Turnover Of Black Faculty Remains High At VCU
Editor's Note On Major Correction: A listener identified a major error in this story. We originally reported in a November 2019 news spot and a December 2019 feature, that VCU’s Minority Educator Recruitment, Retention and Equity Center was created to work on the issue of recruitment and retention of minority faculty at the university. That is not correct. The Center is focusing on recruitment, retention and equity of minority K-12 teachers.
We have changed the headline, removed the original audio as well as references to VCU’s Minority Educator Recruitment, Retention and Equity Center and quotes from Director LeRon Scott in this article. We plan to do future reporting on the Center and its impact on K-12 educators.
This story may be updated with information about any steps VCU is taking to address recruitment and retention of minority faculty on campus.
VPM freelancer Brianna Scott reported this story.
Many people are attracted to VCU because of the diversity of the student population. But the faculty at the Richmond-area university are overwhelmingly white.
In 2015, 51 university campuses had protests where the recruitment of faculty of color was a top demand at 38 institutions. VCU was one of those campuses.
According to data obtained by VPM through a public records request, only about 6% of tenured faculty are black at VCU.
VCU graduate student Ashley Staton says as a black woman, she was originally attracted to VCU for its student diversity. However, the diversity she saw during campus tours was lacking, especially when it came to faculty.
“You want people to look like you when you're learning and you don't notice the deficit of not having that type of faculty until the end of it,” said Staton.
As an undergrad, Staton didn’t have a black professor until she took an African American studies course her freshman year and that professor left a year later. Now a grad student in social work, she’s considered leaving her program because she had no black faculty the entire first year.
“There's really a lack of knowledge that's explored when you don't consider minority students or black students or black faculty in your curriculum,” Staton said. “And you have to think about curriculum as a whole. Higher education as a whole was not built for anybody that's a minority.”
Station said there’s a weight that gets placed on the small portion of black faculty already at VCU, as students of color gravitate towards them for guidance.
“I think that weight is a part of the reason that we can't retain black faculty or minority faculty in general. They come here and they're exhausted, not only by their regular workload but by the fact that they have to be their whole race’s spokesperson in any classroom,” Staton said. “If you have one black faculty in engineering, one black faculty in chemistry -- those are some of our biggest schools. If there's only one, that means they have to address or be willing or open to all the students in that school that are of color and that's not fair to them. And that's not written in any job description, that you're going to be your race’s representative.”
VCU has known about this problem for years, and brought in consultants in 2015 to look at the low numbers of black faculty. The rate of turnover for all underrepresented minority faculty at VCU has been around 70 percent over the last five years.
Mignonne Guy is an African-American studies professor at VCU. She says efforts to recruit and retain faculty of color have to be about changing the culture of the environment, not just filling a quota.
“You can bring a hundred black faculty here tomorrow and you still may have low retention rates, right? You still may not be able to keep them here,” Guy said.
Guy came from Scottsdale, Arizona in 2014 where she was a research associate at Mayo clinic.
“Complete and utter culture shock,” is how she described her transition. Arizona is less than four percent black compared to Richmond which is a little over 50% black.
Guy says she experienced everyday racism and microaggressions, like being asked for four pieces of ID when picking up a package at the post office. Guy said she was continuously questioned by the post office worker about if she actually lived in her Mary Munford house.
“The woman was absolutely insistent. She kept saying to me, well you, you can't live there. She said you don't own that house. And I said, yes, my husband and I own this house. These are my packages, I'm just coming to pick them up,” Guy said. “So then at some point during the conversation she said, well, you must work there. So these are things and I'll never forget them. These are things that scarred me when I moved here."
Guy said it was a difficult adjustment coming from a collaborative, researched-based environment to VCU where she now feels isolated. She felt depressed for the first few years.
“So my outside world is this, these microaggressions and macroaggressions that are happening and then I come and sit in a silo,” Guy said. “It's not a healthy environment. Neither one of them are healthy.”
While she hasn’t experienced the same level of racism at VCU as she’s felt in the Mary Munford community, Guy is still learning how to adjust to Richmond.
“I still don't go out in the broader Richmond area that much at all, to tell you the truth because I think that it just scared me so much to the point where I don't even like to go grocery shopping. Like I order my food somewhere else and have it shipped to my house,” Guy said. “It's bad.” said.
Guy has contemplated leaving VCU because of her experiences in Richmond but has stayed because she’s committed to her students.
“That's the only thing that keeps me holding on here,” said Guy.