Last Friday I was invited to attend a Rotary Club meeting in Racine, WI. It was fun meeting the members, and learning about their history and charitable projects. If asked to join I’ll probably accept for a start date in 2014. The weird thing about membership, though, will be attending weekly meetings in the Racine Country Club. A stereotype of country clubs is that members are a bunch of old White guys sitting around trying to keep women and racial minorities out. I was the only person of color present (in a group of about 40), and there were just two female members in attendance. There were a lot of younger men at the meeting, however, and I enjoyed the general vibe of the group.
I was also the only person of color in the room when the chancellor and provost took me to the Kenosha Country Club at the end of my first week on the job last month. As we rolled up I joked, “are you sure they are going to let me in this place? I grew up in the South, you know, so I need to check!” They responded that the university would not have a membership if there were any exclusionary practices. After a nice lunch they informed me that I could be added to the membership list.
So what do you think, readers: should I join one or both country clubs, knowing that I’ll be one of the few faces — and maybe the ONLY face — of diversity?
Amelious Whyte — August 12, 2013
Interesting question. If it were me it would depend on whether I thought such a membership would be an expectation of my job, if I thought I would actually feel comfortable there, if I was willing to be the only one every time I go there, and whether I think I need to hang out In a country club. As you know it's a complex issue and the answer to any one question might send you in one direction of the other. I grew up in a public housing project so the notion of a country club is so foreign to me I would probably not join one unless I needed to. The Campus Club is as country club as I plan to get.
Peggy Rader — August 12, 2013
I don't know that I can offer anything that's valid, as a white woman, albeit a very class-conscious white woman whose parents would never have been seen in a country club as anything other than servers or janitors.
The answer, I think, is layered in the why. And I think there are several good replies: You enjoy the company and as someone new in a small city that is no small thing. It sounds as though you felt welcomed if also self-aware of your uniqueness in that crowd.
Another reply, if you're willing to play this role, is that by being there, simply being there, people will have the experience of getting to know someone not like them. That could have value for them, but I'm not always sure how that plays out for the person in your position. My only experience with this is being the only straight woman in a group of lesbians. Another story for another time but it was instructive.
Obviously these points have gone through your mind. And perhaps another: it could help in your establishment of yourself in the academic world you now inhabit.
Lots to consider. Myself--I would try it and see. Memberships are not forever. Too many dumb questions, too many times when you feel as though you're being asked to speak for everyone with a dark skin, etc. you can always opt out.
Kelly O'Brien — August 12, 2013
I'm generally suspicious of country clubs, and I've never heard you talk about your golf game. That being said, would the membership be beneficial to the business connections and stewarding of donors that you need to conduct as a dean? The first rule of marketing (and public relations) is to go where your audience is. These memberships could be useful for you.
Andrew Thompson — August 12, 2013
"Hey Wang, I think this place is restricted, so don't tell em you're Jewish!"
Walt Jacobs — August 12, 2013
Thanks everyone. I think I may try the Kenosha Country Club, as that will be a free membership for me, so nothing much will be lost if it turns out to be a chilly scene. There are several potential benefits, as you all note!
Laura Coffin Koch — August 12, 2013
It is an interesting question and I don't think there is a clear answer for everyone. You would want to think about what would you gain from a country club membership and what would you lose. Does a membership make you feel like a part of a community that you wouldn't get otherwise? Does a membership set you apart from people you care about? What message does it send? How would you use your membership? Just a few of my many questions.
Elizabeth Haven Hawley — August 13, 2013
It's got to start somewhere. Make space for others by claiming a spot.
deborah carter mccoy — August 20, 2013
I've given this some thought and am of the opinion there is no right answer. I love the idea of turning things topsy turvy, but not at the expense of your dignity. As long as you are treated respectfully, then go for it. I often feel so aware of how easily I can be a chameleon in so many places and how rare a thing that is. To paraphrase a quote I love... Go into that place and be nothing other than who you are and who you are called to be. Go in with your strengths and your vulnerabilities. Do not hide.
Let us know if you receive a warm and honest welcome - even one that may contain honest curiosity and awkward moments.
Walt Jacobs — August 20, 2013
Great quote, Deborah! Thanks!
Robert Kase — August 21, 2013
Please go for it and join. These places can't grow in diversity without intelligent people willing to add diversity to the population. Your contributions will hopefully be felt both ways.
Walt Jacobs — August 21, 2013
Thanks Bob! It turns out that the Kenosha Country Club offer is for dining privileges for administrators at UW-P vs. a full membership. I've accepted that as a first step!
kim — August 22, 2013
do it! someone has to make it common for minorities to be part of the environment, and i think you are an ideal candidate fornthe task.