Vincene Verdun and Vernellia Randall, The Hollow Piercing Scream: An Ode for Black Faculty in the Tenure Canal, 7 Hastings Women's Law Journal 133-144 (Winter, 1996) (Full Document)



Very few notes are included with this poem since it is not intended as an expression of research or theory but of our experience. An experience that is mutually shared not only with other Black Faculty, but in many respects with Asian, Native, Hispanic and other oppressed groups. To fully appreciate our expression we encourage you to read it through at least once before reading the notes. We also encourage you to read endnote five which is an expression of fact.


To the Black Women and Men who proceeded us, who had an even harder row to hoe. The hollow piercing scream was outside my body. I tried to reach deep, Grab the pain, thrust it from me. But the scream was not from within me, and I failed. 

With fist clenching determination, I tried again, crouched down, leaned forward, and searched long, slow and shrill. But the pain snuggled safely in the folds of my being unhindered untouched unrelieved. 

In the final frustrated effort, I dropped to my knees flung my head to the floor reared up with a full resonant bellow. But I was not it and it was not me. So the pain remained. 

Slumped in defeat I could not weep I found no rest I struggled and rose as the pain pulled the reins securely bound about my shoulders and I and the pain are still one.

You may scream but it won't give you any relief.

You may scream but nobody will listen.

What ... white faculty asks, does screaming and pain have to do with Blacks and the tenure process? Nothing ... and everything. Nothing because no one ever screams, because black faculty know that it will do no good and black faculty know that no one is listening.

Everything because at some point most black faculty feel like screaming as they go through the tenure canal ... but do not.

Why ... white faculty ponders is there a scream in the spirit of Blacks who are in the midst of the tenure process? We do not change so much from the time that we are infants to the time when we are seeking tenure. We want a warm nurturing environment.

We want people who believe in us. We want people who encourage us ... prod us to do our best. When we were infants and our needs were not met ... we screamed. In the tenure canal we do not feel warm, we do not feel nurtured, we feel aggravated frustrated mistreated ... and singled out.

Why now? Why me?! we feel like screaming but we do not. What makes us want to scream?

New Rules and Policies make us want to scream! Different Standards make us want to scream!

Discounting Race based scholarship make us want to scream!

Isolation makes us want to scream!

Denial of our Black Experience makes us want to scream!

Why do we feel like screaming?


Or worse, old rules and policies never implemented Until the first black faculty seeks tenure. [FN1]

New rules and policies. On their face benign. New rules and policies are implemented all the time. Perhaps a good idea whose time has come. Perhaps a means of helping ... BUT

Without regard to the intent If it did not apply to the last white male who went through the process- it makes us ask the uncomfortable question-

Why now? Why me?!

It would be okay, if the newly implemented rules and policies resulted in positive and encouraging comments but more often than not those newly implemented rules and policies result in extensive criticism and projections of problems with tenure.

With the discomfort of being the first When the policies and rules are changed We do not feel warm We do not feel nurtured

We feel aggravated frustrated mistreated and singled out.

Why now? Why me?! We feel like screaming but we do not.

Why do we feel like screaming?


Teaching, service, scholarship that is what you need.

Different strokes for different folks ... some emphasize teaching some emphasize scholarship and service, well, it is the lonely stepchild.

It behooves an infant faculty member to know what is important But for us the focus may be a moving target. [FN2]

In a school that previously focused on scholarship ... we will find ourselves in trouble over ... teaching.

When the standards abruptly change We do not feel warm We do not feel nurtured We feel aggravated frustrated mistreated and singled out.

Why now? Why me?! We feel like screaming but we do not.

Service. We wear many service hats ... more than most counselor, role model, token black committee member, committee member, committee member, committee member, committee member, committee member, ad infinitum.

Service a stepchild little recognized.

When service is given little recognition We do not feel warm We do not feel nurtured We feel aggravated frustrated mistreated and singled out.

Why now? Why me?! We feel like screaming but we do not.

Why do we feel like screaming?


Not all of us write about race but many do [FN3] And when we do we are told save that piece until after tenure or after you receive full professor or do you have to use the word racist?

Race matters

Race matters

Race is a part of our lives and matters

Race is a part of the system and matters

Race is a part of scholarship and matters

When race-based scholarship is discounted

We do not feel warm

We do not feel nurtured

We feel aggravated frustrated mistreated and singled out.

Why now? Why me?! We feel like screaming but we do not.

Why do we feel like screaming?



Isolated Always alone ...

the only

the one

the first

perhaps two rarely three almost never more.

Isolation comes coupled with the overwhelming sense that the white faculty lacks confidence in us.

Confidence warm and fuzzy immeasurable except through a poll of feelings and attitudes.

Lack of confidence easily spotted by questions asked or ... not, by avoided glances by getting every piece of information long after it is common knowledge to everyone else.

When white faculty show us a lack of confidence we feel pain we feel acute loneliness we feel insecure and uncertain.

Those feelings follow us into the classroom into our scholarship into our service and into our personal lives.

If no one reminds us to define ourselves and behave accordingly or if no one tells us that we are a whole lot better than white faculty think we are it crushes.

