You #LookLikeAProfessor too!

magicmirrorThere’s a nice explanation at Inside Higher Ed today about the #ILookLikeAProfessor meme that took off last week on Twitter.  Masterminded by my Tweet peeps Sarah Pritchard, Adeline Koh, and Michelle Moravec, the movement attempts to address the age-old problem that we professors who aren’t bearded white men face at work:

Frustrated by the microaggressions we experience as “nontraditional” faculty, we started a new hashtag:#ILookLikeAProfessor. The flurry of photos, retweets and horror stories since last Thursday suggests that we are not alone in experiencing entrenched stereotypes and bias — both subtle and explicit.

  • The female professor mistaken for an undergraduate. She was grading homework, not doing it.
  • Male teaching assistants assumed to be the professor.
  • Faculty members of color assumed to be the custodian.
  • Asian professors assumed to be Chinese food delivery drivers.

We are not making this up.

Of course not!  I don’t get this so much any more but because I’m white as well as female, I was assumed to be a student when I was younger.  Then I was assumed to be a secretary.  Some passers-by might still make that assumption, because when I’m in the office I tend to keep my door open, and because I respond to requests for help navigating our confusing building and finding another office or department.  But then, that’s me:  always happy to help.

(Also:  who gets food delivered to the office?   Must be a big city thing.)

This was something that a lot of us grad students and junior faculty talked about twenty years ago.  I’m sure those of you nearing retirement can report that these conversations were happening forty years ago too.  Will we still be talking about this in another ten or twenty years?

Check it out.  You just might find me there, too!

4 thoughts on “You #LookLikeAProfessor too!

  1. Great post, Ann.

    The age thing–being mistaken for a student–cuts across gender lines. My husband was frequently mistaken for a student, probably as much as I was.

    Will we still be talking about this in 10 or 20 years? In terms of my Ph.D. program at least, there have been lots of changes over the last generation. During my first year, when graduate students were trying to figure out who all the professors were, that standard description of white male, gray hair wasn’t very helpful. There were so many of them. Now the department is very different, especially in terms of race and gender.

    Where I teach now, the department has had a good track record of hiring and keeping women. In fact, for several years all of the tenured professors were women. That made for some interesting times.

    Finally, I’ve noticed a discussion within #ilooklikeaprofessor about using the title of Professor. I do use it, and have for years. I never include my first name on syllabi or any other course material. I introduce myself on the first day of class as Professor and tell students that is my preferred manner of address. I do that for two main reasons. First, I worked hard for the degree. (Think of how Dr. Evil insisted on being called Doctor. But I don’t use doctor because it conjures images of medical practice.) Second, I want to reinforce to my students that they aren’t in high school anymore, that things are different in college, including the qualifications of the person standing in the classroom. In History these days, that almost always means that person has earned a terminal degree, and I believe it is important for students to know that.


    • I do the same thing, and the address thing hasn’t been a big deal for me. (Our students are extremely polite to the point of comical deference, so all it takes is a friendly note or request & they comply quickly.)

      I guess I’ve come to worry more about the disappearance of college teaching as a middle-class livelihood. It seems like just as women and nonwhite men came to represent more than just a token number, the numbers of TT jobs immediately declined. Funny, isn’t it, how this seems to happen whenever a profession gets more than slightly feminized or diversified?


  2. I’ve really enjoyed the hashtag – building a bigger community of academics and seeing ways in which the expectations of students, administrators and others bang up against the reality of the professoriate.

    My favourite anecdote about stereotypes about professor had to be back in the day when freshman registration was in person. I was seated at the department table with a female colleague when a student came up, looking to enrol in one of the first year classes. “I want to take this class but I heard about Professor ABC. He’s really tough and mean!”

    Smiling sweetly beside me, Professor ABC said, “I think you’ll find this prof to be very different from what you expect. Go ahead and give it a try if you’re interested.”


  3. When I was a 23-year old graduate student teaching the first session of my first discussion section, I was chatted up prior to class (with a sinking feeling in my stomach given circumstances and ethics) by a very beautiful undergraduate whose look when I started the class should have been framed. . .given boyish appearances I continued to be mistaken for a student until my early 30s.


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