Black women in the academy

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Black women in the academy promises and perils
Benjamin, Lois, 1944-
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Sex discrimination in higher education -- United States ( lcsh )
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Hochschullehrerin ( swd )
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Includes bibliographical references and index.
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edited by Lois Benjamin.

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Black Women in the Academy





Black Women in the Academy

Promises and Perils

Edited by Lois Benjamin

University Press of Florida
Gainesville Tallahassee Tampa Boca Raton
Pensacola Orlando Miami Jacksonville

Copyright 1997 by the Board of Regents of the State of Florida
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper
All rights reserved

02 01 00 99 98 97 6 5 4 3 2 1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Black women in the academy: promises and perils / edited by Lois Benjamin.
p. cm.
Includes index.
ISBN 0-8130-1500-6 (alk. paper)
1. Afro-American women college teachers. 2. Afro-American women college administrators. 3.
Discrimination in higher education-United States. 4. Sex discrimination in higher educa-
tion-United States. I. Benjamin, Lois, 1944-.
LB2332.3.B53 1997
378.1'2'082-dc21 96-47388

The following chapters have been edited since their original publication and are reprinted
herein by permission of the copyright holders:
Chapter 1, "A Troubled Peace: Black Women in the Halls of the White Academy" by Nellie Y.
McKay, was originally published in Bucknell Review 36, no. 2 (1992): 21-37.
Chapter 2, "Black Women in Academe: Issues and Strategies" by Yolanda T. Moses, was
originally published by the Project on the Status and Education of Women, Association of
American Colleges, Washington, D.C., 1989.
Chapter 9, "Tranforming the Academy: A Black Feminist Perspective" by Beverly Guy-Sheftall,
was originally published in Changing Classroom Practices: Resources for Literary and Cultural
Studies, edited by David B. Downing (Urbana, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English,

The University Press of Florida is the scholarly publishing agency for the State University
System of Florida, comprised of Florida A & M University, Florida Atlantic University, Florida
International University, Florida State University, University of Central Florida, University of
Florida, University of North Florida, University of South Florida, and University of West

University Press of Florida
15 Northwest 15th Street
Gainesville, FL 32611

This work is dedicated to Frances Howard Hawkins,
who labored in the academic vineyard for over thirty-two years.



Preface xi
Introduction 1

Part One. Black Women in the Academy: An Overview 9
1 A Troubled Peace: Black Women in the Halls of the White Academy 11
Nellie Y. McKay
2 Black Women in Academe: Issues and Strategies 23
Yolanda T. Moses

Part Two. Alternative Paradigms for Black Women in the Academy:
Epistemological and Ontological Issues 39
3 Africana Feminism: An Alternative Paradigm
for Black Women in the Academy 41
Shelby F. Lewis
4 The African American Female Ontology: Implications for Academe 53
Beverly M. John

Part Three. Black Women Faculty: Issues in Teaching and Research 65
5 Giving Name and Voice: Black Women Scholars, Research,
and Knowledge Transformation 68
Rose M. Brewer
6 Black Women in Academe: Teaching and Administrating
Inside the Sacred Grove 81
Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis
7 Black Women in the Sciences: Challenges along
the Pipeline and in the Academy 91
Francine Essien

8 Eurocentric Hegemony in the College Music Curriculum:
The African American Woman Professor Singing the Blues 103
Donna M. Cox
9 Transforming the Academy: A Black Feminist Perspective 115
Beverly Guy-Sheftall
10 Begging the Questions and Switching Codes: Insider and Outsider
Discourse of African American Women 124
Linda Williamson Nelson
11 Teaching Afrocentric Islam in the White Christian South 134
Amina Wadud-Muhsin

Part Four. Black Women Administrators in the Academy 145
12 Rites of Passage and Rights of Way:
A Woman Administrator's Experiences 147
Phyllis Strong Green
13 "Light as from a Beacon:" African American Women Administrators
in the Academy 158
Brunetta Reid Wolfman
14 African American Nursing Administrators in the Academy:
Breaking the Glass Ceiling 168
Elnora D. Daniel
15 African American Women Executives: Themes That Bind 179
Julia R. Miller and Gladys Gary Vaughn
16 Climbing the Administrative Ladder in the Academy:
An Experiential Case History 189
Martha E. Dawson
17 Does Leadership Transcend Gender and Race? The Case of African
American Women College Presidents 201
M. Colleen Jones

Part Five. The Social Dynamics of Academic Life 211
18 Two Black Women Talking about the Promotion,
Retention, and Tenure Process 213
Vernellia R. Randall and Vincene Verdun
19 Tenure and Promotion among African American Women
in the Academy: Issues and Strategies 227
Norma J. Burgess

20 Collegiality in the Academy: Where Does the Black Woman Fit? 235
J. Nefta Baraka
21 The Dynamics of Patriarchal Meritocracy in the Academy:
A Case Study 246
Saliwe M. Kawewe
22 Student Harassment of Female Faculty of African Descent
in the Academy 252
Jacqueline Pope and Janice Joseph

Part Six. Black Women in Diverse Academic Settings 261
23 Black Women in Diverse Academic Settings: Gender and Racial Crimes
of Commission and Omission in Academia 263
Saliwe M. Kawewe
24 Another Voice from the Wilderness 270
Delo E. Washington
25 An African American Female Senior-Level Administrator: Facing the
Challenges of a Major Research University 279
Josie R. Johnson
26 Women's Colleges: The Intersection of Race, Class, and Gender 291
Brenda Hoke
27 "I Bring the History of My Experience": Black Women Professors at
Spelman College Teaching out of Their Lives 302
Mona T. Phillips
28 The African American Female Administrator: A Change Agent 315
J. Nefta Baraka

Part Seven. The Future of Black Women in the Academy 325
29 The Future of Black Women in the Academy:
Reflections on Struggle 327
Darlene Clark Hine
30 Striking the Delicate Balances: The Future of African American Women
in the Academy 340
Mamie E. Locke

Contributors 347
Index 349


In this edited volume, black women administrators and faculty, exploring the
thematic issues of identity, power, and change, examine the impact of racism
and sexism in higher education. From a holistic.framework, these academi-
cians utilize multiple approaches-conceptual, empirical, and experiential-
to understand and document racism and sexism, while weaving stories of win-
dows of opportunity and the woes and wounds of the warriors who make their
sojourn inside the sacred grove. While critiquing the ways of thinking and know-
ing of the Eurocentric patriarchal paradigm, these new voices offer insights
into black women's communal values and their more spiritual and intuitive
ways of viewing the world. Black women's ontological and epistemological as-
sumptions should balance the present-day academy's emphasis on individual-
ism and its reductionistic Western scientific thinking.
Too often, black women's voices have been absent from the literature, par-
ticularly in women's studies, black studies, ethnic studies, and multicultural
studies. This work should help fill that knowledge void of the intersection of
race, gender, class, and ethnicity in the aforementioned areas and in the trans-
disciplines of anthropology, history, political science, philosophy, psychology,
and sociology as well as the general audience.
I am enormously indebted to the contributors who took time from their busy
schedules to help fill this knowledge gap. In meeting their deadlines for this
work, they juggled competing demands of time, family, and career. For some
contributors, it gave them a chance to reflect on their ambiguous status in the
Words cannot express my indebtedness to Frances Howard Hawkins, retired
university administrator, for her immeasurable contribution to this project. She
played a major role as cheerleader, boosting my spirits throughout this project.
She had much faith in the value of such a volume in adding new knowledge to
the academy and in contributing to future black women academics. It was at
her urging that I undertook this project. In addition to Frances's emotional and

xii Preface

moral support, she went beyond the call of duty, providing superb editorial,
typing, and other technical assistance. Without her commitment and dedica-
tion, this project would have been difficult to complete in a timely manner.
Thank you, Frances.
Deep appreciation is also expressed to Richelle Payne for her editorial assis-
Finally, I wish to thank members of my family for their support: my parents;
my brothers, Joseph and Andrew Benjamin; my sisters, Thelma P. Melton and
Carolyn Beal; and especially my sister and brother-in-law, Bernice and Walter
Fortson, who have always been supportive and have believed in me.


Lois Benjamin

The need for this volume was underscored by the historic convergence of two
thousand black women academics on the campus of the Massachusetts Insti-
tute of Technology in January 1994 for the conference entitled "Black Women
in the Academy: Defending Our Name, 1894-1994," convened by historians
Robin Kilson and Evelynn Hammonds. This "event of the century," as it was
designated in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Nellie Y. McKay, professor
of American and Afro-American history at the University of Wisconsin, became
the venue for exchange about the promises and perils of the academic market-
place. Women from historically black and white, public and private, large and
small institutions attended.
In this volume, African American women administrators and faculty address
the issues of identity, power, and change. The holistic approach is reflective of
the contributors' conceptual, empirical, and stream-of-consciousness and ex-
periential pieces that weave a completed fabric of promises and perils inside
the academy. They come from predominantly black and white institutions,
public and private, research and teaching, coeducational and women's colleges,
and from diverse disciplines, regions, and age strata. This work should make
their voyage in the academy closer to a mosaic celebration and liberation. It
should also prepare future black women academicians for the rough spots along
the road, ease the journey of those presently climbing the hill, and allow those
who have traversed over the hill to stop, look back, and tell the stories of the
stony road we've trod.
The volume consists of seven parts, each addressing the core issues of iden-
tity, power, and change:
Part 1, "Black Women in the Academy: An Overview," explores the general
academic climate and racial and sexual stereotyping.
Part 2, "Alternative Paradigms for Black Women in the Academy: Epistemo-
logical and Ontological Issues," focuses on the racist and sexist assumptions

