What Netflix’s The Chair Gets Wrong About Academia

On “The Chair,” Yaz McKay (Nana Mensah), a young, brilliant, and popular Black professor, is working on getting her tenure. An older faculty member, Elliot Rentz (Bob Balaban), wary of her unconventional teaching techniques and jealous of her popularity amongst students, is reluctant to write her the shining recommendation she deserves, making it harder for her to receive her tenure. Later in the series, Yaz gets a job offer from Yale.

According to some female professors of color who spoke to Business Insider about “The Chair,” the Yale offer was one of the most farfetched elements. Nikki Brown, a Black associate professor at the University of Kentucky, said it was one of the things that “didn’t make sense” and that it downplayed just how much more of a fight it is for Black women to achieve any kind of “esteemed status” in academia. Racheida Lewis, an assistant professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Georgia, added, “Having Yaz get poached by Yale negates her entire storyline about being worried over tenure … you can be an exceptional person and still be denied tenure. There’s a disproportionate amount of brilliant Black women who don’t get tenure.”

Angel Jones, an Afro-Latina assistant professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, also spoke to Insider about watching “The Chair.” She said that while she had “visceral reactions” to how Yaz was treated, finding it entirely relatable, she felt that the series “let white women off the hook” in how they can also contribute to the kind of treatment — including microaggressions — that women of color face in academia.



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