By Leslie Blair
The Journal of Negro Education (Winter 2014, Vol. 83 Issue 1, p. 61-76.) recently published “A Hole in the Soul of Austin: Black Faculty Community Engagement Experiences in a Creative Class City” by DDCE faculty fellow Dr. Rich Reddick, DDCE post-doctoral fellow Dr. Stella Smith and former DDCE graduate research assistants Dr. Beth Bukoski along with former DDCE Project MALES staff member Dr. Patrick Valdez and Dr. Miguel V. Wasielewski.
The article discusses how tenure and tenure-track Black faculty at The University of Texas at Austin—a predominantly White institution— make meaning of their community engagement living and working in the city of Austin, long considered a creative class city given its demographics and history. The researchers, who surveyed all Black tenured and tenure-track faculty at UT Austin, examined two questions:
- How do tenured and tenure-track Black faculty at the university make meaning of community engagement experiences in the Austin community?
- What positive and challenging factors do the faculty perceive as they interact in the community?
The researchers found that if faculty came to UT Austin from another predominately white institution, the transition to Austin was not as difficult as those who came from an historically black college or university or a more diverse institution or city. Some faculty appreciated the characteristics of Austin as a creative class town but realized that a lack of ethnic diversity in Austin made it a “less than welcoming place” for Black faculty. Others noted their professional experiences and experiences raising a family in Austin were generally positive yet found stark reminders of structural racism and segregation. And given Austin’s kid-friendly environment, those who were parents engaged in the Austin community much differently than those who were not parents. Those without families often felt ignored, and in fact, their experiences suggest the need of opportunities that “consider their status as newcomers without the traditional anchors of family and children.” Black faculty who identified as LGBTQ found Austin’s LGBTQ community to exclude those of color.
Overall, the findings detail a lack of social and cultural experiences for Black faculty that affected their quality of life. Those who found a spiritual community or church in Austin or those with family ties to the city expressed greater satisfaction. It was also found Austin’s reputation as a city with a thriving music, arts and night life scene neglects consideration of a lack of entertainment and social interaction options aimed at Black professionals, especially for those in their 30s and older.
The authors conclude, “The case of Austin represents a specific history and experience; other creative class cities must come to terms with their unique histories and present realities—this is the reality of race in America.”