2 Introduction

underlying concepts, theoretical frameworks, methodologies, organizational
structures, and organizing assumptions in the academy and examines alterna-
tive paradigms for deconstructing and balancing Western ways of thinking and
Part 3, "Black Women Faculty: Issues in Teaching and Research," analyzes
the important theoretical and methodological assumptions about pedagogy,
curricula, and research orientation from a multidisciplinary perspective of black
women in education, humanities, natural sciences, and the social sciences.
Part 4, "Black Women Administrators in the Academy," examines the status
of black women in higher education administration and the specific barriers
they face in overcoming racial and sexual prejudice.
Part 5, "The Social Dynamics of Academic Life," focuses on issues of re-
cruitment and retention, tenure and promotion, gender and sexual harassment,
mentors and support systems, and collegiality among faculty.
Part 6, "Black Women in Diverse Academic Settings," looks at the interplay
of racism and sexism in predominantly white institutions and the issues of sex-
ism in predominantly black institutions both public and private, research and
teaching, and women's colleges.
Part 7, "The Future of Black Women in the Academy," concludes with an
experiential case history by Darlene Clark Hine, John A. Hannah Professor,
Michigan State University, which illustrates how the richness and depth of black
women's perspectives and experiences can add to the academy. Additional is-
sues treated in this section are problems and prospects for the future.
Marginalized, misnamed, maligned, and made invisible in the academy,
African American women, the "Queens of Multiple Juxtapositions,"' as Beverly
M. John denotes, attended the landmark MIT conference in order to chal-
lenge the Kings of the Eurocentric patriarchal hill for denied space and to level
off the playing field. This space and playing field exclude black women's val-
ues, voices, and visions while embracing the Western patriarchal perspective.
Such a worldview values competition, individualism, and control over nature-
the physical environment as well as social relationships. Objectivity is the way
of knowing. Underlying this epistemology are two tenets-the belief in the sepa-
ration of the observers from the observed and the belief in the separation of
mind, spirit, and matter. This angle of vision for knowing and understanding
the world has blind spots because it excludes, devalues, or ignores black women
as well as other men and women of color. This Eurocentric and androcentric
perspective perpetuates a hierarchy: unearned privileges, based on white skin
and maleness, accrue to those within the presumed normative experience.
Unlike people in the Eurocentric male matrix, many black women on the

Introduction 3

academic hill view the world from a more inclusive Afrocentric and matricentric
angle, although their perspective is filtered through a labyrinth of oppression of
race, gender, and class. Underlying this worldview and tradition is a holistic
approach to knowing and understanding the world. In this approach, the indi-
vidual and community, as well as all living elements, are linked in the cosmos.
Thus such values as cooperation, collectivity, harmony, and interdependence
with the environment are important. Subjectivity is a way of knowing. Emo-
tions, intuition, and spirituality are therefore not detached from human affairs.
As black women's ontological and epistemological ways of understanding, think-
ing, feeling, and behaving become added threads in the academy's fabric, moun-
tains of multiple realities, values, visions, and voices will transform the oppres-
sive Eurocentric patriarchy's molehill and lift the myopic veil that distorts social
Too often, impaired social vision distorts reality and dulls the senses. "When
the senses are dulled to racial [gender and class] oppression[s], one looks, but
does not see; one tastes, but does not savor; one touches, but does not feel;
hears, but does not understand."2 Witness this reaction of Alice Walker, Pulitzer
Prize novelist and author of The Color Purple, who was named a California
"state treasure" for literature and was awarded a statuette-"a foot-tall sculp-
ture of a woman's torso, without arms, legs, or head." Warrior Marks, one of her
most recent works, is a film and companion book about female mutilation. As
quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle, Walker said, "Imagine my horror when,
after years of thinking about the mutilation of women, I was presented with a
decapitated, armless, legless woman, on which my name hung from a chain."
A spokesman for the artist who created the statuette called it "fine art that will
increase in value." Responding, Walker stated that "though these mutilated
figures are prized by the museum and considered art by some, the message
they deliver is domination, violence, and destruction."3
The academy is another medium for this message to black women. Here
race and sex are used as justification for domination, violence, and destruction.
The much-maligned, mutilated, and misnamed images-mammy, matriarch,
Jezebel, and welfare queen4-contribute to our marginal status in the acad-
emy. This Eurocentric and androcentric way of devaluing, denigrating, and
distorting others' reality is also physically, psychologically, and socially costly to
oppressors and oppressed. While we focus primarily on its price for the op-
pressed victims, such perverted reality creates a spiritual vacuity and presents
an existential crisis of alienation and inauthenticity of selves and institutions.
Like the disavowal of the impact of oppression on the oppressor, the survivabil-
ity, strengths, and resiliency of the oppressed are also understated.

4 Introduction

Within the oppressive enclave of the Eurocentric academy, the black woman,
along with the black man, can fulfill the historic role of freedom fighter. In our
increasingly mosaic global village, we can learn much from the strength and
resistance of such figures as Fannie Lou Hamer, Ida B. Wells, Martin Luther
King, Jr., Winnie Mandela, and Nelson Mandela. As the voice of black South
Africa's women and children, an anchor for the freedom movement, and the
keeper of Nelson Mandela's name for twenty-seven years, Winnie Mandela
played a central role in black South Africa's liberation struggles, which contrib-
uted to Nelson Mandela's rise to the presidency of South Africa. (Survivors like
Winnie Mandela are not immune to personal weaknesses. She apologized for
her role in the murder of a young South African man.) Completing the thirty-
one-year journey from prisoner to politician, Nelson Mandela, the newly elected
president of South Africa, lit the freedom flames for all South Africans in his
inaugural address, heard by a billion of the world's population. "We have tri-
umphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of millions of our people,"
he said. "We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all
South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear
in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity-a rainbow
nation at peace with itself and the world. Never, never, and never again
shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one
by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. The sun
shall never set on so glorious a human achievement."
Can "so glorious a human achievement"-a multiracial, multiethnic,
gendered montage of equal peoples-be translated into an authentic reality in
the academy? Who can and will lead the way? Will the "Queens of Multiple
Juxtapositions?" Balancing between two value systems--Afrocentrism and
Eurocentrism-and experiencing the double jeopardy and double bind give
black women a double angle of vision to equip them as a liberating force for
race, gender, and class struggles. We must, therefore, understand their contri-
bution to the academy and their role as liberator in that light. Unlike Sisyphus,
we must "never, never, and never again" condemn ourselves to the fate of the
Western patriarch's gods, to ceaselessly rolling oppressive boulders to the top of
the hill only to have the stones roll back.
As liberators, we must be the beacon that leads the way out of inauthenticity
and social blindness to authenticity and illumination and away from dualism
toward holism, from competition toward cooperation, and from individualism
toward community. Such an epochal shift would synchronize the union of op-
posites, which would require a transformation of the present-day academy and

Introduction 5

its unauthentic claims that it pursues knowledge and truth, free inquiry, value
objectivity, meritocracy and excellence, fairness, and reason.
If the academy, the official knowledge architect, is to remain viable in the
twenty-first century, it must draw from diverse blueprints. But in the closing
decade of the twentieth century, white males are still those official knowledge
builders. They comprise 39.2 percent of the United States population but ac-
count for 70 percent of tenured college faculty.5 In the total full-time tenure-
track faculty, white males make up 71.4 percent. White women comprise 19.4
percent; African American men, 2.1 percent; African American women, 1.4
percent; and other people of color, 5.7 percent. White males also make up 61
percent of the full-time faculty, both tenured and nontenured; white females,
26.5 percent; African American men, 2.4 percent; and African American
women, 2.1 percent.6 But is this unequal makeup of higher education based
solely on excellence or merit? Should excellence also include other knowl-
edge producers-those who are socially and politically defined as qualified pro-
ducers of ways of knowing-or canons of the academy? Does meritocracy mean
unearned advantage and conferred dominance because of white male skin privi-
This country is witnessing a demographic shift in the population of people
of color. The census estimates that by the year 2000, 30 percent of the popula-
tion will be people of color; by the year 2150, 45 percent will be. The majority
of workers entering the job market by the year 2000 will be men and women of
color and white women. But how will this demographic shift be reflected in
university faculty and student populations?
Such demographic trends also affect higher education. Students who are
ethnically and racially diverse by class and gender will have distinctly different
styles of thinking, learning, communicating, decision making, and different ways
of knowing. Will there be an adequate supply of faculty and administrators to
meet higher educational needs and demands?
African American women bring to the academy a rich matricentric tradition
of inclusiveness around issues of education and empowerment. In her position
paper, sociologist Elizabeth P. Morgan reminds us that black women are well-
suited as facilitators for the future academy:8

Many African American women were given some preparation for careers
in academic institutions by the parenting to which they were subjected
in their families and in their communities .... Among the social obliga-
tions extended to kin and non-kin after slavery were "considering free

6 Introduction

schooling for the poor neighbor's widow's children."9 Continuing to the
present, education is the traditional opportunity through which black fami-
lies find their place in life.
In my own research in 1974, parents' responses in interviews suggested
that their primary concern in parenting was to help their children de-
velop in a supportive environment and achieve the ability to make choices
from as broad a range of alternatives as possible. According to recent schol-
arship, parents' belief in the importance of education continues. One of
the strategies operative in the expression of commitment to education
was the creation of institutions of higher learning by blacks and for blacks
since slavery.
In the tradition of black colleges, everyone was included in the process
of education. Perhaps the most basic education for children is in the ob-
servation of the roles of individuals and family. Billingsley has noted
the strong egalitarian relationship among black married couples.'0 The
female children had early models to promote self-confidence, as well as
examples of doing whatever is necessary to promote family or other orga-
nizational stability.

Black women's long traditional role as educators-as agency, administrator,
teacher-in empowering themselves and others offers a liberating compass for
navigating through the "isms" in higher education. In critiquing the Eurocentric
patriarchy, its pedagogies, paradigms, methods, and canons, we can balance
the conceptual foundations of the Western scientific mind, which postulates
that knowledge can be derived through procedures that are free of race, gen-
der, ethnicity, class, age, or other such contexts. The holistic perspective recog-
nizes that scientific knowledge and truth are products of human interpretative
structures and are therefore relative to the observer, theoretical dogmas, physi-
cal and social context, cultural beliefs, and prevailing paradigms, which are
self-validating. Richard Tarnas has observed that "the Paradigm acts as a lens
through which every observation is filtered, and is maintained as an authorita-
tive bulwark by common convention. Through teacher and texts, scientific peda-
gogy sustains the inherited paradigm and ratifies its credibility.""
Western scientific conceptual systems are, in essence, antithetical, mecha-
nistic, and reductionistic. Linda Jane Myers noted that "an antithetical system
that separates spirit and matter, assumes no natural order, seeks to control na-
ture, and operates as if experiences were an accumulation of discrete events,
would be seen as yielding false knowledge to the holist."'2 Knowledge and truth
are therefore discovered in the intersection among diverse knowledge systems
and differentially empowered groups. Hence antithetical and reductionistic

Introduction 7

scientific thinking is inadequate, concludes Cindy Cowden, a U.S. natural sci-
entist, "to understand organisms, whether they are spiders, starfish, or women;
... we can only understand organisms by seeing with a loving eye."13
In a transformed academy, "a loving eye" improves our angle of vision. In
the global village, our physical and social survivability depends also on the eye
of equality, justice, and peace, which is strengthened through diversity. Thus it
is the responsibility of the academy to acknowledge pieces of this mosaic diver-
sity and prepare for the twenty-first century. We must move beyond a Mayflower
education and aspire to a more global celebration.


