Feature

When Barbara Yee, PhD, accepted her first faculty position, the word "no" was rarely part of her vocabulary.

She taught as many courses as she could, and joined many committees that dealt with ethnic minorities, admissions and discrimination. And she gladly mentored as many ethnic-minority graduate students.

But from those first years of teaching at the University of Oklahoma, she says she learned a valuable lesson: Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

"If I had understood that advice, I wouldn't have ended up teaching nine new preparations in the first three years of my first academic job," says Yee, now associate professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch. "Nor would I have mentored a majority of ethnic-minority graduate students and accepted all the departmental and university committee assignments that dealt with ethnic minorities."

With ethnic minorities making up only 9.9 percent of full-time faculty, minority educators like Yee feel the strain of being pulled in many directions. They're asked to be the ethnic-minority voice on committees, to develop multicultural programs, to serve as mentors to other minority youth. They often feel obligated to take on these roles since few others--if any--are able to. But sometimes they do so at the risk of overburdening themselves, possibly even setting themselves up for failure by taking on too much.

How do ethnic-minority faculty cope with these pressures? Just like all faculty, they network with others, develop allies in their departments and try to remember the need for balance in life, say ethnic-minority faculty recently interviewed by the Monitor.

These faculty also had more specific advice for their ethnic-minority colleagues. This is what they said.

Derald Wing Sue, PhD
Professor, California School of Professional Psychology, Berkeley/Alameda

Perhaps the most important advice is to be realistic when you evaluate psychology departments as to their receptivity to minority faculty and the importance they place on commitment to diversity/multiculturalism before joining them.

When you are being recruited, all departments will put their "best foot" forward. They are likely to describe their institution in glowing terms, especially on matters of race, culture and diversity. What faculty members and the promotional brochures say, however, is often at odds with the true situation. A young faculty member may unwittingly buy a false bill of goods and be sorely disappointed and discouraged after a short period of time at the institution.

This statement is not intended to advise minority faculty to only accept offers from institutions with good multicultural programs. That is unrealistic and would eliminate too many job opportunities. However, having a realistic understanding of the position you accept will mute many of the disappointments. Thus, speak with minority colleagues in the university on a private, one-to-one basis about how they feel about the department. Also, speak with students of color to collect their perceptions as well.

Also remember to take care of yourself. Fight battles selectively. You can't do it all yourself. When you join a department, you may see many things that need change: The curriculum is too narrow and monocultural; there is a need to hire more minority faculty; or minority students are suffering in the program.

At some point, you must determine what you are capable of handling both personally and professionally. I have seen too many of my minority colleagues burnout because they went beyond their limits and/or undertook issues by themselves. It's important to realize that we cannot do it on our own.

Hector Myers, PhD
Professor of clinical psychology, University of California, Los Angeles

We need to recognize the importance of striving for excellence because when it's all said and done, the one thing that will control some of the level of racism is to show that through your knowledge and expertise, you've earned every right to sit at the table with your colleagues.

I also think that it is our responsibility as mentors that we take the time to change the systems we're in. It's not sufficient to just bring in more minority students, we have to change prevailing views of minorities as less competent and to change discriminatory admission tactics. These extra burdens are there, but they offer an excellent opportunity to make a difference. What is critical is to strike a balance between your personal needs and the demands placed on you.

Marie L. Miville, PhD
Associate professor and director of training and interim school head, School of Applied Health and Educational Psychology, Oklahoma State University

My top piece of advice is to not be afraid of conducting your research agenda. Most ethnic-minority faculty members are warned by well-meaning colleagues not to do research on people of color or other "underrepresented" groups because of the difficulty in obtaining participants for these projects. Try to have a balance of research projects that will have a pretty quick turnover for publication (in time for tenure) and other projects that might be more meaningful, though perhaps difficult to complete within promotion and tenure guidelines.

Be active in your department. Don't be afraid to speak up, but do so wisely. Wherever you are, get to know your colleagues and vice versa. See if someone in the department is willing to mentor you about the tenure process, and if possible in your first year, ask to see materials that have previously been successful. Help bring up multicultural topics in the program, but in a way that does not leave all of the responsibility on your shoulders.

I also suggest to my colleagues to be active in organizations/networks where you feel you "belong." This is important locally and nationally. I remember attending an APA symposium, sponsored by Div. 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues) with Gail Wyatt, PhD, and others about ethnic-minority faculty in academia right when I was starting my career. To this day I remember the essence of Dr. Wyatt's words in particular: "It can be a tough road for ethnic-minority faculty, but it is important to believe in yourself and your work and to never accept anyone else's racist agendas, labels or language." This symposium let me know upfront that I was not alone on the academic path and truthful in telling me how hard that road might be.

Michelle Cooley-Quille, PhD
Assistant professor, department of mental hygiene, Johns Hopkins University

Minority faculty members must always be prepared. Do not be in a hurry to obtain a faculty position if you do not have a substantial foundation upon which to teach, conduct research and advise students. The most important component of these three realms is usually research. A postdoctoral fellowship that helps you develop your own line of independent research (with publications) is always a good idea for those who want to be successful in academic positions.

Gayle Y. Iwamasa, PhD
Assistant professor, master's program coordinator, University of Indianapolis

I have several pieces of advice:

  • Be aware of departmental politics and try to stay out of them so you can do your own work.

  • It's not your job to speak on behalf of all ethnic minorities, ethnic-minority faculty or ethnic-minority students. Emphasize that your views are your own personal views and do not necessarily represent those of individuals with similar demographic characteristics.

