Black History Month is an important time to recognize and celebrate the achievements of Black Excellence. It is also a time to reflect and honor the struggles of African Americans in U.S. history. Dr. Rufus Barfield is an Associate Professor at the Nicholson School of Communication and Media who provided his personal thoughts and experiences as a member of the African American community.
- Please discuss your experience as a communication professor. What is your favorite part about being a professor?
“My favorite part about being a professor is knowing that I can influence students and my community. My hope and prayer is that my influence is positive and that I inspire and edify. With awareness and ability to influence comes a great deal of responsibility and accountability. I welcome that responsibility and I am humbled and honored to know that I have influenced others in their respective life journey. It’s a great experience to see some of my former students go on to excel in their personal and professional life.”
- What are some things you found challenging?
“There are several things that I have found most challenging in my UCF experience. I was initially hired under the Provost Diversity Enhancement Program. I was not told that I was hired under this program but my colleagues within the department knew that I was hired under this program. Consequently, I would have colleagues within the Nicholson School routinely come up to me and ask me, “So what do you think about affirmative action?”. During my hiring interview I was asked, “Can you teach white students?” I found that UCF as an institutional system and more specifically the Nicholson School of Communication was not ready to embrace diversity hires/faculty as they might have wished. During my first 4 years of my UCF experience, I often had Black students tell me that I was the only Black professor they had within the Nicholson School and how they felt safe and valued by being in my classes.”
“In my second year at UCF I had a group of 4 white male students stand outside of my class one day after class and shout the following, “We ain’t having no N—–R SHIT pounded down our heads”. This was overheard by several students in the classroom as class had just ended.”
“The context for this was that I had conducted a lecture in Group Dynamics on Black Group Communication and more specifically, “Whites’ experience of Black Female Authority”. Black Group Communication was the focus of my doctoral dissertation and Black Female Authority was section from my dissertation that I lectured to the class about on that week.”
“The students went to the Chair and complained that I was, “Pounding Blackness down their heads”. The Director at the time immediately requested that I meet with him as there were some concerns about what I was teaching in my Group Dynamics class. I met with the Director and explained to him everything, and I reminded them that I was only doing what I was supposed to do, which was share my research with students as it was a part of the class content. The Director at the time acknowledged that there were no other faculty members doing the type of research that I had done. He suggested that instead of calling it Black Communication Research that I call it “Multi-Cultural Communication Research” because Black seemed too threatening. Consequently, I stopped sharing my research with my students and pursued other lines of research inquiry.”
- What are some notable achievements you’d like to share?
- “First African American tenured and promoted within Nicholson School of Communication.”
- “Received research health communication research grant prior to being tenured at a time when there were no other School of Communication faculty conducting Health Communication research. The research grant was funded via Bayer Healthcare which typically funded medical doctors and those whose training was in the medical field and or healthcare fields.”
- “Elected (currently serving) Chair of Board of Directors for the Healthy Start Coalition of Osceola County.”
- “While a member of the Board of Directors for the Early Learning Coalition of Osceola County (no longer on this board) I formed the fund-raising committee and set a goal of raising $100,000.00 for the fiscal year. As such we partnered with the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County & Disney and got Disney to underwrite a gala which we called, “The First 5 Years Gala”. We held a silent auction and achieved our goal of raising $100,000.00. That was/is an achievement that I am most proud of not because we raised the money (I am proud of that) but because it had not been done with those coalitions; I set a goal and achieved it with several in my coalition saying that it couldn’t be done; and I got some of my former students involved who were professional athletes or had tried out professionally but stayed in touch with me and wanted to help out with this worthy initiative.”
- “Conducting a yearlong review of the Provost Diversity Enhancement Program when I was a Provost Faculty Fellow. My review of this program resulted in several changes:
- Faculty Units are now required to ensure that minority faculty are formally informed of their hiring status if hired on the Diversity Enhancement Program.
- Faculty Units are now more intentional when hiring minority faculty to work toward minority faculty being tenured and promoted (mentoring with research and publishing; networking and relationship building with senior faculty necessary for developing a track record of research, publishing and quality teaching).”
- What has been your biggest inspiration?
“My biggest inspiration has been, is and will be my family and God. I am blessed with a beautiful wife and three wonderful children. My father was the President of Bowie State University in the late 70’s early 80’s and my mother was a career school teacher. They set lifelong examples for me and my sisters which I am blessed to have received. I love going home and home is my SAFE PLACE/SPACE.”
- What does Black History Month mean to you?
“Black history for me is American history. I look forward to the day and time in America when there is no differentiation between black history and other history but we recognize/value the history and contributions Native Americans, Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc… and EVERYONE that has contributed to what we know as America.”
- How can we become more inclusive?
“We can become more inclusive by understanding and knowing that every person deserves to be respected and valued for the divine creatures’ that they are. This has nothing to do with religion or religious practices but simply valuing and seeing that everybody is Divine in their truest nature and to value that and to see the divinity in self, everyone and everything. That is how we become more inclusive.”
- What can students, faculty, and staff at Nicholson do to celebrate Black History Month and uplift and empower Black voices all year round?
“I think that the best way to celebrate Black History Month and uplift and empower black voices all year round is to respect, integrate and recognize the value of black history as an integral part of American history. Simply having a month out of the year to celebrate something while good on one hand in the long term it diminishes be daily/overall significance and value of the contributions. In short when we are more inclusive as a component of who we are then we will see appropriate representation of all groups of people, and we will see and recognize the value and contributions of all.”
Thank you, Dr. Barfield, for your valuable contributions and candid reflections about your personal lived experiences!
Published to Nicholson News on February 2nd, 2023.
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