Audry Elmore, junior in human communication with a minor in women and gender studies, started a petition approximately two months ago regarding the lack of gender diversity in the professorial staff at Pittsburg State.
“When I first began looking for colleges, I toured Pittsburg State and had a young black woman lead my private tour,” Elmore said. “My mother asked whether we had a diverse faculty and student body and she responded with a shrug and said, ‘Not really but, you know, that’s just the way it is here.’ At first, it didn’t have as much of an impact on me, but later as a freshman, I saw the problems even in my first semester. I conducted another project… called the Diversity of Happiness. I took pictures of women from different backgrounds within the Kansas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma region and displayed them at the Bicknell. It was here that I saw the drastic difference. I could not find a single black female professor on our campus. When I went directly to the Office of Student Diversity to see if I was missing something, they all simultaneously shook their heads with a look of sadness in their eyes. I went back to my dorm and cried because of how they were so quick to know that there wasn’t a single one on our campus. It has been a passion of mine to bring attention to it ever since.”
The issue of underrepresentation in a staff has profound effects on students, according to Elmore.
“The Journal of Black Studies conducted a study on historically white universities that involved focus groups dedicated to addressing the issue of representation,” Elmore said. “This study focused primarily on the black professors and how they notice their impact on their students. Most of the professors told their BISOC (black, indigenous, students of color) before their classes even started that the system was made to work against them. The professors all agreed that there were more office hours they had to conduct just to have time with their diverse students because they were so lonely. The isolation that occurs for students when they do not see themselves represented or underrepresented in the staff of higher education, happens because they do not feel confident that they would be able to make it to that position if they so wish. Because these faculty positions are predominantly held by white people, looking to someone who has the same background as you and skin color helps the students feel more included in their education and therefore more likely to be motivated to excel in their classes.”
This issue is not exclusive to Pittsburg State; universities throughout the world deal with unproportionate race representation.
“Statistically in the United States, black males, black females, Hispanic males, and Hispanic females make up… (three) percent of the professors in our country,” Elmore said. “However, it is even more unlikely to see black women in professorial positions. Digging into why this is an issue, I examined two other countries, UK and South Africa, to see if they have any reasoning behind this significant gap in representation. I stumbled across a set of interviews done with the very few number of black women professors in the UK who exposed the workplace bullying that occurs at the universities they have careers at. They expanded on how it is significantly different for them because they act as a safe house for their BISOC and continuously have more workload because of it. In South Africa, they have begun reaching more of the goals in regard to race representation, but only because most of their older, white male professors started retiring. It is chilling to see the statistics and that this issue isn’t just at our university. It’s everywhere.”
Elmore did not set out to criticize PSU but rather to shed light on the issue and pave the way for other universities to recognize the issue.
“Obviously, my goal was to bring attention to this issue with my petition,” Elmore said. “However, I wanted to expand it to other regions of the United States so that other universities will start noticing. My goal at PSU isn’t to expose us for institutionalized racism; it’s to hold us accountable to our standards of our diversity, not just in our student body. We claim to care about diversity here at Pitt, so I want us to prove it.”
The petition can be found online (http://chng.it/jKRVjhZY).
“…This petition has reached places I never thought it would,” Elmore said. “It has been signed by… independent candidate for U.S. Presidency Jade Simmons and the majority of the gay community in Austin, TX. I never thought it would expand past the borders of Kansas and I am honored to have the signatures that I do on my petition…”