Being a college professor has been an interesting journey filled with excitement, doubt, resistance and reward. When I first started my career in San Francisco, I was constantly questioned about my intellect, credibility and ability to teach communication studies. Being a young Asian-Indian female didn’t seem to fit the standard of what or who a professor should be.
In the first few years of my career, I faced constant questioning and challenges from both my students and my colleagues. On countless occasions on the first day of a semester, students would ask me, “Are you really our teacher?" On a few instances I had to argue with the campus police because they tried to ticket me for parking in the faculty parking lot. One time, they asked me to walk back to the campus with the police to prove that that my car was indeed registered under faculty status.
One time I mispronounced the word “pseudo” in class and an older White male student blurted out, “I can’t believe you're allowed to teach us when you clearly can’t speak English correctly!” These experiences were all terrifying to me and made me doubt my own credibility as an educator. I found myself constantly apologizing but always just dismissed these types of incidents.
It wasn’t until I experienced hostility in my own office space that I decided to speak out and lean in. I was assigned to share an office with an older male adjunct professor who had enjoyed having his own office for 20 years or so. This “colleague” was less than pleased at being asked to share office space and refused to make room for me on the desk or shelves. He often left me unwelcoming notes, made racist remarks about me to other faculty and questioned my ability and credibility to teach communications courses.
His behavior gave me the courage to make some noise and file a complaint with the union. In the end, he was mandated to sit through a mediation, apologize to me, share the office space and respect my presence. I was relieved to be able to take ownership of the space I deserved to have, but the highlight of the incident was that I was able to say to his face that even though he might have more privileges as a white male in our society, on our campus we were both adjuncts and we were equals. I walked away from the incident a wiser, stronger and more empowered person.
I have since moved on in my career and am now a full-time, tenured associate professor of communication studies. I have learned to embrace my unique identity and voice. Along with my teaching duties, I am the chair of the college’s Diversity Commission and I design and facilitate diversity and multicultural trainings rooted in social justice to help increase cultural competency and awareness on my campus. I am grateful that I have been given the opportunity to take the oppressive experiences in my life to work towards creating social change and help create a more inclusive and equitable campus community.
Navigating the chaos of being a full time mom, wife and professor has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life. However, I haven’t let that stop me from leaning in and continuing to work towards accomplishing my professional and personal goals. I recently started a consulting company to provide communication and diversity training in the private and public sectors.
I lean in for myself, for my son, for my parents who made sacrifices to come to this country for the betterment of my life, for my younger female cousins and other brown sisters who need to see more woman of color in positions of power and privilege, and so that I can continue to help motivate and empower my students to become conscientious, culturally competent, and skilled communicators.