Be careful of the danger; Danger that the perceptions of white faculty perceptions tainted by a subconscious bias perceptions formed from residual attitudes perceptions that label us as

Lazy incompetent mentally inferior unqualified. [FN4]

When residual bias impacts white faculty's evaluation of us

We do not feel warm We do not feel nurtured We feel aggravated frustrated mistreated and singled out.

Why now? Why me?! We feel like screaming but we do not.

Why do we feel like screaming?



No, all blacks are not the same No, all black experiences are not universal But being black in America is different from being white in America;

And our experience is different from the experience of white faculty

A difference many white faculty deny tenuring is grueling, they say. tenuring is grueling for everyone, they say.

Of course! Tenuring is grueling No one remembers it with euphoria.

But oh ... we get it! Since it is horrible for everyone- when we claim that the experience is different for us than for the last white male tenured our feelings are discounted.

you are super sensitive says a white faculty member

you have a chip on your shoulder says another

you are playing the victim they shout in chorus!

Stories, validating us are dismissed and explained away.


But our experiences are different!

So different that even when we are tenured we do not feel warm we do not feel nurtured we feel aggravated frustrated mistreated singled out discounted and invalidated.

Why do we feel like screaming?

New Rules and Policies

Different Standards

Discounting Race based scholarship


Denial of our Black Experience

I made it through the tenure canal.

I wanted to scream.

I screamed and the scream was from outside my body,

I could not reach the source of the pain with my scream and

I and the pain are now one. [FN5]

[FNa1]. Vincene Verdun is a tenured Associate Professor at The Ohio State University and Vernellia R. Randall is an untenured Professor at The University of Dayton. Professor Randall has been granted tenure effective 1997-98.


[FN1]. Let's use the case of Relda, a fictional black woman, whose experiences reflect those of many African Americans. Relda is the first black woman Professor at AnyLaw School.

At AnyLaw School, faculty are expected to apply for tenure and promotion to associate professor in the fall of the fourth year. At the beginning of Relda's second year, the rank and tenure committee did a full review of Relda and a white woman colleague. Relda was happy to go along with the review until she found out that this was the first time such a review had ever taken place.

When Relda looked at the specific criticisms in the second year review-You are seriously lacking in scholarship-she was even more frustrated. She asked the last white male to get tenure where his scholarship stood at the same point in his tenure trail and he had been in the exact same position, for the same reason-he had scrapped a piece he had worked on in the first summer just as she had. The big difference-instead of a negative discouraging review by the rank and tenure committee in his second year he had received ideas and encouragement from his colleagues who liked him and wanted him to succeed and get tenure.

Relda felt a little like her faculty was building a record, just in case she did not make it. She was not feeling warm and nurtured at that point. She felt singled out, mistreated, and like an outsider. At that point she felt a lot like screaming-but she did not.

[FN2]. Relda was advised by numerous people that at AnyLaw School scholarship was the important determination. That is, if the scholarship was good-no one was ever denied tenure-in fact up until that point no one had ever been denied tenure. Relda was further advised that as to teaching, student evaluations were not significant at all-peer evaluations were the criteria used.

Well, you may imagine Relda's amazement when in her third year pre-tenure review (another first time policy) the focus was on Relda's teaching. In fact, even though Relda's peer evaluations had been excellent, the grave concerns about Relda's teaching were based upon the student evaluations. Black professors and particularly black women sometimes suffer under student scrutiny. Furthermore, Relda's student evaluations looked a lot like those of the white male professor who had received tenure before her and he had not suffered through similar demoralizing criticisms.

[FN3]. After Relda completed and had published a fairly lengthy piece on banking law, she knew she wanted to write a piece that dealt with race. From the very beginning, Relda was discouraged to write the piece and told that she should wait for post tenure or promotion to full professor. Relda ignored that advice because she knew that her only hope of writing a piece that would be accepted in a prestigious law journal was to write about what she cared about most-her own experience as an African American.

She did not follow the advice of her colleagues. Instead, she wrote the race based article. Writing that piece did not enhance the respect of her colleagues for her ability or her work. But it did get accepted in a well respected law journal, and received excellent reviews. This is a happy ending-but if Relda had not had the courage to defy the advice of a senior faculty member, and write the article that she wanted to write-it is very possible that she would have written a mediocre article and would not have qualified for tenure.

[FN4]. Relda was fourteen years old before she learned to be proud to be black. She can still recall James Brown's assertion to Say it loud-I'm black and I'm proud. No matter how much we consciously try to reject the lessons of our youth-they are still a part of our consciousness and belief system. Relda had to remind herself to define her own competence-because of the likelihood that some of her colleagues' doubts about her ability (which may have been steeped in subconscious residual bias) had been reinforced by the reviews of the rank and tenure committee.

[FN5]. A recent example of the denial of the Black experience was the tone and content of a rejection letter from the Journal of Legal Education. It said:

June 6, 1995

Dear Professor Randall:

The editors have finished the review of The Hollow Piercing Scream: An Ode for Black Faculty in the Tenure Canal. We have decided not to make an offer of publication.

The ideas in The Hollow Piercing Scream have been advanced many times. Despite that fact, we might have been interested in publishing the work if we had thought it had special merit as a poem. But a reader who is an expert in literary matters advised us that The Hollow Piercing Scream is not a good enough piece of poetry to justify publication in the Journal.

Very truly yours,

Coordinating Editor