By Sydney Freeman, Jr., Ph.D., CFD, COI
What will this mean for the academy–particularly for the Black Scholar? What signal does Trump send to the “liberal” enclaves called US colleges and universities? For one, it may mean fewer of our best and brightest doctoral graduates earn tenure-track positions. Black scholars and other faculty of color are already overrepresented in contingent positions. And those who are blessed to earn a coveted tenure-track faculty position may be subjected to ambiguous tenure and promotion standards at Predominantly White Institutions, positions that may become even more precarious. This could especially be the case for faculty doing work related to social justice, diversity, and multiculturalism.
- It didn’t matter that Obama had faith in white people, they needed only to have faith in him: in his willingness to reflect their ideal selves back at them, to change the world without changing them, to change blackness for them without being black to them. Here, what is referred to alternately in Coates’s essay as Obama’s “hybridity” and “two-ness” and “biracial” identity may have mattered. It did not matter because of how it shaped Obama but because of how it made white voters feel about themselves (December 13, 2016).
Several months ago, I sat in the audience at an academic conference that featured a panel discussion on the importance of public scholarship. One of the panelists was Professor Terrell Straythorn from Ohio State University. He gave an impassioned speech about the urgency and relevancy of his work to empower those who have traditionally been marginalized. He shared that he uses his public speaking as a platform to move his work beyond the boundaries of the academy, to influence constituencies who may not read academic articles and books or have access to those materials. I think this is one of the ways in which we as Black scholars can most effectively respond in this new Trump era.
We need to be writing and speaking with a sense of urgency and purpose. Our work and scholarship must be more direct, yet strategic. It is important that we be able to speak to multiple audiences. Particularly, we must unapologetically write to and on behalf of the Black community. For instance, in my own field and in my scholarship, I write extensively on the topic of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). To gain tenure and promotion, it is important that my work be published in “high status” peer-reviewed publications. However, it is my desire that my work address and directly impact HBCUs. Thus, finding lay periodicals, blogs, and speaking opportunities to engage with those seeking to innovate on behalf of HBCUs and the Black community is paramount to my overall intellectual mission.
We must not be afraid to see ourselves as more than Black academics, but be willing to step out as public intellectuals. This can and should also be integrated into our teaching, particularly when preparing future educators. For instance, I taught a doctoral course recently where in one of my class sections we discussed the relevance, challenges, and importance of developing one’s academic voice. This semester I was asked to teach a course titled, “Writing for Publication.” However, I am teaching it in a markedly different way from past instructors. I am utilizing the course to help broaden my students’ understanding regarding the nature of a scholar. I have them engaging in the development of critical blogpost essays, book reviews, policy reports, and literature reviews. Although they are learning about the importance of writing academic books and peer-reviewed articles, they are also learning how to share their scholarship in venues typically under-engaged in by scholars.
In conclusion, this is not the time to cower and be quiet. This is the time to be strategic and to use our positionality, intellect, and voices as true Black Scholars to resist the anti-intellectualism of this New Trump era.
Coates, T. (January/February 2017, first published online 13 December, 2016). My president was Black. The Atlantic Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/01/my-president-was-black/508793/
Cottom, T. M. (2016). The problem with Obama's faith in white America. The Atlantic Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/12/obamas-faith-in-white-america/510503/
Sydney Freeman, Jr., Ph.D., CFD, COI, is an associate professor of Adult, Organizational Learning and Leadership at the University of Idaho. His research investigates the higher education leadership and faculty roles. He serves on multiple academic journal editorial and review boards, including serving as managing editor of the Journal of HBCU Research + Culture. He also is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Journal for the Study of Postsecondary and Tertiary Education.