The #ILookLikeAProfessor hashtag has been floating around the interwebs just in time for back-to-school season, and serves as a fresh breath for those of us in academia who might not look like we “belong.”
As Kelly J. Baker states in her article of the same title as the hashtag, “In popular culture and Google searches, professors are most often middle-aged, bespectacled, and bearded white men with a penchant for tweed.” But so many of us don’t fit that description.
The stories Baker tells about how she doesn’t get taken seriously at her workplace resonate strongly with me. I look a decade younger than I am, so fighting for authority and respect in the classroom and in the workplace are real struggles. When I first started teaching in graduate school, I found myself shopping in the “old lady” department and sporting a severe bun in an effort to look more mature, when really it just made me frumpy and uncomfortable.
When I got a full professorship after graduating, I was officially the baby of the department, the youngest instructor by at least half a decade, and most of my students were much older than me. It’s a difficult position to be in, and it’s caused me to overcompensate by adopting strict policies that showcase my high standards and expectations.
Luckily, Baker notes “[t]he #ILookLikeAProfessor hashtag is filled with images of people of differing gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and ability. Spend a few minutes scrolling, and the sheer diversity of professors becomes clear, which is inspiring. This is what academia should look like.”
However, hashtag justice only showcases a small representation of the actual professors out there. While I am lucky enough to work in a friendly environment at an arts & entertainment school that understands and embraces brightly colored hair, tattoos, and diversity, not all universities and colleges share the same sentiment. In order for academia to serve as a microcosm for society at large and truly represent the student population it strives to serve, there need to be equal opportunities for people of all colors, genders, abilities, faiths, orientations, and socioeconomic backgrounds to pursue higher education and achieve full professorships (and not just get stuck adjuncting). As Baker notes:
This hashtag, then, is only the beginning, and it starts much-needed conversations about the current state of the professoriate and how it might need to change. As I scrolled through the tweets again, I realized that the #ILookLikeAProfessor hashtag does more than showcase the current diversity of professors. It provides a vision of what academia could be: a diverse and welcoming space for all bodies. I’m pulling for that future, and I hope you are, too.