LISNews Interview With Desiree Goodwin

Desiree Goodwin made headlines around the world earlier this year as the "sexy librarian" when she claimed in a lawsuit that she had been rejected repeatedly for promotion because she is black and is perceived as just a "pretty girl" whose attire was too "sexy." According to reports, even with degrees from Cornell, Boston College, and Simmons College, she'd been rejected for 16 jobs at Harvard since 1999, when she completed her master’s degree in library science after attending night classes at Simmons College for 4 1/2 years.

Below is my interview with Desiree.

BEFORE THE CASE:

 

1)Tell us about your self, past jobs,
education, anything else a bunch of librarians might
find interesting.

Being a librarian is an
essential part of my identity. I have worked in the field for 20 years,
15 years
in full time positions, but I also want to work as an activist,
speaker, and writer.

2)Who is your favorite current or recent author of fiction/of
non-fiction?

My reading tastes are
very diverse. I enjoy reading historical fiction, as well as popular
fiction,
biographies, and social commentary. I just completed reading a
historical fiction trilogy about the
life of Josephine Bonaparte, by Sandra Gulland, and am now reading a
mystery by African American
author Valerie Wilson Wesley.

My favorite contemporary
authors of fiction are African American: Eric Jerome Dickey, Frances
Ray, and Connie Briscoe, among others. As for social commentary, I just
finished reading a book
about the power of first perceptions called Blink by Malcolm Gladwell,
and Harvard Rules by
Richard Bradley.
 

3)Can you speak about the age and
gender of your supervisors?This question I would say is
not really relevant to what has happened to me because some of the
most forward thinking progressive people I know are men, and some are
much older than I am. One of the wisest and hippest people I know is
white woman in her 70's. Women can be some of
our own harshest critics.
  

4)Did you feel that it was your looks, or
you race that were more of an impediment to your
being promoted?

I think it was my race
that was more of an impediment, and that closely ties in to my
appearance. It
is because there are very strong cultural biases against black people,
and the higher we rise in the
socio-economic ranks the more visible we become, and the more we will
be judged for our
appearance and expression of gender. Race is a concept that is based on
appearance, and tied to
how rewards will be distributed in our society. Black people feel more
pressure to appear
conformist, which we can interpret as conservative, in order to rise in
the corporate world, and
white people, especially in academia are not subject to the same
restrictions to the same degree that
we are.

My experiences have led
me to believe that "color blind" means blind to the accomplishments of
people of color. Mentoring continues to be a problem for black people.
During my time at
Harvard, nearly 11 years, I have not encountered even one black
professional librarian in any setting,
certainly not leading a training session or addressing an assembly of
librarians. I have observed
white library workers with little or no background or experience
quickly rising through the
professional ranks at Harvard because they have mentors who advocate
for them. There is the
perception in society that black people must do it alone, that we don't
deserve the same mentoring,
opportunities, or access to information that would help us advance. In
reality nobody does it alone. It is not enough to be excel at your
work, your work must be rewarded and recognized in order for
you to advance.

I was ostracized and
alienated in other more subtle ways by my direct supervisors. I was
prevented
from participating in committees that I requested to be on, such as the
Web Development
Committee, and the Committee on Electronic Resources, and until this
year I was not compensated
for attending National Library Conferences, such as the ALA because I
was not technically a
professional. This year I was compensated for attending the ALA
Midwinter Conference because it
was held in Boston. The library threw a party attended by all of the
other staff members when
several of my co-workers completed the MLS degree, but there was no
public acknowledgment or
celebration when I graduated.

5)Was there a written dress code, and were
you following it when your supervisor told you
that your clothes were inappropriate - ie: were there unwritten (or
written) rules in force?

There is no dress code at
Harvard University, and observing my work environment I noticed that
people dress in a variety of ways that reflect their individual tastes.

  

 DURING THE CASE:

6)Any ideas on why the EEOC and MA
commission declined to take the case?

The EEOC took my case,
but delayed my filing date for several months so that some of my claims
became time-barred. There is a cross-filing system in Massachusetts so
that if you file at one agency
it is automatically filed at the other. There were not two separate
investigations, or conclusions.

7)There were stories about the excluding of
certain witnesses, can you comment on that?

The judge in our case
made several rulings which eliminated some perspectives on my claims.
We
were only allowed to argue for the specific jobs I applied for, but
were not able to present other
evidence that would have thrown more light on my situation, such that
professional positions were
created for people in my library that did not exist before that allowed
two of my co-workers to
advance once they had completed their degrees. Another co-worker was
promoted without the
MLS to the professional level, and seven others at Harvard who
completed their MLS degrees the
same year I did in 1999 were able to advance to the professional level
at Harvard University shortly
afterwards. Since I did not complete directly against these individuals
I was not able to present
evidence about them.

 
8)Reporters can frequently get things
wrong. What things did they get wrong with your
case ? Did you follow the media coverage of your case? If so, what
things were
egregiously wrong or completely missed? Overall, are you happy with how
the story
was handled by the media?

