An Essay On The Education Of The Blind

One afternoon, I attended a large class in another department with others in my program cohort and again found myself the lone black student.The junior faculty member teaching the class shared a story from his own graduate school days about the time he mistook his new black major professor for someone not on the faculty.

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However, we cannot help but see differences; it’s unavoidable.

Pretending that those differences are not there does not eliminate discrimination.

Colorblindness erases the plausibility of race as a cause for mistreatment, thus making it more difficult to avoid or resolve racial bias in the future.

For people of color, colorblind messages like “We’re all the same” may send a message of cultural insensitivity to their lived experiences as underrepresented minorities, or URMs, especially in fields such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics where there is severe underrepresentation.

Well-meaning faculty and even peers go out of their way to support racial minority students and colleagues, yet these students still experience marginalization and exclusion. Diversity science may show how good intentions and well-meaning behaviors derail critical mentor-protégé relationships, especially when URM students have majority-group mentors.

Many of these mentors, regardless of their age, have been socialized to embrace and emulate colorblindness.

However, well-meaning behaviors do not always translate into effective diversity practice.

Well-funded programs born of good intentions sometimes reflect colorblindness, ultimately signaling an identity threat to people of color that may result in ineffective cross-racial mentoring and weak student retention. Department of Commerce report shows that the representation of women in STEM has rested at 24 percent since 2000; only 4.8 percent of today’s scientists identify as black or African-American, according to the National Science Foundation.

As I look at doctoral programs today, it appears little has changed since I was a student.

I appreciate white faculty members’ attempts to connect with their students and their efforts to diversify academic disciplines.


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