When I read about professors being afraid of their own students and changing what they teach in response to that fear, I'm struck by two things. First, I understand why they're afraid. After my decade and a half in the classroom, I can confidently add to the chorus suggesting that universities increasingly treat students like consumers. As administrators seem more concerned with enrollment dollars than students' learning, instructors receive a clear message: "The customer is always right."
But here's the other thing: I don't have the luxury of simply changing my syllabus to make my students more comfortable. You see, I'm also black and a woman. There aren't a lot of other people like me — women of color hold just 7.5 percent of full-time faculty positions nationwide. My very presence makes some of my students uncomfortable because I do not fit any picture society has given them of an expert. My students, after all, have grown up bombarded with the message that people who belong in authority — especially authority based on intellectual accomplishments and expertise —are men, usually white men.