The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

UMW needs to hire more professors of color

5 min read

In offering classes that discuss racism, UMW needs to hire more professors of color who are better equipped to discuss such matters.


Staff Writer

UMW should hire more Black teaching faculty in general. But if the University does continue to utilize white professors to teach Black history and culture, these professors should go through proper training. No differently than using a student’s proper pronoun, a Professor should have the simplest ability to refer to a minority or group of people in an appropriate way. More reliable resources should be offered so students can express their concerns of racial insensitivity and biases they experience in class. This would be a plausible effort to positively change the culture of our university so that all students are not only comfortable in class but also on campus. 

“It’s very shaky at this point due to … professors using language like ‘Blacks’ and ‘negro’ or flat out saying the N-word and not being empathetic towards the students within the class,” said Cameron Washington, a junior cyber security major.

A huge influx of “wokeness” followed the massive human rights movement in the summer of 2020. Universities worldwide created courses and lectures to discuss racial issues within society directly. For instance, the University of Mary Washington allowed students to participate in two free eight-week courses: COVID-19 in Context, which was offered in the summer of 2020, and U.S. Race and Reality, which was offered in the fall of 2020. 

Although it is fantastic that the administration has acknowledged the societal disparities of race within the United States, it is just as important to be aware of who is teaching these classes. At a predominately white institution, it can be difficult for students to digest concepts relating to Black culture in general. The University is eager to boast the “28 percent self-identified minorities” on the university webpage, but they are not willing to create appropriate faculty representation on their behalf. 

In a classroom setting, Black history is taught historically, while Black culture is often taught in a sociological environment. For students, there has been much concern with white professors utilizing offensive language when discussing historical Black topics. 

There don’t appear to be many people of color within UMW’s History and American Studies Department other than the Office Manager, Jessica Batten. 

“I have heard a white teacher use the N-word and justified saying it by claiming it was for historical context,” said Sophia Hobbs, a senior history major in the secondary education program. 

A professor’s race shouldn’t make a difference in the subject matter, but I can’t say the same when explicitly teaching or discussing Black culture. I would make the same argument for any culture because no individual can discuss a culture more appropriately than someone embedded in it. Hence, creating the parallel issue of culture capital theft. Cultural capital is the accumulation of knowledge, behaviors and skills that a person can utilize as currency to navigate cultural competence and alter opportunities and social status. 

For example, Jessica A. Krug, a former professor of African and Latin American studies at George Washington University, admitted to being a cultural leech and pretending to be a Black woman. She did so in order to be taken more seriously as a professor in her department. She utilized the stolen cultural capital of her feigned Afro-Latina heritage despite her true identity as a Jewish woman who grew up in Kansas City.

At UMW, I am frequently one of few, if not the only, Black people in my classroom. So, when the University offers courses to adequately discuss aspects of Black culture, Black history or systemic disparities against marginalized groups, it becomes much more important to have a person of color teach it. In class, it can be difficult enough to be surrounded by the eyes of “white guilt” when discussing a topic. 

When I’m the only minority in the room, I feel the exhaustive pressure of having to speak up or educate my peers when a professor is discussing a topic of racial inequality. Nevertheless, I am often labeled as “too sensitive” when I correct a professor on their usage of offensive terms. With a campus of over 68 percent white students, I understand it can be difficult to sit through topics of racism in class. But there are aspects of my life that I did not have the courtesy of learning in a classroom. 

As a sociology major, I have only had two wonderful experiences with white professors discussing Black issues in class. With that being said, it is one thing to discuss the systemic problems as a part of the class discussion, but it is another for UMW to offer classes that focus on race that are only taught by white professors. 

Several students feel similarly. Senior women and gender studies and philosophy/pre-law major Alex Polymeropoulos said she “personally doesn’t have an issue with a white professor educating white students on the topic of racial history, but not racism. A white professor cannot relate to racism.”

All of the six students I asked about whether a professor’s race matters in regard to subject content stated that they would like to see more diversity within the UMW teaching faculty. I am by no means saying that we should stick a Black professor in each course that discusses Black issues, but it is essential to make an active effort to diversify the community and culture of UMW, rather than just talking about it.  

“Race does not matter at all in regards to subject matter, unless they know what they’re talking about, and that goes for all races,” said freshman psychology major J’Laya Williams. “Black professors don’t always know what they are talking about either.” 

Although some professors are assigned to teach courses that contain themes of racial disparities, it is important to question whether they are taking a job from a more qualified Black person. White professors benefit from the privileges they teach about by teaching courses rooted in the concept of disparities within the Black community, since they are profiting from a culture that isn’t their own. At a university where the slogan is ‘You Matter,’ it doesn’t feel like we do.