Beyond the Bubble | Dec. 10

U. job website criticized on social media for alleged racial stereotyping

The University career page received complaints online for “color-cod[ing] their employment opportunities” through the site’s photographs, according to posts on social media sites and blogs last week. The controversial images placed an African-American woman above a link to administrative and support staff positions, an Asian man above a link to the faculty and academic appointments and a white man above a link to the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory researcher positions. They have since been removed from the site.

Concerns over the photographs were first raised online by Karen Kelsky, the blogger of “The Professor is In” and former professor at the Universities of Oregon and Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who came across the “amusing” webpage through a private message from one of her followers, she explained.

Kelsky said she decided to share the webpage through social media because she often discusses issues of race in academia to provide information and support for those starting out in the field. Several of Kelsky’s Facebook followers commented on her post with stories of past discrimination as female minority members in academia.

“They forgot Latinos for maintenance,” one commenter wrote.

Although Kelsky did not originally set out to change the website, she said her complaint “really exploded” once Al Jazeera columnist Sarah Kendzior retweeted the post to her nearly 15,000 Twitter followers.

“I thought it was in very bad form, and I also wasn’t surprised,” Kendzior said of the webpage in an interview with The Daily Princetonian. “Universities have a long trend of coughing up these sorts of racial stereotypes.”

Blog reader and Oklahoma University associate professor and Director of Graduate Admissions Sherri Irvin GS ’03 sent an email complaint to the University’s Human Resources Department and to University Provost David Lee after seeing the post. 

Irvin did not respond to a request for an interview but provided the message she sent to the University.

“As a graduate alumna of Princeton, I thought you might find this brief blog post about the visuals on your ‘Jobs at Princeton’ page to be of interest,” Irvin wrote.

She received a response from the Human Resources Department around four hours later thanking her for bringing the post to its attention and confirming that the images had been removed.

“When this matter was brought to our attention, we realized that [the photos] may be interpreted differently, so we removed them,” said University Spokesperson Martin Mbugua, speaking on Lee’s behalf. “The photos were not meant to categorize any individuals in a particular way.”

He added that the images had been on the website for more than four years.

“We value diversity in our work force, and we want everyone to feel welcome, engaged and valued at Princeton,” Mbugua said.

Some online posts particularly criticized the gender disparity the images displayed across support staff and academic positions.

“The really problematic thing was the association of African-American women with office staff and not with faculty or scientists,” Kelsky said. “The reason that this got the traction that it did is that we all know that universities, for quite a few years now, have been working with affirmative action policies and have been making great efforts to diversify,” she added.

Of the University’s tenured professors, 69 percent are white, 19 percent are Asian, 8 percent are Hispanic and 3 percent are African-American, according to a diversity report published in September 2013. The report also indicates that 78 percent of associate and full professors, as well as 64 percent of doctoral students, are male.

“If you look at the University in terms of underrepresented groups, we are doing much better at, to use the proverbial phrase, ‘looking like America,’ at the undergraduate level than we are in those other aspects of the University,” University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 said during a town council meeting last week.

Kelsky said the fact that such a high-profile university was involved made the complaints particularly disappointing.

“It wasn’t just any university. I mean, it was Princeton doing it,” she added.

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article mischaracterized the nature of Provost David Lee’s response to a request for comment. University spokesperson Martin Mbugua spoke on his behalf. The ‘Prince’ regrets the error. 

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