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“It’s a Double-Edged Sword”

Career and Workforce Development Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice African American Assessment, Evaluation, and Research Center for Women Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice Division Gender and Sexuality Indigenous Peoples Latinx/a/o MultiRacial Women in Student Affairs
October 15, 2019 Ginny Jones Boss Nadeeka Karunaratne Carol Huang Aliya Beavers Veratta Pegram-Floyd Kimberly C. Tullos

THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM “’IT’S A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD’: A COLLABORATIVE AUTOETHNOGRAPHY OF WOMEN OF COLOR HIGHER EDUCATION AND STUDENT AFFAIRS ADMINISTRATORS WHO TEACH IN THE COLLEGE CLASSROOM”  ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE IN VOLUME 12, ISSUE 1 OF THE JOURNAL OF WOMEN AND GENDER IN HIGHER EDUCATION

Colleges and universities looking to reduce cost often use non-tenure track instructional staff. One understudied group within the literature of non-tenure track instructional staff includes higher education and student affairs administrators who teach classes alongside their non-academic administrative work. This study leveraged critical race feminism as a theoretical framework and collaborative autoethnographic methods in order to examine the experiences of Women of Color in the classroom. The findings illustrate the ways Women of Color’s social identities impact how students engage with them in the classroom and the additional labor and responsibilities assumed as a result. In particular, the findings describe how societal, institutional, and classroom contexts influence how Women of Color administrators make meaning of their teaching experiences. The implications of this study reveal Women of Color to be deeply committed to student learning and champions of diverse and critical perspectives in the classroom. Based upon their findings, the authors offer recommendations for how key stakeholders can better support Women of Color administrators’ teaching.


Empirical and conceptual literatures advance the idea that Women of Color (WOC) faculty who bring diverse perspectives and pedagogies to classrooms provide added benefits to student learning. However, WOC working primarily as higher education and student affairs (HESA) administrators and engaging in classroom teaching, as a part of or in addition to their work, may find they lack programs and literature to address their needs. Among those needs are tools and strategies for challenging dominant ideologies that serve to constrain their classroom interactions and teaching. Within the small but growing body of literature that addresses the added, often unpaid, labor and burdens WOC in the academy undertake (Rodriguez, 2009; Sulé, 2011; Vargas, 2002), HESA administrators’ experiences remain underrepresented. Research aimed at understanding the experiences of WOC HESA administrators who teach college courses is necessary to better understand their challenges and successes. Such an understanding can be leveraged to interrogate systems that oppress WOC HESA administrators and reveal support systems for them. In this article, we illuminate our teaching experiences as WOC HESA administrators and question the structural barriers present within our institutions that constrained our work and development. We follow those insights with suggestions for institutional change.

This study started from a conversation between Nadeeka and Ginny, in which Nadeeka sought support and guidance from Ginny regarding the challenges she was experiencing while teaching as a WOC administrator. The conversation led to an exploration of the existing literature on WOC faculty. While helpful, this literature failed to offer understandings of the compound effect of being at the nexus of racial and gender marginalization and professional marginalization as non-faculty in the classroom. We found the literature particularly lacking when it came to non-faculty issues of status and prestige in the classroom. Specifically, the literature did not address the unique positionalities of HESA administrators. While WOC faculty and WOC HESA administrators share similar experiences based on their gender and racial identities, HESA administrators experience the added layer of their professional identity and authority. The literature did not discuss this nuance. Our suspicion was that there was a small but growing number of WOC HESA administrators teaching on their campuses. While we were fortunate to have the support of one another, we also recognized the need to represent our voices and experiences in the literature.

No literature on WOC HESA administrators’ classroom teaching experiences exists. To gain some understanding of related experiences, our literature review examined broader research on WOC faculty and WOC HESA administrators. In an attempt to minimize essentialism, lever- aging our experiences as those of the collective of WOC, we limited the scope of our review to gendered and racialized information on Asian and Pacific Islander (API) and Black women’s experiences, as they connect with our identities. Throughout our writing, we use the term “Women of Color” (WOC) when not referring to a specific racialized and gendered experience to showcase the challenges, successes, and supports of many WOC in predominantly and historically White spaces. We acknowledge the political nature of the term “Women of Color” and the ways it signals the coalitional and collective experiences shared by those who are non-White (Vidal-Ortiz, 2008). We also recognize the experiences of WOC are varied and complex. Using this term throughout this article, we highlight challenges and opportunities that exist at the intersections of gender and race that often differ between non-White and White people. We present our narratives about teaching as WOC HESA administrators using critical race feminism (CRF) as a theoretical framework and collaborative autoethnographic (CAE) methods in order to name the systems of oppression WOC HESA administrators face in the classroom and to showcase how our pedagogical approaches and presence as instructors served to disrupt those systems. Our findings illustrate the impact of our social identities on students’ engagement with us, the additional labor and responsibilities we assumed, and our commitment to addressing dominant ideologies and social justice issues. Additionally, we describe how societal, institutional, and classroom contexts influenced how we made meaning of our experiences. We conclude that our feelings and experiences of constraint resulted from navigating spaces not built for our inclusion, and we affirm our worth in the academy and offer suggestions for dismantling those spaces.

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