1. See chapter 4.
2. Lois Benjamin, The Black Elite: Facing the Color Line in the Twilight of the Twenti-
eth Century (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1991), 251-52.
3. These quotes from the San Francisco Chronicle appeared in the Daily Press (New-
port News, Va.), April 18, 1994, A2.
4. Sue K. Jewell, From Mammy to Miss America and Beyond: Cultural Images and the
Shaping of U.S. Social Policy (New York: Routledge, 1993).
5. David Gates, "White Male Paranoia," Newsweek, March 29, 1993.
6. Deborah J. Carter and Reginald Wilson, "Special Focus: Racial and Ethnic Trends
in Academic Employment," Minorities in Higher Education, Tenth Annual Status Report
(Washington, D.C.: American Council on Education, 1992), tables 19-20. See also
Alexander W. Astin, William S. Korn, and Eric L. Dey, The American College Teacher:
National Norms for the 1989-90 HERI Faculty Survey (Los Angeles: Regents of the Uni-
versity of California, Higher Education Research Institute, 1991); Hugh R. Fordyce, 1993
Statistical Report (New York: United Negro College Fund, 1993). Statistical data in parts
1 through 6 are based on these reports.
7. Peggy McIntosh, "White Privilege and Male Privilege," in Race, Class and Gender,
edited by Margaret L. Andersen and Patricia Hill Collins (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth
Press, 1992), 78.
8. Elizabeth P. Morgan, unpublished position paper, February 1994.
9. Herbert G. Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925 (New
York: Vintage, 1977), 229.
10. Andrew Billingsley, Climbing Jacob's Ladder: The Enduring Legacy ofAfrican Ameri-
can Families (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992).
11. Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind (New York: Ballantine, 1991),
12. Linda James Myers, "Expanding the Psychology of Knowledge Optimally: The Im-
portance of World View Revisited," in Black Psychology, edited by Reginald L. Jones (Ber-
keley: Cobb and Henry, 1991), 23.
13. Shulamit Reinharz, Feminist Methods in Social Research (New York: Oxford Uni-
versity Press, 1992), 3.

Part One

Black Women in the Academy
An Overview

During the past thirty years, a demographic and cultural shift has occurred in
higher education. Black women, black men, other men and women of color,
and white women have entered the teaching force in greater numbers than
ever before. Although the number of black women in the academy has increased,
however, we still remain largely invisible. According to the American Council
on Education, we constituted only 2.1 percent of full-time faculty and 2.4 per-
cent of part-time faculty in 1989, compared to 2.0 percent and 2.3 percent,
respectively, in 1979. In 1989 only 0.7 percent of black women working in
higher education were full professors; 1.6 percent associate professors; 2.7 per-
cent assistant professors; 3.3 percent instructors, lecturers, and other faculty;
and 4.2 percent administrators. Black women administrators and faculty are
largely concentrated in predominantly black institutions. Whether in black or
white institutions, we face barriers of racial and sexual discrimination. While
black women in historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) encoun-
ter sexual discrimination, we battle both sexual and racial obstacles in white
academic milieus.
Nellie Y. McKay's "A Troubled Peace: Black Women in the Halls of the
White Academy" gives experiential credence to the "promises and perils" of
black women in the academy. Among the first cohort of black women scholars
who entered white academia in the late 1960s and early 1970s, she writes about
two decades of gender and racial "difficulties and discomforts" as well as tri-
umphs, of being isolated and marginalized, and of competing for contested
space in the Eurocentric patriarchal academy.
Yolanda T. Moses's "Black Women in Academe: Issues and Strategies" gives
the reader a detailed empirical and experiential portrayal of the status of black
women in both predominantly black and predominantly white institutions. She

discusses how race and gender stereotypes intertwine to create double barriers.
Moses explores such issues as professional climate, affirmative action, token-
ism, mentoring and support systems, sexuality and sexual harassment, balanc-
ing competing obligations, collegiality, research, teaching and tenure, recruit-
ment, and retention.

Chapter 1

A Troubled Peace
Black Women in the Halls of the White Academy

Nellie Y. McKay

In the early 1980s, I read a short paper at an MLA convention entitled "Black
Woman Professor-White University," which addressed some of the difficul-
ties and discomforts I felt other black women and I were experiencing at that
time in our new roles as college and university professors in predominantly
white institutions of higher education. The conclusion to that essay reads, "To
be a black woman professor in a white university is difficult and challenging,
but it is exciting and rewarding, and black women professors like it here. We
aim to stay!" At the time, I did not ask, At what price?
Although I spoke largely out of my own experiences, I was part of a genera-
tion of black women with shared academic experiences. Most of us had gone
to white graduate schools between the late 1960s and early 1970s and were the
first, as a group (by race and sex), to find employment in predominantly white
colleges and universities. And it was clear, as the premise of my text indicated,
that as a rule, black women did not feel welcome or appreciated in their new
positions, but having broken the barriers of this stronghold of sex prejudice,
they planned no retreat from gains hard won.
The exception to this individual racial isolation in the workplace of white
academia occurred when a black faculty member was part of a black studies
program, the cause that brought the largest number of black faculty into a new
space for them. Then the danger was group isolation, for chances were that all
black faculty in his/her institution were located in black studies, as though black
scholars had not received the same training as their white peers in history and
literature and sociology. But this did not matter. In breaking down the barriers
that had relegated even such figures as W. E. B. DuBois, Alain Locke, and
other great black lights of an earlier era to the historically black colleges, these

12 Nellie Y. McKay

scholars made a crucial discovery. They learned firsthand that the gains of the
civil rights movement did not constitute a reform of racial attitudes toward black
people. Few white institutions were interested in them other than for the calm
they could bring to troubled campuses by way of black studies classes to satisfy
the demands of obstreperous black undergraduates. Only a small number held
appointments in black studies and their disciplinary departments, and an even
smaller number were hired solely in their disciplines.
Nevertheless, this segregation had advantages for the new field's develop-
ment other than bringing black scholars from different disciplines together in
intense situations. Among these advantages were that faculty could concen-
trate on learning for themselves what had been left out of their graduate educa-
tion, and they could focus exclusively on the needs of a new interdisciplinary
curriculum. This was helpful. It eliminated the possibilities of split loyalties to
other departments and lessened racial confrontations within departmental work
space. Black scholars who especially favored this isolation defended its merits
by denouncing racism within the discipline departments.
In spite of these benefits, some black studies scholars were ambivalent about
their positions outside of their home disciplines. They questioned the effects of
the separation on the new field for the long term, on their personal intellectual
growth, and on cross-racial relations with other faculty with whom they shared
interests. Those in this situation would have preferred the dual-appointment
model, like that of Yale and a few other institutions, which followed the pat-
terns of African studies and American studies. All, however, agreed strongly,
and correctly, that having been excluded from the academic curriculum until
then, black studies absolutely required its own space to develop its own aca-
demic and political agendas and to carry out the intensive re-education that
students and faculty needed in order to recuperate the intellectual dimensions
of the black experience. Regardless of where black faculty were positioned within
the structures of their institutions in their relationships to dominant traditional
educational programs, these teachers rejected ideas of token status in the acad-
emy and its oppositional alienation from the center of the authority ofthe black
intellectual tradition.
Personally, I endorsed a separate interdisciplinary space for black studies but
favored a structure that insured black intellectual interaction with the commu-
nity at large. A segregated black studies would operate only within the bound-
aries of its own marginality and increase the difficulties of making significant
educational and political changes with the systems of power in the academy.
Such changes would come only through the engagement between those lo-
cated at the boundaries of the exclusive accepted knowledge we opposed and

Black Women in the Halls of the White Academy 13

those at its center.' I understood black studies and my place in the white acad-
emy as a complex interweaving of political and educational issues. Like many
of my colleagues, I was caught up in the fervor of reform. I wanted black stud-
ies to grow and develop into a force on college and university campuses across
the country, but I was also concerned that our scholarship and teaching perme-
ate the disciplines in the arts and sciences curriculum and thus completely
transform them. The ideal goal was to reform conventional American educa-
tion from outside and inside. Options on strategies to this end differ as widely
today as they did then, but in the late 1960s and 1970s, for many black scholars,
there was no choice. Black studies programs were the only spaces available to
them in white colleges and universities.
Nor, in the academic ghetto of black studies, did the militant political rheto-
ric that so dramatically challenged racism build bridges between the new field
and its discipline departments. Furthermore, in response to the unsettling pres-
ence of the revolutionary-minded inhabitants of this ghetto, white faculty threat-
ened by curricular changes and the loss of the hegemony of Eurocentric-based
knowledge defended the sovereignty of Western tradition on the basis that black
studies was unsound academically and its fledgling faculty intellectually infe-
rior to the rest of their campus colleagues. Obviously, this racist defense of the
status.quo increased hostilities between the opposing sides. Only many years
later, with the emergence of more politically moderate black scholars as
spokespeople for the field, with records of "acceptable" scholarship behind them,
did large numbers of white faculty begin to acknowledge the merits of black
studies. The Norton Anthology of Afro-American Literature,2 the white literary
establishment's final endorsement of this field, was one of the single most sig-
nificant events in the history of black studies.
Historically, education is familiar ground for black women since it was al-
ways one of the few respectable professions open to the group. In the nine-
teenth century, rAiddle-class black women were schoolteachers among free
blacks before and after emancipation, and few obtained positions higher than
employment in black elementary and secondary schools. Still today, black
women in education and all black people point with pride to a long list of
distinguished black women educators from earlier times: Fanny Coppin, Lucy
Moten, Frances Watkins Harper, Margaret Washington, Mary Church Terrell,
and Anna Julia Cooper, to name some of the best-known. Without the efforts
of these women between the 1850s and the early part of this century, their race
would never have produced the women and men who held high the torch of
freedom and literacy for black people from the mid-nineteenth century through
the 1950s and beyond. For although on all levels, until our time, racism re-

14 Nellie Y. McKay

manded black women and men to historically black schools, and black male
sexism consigned the handful of black women in the historically black colleges
to activities associated with the female arts-teaching home economics, for
instance, or performing specific duties closely linked to the interests of women
students-these women provided the shoulders on which today's black women
educators stand. They are our most revered role models.
In 1983 I was a professor, five years into my first job after graduate school
and desperately struggling to qualify for tenure, the hardest test that a faculty
member ever faces in pursuit of an academic career. No one told me then that
for all of its difficulties, achieving tenure was only the end of one struggle that
would lead to another, and another, and another, each increasingly less de-
fined or concrete. No one could have explained what it really meant to be a
black woman professor in a white college or university for the long haul. The
following incident illustrates this point.
In my office, I was engaged in conversation with a black woman colleague
in the Afro-American Studies Department. She was standing just inside my
door. A white male professor from another department stopped at the door and,
without apology, pushed his way past my colleague. Before either she or I real-
ized what had happened, he preempted her presence in our space to make a
request of me. I had scarcely grasped the politics of the situation before it was
over-he was gone and my female colleague had retreated to her office across
the hall. It was another everyday incident, in our days of such incidents, when
white colleagues, without even trying, asserted the privilege of whiteness, espe-
cially male whiteness, over those they perceived to be unequal to themselves by
the authority of race and/or sex.
Unfortunately, white male professors and administrators are not the only
group that offend black women by their racist verbal expressions. White women
faculty are equally guilty. The black woman is often told by the white woman
that she would be happier if she "returned" to a historically black college (in
most cases, she had not come from one). This advice is further emphasized
when the white woman notes that the black woman's contact with the white
academy-her education in a white college or university and her subsequent
employment by another such institution-gives her added prestige in the his-
torically black college. I received this advice shortly after I was tenured. My Ivy
League graduate training, my colleague told me, would make me a "queen" at
a historically black college.
Such anecdotes are not isolated or unusual events. They occur daily in many
variations in the lives of black women professors.

