PAEA Vignette Project: Surviving Colleague Conflict as a Black Woman in Academia
This Black History Month, we are excited to release the PAEA Vignette Project. These short, descriptive stories aim to increase understanding of the experiences of members in the PA education community who are underrepresented in medicine. The vignettes will cover a multitude of topics related to racism, discrimination, hostility in the workplace, and more. We look forward to the critical conversations these stories will spur with the goal of transforming higher graduate medical education environments. If you are interested in contributing to this project, please share your story here. Or, you are welcome to participate in an anonymous 15–30-minute interview with Dr. Monica Miles, who you can contact at mmiles@PAEAonline.org. She can listen to your story and capture the vignette. The Vignette Project would like to thank the brave people that have shared their stories to teachable moments for PA educators.
Vignette #1: Surviving Colleague Conflict as a Black Woman in Academia
It was Monday, June 21, 2021, the day that the straw would break the camel’s back. Early that morning, Dr. Shantrice Evans, a Black woman faculty member at a southwestern public university, presumed she was alone and was sitting in her office with her door closed. Her door was abruptly swung open by a co-instructor, a white woman, Dr. Susan Stevenson. Dr. Evans was confused by her presence as Dr. Stevenson did not usually come to campus so early and had in fact been experiencing attendance issues. In a demeaning tone, Dr. Stevenson demanded that they meet immediately, however, Dr. Evans explained, “I do not have the time for this right now, we have to talk later.” Conscious of her position in society as a Black woman, Dr. Evans did not want to appear aggressive and escalate the situation and thus remained seated while maintaining open body posture. Dr. Stevenson shouted in response “I am too upset to teach because I don’t know what your problem is with me!” Dr. Evans was frustrated with Dr. Stevenson as Dr. Stevenson had not been meeting her co-instructor obligations, an ongoing issue that Dr. Evans had already raised to their Program Director. Still attempting to deescalate the situation, Dr. Evans repeated “This is not a good time for me, and I think we need to have this conversation another time.” However, instead of listening to her colleague, Dr. Stevenson refused to leave Dr. Evans’s office, stepped forward to tower over Dr. Evans intimidatingly, and threatened to not teach that day. Dr. Evans grew concerned with the demeanor of Dr. Stevenson and the possible repercussions of responding. As a Black woman, Dr. Evans knew that she would be assumed to be the aggressor and instigator. Dr. Evans wondered, “How can she feel this entitled to burst into my office, distract me from the work that we are both responsible for, and harass me?” Finally, Dr. Stevenson angrily left the office, kept her threat, and did not teach. Dr. Evans felt helpless and hopeless to respond to her colleague’s behavior and recalls how the encounter “left an indelible mark on my perceived value as a human.” Dr. Evans was tenure-tracked and the only teacher of record on the course, so the course evaluations would ultimately impact her career trajectory, yet in the aftermath, she was given no support by the department and was simply told the situation had been “handled.”
- How are Dr. Evans’ and Dr. Stevenson’s races and/or genders relevant in this instance?
- If Dr. Stevenson were your colleague in your program, what feedback or supports would you suggest?
- If Dr. Evans was white and Dr. Stevenson was Black, do you think that the outcome of this confrontation would have been different? Why so?
Creating Space for Safe and Critical Discussions:
As you work through these questions with your colleagues, here are some tips to keep in mind for creating space for safe and critical discussions:
- Avoid “whataboutisms”
- Remain compassionate and empathetic
- Ask questions and listen to others’ opinions
- Uplift and center underrepresented voices
- Validate others’ experiences
- Stay engaged through discomfort
- Be courageous and welcome missteps and uncomfortable situations
- Be aware of the “minority tax” and do not expect underrepresented faculty, staff, or students to bear the burden initiating the Vignette discussions
- Nagasawa, Pamela R. PhD; Harris, Tammy DMSc, MPAS, PA-C; Bester, Vanessa S. EdD, MPAS, PA-C; Bolden, Alicia R. DMSc, MPH, PA-C; Tshuma, Lisa DBH, MPAS, MPA, PA-C; Ryujin, Darin MS, MPAS, PA-C; Murray, Donna DMSc, MS, PA-C; Brown, Sheena D. PhD, MSCR; Sturges, Daytheon MPAS, PA-C “I Can’t Breathe”—Courageous Conversations and Responses to Racism in Physician Assistant Education, The Journal of Physician Assistant Education: June 2021 – Volume 32 – Issue 2 – p 127-130 doi: 10.1097/JPA.0000000000000358
- Ryujin, Darin T. MS, MPAS, PA-C; Collett, DeShana PhD, PA-C; Mulitalo, Karen E. MPAS, PA-C From Safe to Brave Spaces, The Journal of Physician Assistant Education: June 2016 – Volume 27 – Issue 2 – p 86-88 doi: 10.1097/JPA.0000000000000073
- A Framework for Conversations About Race in Schools
- Strategies for Creating Space for Conversations on Racial Equity
- Faculty Strategies for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Excellence: Creating Exemplary Spaces for Safe and Brave Conversations