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Reggie Byron: the First Black Male to Receive Tenure at Southwestern


Reggie Byron: the First Black Male to Receive Tenure at Southwestern


The most recent tenure review granted tenure to a black male professor, current Assistant Professor of Economics Reggie Byron, for the first time in Southwestern history.

Currently, Byron is the only black male faculty member at Southwestern and one of seven full-time on track faculty of color. As of the current semester, the full-time instructional staff consists of 21 assistant professors, including Byron. Byron will join four already tenured males of color in this coming semester, of a total of 91 tenured faculty members.

Despite a current lack of racial diversity in the faculty, Dean Gaunder says that each search committee involved in hiring faculty includes a diversity advocate. In addition, the faculty handbook lists “diversity” as one criterion of expected qualities tenure track faculty should exhibit.

“I think that [a lack of diversity in the faculty] is something that all universities struggle with,” Gaunder said. “I do think this is important at Southwestern. Southwestern is committed to social justice, to diversity. Having served myself on many search committees, the diversity advocate is not the only one who is making that argument [to bring in more diverse faculty], but [the diversity advocate] such an important voice, because they go over the applications and bring forth the applicants that may have been overlooked.”

However, according to Byron, professor of Anthropology Melissa Johnson, and several other students and faculty, appointing a diversity advocate does not alleviate underrepresentation of minority races in the faculty at Southwestern. Byron said that many institutions adopt a “colorblind” approach to appointing faculty. (Colorblindness refers to a claimed ignorance of differences in color and denial of the possibility of implicit or inadvertent racial discrimination).

“While most search committees here have a diversity advocate, other subtle demand side processes introduce obstacles to recruiting a diverse faculty (under the guise of being colorblind),” Byron said.

In addition, Johnson pointed out that recent and current financial trajectories present opportunities in hiring more diverse individuals to fill vacant positions. However, the high demand for positions and hierarchical filling of positions does not guarantee immediate hiring of new diverse (or any new) faculty, according to Gaunder.

The hiring of diverse faculty poses both opportunity and unforeseen tokenism for the underrepresented minorities on campus, particularly when current demographics show a single-digit population of professors of color.

“The under-representation of faculty of color comes with a lot of invisible labor for those of us who accept the position. Some of this labor is rewarding (e.g., advising ‘under-represented student’ groups), yet, as with most organizations there is a need for diverse representation in service activities that do not fit my natural interests, expertise, or availability.” Byron.