Black Faculty Feel Pressure to Entertain During Academic Presentations, A Study Shows

Black faculty at colleges and universities across the country report feeling pressure to be “entertaining” when presenting academic research to mostly white peers, a new survey shows.

In this Vanderbilt University study, 33 African American faculty members were surveyed regarding their experiences “presenting while black.” Based on interviews, an overwhelming majority of participants admitted to being regularly advised by white peers to be “more entertaining” when making research presentations, as well as to “lighten up” and “tell more jokes.”

Women in the study also noted that colleagues were often preoccupied with their clothing choice and hairstyle. In addition, nearly all participants reported overt racist remarks in regard to their academic presentations.

For Co-director of the study Ebony O. McGee — who is also assistant professor of education, diversity, and urban schooling at Vanderbilt — the results were disappointing, but not surprising.

“These microaggressions harken to a long history of blacks being objectified for entertainment value, all the way back to the blackface minstrel shows, which depicted African Americans as comical, lazy, or dim-witted,” she said in a statement. “Today, the racialized objectification of African Americans may not always be as overt as it was a century ago, but the ‘black as entertainment’ ideology remains alive and well.”

This “racicalized objectification” of black faculty is even more troubling given the low number of black faculty members working in higher education; less than 9 percent of faculty members at U.S. colleges and universities are African American, according to 2011 data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

“The academy is not as welcoming as it should be,” McGee said. “Universities and academic conferences need to work at creating a more inclusive environment so that all voices are heard and celebrated. If we don’t deal with this, we will continue to lose a population of talented and promising researchers. Our hope is that this study will offer novel and useful insights to those who organize presentations and those who give them, so they will be able to understand, appreciate, and provide an improved experience for black and other [minority] scholars.”

Read the entire study here.