Black Women in the Halls of the White Academy 15

The second incident noted is perhaps the most difficult to cope with be-
cause the suggestion is usually made by a white woman whom one knows and
likes reasonably well and with whom one must also make alliances in the struggle
against sexism in the academy. Consider that a senior black faculty member in
my university recently asked me why she always feels "at home" when she visits
historically black colleges as opposed to how she feels in our university, which,
technically, is "home" for us. She followed that inquiry with another question:
Why do we remain in the predominantly white university, where many abuses
constantly beset our sensitiveness?
To the first part of her query, I replied that in the white academy, our loca-
tion is always contested space even though it is as rightfully our space as that of
others in the academy. When we visit historically black colleges, the space is
uncontested. In one, our occupancy is conditional; in the other, it is uncondi-
tional. In one, there is everything to prove over and over again; in the other, we
have nothing to prove. In black-dominated space, we are who we are. In that
context, we can understand, but never accept, the impulse of the white sugges-
tion that we "return" to the historically black colleges.
To my colleague's second question, I suggested that we choose to remain in
these contested spaces because as black women (and men) we know that we
have a right to occupy them and will not be driven out by those who would
gladly see us go. We have not rejected the historically black colleges, and our
anger boils when white people imply that they are inferior. But this knowledge
does not make life easier on the white campus, and black women must always
weigh the cost of their choices against the balance of energy, will, and the de-
termination to survive with human dignity. Each woman must learn to identify
her own limits.
For me, even after living this reality for many years and coming to under-
stand much more than I did a decade ago of what it means to be who I am in
the place that I am in, I find it impossible to conceive of myself in the state of
complete "otherness," implied in the anecdotes above, that I represent in the
world of whiteness. For what those in my racial and sexual group know but
sometimes fail to remember is that the academy is a microcosm of the larger
society in which we live and that America and all Western society remain prov-
inces in which white men, and some white women, of a particular class and
with particular dominant ideologies determine the nature of all of our exist-
ences. Thus, even without deliberate intentions to enforce dominance over
others, the relations between whites and the "other" in white institutions of
higher education develop and emerge out of a dynamic that reifies racist and

16 Nellie Y. McKay

sexist paradigms of power and powerlessness. How then has it been for black
women in these last years of the twentieth century to live, work, and sometimes
even claim success in the predominantly white academy?
I see our present in the context of more than two decades of my own con-
stant struggle to minimize loss of personal dignity and find as much fulfillment
as possible in my life in the work I have chosen to do. Today I, and many of the
black women in the group I spoke of and for in the early 1980s, have scaled
several resisting walls, and we have lasting scars to prove our efforts. Racism,
sexism, and classism are unrelenting adversaries. No skirmish is minor. Each is
a major confrontation with powerful forces of tradition, and there is always a
price to pay for having been there. Nevertheless, in spite of or because of our
bruises, we are on the other side from where we were a decade ago, and on that
side, our white colleagues were forced, even if sometimes only perfunctorily, to
acknowledge us as colleagues. For a short time, many of us, reaching this other
side, experienced a strange sense of dislocation when, following our positive
tenure reviews, we surmised that the "we" and "they" division in which we
were positioned in our first years in the academy had disappeared. By virtue of
our new standing, some of us thought (and such thoughts were very unsettling)
we had become a part of "them," that having fulfilled the requirements of the
game as they defined it, we now shared their legitimacy. Our discomfiture,
however, was hardly warranted. We soon realized that although our status vis-a-
vis such things as job security had altered appreciably, we were still excluded
from the centers of power vested in the premises of white maleness.
The years have taught us that "we" are neither "them" nor who we were-
that is, completely vulnerable in some areas of our lives. Blackness and female-
ness insure that we can never be them, and we cannot, nor would we if we
could, return to our early struggles. Experience tells us we occupy our own
space: sometimes on the margins of all that goes on around us, oftentimes in
the buffer zone between "them" and those who have taken our former places
on the lines of anxiety and uncertainty. But we are always on a battleground
trying to determine the nature of the fray and deciding how best to spend our
valuable, but decidedly depletable, physical energies and psychological re-
sources. Today, for the women who have followed us, we hope that we hold the
door to professional success slightly more ajar than it had been for us. We hope
that instead of reinventing the wheel, black women professors now entering
the white academy strengthen the positions we set in place.
Yet for all of these hopes, I am not as optimistic about material changes in
our situation as I was a decade ago. The quality of this peace disturbs me. True,
over the last decade and a half, such. things as open racial hostilities toward

Black Women in the Halls of the White Academy 17

black and other minority group faculty have decreased considerably among
faculties of mixed racial groups. Not even the most rabid bigot wants to be
branded a racist. But many of those early hostilities have not dissolved; they
have only become more subtle and dangerous. It is infinitely more sophisti-
cated to attack affirmative action and like initiatives from behind the banner of
"'quality' without quotas" than to make frontal attacks on minority groups. The
result is a continuing disease among black and other minority group faculty
within the halls of the white academy.
Earlier I was confident that we could collectively find a solution to some of
the problems of race, class, and sex in the academy; today I am doubtful that
we will ever achieve that goal. This reevaluation of the state of black women in
the white university admits to grave disappointments, unfulfilled dreams, and
deep frustrations on the part of most of the women I know. Change will not
come until those responsible for the current conditions decide to end the im-
pact that racism, classism, and sexism among white faculty and administrators
have on the lives of others. My pessimism springs from feeling that nothing we
have seen over the last twenty-five years indicates such action. While individual
white faculty and administrators have made valiant efforts toward change, nev-
ertheless, domination, empowerment, legitimacy, and authority remain in the
places they have always been. Minorities and, to a large extent, white women
are excluded from these places. After almost two decades of service in white
colleges and universities, by dint of race, class, and sex, at best, black women
and minority group others now experience themselves in the peculiar situation
of outsiders within the white academy.
Some people will find it difficult to understand this distress among black
women faculty and others. When we stand in certain places, like the major
white research universities in the country, and survey faculty opportunities in
higher education today, no one can deny that some earlier conditions of the
work lives of black women educators have changed for the better. A more criti-
cal appraisal, however, reveals the disquieting statistics that even now only a
small number of the professorate in the country are black women, and the
overwhelming majority of these are still employed in historically black colleges,
not always by their choice. Researchers generally estimate that black women
compose less than one percent of the faculty in all colleges and universities,
and half of that number are still in historically black colleges. For those who
wish to enter white institutions, deep-eated social prejudices against blacks
and women still work more effectively against black women. These women
have an even harder time than black men or white women in gaining access to
highly competitive graduate schools and in finding employment in institutions

18 Nellie Y. McKay

with resources to nurture research careers. In addition, those who are able to
enter such colleges and universities on the junior level have a more difficult
time achieving tenure because, until they become well known, their work is
usually undervalued. The majority of black women in the academy are part of
the negative statistics.
Why then does the world of blacks in higher education look more promis-
ing at a first glance from some perspectives? The answer lies in the view one
gets from a position that easily blinks out the grim reality of most black experi-
ences. From a more privileged place, one sees that a number of black women
and men have risen above the difficulties I have described. These scholars,
with a few exceptions, were fortunate enough to have gained admission to and
to have succeeded in highly competitive and/or prestigious East and West Coast
graduate programs in the 1970s and early 1980s. Now they hold appointments,
even chair professorships, in institutions that are recognized as the most desir-
able in the profession. Everyone has heard that in this time, for all the ubiqui-
tous problems of racial and sexual prejudices in university hiring, every major
and hundreds of minor white institutions of higher education in the country
are in competition for today's small pool of successful black scholars (espe-
cially women), and some are investing generously in some of those whom they
identify as the most promising younger black scholars through postdoctoral fel-
lowships, research funds, reduced teaching loads, generous leave policies, and
so on.
What appears to be an unprecedented "buyer's market" for black women
and men scholars, however, is anything but the true state of affairs for the ma-
jority of the group seeking academic careers outside of the historically black
colleges. These well-publicized gestures toward a highly visible small group of
brilliant, ambitious, achieving scholars now in well-placed positions in a few
institutions signal no major changes in the general status of black women or
men in higher education. Most white college and university administrators and
faculty, including those who claim a willingness to hire black scholars if only
they could find "qualified" ones or could afford one of the "stars," do not know
and cannot comprehend that if such a thing as color/class/race/sex-blind hiring
existed, those now excluded would bring tremendous enhancement. Instead,
they still consider the possible employment of those from these groups as an
affirmative-action duty or, worse, as evidence of their liberal attitudes in educa-
tional matters. Never do they see the potential richness of experience in diver-
sity and openness.
Recent controversies over the values of multicultural education have more
clearly defined the dragon that lurks at the heart of the problem, which has

