I have been in higher education for 25 years, teaching at very high-ranking and elite predominantly White universities. In my role as a tenured professor, often the only Black or one of few Blacks with tenure, I have had the privilege and responsibility of sitting on promotion and tenure committees. This is a tough position to be in as one must be proactive, on guard and diligent about advocating for professors of color.
In this era of demonstrating scholarship in quantity, there is also a major push and requirement to publish in high-impact journals. These journals are predominantly mainstream outlets, not because of rigor but because of readership. The ivory tower majority is White and journal editors and authors are catering to them. Supply and demand. I get that. Publishing is a business and the competition is fierce. But in this competitive process, we cannot discount and neglect the increasingly diverse nation and scholars and readers of color.
I have had the unfortunate experiences of seeing highly published faculty of color not “earn” promotion and tenure because their work in minority journals is deemed sub-par to mainstream journals. I have seen how some (many? most?) White universities relegate scholarship published in “minority” journals to second-class status.
I have also fought this pervasive and entrenched mindset. Our journals are more than excellent as a viable and rigorous publication outlet. Sometimes this may be our only publication option. I have experienced my own work being rejected in mainstream journals but accepted in minority journals. Seldom were the criticisms about quality or rigor; they were more about silencing and colorblindness. Like the proverbial elephant in the room, this was tantamount to not wanting to talk about race, racism and difficult topics.
Had I not been on promote and tenure committees to share these views and realities, the applicants of color might not have gotten promotion and tenure, which was earned. Publications in minority journals would have gone uncounted and, thus, dismissed from consideration. That is, 35 publications, for instance, might have been counted as 22. With this in mind, I offer a few suggestions.
First, it behooves us as faculty of color to educate and enlighten our institutions. They must know that some or much of what we write may not be accepted in mainstream journals for the above reasons and others. We must not allow fear to prevent us from supporting minority journals and readers. This ultimately diminishes our true reach and impact.
Second, in the recruitment and retention process, administers must not penalize faculty of color for writing in minority journals, which may have lower impact factors and rankings. Such journals are a viable outlet ― sometimes the only outlet ― for faculty of color, many of whom are challenged to publish their work in mainstream journals due to ongoing biases and lack of receptivity to topics and “real talk.” Minority journals are legitimate and must be valued in the recruitment, retention and promotion/tenure process. Once they are more valued, their numerical impact factor will increase, along with readership.
The bottom line is that faculty of color must not be penalized for such publications. They should be supported for reaching a variety of audiences and readers. Some people of color (parents and community members) look to minority journals for information and support. Minority journals, brimming with rigor and relevance, must not be discounted in the ongoing efforts to recruit and retain more faculty of color in higher education.
Dr. Donna Y. Ford is a professor of education and human development at Vanderbilt University.