Overall I am happy with
how the media handled my case. I tried to cooperate with reporters
because I felt it was important to tell my story. I was misquoted quite
a few times, but not by any
publications who interviewed me directly. I think that being misquoted
or misrepresented at times is
the price of publicity. One of the best examples was saying that my
case was dismissed by two
separate agencies, when in reality it was only dismissed without
investigation by the EEOC. Another
misquote has me saying "I will apply to top positions at Harvard and
outside of Harvard." I never
used the word "top." I think the effect was to make me appear arrogant.
Black people have to walk
a fine line between appearing incompetent and arrogant.

 
9)Did Larry Summers comments on women have
any affect on your feelings towards
Harvard Management?

Larry Summers comments
were very unfortunate and illuminate that women still have a struggle
ahead of them to achieve true equality. A positive result of it is that
is has shaken moderate and
progressive people out of their apathy.

 NOW:

10)What's new at work, are things better or
worse now? How have things changed in your
workplace (if at all) since you lost your lawsuit?

Things are the same at
work, there are no noticeable changes. Even though I lost the case it
was
worth it to me to pursue. My work and contributions have been
unrewarded and unrecognized for
many years, but I fought for justice through the end, and I will
continue to speak out against
discrimination. I work with the reform faction of the Harvard Clerical
and Technical Union as an
activist, and speak out against injustice wherever I see it.

11)What's the environment like around work
now? What is it like attending meetings as you
continue to work at Harvard? Have your coworkers been supportive?

I have some very
supportive co-workers, and I focus on work rather than personalities. I
conduct
myself in a professional way, and most people respond in kind.

 
12)Have you been offered modeling
jobs, endorsements, marriage proposals, or anything
else as a result of all the publicity you got from the case?

I have received several
speaking engagements, and just recently returned from Washington D.C.
where I spoke on a panel at the GenderPAC conference on "Masculinities,
femininities and the
Perception of Race," and participated in a workshop on gender in the
workplace, and the law.

13)Do you have future career plans? Are you
staying in library work, or moving to a
different region, different library, etc?

Being a librarian is an
essential part of my identity. I have worked in the field for 20 years,
15 years
in full time positions, but I also want to work as an activist,
speaker, and writer. 
  

14)Did you feel like you were in the public
eye during the trial? What are your feelings on
people's reactions to the story?

I realize that I was in
the public eye, and there are as many reactions as there are people to
my story. I just share my story, and know that some people will
understand, and relate, and others will not. It
is a process and a continuing dialogue. 

 15)Have you been successful in
getting a promotion since the trial?

No, I am still working in
the same library assistant position.

 

16)Did you hear from any other librarians,
or people in academia, that have gone through
similar experiences?

I have heard from many
other black librarians and some women who have gone through the same
experience, and I hope more of them will have the opportunity to tell
their stories.

  

 17)Did this change your relationship
with your coworkers and/or management?

I don't think it has
changed my relationships to my co-workers in any easily observable way.
But I
came out of it with a deeper understanding of how management works, and
the importance of
fighting for what you believe in.

18)I noticed you're going to appear in the
"I am a librarian" book, that seems like such a
neat project, was it fun?

I think that the
perception that librarians are conservative, homogeneous, and out of
touch will be
ultimately harmful to us, and if don't change that image we will be
left behind as society evolves.

Our professional work
force needs to reflect the race and gender diversity of society it
serves.

 

 19)Have you thought about leaving
work?

I will leave when I am
ready to go, and when I find a better opportunity.

 

20)How did the "librarian community" react
to your trial, did it seem like librarians were
generally supportive?

In general I think that librarians were supportive, except those who
were directly involved in the
hiring decisions in my case. There are many who recognize that there is
room for improvement in
eliminating discriminatory hiring practices in our profession.

Comments

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Awesome job!

Thanks, Birdie, for doing this. Very glad to hear the other side of the story. ,P>
I'm looking forward to more LISNews Interviews, perhaps doing some myself.

Very interesting....

This has me of two minds, the first being outraged at what appears to be a blatant case of discrimination where a MLS degreed librarian is stuck at an assistant position (especially since Harvard has no Library School).


The other is incredulity in that someone would stay in a position when they have made such great gains to move up the ladder.


There for the grace of God goes any one of us.

Re:Very interesting....

"The other is incredulity in that someone would stay in a position when they have made such great gains to move up the ladder. "

What would Rudy do?

Best Sentence

My favorite line in the interview is when she says, "I think that the perception that librarians are conservative, homogeneous, and out of touch will be ultimately harmful to us, and if don't change that image we will be left behind as society evolves." This so so so so true! But she's being too kind. Because one could add: controlling, deeply respectful of organizational hierarchies (no matter how unjust or corrupt), suspicious of change, absolutist, and reactive. Oh, not all librarians, of course not. Just too many, for my taste, in my 15+ years experience as a librarian. But on second thought, maybe the qualities above merely reflect what is in half of the people of the US, the red state folks.

Re:Awesome job!

It was a pleasure, thanks to our subject, Desiree Goodwin, who was completely cooperative and candid. I'd like to publicly thank her and all of you who read the interview for your feedback.

Am I missing something?

Why would her mentor have to be black? As that's what it seems to be saying.

Re:Am I missing something?

I don't think she said her mentor had to be black. She just pointed out that their were no black librarians at Harvard.

Nice interview

I was a bit skeptical of LISNews doing this interview. I am not now. It would be nice to here another point of view.Well done and good luck to Birdie. Maybe she should look into employment within the State University of NY or City University of New York. She will find public universities much more enlightened and open.

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