearly 50. I wouldn't have gone when I was in my 20s either. They look like the "popular crowd". I know few women who went into science to be popular.

    *(I prefer not to use white or Caucasian as my skin is not white nor am I from the Caucus mountains. However, the color in my heritage does not show in my appearance.)

  • Jason B says:

    everything is problematic.

    • potnia theron says:

      no. My postdoc is not problematic. My sweetie is (usually) not problematic. There are things, a few things, in life that bring joy.

  • SM says:

    I would be equally irked. What a bunch of twits. If I saw that poster I would be so incredibly turned off, there's no chance I would attend.

  • gmp says:

    Our department staff is small and they are all excellent and very helpful. But going further out, college or university level, have almost always been a disaster. The admins treat us faculty as petulant children who need to be scolded and generally reined in.

  • Sam says:

    Wow. This is beyond ridiculous.

    Two people "worked for quite a bit of time" to come up with that? What were they doing, searching the attic for negatives? I be your university has a number of suitable images already in the database. That speaks to their incompetence.

    And you forgot other titles such as "Director" and "Executive Director." I discovered people that are "Executive Directors" do not appreciate being called "Director." I've been corrected, ISYN.

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