Black Women in the Halls of the White Academy 19

kept large numbers of people of color out of faculty positions in the majority of
white colleges and universities in America and continues to treat those within
as second-class citizens. When the barricades in the struggle for black studies
in these institutions came down in the 1960s and early 1970s in response to
pressure brought to bear as a result of the black revolution of that era, a new
area of study entered the academy. And while black studies units have had a
history of academic and political successes and failures in the white academy,
the field opened up the wayfor a generation of young black scholars to enter
these institutions. Those who have succeeded defined and developed careers
that would have been almost impossible for them otherwise. Other fields-
women's studies, Chicano studies, Native American studies-as well as a host
of white ethnic studies programs have benefited from the battles fought by black
studies in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Although no active coalition exists between these "studies" groups except as
"ethnic studies" on a few campuses, together they present a force reminiscent
of but collectively more potentially threatening than black studies alone was in
the 1960s. In many quarters, the response from those who still promote higher
education predicated on the "Great Books" theory of the primacy of Western
civilization is an elevation of the tactics of the earlier time. The controversies
over the value of a diversified curriculum, now being waged on many cam-
puses and in some popular as well as scholarly journals and magazines, initi-
ated under the auspices of such groups as the National Association of Scholars,
are struggles to maintain and privilege Euro-American concepts of knowledge
as the only "Truth." They indicate how deeply embedded are the roots of ra-
cial, class, and sex prejudices in the centers of white academic power. While
sometimes less dramatically experienced, black women endured these pres-
sures for more than two decades.
Even in those institutions in which they are treated well, black women pro-
fessors in white colleges and universities are always aware that their presence
represents a disruptive incursion into spaces never intended for them. What-
ever their ranks, some students, faculty, and administrators are always poised to
undermine their professional authority. The vicious, obscene attack on a black
woman historian at Princeton University by a group of students in the fall of
1990 bears out this point. Under the banner of the secret (for fear of reprisals)
"National Association for the Advancement of White People, Princeton Chap-
ter," and claiming the authority of the "Shockley Report,"3 the group distrib-
uted flyers, including one in the professor's mailbox, in which Martin Luther
King Jr., Winnie Mandela, the professor in question, and affirmative action
were called filthy names, and the female professor was singled out as an intel-

20 Nellie Y. McKay

lectual incompetent. While this was clearly a racist attack, on other campuses
black women professors (and white women, too) have also been sexually ha-
rassed by white and black men seeking to intimidate them. Often women are
uncertain of how to respond to such racist and sexual outrages-this other kind
of rape. Unfortunately, too many women, as in cases of physical rape, remain
silent, internalizing their victimization. Women must learn to scream loudly,
and other colleagues and college/university administrators must be actively in-
volved in the processes that counter such harassment tactics. Even when a few
black women appear to be accepted and rewarded on their merit through prizes
and awards, praise for good scholarship, and/or appointments to important po-
sitions and committees, for instance, incidents surrounding them indicate tol-
erance rather than full recognition of them as equals. Perhaps the low number
of available black faculty for positions in white colleges and universities is the
clearest indication of the level of threat the presence of black women and black
men presents to higher education outside of the historically black colleges.
The small number of black women and men on white college and univer-
sity faculties is appalling. None of these institutions, to my knowledge, has an
aggregate black faculty that is a respectable proportion of its overall faculty popu-
lation. Even in institutions conscious of the politics of the situation, dozens of
departments remain all-white enclaves; and some white colleges and universi-
ties still have few black faculty not associated with black studies. In the new
"hot" market for star black women and men faculty, department heads and
university and college administrators blame the small pool of available candi-
dates for the odiousness, at times, of the competition for these faculty; some-
times they also use the numbers as an excuse for the absence of blacks on their
faculties. Few, if any, seem to realize they are consciously and/or unconsciously
complicitous in maintaining the size of that pool. Nor do they acknowledge
the devastating implications of their inertia in attacking the problem at its roots-
not at Ph.D. commencements, but at the junior high school level. How other-
wise do we account for the state of black graduate affairs such as exists in the
English department of my own university? Each fall I receive dozens of tele-
phone calls and letters from colleagues across the country requesting that I
recommend to my newly or nearly graduated black English department Ph.D.
students faculty positions in the schools of the callers and writers (usually to
teach courses in black literature as part of their workload). Had I twenty-five
such students in any year, I could guarantee each one a job in the college or
university of her/his choice. Yet in my thirteen years here, the department has
had a total of two such graduates from its program, separated in time by ap-

Black Women in the Halls of the White Academy 21

proximately nine years. My university is no worse than any other comparable
Ph.D.-granting institution with which I am familiar.
Why this absence of black graduate students from English departments when
there is such a demanding market for them? Is there a connection between the
desperate competition of discipline departments in white universities and col-
leges for the few available black faculty and the absence of candidates to fill
those positions? In comparison to the numbers of black graduates in engineer-
ing, law, and business during the period of my Wisconsin tenure, after more
than twenty-five years of black studies in the academy, I have no doubt that
white colleges and universities have a vested interest in maintaining the minus-
cule size of the number of black Ph.D.s in arts and sciences. Nor do I deny that
engineering, law, and business have been more attractive to black undergradu-
ates for several years. But I am also aware that many potential black graduate
students have been turned away from pursuing Ph.D.s in my discipline by ad-
missions policies that fail to keep up with the currents of the times and thus,
ultimately, perpetuate the racist problems of the past.
Black women everywhere suffer race, sex, and class discrimination because
they are black and women, and the halls of the academy provide no safe sanc-
tuary. In white universities and colleges, these women experience the work-
place as one of society's exclusive clubs to which, even though they have as
much right as everyone else to be there, they will never gain full member-
ship-at least, not in the lifetime of this generation of scholars. Given the record
of the past, their numbers will always be small; they will be mere tokens in
most institutions. The black women I know complain constantly of overwork:
more is expected of them than of others by students, other faculty, administra-
tors, and the professional organizations to which they belong. And that work is
infinitely varied, including the expectation that they will assume responsibility
for working out the problems that black and Third World students encounter
in the academy. Students (even white ones) in need of counseling on academic
issues as well as psychological ones continually appear on the doorstep of the
black mother, the great bosom of the world. The black women feel sure, too
(or is this paranoia?), that their performances are more carefully scrutinized
than those of some others.
In addition to work expectations, black women faculty often find themselves
bearing the brunt of jokes and other overt ethnic and gender insensitivities of
their colleagues, which does little to enhance their comfort levels among their
peers. The energy they spend on extra work that serves the needs of their insti-
tutions and the psychological toll of coping with the racism and sexism of col-

22 Nellie Y. McKay

leagues are barriers to growth and success in the profession of their choice.
These problems have a direct relationship to the difficulty many of the women
face in completing sufficient research for tenure.
But if the obstacles they face in the white academy are daunting, black women
have not been impotent. Looking back over the years since the first group of
black women entered this arena, it is possible to see that their presence, like
that of all minorities in the same space, has changed the face of American
education and revised the premises of previously accepted knowledge to in-
clude materials long excluded from such considerations. In their interactions
with students and faculty, they have also made major positive impact on many
lives. They know that, despite the cost, these years have not been wasted ones.
Still, underlying any possible successes, a troubled peace exists between black
women and the various constituencies of the white academy they serve. This
state is neither energizing nor creative, for it reflects the wastefulness of mar-
ginalized work and devalued selfhood-commodities our world can ill afford
to spend this way. White educators must assume leadership and responsibility
to deal effectively with the debilitating forces of race, class, and sex that have
brought us to this pass. Only then will the troubled peace black women now
experience inside these halls dissipate. At that time, to take liberties with the
words of the great black woman educator Anna Julia Cooper, the whole race of
those with rights to be there, with privilege to none, will enter a new space of
equality with them and share in opportunities to do the long-neglected work
without which the survival of our world will always be in doubt.4

1. Helene Moglen, "Power and Empowerment," in Women in Academe, edited by Resa
L. Dudovitz (Oxford: Pergamon, 1984), 132.
2. Henry Louis Gates, ed., Norton Anthology of Afro-American Literature (New York:
Norton, 1990).
3. William Shockley, winner of a Nobel Prize in physics, argued that people of African
origin are lower on the evolutionary scale. Expression of his views was confined to speeches
before lay audiences.
4. Anna Julia Cooper, A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 31.

Chapter 2

Black Women in Academe
Issues and Strategies

Yolanda T. Moses

This chapter explores the climate for black women faculty members and ad-
ministrators in both predominantly white colleges and universities and histori-
cally black ones. It focuses on the subtle and not so subtle ways that race and
gender stereotypes can combine to create double obstacles for black women.
While the chapter does not specifically mention black women students and
staff members (that is, secretaries, clerical workers, custodians, and others), sev-
eral of the problems discussed and issues raised for black women faculty mem-
bers and administrators pertain also to black students and staff members. These
problems include stereotyping, disrespect, isolation, and lack of support net-
Black women have been participants in higher education for more than a
century, but they are almost totally absent from the research literature; rarely is
the impact of racism and sexism on black women in academe examined.' This
chapter will provide such an examination. In addition, it will serve to help in-
stitutions be more supportive and aware of the needs of black women faculty
members and administrators.2
Many misconceptions surround the status of black women on campus, in
large part because there is very little research specifically concerning black
women in academe, how they are faring, and what issues are of concern to
them.3 Research on minorities and women often ignores the unique position
and experiences of black women. The result is that black women are virtually
In order to create a more hospitable climate for black women on the cam-
puses of this country, we must know about their needs and concerns. Most
research conducted on racial/ethnic minority issues continues to treat minority

24 Yolanda T. Moses

groups as sexually monolithic; it assumes that what is true for minority men is
also true for minority women. For example, a review of four national reports on
higher education shows that in only one of the reports, The New Agenda of
Women for Higher Education, were the issues of race and gender integrated

Professional Climate Issues
Black women faculty members and administrators face numerous barriers to
their growth and success in academe. Issues such as support, retention, research,
teaching, and tenure are affected by the climate for black women at both pre-
dominantly white institutions and historically black ones. Equally, the leader-
ship, advocacy, and career satisfaction black women administrators strive for
are affected in subtle ways by a sometimes chilly and unwelcoming environ-
ment. To effectively recruit and retain more black women faculty members
and administrators, colleges and universities need to understand these barriers
and institute policies and programs to overcome them.5
Between 1977 and 1986, the number of blacks earning doctorates declined
by 27 percent. Experts foresee severe shortages of minority faculty members for
years to come. There has been a shift in the male-female proportions of the
black doctorate pool. After a slump in 1977, black women substantially increased
their share of doctoral degrees.6 In 1986 they received almost 61 percent of all
doctorates awarded to black candidates, compared to 39 percent in 1977.7 Black
women who attain doctorates tend to be older than the average student and
take longer to get their degrees; they tend to be married and to have parents
with limited educational attainment; and they are most likely to earn their doc-
torates in education, the social sciences, and the professions.
More than 70 percent of all blacks with doctorates are employed in aca-
deme. Blacks in general have the lowest faculty progression, retention, and
tenure rates in academe, with black women most concentrated in the lower
academic ranks. Black women faculty members are also concentrated in two-
and four-year colleges and universities (including historically black schools)
rather than in research universities.8 Black women constituted 1.9 percent of
full-time faculty in higher education in 1985; they made up 0.6 percent of full
professors, 1.4 percent of associate professors, 2.7 percent of assistant profes-
sors, and 3 percent of instructors, lecturers, and others.9
Although black women have had a rich tradition of leadership in higher
education of blacks in the United States, their current status as administrators
is not impressive.10 In 1985 only 3.4 percent of administrators in higher educa-
tion were black women; white women constituted 30.4 percent." The majority

