When You Take Up Too Much Space
In 2008, I was working as an investment accountant navigating my way through corporate America. At that time, I knew there was something greater for me to do but I hadn’t quite put my finger on what that was. So, I kept climbing.
I was also going through a divorce at that time, so I decided it would be smart for me to take on a part-time gig for extra money. Something I didn’t have to think about too much; a departure from spreadsheets and reconciliations. I responded to a job board ad for an evening computer lab instructor at a career college. Seemed harmless enough, until they asked if I could teach a math class three nights a week. Sure, why not.
My answer to if there was something greater came in the form of a layoff from my “good” accounting job, and a 4-month severance package.
I still had my gig at the career college but after months of this new carefree life, I needed to get back to a full-time income. So, I told the college about losing my job and asked there were any extra classes that I could pick up. The current accounting instructor happened to be on his way out, which created space for me.
Over the next four years, I went from instructor to retention dean to academic dean and then “acting” faculty director. This meant that the powers that be were going to fill the director position – and in the meantime I could act like I was. I had every intention of getting the position. I was qualified for it and had the receipts.
After 9-months of “acting” like a faculty director, they brought in someone else for the job. He had less experience and even fewer credentials. It was a major blow to my plan. The faculty was outraged and so were the students. I had to train my replacement. It was humiliating but I held my head high and cried later.
When I asked for specific reasons as to why I didn’t get the job, I was referred to unrelated situations when I was an instructor. It was a stretch for them to come up with that. Although unfounded, I accepted it and agreed to stay in my role of academic dean. But I wish I would have refused.
Last Tuesday, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones did just that. She refused an offer to take the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism position at UNC. The university finally granted her tenure after initially offering her a five-year contract without it. Every other person that has held the position, who were also all white, received tenure.
“For too long, powerful people have expected the people they have mistreated and marginalized to sacrifice themselves to make things whole,” Hannah-Jones said in a statement. “The burden of working for racial justice is laid on the very people bearing the brunt of the injustice, and not the powerful people who maintain it. I say to you: I refuse.”
Nikole Hannah-Jones will be taking her talents to Howard University as their Knight Chair in Race and Journalism.
Watching her interview with Gayle King was glorious. I was so happy to hear her say that she refused UNC’s offer. After the embarrassing humiliation they put her through, she had every right to refuse the position she should have had from the beginning. Their offering wasn’t genuine, after receiving pressure from students, staff, and donors.
In the realm of taking up space, Black women in academia worry about whether the way they perform their job is going to be used against them later. They also have limited options when it comes to job placement and security. I stayed at my institution because I didn’t have any other options. Thankfully, Nikole Hannah-Jones did.