Good Silences, Bad Silences, Unforgivable Silences

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Chronicle of Higher Education




For an untenured faculty member, perception is everything. How should this young “lamb” signal to all that she is a dedicated teacher, a brilliant scholar, and a wonderful colleague? For outsiders, such as women of color, this task of negotiating and performing identity can prove rather burdensome because of the need to counter negative stereotypes based on race, gender, and class. For many junior faculty members, a recurring conflict is the longstanding tension between voice and no voice: to speak or not to speak becomes the question. How, then, can women of color, especially those from poor or working-class backgrounds, draw the line between following advice for survival and resisting their own subjugation?

The tenure process is an exhausting one, and each individual must do what allows her to sleep at night. We all have to strive to be like Sister Pollard, who proclaimed during the Montgomery bus boycott, “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.” Although I went through the tenure process recently and emerged relatively unscathed, I constantly struggled with the issue of silence, and continue to do so now. Through it all, I have learned that there are good silences, bad silences, and unforgivable silences.

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