Black Women in Academe 25

of black women administrators are employed on black campuses and are gen-
erally concentrated at the lower administrative levels (below dean). They are
concentrated in student affairs and specialized positions such as affirmative
action officer and assistant to the president2 Like black female faculty mem-
bers, black female administrators tend to be older than white female adminis-
trators; most are married; and they are concentrated in two-year rather than
four-year institutions.13 Twenty-two colleges and universities in the United States
are headed by black women.14 Black women administrators generally earn 15
percent less than their male counterparts.15

Affirmative Action Dilemma
The values of the university administration and those of the faculty and staff
are often in conflict over affirmative action issues; black women get caught in
the middle. For example, James E. Blackwell and William Moore Jr. note that
the attitudes of faculty members on affirmative action are highly complex and
lack uniformity.16 Blackwell states, "People are motivated by economic self-in-
terest; hence their responses to programs like affirmative action will be dictated
in large part by perceptions, real or imagined, of the threats to their own sense
of economic entitlements imposed by the implementation of such programs."
Verbal support for affirmative action does not necessarily transform itself into
support of a program or of new minority employees once they are hired. Some
faculty members may believe that black women are hired only because of affir-
mative action, not because of their qualifications. Black women may be stereo-
typed, resented, or even treated with disrespect because they are perceived as
less qualified. Responses from a questionnaire sent out by the Project on the
Status and Education of Women (PSEW) bear this out. A faculty respondent
notes, "My appointment was seen as an affirmative action hire. People did not
expect me to be successful. But I was. Some were actually rude enough to tell
me so-thinking it was a compliment."

Double Discrimination: Racism and Sexism
Black women, including faculty and administrators on historically black cam-
puses, experience and must deal with not only the effects of racism but also
those of sexism. Racism and sexism may be so fused in a given situation that it
is difficult to tell which is which. As one faculty member says, "It is difficult for
me, as a black woman, to have the issue of sexism treated as a legitimate topic
by my colleagues. While they understand the interconnections of racism and
sexism at an intellectual level, at the operational level they tend to ignore it, or
dismiss it, as not pertaining to themselves."

26 Yolanda T. Moses

Black women may also be ignored, isolated, or passed over for promotion in
favor of less qualified people. For example, one respondent reports, "I have
been upset by the racist and sexist treatment that I have received from both
white men and white women unable to deal with a black woman in a position
of authority. Frequently they would attempt to go over my head or around me
to keep from dealing with me."

The "Token" Syndrome
In higher education administration, as in society, the numerically dominant
group controls the academy and its culture. The small number of people from
other ethnic or racial groups are often seen by the dominant group to be "to-
kens and are, thus, treated as representatives of their group or as symbols rather
than individuals."7 Black women faculty members and administrators often
find themselves in the position of being tokens. Because there are so few of
them, there is a tendency for the majority to see these women as spokespersons
for all blacks rather than as individuals with other qualifications. Black women
are often asked to sit on committees as experts on blacks, and they are asked to
solve problems or handle situations having to do with racial difficulties that
should be dealt with by others. There is often no reward for this extra work; in
fact, black women may be at a disadvantage when they are eligible for promo-
tion or tenure because so much of their time has been taken up with adminis-
trative assignments. A respondent to the PSEW questionnaire offers this ex-
ample: "When I first arrived at the university (my first professional appointment),
I enjoyed the attention I received. After a short while, however, I realized that
the responsibility associated with being the only black female in my college,
and only one of a handful in the university, was overwhelming. I have suffered
several instances of burnout and exhaustion. As a consequence, I have learned
to maintain a less visible profile as a coping and survival strategy."

Mentoring and Support Systems
One of the consistent themes in this report is that women in higher education
are often viewed as "others" or "outsiders." As a result, they are rarely included
in university networks. They are less likely to be familiarized with the practical
aspects of their jobs or receive support for their efforts. Joyce Bennett Justus,
Sandra Freitag, and L. Leann Parker talk about the lack of mentors and spon-
sorship as a major stumbling block to the attainment of a successful academic
career for women.18
Mentoring is especially useful early in the development of a career, with
senior faculty members mentoring their junior colleagues. Sponsorship is typi-

Black Women in Academe 27

cally more useful in the later stages of a career-for example, when a junior
administrator wants to move up and needs a well-established senior person to
promote her accomplishments, both on and off the campus. White males have
been the usual beneficiaries of this kind of support. Many women and minority
members have pointed out that the lack of collegiality in their departments or
offices isolates them from professional networks, research grants, and publish-
ers. To move up the academic ladder, one depends heavily on the support of
departmental colleagues. Without this sponsorship, many women and mem-
bers of minority groups need to develop alternative avenues of support, such as
finding mentors in other departments or at other institutions.19 One faculty
respondent to the PSEW questionnaire comments, "I have had to create a strong
and well-integrated network across the nation, which means I am far from iso-
lated, but I'm in a university where I [do not feel comfortable asking] the per-
son next to me to go to lunch." Another says, "I have gotten a great deal of
support from black female staff members. Although there has been some ten-
sion, my overall involvement with black female students (both graduate and
undergraduate) has been positive. These women have provided-though to a
limited extent-the kind of support and encouragement system missing from
my interactions with the faculty in my department."
Black female administrators face similar situations. A respondent to the PSEW
questionnaire notes, "In my position, I have been able to hire some dynamic
black women in professional positions. I have also taken the responsibility for
offering to act as mentor to them. I know how lonely it was for me starting out
in administration several years ago."

Historically Black Colleges
Despite some real progress, black women faculty members and administrators
in historically black colleges often face gender inequities.20 From the early es-
tablishment of black colleges, more than a century ago, the actions of women
faculty members and administrators have been a focal point of campus life.21
Ruth N. Swann and Elaine P. Witty, in their 1980 study of black women on
historically black campuses, noted that these women are "both competent and
secure in dealing with men as equals, because they have been working seri-
ously for so long."22 Swann and Witty found that women on these campuses
constituted 32 percent of full professors, 30 percent of associate professors, 39
percent of assistant professors, and 79 percent of instructors.
Studies of black women in black institutions indicate that there are fewer
women in top administrative positions. Lea E. Williams, in her study of chief
academic officers (CAOs) of private and public black colleges and universities,

28 Yolanda T. Moses

found that chief academic offices were generally held by middle-aged black
males; on the average, women CAOs were slightly older and had worked in
their current institutions longer than men; at public universities, female CAOs
earned less than males; and at private institutions, female CAOs earned more
than males. None of the female CAOs surveyed aspired to the office of presi-
dent, and none of them was likely to be chosen as chief executive officer in the
president's absence; the opposite was true for males.23 Finally, while men and
women CAOs at black colleges have similar career paths to the top academic
offices, female CAOs take longer to achieve these positions and, once there,
have different salaries and administrative responsibilities than their male coun-
terparts. Williams suggests that black schools need to examine these inequities
by looking at their policies concerning recognition and promotion as well as by
examining attitudes that impede women's career progress. More research needs
to be done on the quality of the campus environment and career satisfaction
for both black women faculty and staff.24

Women's Worth in a Man's World
It is generally accepted in our culture that men can be powerful, assertive,
ambitious, and achieving. Many people, however, are uncomfortable when
black women exhibit these traits. In view of the devalued status that black women
have in our society, their presence in positions of authority on campus is a
problem for some people. For example, a faculty member talks about a white
male student who came up to her after the first day of class and said, "I was
ready to check out of this class when I saw you walk in as the teacher. But I sat
through your class and you really know your stuff; I am going to keep the class."
Gender-especially in academic settings- influences perception and evalu-
ation of behavior and achievement.25 A woman's work is often not given the
same credit as a man's; her accomplishments may be ignored or, conversely,
scrutinized very carefully, or she may be perceived as "moving too fast." Re-
spondents to PSEW's questionnaire illustrate these points. A black female presi-
dent at a predominantly white institution said, "I was given a 'review' by the
powerful local conservative newspaper. It was a true witch-hunt, but they did
not find anything. By the way, the paper has not done a similar review of the
president [a white male] of the other regional university." According to another,
"Management behavior that is tolerated from black men is not tolerated from
black women. Strong black female managers are not looked upon favorably.
Black women who supervise other black women come under particular scru-
tiny. This also holds true in comparison to white women."

Black Women in Academe 29

Sexuality and Sexual Harassment

Some people relate to women in terms of their sexuality rather than as profes-
sionals. For black women, as for white women, this can lead to incidents of
sexual harassment-"unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors,
and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature."26 Some men have
difficulty distinguishing between friendship and sexuality and may misread dem-
onstrations of the former as sexual overtures. Some men have difficulty seeing
women in anything but a sexual role and may abuse their power as faculty
members or administrators. Although it is not clear how many women faculty
members and administrators experience sexual harassment, a study at Harvard
University found that 32 percent of the tenured faculty women there had expe-
rienced it, and 49 percent of the untenured female faculty had been sexually
Because of a perceived lack of status and power, minority women in gen-
eral-and black women in particular-are especially likely to be treated in a
superficial manner or viewed in terms of their sexuality by both white and mi-
nority men. This can result in sexual harassment, social distancing, and a lack
of collegiality.28 The only praise some black women receive may be for their
attractiveness--not their achievement. The respondents to PSEW's question-
naire offer some examples. One woman reports, "One of my white colleagues
used to tell me how nice I looked all the time. Maybe it was his way of paying
me a compliment. But it made me feel as though he did not care about my
contributions to the department." Another says, "The most frustrating experi-
ence is working with black males who refuse to see the chauvinism and subtle
harassment in their interaction with black women. Because these men are black,
this experience is even more upsetting." And a third notes, "The senior vice
president and provost commented positively on my dress on several occasions,
and there had been a brief discussion about where I shopped. Later, when I
requested funds from him to go to an international conference to present a
paper, his response to my request was, 'If you didn't buy so many clothes, you
would have money to travel.' Although I was given the money to make the trip,
the comment was certainly out of order."

