Minority Spotlights the Minority Spotlight

people silhouetted by a spotlight
Image by Andre_Grunden from Pixabay

The minority spotlight effect is something that might seem minute and insignificant in the moment, but it can be frustrating for students of color and internalized differently by them as well. I heard about an incident in a class with a faculty member of color where the class consistently tackled social issues, broaching topics including gender, race, and sexuality. The teacher would consistently look to students of color in hopes that they would chime in when it was relevant to them, sometimes even explicitly calling on them. The professor would also talk about trans rights and spotlight the one trans person in that class. Although the teacher made it seem like they were an advocate for these social issues, they were consistently mis-gendering Them while talking about the issues that They were facing. It got to a point where this student approached the teacher and corrected them many times within one class period. This minority spotlighting made other witnessing students feel uncomfortable, as well as the students being singled out. After speaking with this student, I understood just how upset They were by the whole situation as well.

I would have hoped a professor of color would have been more aware of the difficulties that students of color, as well as students in other minority or subordinate groups, deal with while attending a predominately white institution, especially in a classroom setting. It was disheartening to hear about this type of behavior coming from an intelligent and highly qualified professor. I can imagine that these students have difficulties in other aspects of their lives at Muhlenberg, and then to feel targeted by a faculty member of color is an added dimension. Students typically find solace in faculty of color and these faculty members of color are usually burdened by an immense amount of invisible labor. I wonder how this impacts the students’ sense of belonging within academics on our campus, especially in a class where that should be the last of their worries.

This is a special post in a series authored by students in Professor Wolfe’s Spring 2019 Research Lab. We are studying the experiences of students of color at PWIs.?