Several years ago, during a tenure-track search, I asked two questions – two questions which I ask of every scholar applying for a position with our institution. The first is innocent enough: “How important is racial/ethnic diversity in your scholarship and teaching?” Not surprisingly, all enthusiastically answer in the affirmative. Then I ask my second question: “Which scholars and/or books from racial and ethnic minorities do you include on your syllabus and why?” Here is when the squirming begins, revealing the candidate’s lack of academic rigor.
I’m becoming. I’m becoming authentic. I’m becoming solid in the fact that I am good at my job, that I deserve to be in front of these students each day, just as much as any white, cishet male counterparts with degrees from way up North. I’m becoming solid in the understanding that by accepting my own identities (and the privileges and oppressions that come with them) I can clear space for my students to do the same.
I have found that academia can offer a lower-class West Virginian from a single-mother family the chance to live an illusion. I have been able to travel countries, gain audiences of affluent scholars, and been given a platform for my voice that I would not have received outside of academia.
While the questions set before religious judges are often rather inward-facing, the nature of such questions, which can determine the fate of someone’s immortal soul, can have major impacts on the political and economic life of believers outside the walls of the Church.