Balancing Competing Obligations

Another obstacle for both black women faculty members and administrators is
the tug-of-war they experience in trying to balance professional with family and
community responsibilities.29 Black women have a long tradition of managing

30 Yolanda T. Moses

family, work, and community responsibilities; however, like white women, they
do it at a cost. Black women tend to engage in more teaching, counseling of
students, and committee work than do white males and females. As a result,
they may do less research and write fewer publications than their white male or
female counterparts. This presents dilemmas for faculty members and admin-
istrators who want to pursue an academic career, as they clearly express in re-
sponses to the PSEW questionnaire. One explains:

To have civic consciousness and involvement, to have a family, to teach
with social responsibility and vision, to pursue socially pertinent research
and writing, to actively render service to one's profession-to do all of
these things would be to be a whole, multifaceted, well-rounded person.
However, in light of the imbalances in academia (for example, the focus
on publications at the expense of teaching integrity), to do all of the above
is to risk chronic burnout and frustration. I am still learning how to reach
a comfortable balance. But if I do, it will be because of my own drive and
convictions rather than because of any support from the university.

A second says, "Black women scholar/teachers who are also mothers and wives
have a very difficult time. The standards, demands, and pressures of academic
work reflect 'Yuppie' value orientations, and they are androcentric to boot! To
remain competitive in the Ph.D. academic market often translates into
sacrificing family, personal life, and so on for career development (particularly
with the 'publish or perish' syndrome of research universities)." By another
respondent's account, "There are subtle discrimination and disadvantages that
affect black women during childbearing years. Beyond the problems related to
race, I find that being a mother of small children puts me at a professional
disadvantage because the standards and expectations [of the academy] do not
reflect or respect the realities of a parent/professional. Maternity benefits and
leaves need to be adjusted for faculty who cannot afford to be penalized (mo-
mentarily or in terms of promotions) for having a baby."
One solution to this problem of balance may be heightened institutional
recognition of the value of extra work in the academic community. A publica-
tion by Joyce Bennett Justus and others calls for redefining traditional notions
of productivity so that teaching, counseling, community work, and advising are
weighed more heavily in the promotion and tenure processes.30

Collegiality Among Faculty
One of the best sources of support that faculty members can get is the respect
and validation of their peers. Collegiality fosters a sense of community as well

Black Women in Academe 31

as an atmosphere of creativity in which people can share ideas, collaborate,
and generally benefit from working together. For many black women, espe-
cially those on predominantly white campuses, this essential ingredient is miss-
ing from their professional experience. Because of stereotypes based on racist
and sexist attitudes, black women's contributions to their departments are not
always recognized or valued. Black women respondents to the PSEW ques-
tionnaire talk about the ways in which they have been excluded from the acad-
emy. One describes her situation thus: "Beyond the collegiality expressed by a
few faculty members, I am invisible except for the important role that I play as
a documentary, legitimizing category for affirmative action purposes. Faculty
whose specialties are similar to my own (outside my department) rarely seek
me out for exchanges or for participation in symposia and other such things. I
work pretty much in isolation, dependent upon extra-university cross-fertiliza-
tion and moral support." Another reports, "When I came to the university in
1984, I was generally amazed at the callous, arrogant, and disrespectful way
that white staff spoke to me. I assumed they had no 'home training' in manners
or were just not used to addressing black women in a professional manner.
Now I understand that they pick up their cues from their administrative superi-
Some black women at both historically black and predominantly white
schools report feelings of neglect, ostracism, and isolation. A professor in a pre-
dominantly male department at a public, coeducational, historically black col-
lege says, "I have been in this department for a long time, and it is very male-
oriented. They do most of the committee work and write most of the joint
proposals. Usually the women, including myself, are not invited to participate.
Also, all other opportunities are usually awarded by the department chairman
or the dean to men in the department. I have turned to 'hard' teaching and
writing and research on my own. Having these outlets has enabled me to get
along with the men and keeps them from being threatened."

Research, Teaching, and Tenure
Black women tend not to be included in collaborative research projects with
their peers; they lack sponsorship and therefore have less access to sources for
research.3" Jackie Mitchell also talks about the problem of having research
trivialized and devalued if it focuses on black issues or issues of a social, activist
nature.32 She further notes that a successful academic career is "the product of
not only the intelligence and ability to do outstanding scholarship, but also of
ambition, dedication, hard work, circumstances that foster an orientation to-
ward scholarship, and acceptance into a small fraternity of scholars." Black

32 Yolanda T. Moses

women have a difficult time winning that acceptance, especially in predomi-
nantly white colleges and universities. Some examples from respondents to the
PSEW questionnaire include the following: "There is still the tendency either
to criticize my research efforts or believe that ethnic professional associations,
conferences, and workshops are not as worthy as predominantly nonethnic ones."
"I have gotten a lot of criticism about the fact that I am doing research [on
social issues that affect black women in a cross-cultural context] that is not
rigorous or relevant to the thrust of the department." "I have survived because I
do two sets of research: one on black women's issues and one that is main-
streamed within my profession. It is the only way I will have legitimacy when
tenure time comes."
Typically, minority men and all women spend a higher proportion of their
time teaching and advising rather than engaging in original research. This has
happened in part because they are clustered in two- and four-year colleges rather
than in research institutions.33 Many women who responded to the PSEW ques-
tionnaire stated that teaching was one of the most rewarding experiences of
their professional careers. Here is one example: "My consistently positive expe-
riences have been my relationships with students. This university has a prima-
rily working-class student body, and I identify with those students. I also work
in several programs that allow me to interact with the relatively small minority
Some faculty members expressed conflict in their teaching experiences: "On
several occasions, I have had black students become upset when they expected
special treatment from me in class- and they did not get it. I told them I would
work with them one-on-one but that there would be no special favors." "I find
that students (mostly white) seem to resist the intellectual and pedagogical au-
thority of a black female professor."
James E. Blackwell and others discuss the reasons for the low numbers of
blacks (men and women) who receive tenure and the time it takes them to
receive it compared to the time it takes for white males, white females, and
other ethnic/racial groups.34 Black women also face distinct disadvantages as
"outsiders" who want to join the club. Responses from the PSEW question-
naires show that, like black males, other people of color, and white women,
these black women have a hard time getting tenure. One relates: "When I first
came up for tenure, my effort was met with opposition on many fronts. I clearly
got the sense that I was stepping out of my 'place,' or the place that others had
assigned to me in their minds. This was very upsetting. I don't think that I have
unduly high expectations for collegial relationships, but I do want to be given

Black Women in Academe 33

the rewards I've earned. I guess this was an opportunity to mourn the fact that
my professional relationship with my colleagues is limited because people can-
not cope with who I am." Another says, "Service contributions are not weighed
heavily in merit and promotion decisions at my university since it is regarded as
a research institution. As a consequence, the multiple roles that black female
professors like myself are forced to maintain and the university/ethnic/gender
service obligations that we are required to fulfill erode sacred research time."

The recruitment and retention of black women faculty members is critical not
only to the careers of the women themselves but to the successful recruitment
and retention of black women students. Some university administrators have
stepped up efforts to recruit, hire, and grant tenure to black female faculty mem-
bers in greater numbers. Until top administrators are more effective in insuring
job satisfaction and an environment free from hostility, arrogance, and devalu-
ation of diversity, however, black women may choose not to enter academia or
to remain thereThere is already some indication that, as a group, blacks are
beginning to avoid careers in academia.35 By offering more money and better
working conditions, business and private industry may be claiming the best
and brightest black students.
Despite a demonstrably chilly climate on many campuses, many black
women enjoy their jobs in academia. Respondents to the PSEW questionnaire,
for example, find many aspects of their experiences quite positive: "A new de-
partment chair has asked me to put some of my thinking into practice. This
way, I can work to help the institution be more sensitive to the needs of women
and people of color." "Once accepted ... I have been treated fairly well by
other faculty and administrators (for example, I have gotten release time privi-
leges and I have gotten respect for my ideas)." "Usually the dean of the college
will give me money to travel to conferences or to put on a conference here.
Also, the vice president for academic affairs (a woman) financially supports my
projects. The affirmative action officer and faculty union representative also
are helpful."
Other black female faculty members recognize the existence of racism but
feel that the good aspects of their position outweigh the bad: "Yes, I am staying
here. I have a great job and good colleagues. I do what I want for the most part.
I also have some racist, vicious colleagues, but the good outweighs the bad
most of the time." "I plan to stay here because this is a major city where I can
live comfortably as a black female professional. I have a good teaching situa-

34 Yolanda T. Moses

tion, good colleagues in my field, and an opportunity to work with a center
with a national reputation. I think I recognize that racism and sexism are every-
where; thus I have no illusion of seeking a place where they do not exist."

Leadership and Advocacy: Critical Skills
The ability to lead is perhaps the primary quality of an administrator. In her
review of the literature on black women administrators, Patricia A. Harvard lists
three major barriers to women in seeking and maintaining administrative posi-
tions: (1) sex role stereotypes, (2) organizational barriers, and (3) internaliza-
tion of traditional female behaviors.36
Harvard found that successful administrators had obtained their doctorates
and described them as committed, independent, dominant, active, adventur-
ous, sensitive, secure, and self-confident.3 Other researchers point out other
important components of successful leadership such as self-confidence, tech-
nical and interpersonal skills, awareness of organizational attitudes, and con-
formity to the culture; having mentors both inside and outside the university is
also important.
Having achieved their goals, many black women administrators in positions
of leadership find that, while they may have the title and the responsibility,
they often do not have the authority or the backing they need to make deci-
sions or implement their ideas. They may be undercut by colleagues as well as
superiors. When asked about their reception as leaders, the administrators in
our survey talked about the problems of nonrecognition of their power and
authority: "I feel that I am unwittingly used to validate personal and institu-
tional racism. It took me a while to discover that I was being 'set up' to fail. In
meetings that I am not chairing, my remarks are sometimes treated as trivial
and unworthy of discussion. There have also been times people have gone be-
hind my back when I was away from campus and attempted to change the
direction of projects for which I was responsible." "My [opportunity for] leader-
ship is lessened because I am frequently not included in activities (for example,
meetings and conferences where I have direct responsibility). I often receive
information secondhand." "I have been upset when I have not been consulted
about major decisions that affect my area of responsibility, or when decisions
are made that will reflect back on me."
Do women and minorities move into leadership positions and maintain the
status quo, or do they advocate change? Black women, as mentioned earlier in
this chapter, have a long historyof educational advocacy and activism. Responses
to PSEW's questionnaire regarding the most positive aspects of their jobs show
their active involvement in their students' lives and an optimism about the po-

Black Women in Academe 35

tential for change. An associate vice president for student affairs talks about a
larger goal: "In addition to my regular work, I enjoy working with students. I
enjoy introducing them to the black perspective and to the women's perspec-
tive. Seeing females (especially minority ones) grow and develop in all areas of
their lives is such a reward for me."
Many of the women who responded to the PSEW questionnaire are very
comfortable talking about their plans for change. They see their positions in
higher education administration as one of the major ways to effect change in
their students' lives and ultimately in society.


