Magazine Feature / People

Professor questions racial perceptions in book

Bernadette Calafell, associate professor of human communication studies at DU, has a PhD in communication studies from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She also is a Mexican-American.

The two are equally a part of her, but she questions whether she’s perceived that way in “Your Education Wipes Out Your Ethnicity,” a chapter is in Darrel Cleveland’s book When Minorities are Strongly Encouraged to Apply (Peter Lang, 2008).

Calafell shares her experience as a professor in the South. She had openly discussed her ethnicity with the class yet some students candidly made racist remarks. When she asked a student about it, he said that her education wiped out her ethnicity.
Because the topic in class was immigration, the students were identifying all Latinas, Latinos, Chicanas, Chicanos and Hispanics as illegal immigrants.

“It’s interesting that education might be associated with racelessness or, in other words, whiteness,” Calafell says. “The more and more education I’ve gotten, the more I feel culturally disconnected because of people’s perceptions.”

Calafell isn’t the first minority to experience this perception. During the 2008 election, a Time article asked, “Is Obama Black Enough?” And Associated Content once posted a story asking if Oprah had “gone white.”

For Calafell, it drives home the point that race is a complex issue, especially for Latinas.

“We must move beyond black and white,” she says. “And, we need to be open to critical discussions with our students to change their preconceived notions.”

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