Most people who are not straight white men would probably smirk at the idea that straight white men feel alienated in the higher education workplace.
Those who smirk, Sandra Miles said here at the annual conference of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, are hindering meaningful discussion about race.
Miles, whose dissertation on the professional experiences of black women in her field produced an unexpected sub-study about the alienation of straight white men, made this argument to a couple hundred people who turned up to hear more about her research. The ensuing debate was, unsurprisingly, somewhat contentious.
A comment by one white graduate student toward the end of the session summed it up well. He described a recent discussion about privilege in a higher education class, when he was shot down after offering his own thoughts.
“I couldn’t even begin to have that conversation because it was automatically assumed I didn’t understand,” he said. “To go through that experience in a higher education class – which is supposed to be the safest place to talk about that – was just terrifying.”
The preconceived notions and biases apparent in the reactions of that student’s peers spoke to the overall takeaway of Miles, who is university ombudsman at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus.
“We’re all unhappy – apparently that’s what equality looks like,” she said. “Every other group feels discriminated against as well, and when having these conversations with people who are members of these other groups, it’s important that you understand that.”