July 2020 Shorthorn
Quoted as follows:
While dealing with microaggressions and overt racism, they don’t see themselves represented among faculty, staff and administration. Meanwhile, Black faculty are often forced to maneuver through spaces that seemingly don’t want to accept them.
For social work professor Ryon J. Cobb, for instance, being Black at UTA means leaving UTA.
Cobb said although there has been a push for diversity and equity at the administrative level during his time at UTA, he doesn’t believe every department on campus embraces those ideals.
“When I talked to other Black faculty members here, [I] hear variations in their experience[s],” he said.
Cobb said that across the higher education landscape, Black faculty face common issues, such as colleagues not valuing their work or students questioning their authority. But those are not the reasons he’s decided to leave UTA.
In 2018, Cobb and fellow social work professor Maxine Davis received an anonymous letter in the mail.
The letter attacked Davis and Cobb, with some of the comments demeaning how they speak, saying that Davis doesn’t speak professionally or like someone with a Ph.D.
“It doesn’t necessarily call me the N-word,” she said. “[But] for someone to assume that someone with a doctoral education has to speak in a certain type of manner really is a representation of white supremacy in [academia].”
The letter came after several faculty meetings where Davis said she spoke out about improving the culture of her department and discussing microaggressions she’d experienced during her time at the university. These microaggressions include someone telling her how to speak or someone touching her hair. Based on the fact that the content of the letter related to those meetings, she said she knows it was sent by a fellow faculty member.
Davis said the Title IX Office ruled that what she experienced was problematic, and administrators instructed her to notify the police department if she received another letter. Cobb said he appreciated the president and provost’s response, but the original response from the School of Social Work was “admittedly weak.”
Following the discovery of the letter, social work faculty were sent an email about the incident.
The email said that although members of the department may think they are “meeting or exceeding these principles and standards of diversity,” the recent incident “demonstrated that there may be room for improvement, self-reflection and learning.”
The email encouraged faculty to take the Harvard Project Implicit Bias Test and suggested they were “exploring other ways we may be able to address” the issue.
Cobb said the incident made it harder for him to focus on his job because he had to worry about who sent the letter, how much power they potentially had and what could come next.
This was all during their first year at UTA.
“I knew very early on that although I saw people liked me, that it didn’t necessarily mean that [I] in my full authentic self was welcomed and affirmed,” Davis said. “And I continue to experience further incidents that confirm that.”
Despite this, Davis said she doesn’t plan on leaving the university. Instead, she hopes to speak out as much as necessary to push for a better environment within the university.
Cobb, though, is moving on to the University of Georgia. After other incidents, including one where a white student worker yelled at him during a diversity meeting, he said he had to leave UTA.
Cobb’s departure further minimizes the number of Black faculty at UTA.
According to the National Center of Education, out of the 1,004 full-time instructional staff at UTA for the 2018-2019 academic year, 50 were Black or African American, with 26 of them being on contract for less than one year. Out of the 442 tenured faculty, 13 were Black. Out of the 119 tenured track faculty, five were Black. Out of the 177 lecturers in a one-year contract, only six were Black.