  • Learn to toot your own horn, as no one else is likely to toot it for you.

  • Know that you are being closely watched--successes may be minimized, while perceived failures might be exaggerated (or even fabricated).

  • Realize you might be a "teachable moment" wherever you are on campus (i.e., being the first ethnic-minority woman students ever see in a professional capacity).

  • Enjoy your personal life just as much as you enjoy your work.

Arthur McDonald, PhD
Professor of psychology, Dull Knife Memorial College

In my own experience, I've seen major changes come about from affirmative action, but when it comes to institutional racism, people are more careful and guarded. The attitudes and behaviors are still there, just more sophisticated and subtle. It's more difficult to handle than obvious and direct attacks. I think we have to prepare ethnic minorities for these issues. It's not a fun topic, it makes people uncomfortable. But if we can't understand discrimination in subtle areas, we're not going to be able to change it.

Kevin Cokley, PhD
Assistant professor of counseling psychology, Southern Illinois University

I feel a special obligation to be accessible to African-American students because they often do not feel comfortable talking with white faculty about personal or academic difficulties. However, this can take a toll, because the interactions are frequent and lengthy, and often occur when I'm in the midst of writing. My colleagues sense this struggle, and often caution me about spreading myself too thin. This is easier said than done when I look into the eyes of an African-American student and see a look that depicts pride in my accomplishments and, indeed, my very presence!

Having said that, I realize now that when I can help them understand that my ability to remain here and be a resource for them is contingent on my being a productive researcher, they become more sensitive to the importance of my time.

In terms of research, there was a lot of pressure on me coming into a very prolific department. Every day I am reminded of the faculty's research productivity by the articles and book chapters posted very prominently throughout the psychology floor. As a graduate student I was not mentored about how to conduct a research program, so this has been on-the-job training for me. I would definitely advise junior ethnic-minority faculty to connect with tenured faculty to learn the "ins" and "outs" of publishing.

Duane Dede, PhD
Clinical associate professor, department of clinical and health psychology, University of Florida­Gainesville

When you're feeling pulled in too many directions, remember what got you there. The same drive, focus and ability that delivered you to the doorstep of academe will sustain you. Also, take advantage of any training and funding opportunities offered by universities or state or federal agencies for ethnic minorities.

We all have doubts but [sometimes you just need to] jump in the pool. Send manuscripts, grant proposals or plans of studies to your internal or external colleagues for review.

Pamela T. Reid, PhD
Professor of education and psychology, University of Michigan­Ann Arbor

Learn the institutional rules by reading the faculty handbook carefully. Don't wait to learn the culture through experience alone. Actively seek information from the head of the department and senior faculty, and ask them what are the expectations, how will you be evaluated, etc. Knowing who was in charge and what to expect helped me to avoid difficult situations and to prevail when hard times were unavoidable. People who wait until they near tenure evaluation to learn how their department operates have waited too late and may face greater challenges.

Cynthia de las Fuentes, PhD
Associate professor of psychology, Our Lady of the Lake University

I'm a workaholic, as are so many of us. What I have learned, however, is that sometimes we don't have to be perfectionists; sometimes being very good is better than most. If we focus on finding a balance in life, then we can do the things we need to do with family and friends, and still feel good about our professional accomplishments.

Gordon C. Nagayama Hall, PhD
Professor of psychology, The Pennsylvania State University

My advice to ethnic-minority faculty is to be skeptical of advice. As with much psychology, much advice is not necessarily applicable to ethnic minorities. At various times in my career, I was told that I couldn't get this internship, publish in this journal, get this grant or get this job. Such advice probably was given to me because the people who were getting these goodies weren't like me--an Asian American who has been viewed by some as quiet and reserved. My career is a living testament to the folly of advice. I went to a graduate school that is in the bottom 15 percent of the National Research Council rankings, which supposedly guaranteed that I would never get an academic job. In the eyes of many, I further jeopardized ever having an academic career by leaving academia for five years to work at a state hospital. After returning to academia, receiving tenure and being told that I would be less marketable as a tenured professor, I moved to a job as a full professor at a major research university.

Further Reading

  • Surviving and Thriving in Academia: A Guide for Women and Ethnic Minorities. Committee on Women (Ginorio, Yee & Banks) and Commission on Ethnic Minority Recruitment, Retention and Training in Psychology (Todd-Basemore) (May 1998), APA.

For more information on women's and ethnic-minority associations and groups, contact:

  • Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs, APA, Public Interest Directorate, (202) 336-6029; Web site: www.apa.org/pi/oema.

  • Women's Program Office, APA, Public Interest Directorate, (202) 336-6149; Web site: www.apa.org/pi/wpo.

  • APA's Div. 35 (Society for the Psychology of Women), Listservs: listserv@uriacc.uri.edu, students; Web site: www.apa.org/divisions/div35.

  • APA's Div. 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues), Listserv; Web site: www.apa.org/divisions/div45.

  • Asian American Psychological Association, 3003 N. Central Ave., Suite 103-198, Phoenix, AZ 85012, (480) 230-4257; Web site: www.west.asu.edu/aapa.

  • Association of Black Psychologists, P.O. Box 55999, Washington, DC 20040-5999, (202) 722-0808; Web site: www.abpsi.org.

  • National Hispanic Psychological Association, Andrés Barona, PhD, Past President, (480) 965-2920; e-mail: barona@asu.edu.

  • Society of Indian Psychologists, John Chaney, PhD, President, (405) 744-6113; e-mail: jchaney@okstate.edu.