Tattoo stigma fades away for SF State professors


Joanne Taylor a professor at SF State grading papers in her office on Tuesday May 9, 2016. (Ryan Zaragoza / Xpress).

Joanne Taylor, an SF State professor in the College of Business, is known by her students for being extremely charismatic, intelligent and passionate about her profession. At UC Berkeley, she earned a bachelor’s degree in English and music, as well as her doctorate in performance studies. Like other teachers, Taylor is passionate about her education, but also notably about her intricate tattoos that cover almost her entire body.

The common stigma is tattoos are strictly for criminals, rebellious youth or drunk fraternity brothers. Yet in 2016, body ink can be found on just about any body – from soccer moms to college professors. At SF State, it is normal for teachers to be respected and respectably “inked” at the same time.

“For a very long time I would not have my tattoos showing,” Taylor said. “After a while I was like, ‘This is dumb, this is who I am.’ You can have a certain aesthetic preference and that doesn’t mean your behavior is a certain way. I benefit from our changing culture and help push that change further.”

In a 2011 CareerBuilder poll, 31 percent of nearly 3,000 hiring managers said they would be less likely to promote someone with a visible tattoo, and 37 percent said the same about piercings.

Despite this statistic, many tatted teachers at SF State found no problem getting the job. Justin Peck, a political science professor, is currently teaching his second semester. Peck earned his doctorate from the University of Virginia and previously taught at Wesleyan University.

Joanne Taylor a professor at SF State grading papers in her office on Tuesday May 9, 2016. (Ryan Zaragoza / Xpress).
Joanne Taylor a professor at SF State grading papers in her office on Tuesday May 9, 2016. (Ryan Zaragoza / Xpress).

Peck has three tattoos, including a band of trees that wrap around his upper right arm. He said he has found no problems in finding a teaching job, but refrains from displaying his tattoos in class until further along in the semester.

“It’s a statement in a way,” Peck said. “I want my students to feel comfortable in the classroom before I show my tattoos.”

For Cindy Huynh, a race and resistance studies professor at SF State, tattoos are a form of self expression on a person’s body, and are art for displaying, not hiding.

“It’s important to me to be myself when I’m teaching,” Huynh said. “Students often ask me about my tattoos and I have nothing to hide. So far it hasn’t been an issue having tattoos, and I don’t see it being one here.”

Huynh is six months away from finishing her doctorate from the University of Utah, and has been teaching in higher education for six years. Her educational background is what makes her an outstanding professor, not her appearance.

“My tattoos have nothing to do with what I’m capable of, my accomplishments, how intelligent I am, or my degrees,” Huynh said. “I have nothing to hide from my students because when I am honest and open with them, they in turn are honest and open with me. You don’t have to fit a particular mold to be a role model or professional.”

According to a 2016 Health & Life Harris Poll, 37 percent of teachers have tattoos. Although having visible body ink may not pose a problem for teachers, many workplaces still discriminate against employees with visible tattoos because it looks unprofessional.

Former editor and special features writer at the San Francisco Chronicle Jim Toland, a journalism lecturer at SF State and former advisor to Golden Gate Xpress, said he keeps his tattoos hidden. Toland spoke out about the risks of having tattoos.

“I never encourage anyone to get inked,” Toland said. “I do tell people that there is still bias against tattooed people and, if you’re going into a professional field, don’t show up with highly visible tats. Let people get to know you at work. They’ll find plenty of other reasons not to like you.”

Elizabeth Smith, associate vice president for marketing and strategic communications, finds no problem with faculty having tattoos.

“I didn’t even think it was a stigma,” Smith said. “San Francisco State University is an inclusive community, and that goes for for students, faculty and staff. I believe that the issue of tattoos in the classroom falls into that category of inclusivity. I can’t see how teachers with tattoos would ever be a problem.”

Huynh agreed with Smith’s notion of SF State as an open and judgement-free campus.

“San Francisco State is a great community,” Huynh said. “It’s where I feel like I’m supposed to be, and that’s a great feeling.”