The issues and examples in this chapter demonstrate clearly that black women
faculty members and administrators do not perceive themselves and their con-
cerns as integrated into the missions, goals, and social structures of college cam-
puses. The job of integration is not one that black women can or should tackle
alone; it will take the hard work of many members of the academic commu-
nity. It must be done if we are to encourage black women students in this coun-
try to pursue higher education and professional careers as faculty members or
administrators in academia.

1. For an overview of research on faculty, see James E. Blackwell, "Faculty Issues Af-
fecting Minorities in Education," in From Access to Achievement: Strategies for Urban In-
stitutions: Proceedings from a National Invitational Conference, edited by Richard C.
Richardson Jr. and Alfredo G. de Los Santos Jr. (Washington, D.C.: National Center for
Postsecondary Governance and Finance, 1988), 165-98; Joyce Bennett Justus, Sandra
Freitag, and L. Leann Parker, The University of California in the Twenty-First Century:
Successful Approaches to Faculty Diversity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987);
McLean Tobin, The Black Female Ph.D.: Education and Career Development (St. Louis:
Washington University Press of America, 1981); William H. Trent et al., "Making It to the
Top: Women and Minority Faculty in the Academic Labor Market," American Behavioral
Scientist 27 (January-February 1984), 301-24; and William Moore Jr. and Lionel Wagstaff,
"The Black Woman in Higher Education," in their Black Educators in White Colleges
(San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1974).
For an overview of research on black women administrators, see Ruth N. Swann and
Elaine P. Witty, "Black Women Administrators at Traditionally Black Colleges and Uni-
versities: Attitudes, Perceptions, and Potentials," Western Journal of Black Studies 4 (Win-
ter 1980): 261-70; Constance M. Carroll, "Three's a Crowd: The Dilemma of Black Women
in Higher Education," in All the Women Are White, All the Men Are Black, But Some of Us
Are Brave: Black Women's Studies, edited by Gloria Hull, Patricia Bell-Scott, and Barbara
Smith (New York: Feminist Press, 1982), 115-21; Myrtle Hall Mosley, "Black Women
Administrators in Higher Education: An Endangered Species," Journal of Black Studies 10

36 Yolanda T. Moses

(March 1980): 295-310; and Lea E. Williams, "Chief Academic Officers at Black Col-
leges and Universities: A Comparison by Gender," Journal of Negro Education 55 (Fall
1986): 443-52.
2. This chapter draws from extensive files and previous reports of the Project on the
Status and Education of Women (PSEW) as well as informal interviews PSEW conducted
with black women and anecdotal material it collected through an informal questionnaire
on black women faculty members and administrators around the country. The eleven-
item, open-ended questionnaire was sent out to approximately eighty black women stu-
dents, faculty members, and administrators in spring 1988. The sample included women
from public, private, historically black, and predominantly white colleges and universities
across the country. There was a 50 percent response rate to the survey.
3. Deborah Carter, Carol Pearson, and Donna Shavlik, "Double Jeopardy: Women of
Color in Higher Education," Educational Record 68-69 (Fall 1987-Winter 1988): 99-
4. The New Agenda of Women for Higher Education (Washington, D.C.: American
Council on Education, 1987); Minorities on Campus: A Handbook for Enhancing Diver-
sity (Washington, D.C.: American Council on Education, 1989); One Third of a Nation:
A Report on the Commission on Minority Participation in Education and American Life
(Washington, D.C.; ACE Education Commission of the States, 1987); From Access to
Achievement: Strategies for Urban Institutions (Washington, D.C.: National Center for
Postsecondary Governance and Finance, 1988).
5. See Bernice Sandler, The Campus Climate Revisited: Chilly for Faculty, Administra-
tors, and Graduate Students (Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges/Project
on the Status and Education of Women, 1986).
6. Shirley Vining Brown, Increasing Minority Faculty: An Elusive Goal (Princeton:
Educational Testing Service, 1988), 6.
7. Summary Report 1986 Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities (Washington, D.C.:
National Research Council, 1986).
8. Ibid., 25.
9. "EEO-6 Higher Education Staff Information Surveys, 1985, U.S. Equal Employ-
ment Opportunity Commission," in Minorities in Higher Education, Seventh Annual Sta-
tus Report 1988 (Washington, D.C.: American Council on Education), 33-34.
10. Patricia Bell-Scott, "Schoolin' 'Respectable' Ladies of Color," Journal of the Na-
tional Association of Women Deans, Administrators, and Counselors 43 (Winter 1980): 1.
11. "EEO-6 Higher Education," 36.
12. Adrian Tinsley, Cynthia Secor, and Sheila Kaplan, eds., Women in Higher Educa-
tion Administration (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1984), 7.
13. Patricia Harvard, "Successful Behaviors of Black Administrators in Higher Educa-
tion: Implications for Leadership," paper presented at the meeting of the American Edu-
cational Research Association, San Francisco, April 1986.
14. "Growth Slows in Number of Women Heading Colleges," Higher Education and
National Affairs 37 (March 14, 1988): 1-5.
15. Harvard, "Successful Behaviors," 7.
16. William Moore Jr., "Black Faculty in White Colleges: A Dream Deferred," Educa-
tional Record 68-69 (Fall 1987-Winter 1988): 117; and James E. Blackwell, "Issues Affect-

Black Women in Academe 37

ing Minorities in Higher Education," paper presented at the conference "From Access to
Achievement: Strategies for Urban Institutions," Los Angeles, November 15-17, 1987, 20.
17. Harvard, "Successful Behaviors," 8.
18. Justus, Freitag, and Parker, University of California, 23.
19. Ibid. See also Margaret Wilkerson, "Lifting as We Climb: Networks for Minority
Women," in Women in Higher Education Administration, 59-66.
20. See Bell-Scott, "Schoolin,' 22-28; Moore and Wagstaff, Black Educators; and Mosley,
"Black Women Administrators," 295-310. See also Williams, "Chief Academic Officers."
21. Bell-Scott, "Schoolin'," 27.
22. Swann and Witty, "Black Women Administrators," 262.
23. Williams, "Chief Academic Officers," 451.
24. Jacqueline Fleming, Blacks in College: A Comparative Study of Students' Success
in Black and White Institutions (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1984); and Walter Allen, Gen-
der and Race Differencqs in Black Student Academic Performance, Racial Attitudes and
College Satisfaction (Atlanta: Southern Education Foundation, 1986).
25. Sandler, Campus Climate Revisited, 6.
26. Ibid., 9.
27. Ibid., 10.
28, Ibid., 13.
29. Justus, Freitag, and Parker, University of California, 25.
30. Ibid., 27.
31. Justus, Freitag, and Parker, California, 23; see also Brown, Increasing Minority Fac-
ulty, 25.
32. Jackie Mitchell, "Visible, Vulnerable, and Viable: Emerging Perspectives of Mi-
nority Professors," in Teaching Minority Students, edited by James H. Cones III, John F.
Noonan, and Denise John (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1983), 17-28
33. Ibid.
34. Blackwell, "Issues Affecting Minorities in Higher Education," 23; and Brown, In-
creasing Minority Faculty, 25.
35. Brown, Increasing Minority Faculty, 25.
36. Harvard, Successful Behaviors, 46.
37. Ibid., 15.






Part Two

Alternative Paradigms for Black Women
in the Academy
Epistemological and Ontological Issues

As more black women have entered the academy, we have begun to challenge
the Eurocentric and androcentric ways of thinking and knowing. Specifically,
the knowledge about black women and other men and women of color has
been largely generated by white supremacy and male superiority. In the United
States, as the American Council on Education noted, whites comprised 88.5
percent of the full-time faculty in higher education in 1989, of which 62 per-
cent were males. Since we black women have been excluded, until recently,
from the academy as definers, producers, and dispensers of knowledge about
our realities, the Anglo-male orientation, which distorts our realities and im-
ages, is reflected in curricula, scholarly journals and textbooks, pedagogies, con-
cepts and paradigms, organizational structures, and organizing assumptions.
Black women have historically resisted, individually and collectively, these
imposed definitions and images of our racial and sexual being. Bell Hooks notes
in Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black that "oppressed people re-
sist by identifying themselves as subjects, by defining their reality, shaping their
new identity, naming their history, telling their story." In this section, Shelby F.
Lewis's "Africana Feminism: An Alternative Paradigm for Women in the Acad-
emy" continues that redefinition of ourselves and our realities. She argues that
the racist, classist patriarchy is the underlying foundation of a global hegemonic
paradigm, which operates in the academy, as well as other arenas, to protect
elite white male privilege. In the academy, white males control the production
and dissemination of information. On the question of gender, Lewis writes that
white women "own the realm of theory," which excludes other voices. She pro-
poses that black women academicians begin deconstructing the Eurocentric
classist, racist patriarchy. She maintains we can start by embracing an Afrocentric
perspective and "naming ourselves African American." This redefinition, ac-

cording to Lewis, reinforces the African linkage, a necessary paradigm to shape
a global liberation struggle against racism, sexism, and classism.
While Lewis posits an alternative paradigm for black women in the acad-
emy, Beverly M. John's "The African American Female Ontology: Implica-
tions for Academe" addresses the origin and importance of an African Ameri-
can female ontology, born of the multiple juxtapositions of culture, gender,
and race, in the survival of the academy, the United States, and the global
community. John calls for an inclusion of this way of viewing the world in
creating a more humane academy and world community.

Chapter 3

Africana Feminism
An Alternative Paradigm for Black Women in the Academy

Shelby F. Lewis

In the foreword to the 1983 book Feminist Theories, Dale Spender notes that
central issues in theories for liberation are who controls the channels of com-
munication and who decides what we know.' She suggests that males own the
realm of theory and that society legitimates male-oriented theories because males
control information, are able to put forward their own version of facts, and can
suppress alternative versions.
While this analysis of male hegemony is insightful, Spender has neglected
to acknowledge African American women's knowledge and theories. This form
of marginalization highlights the critical reality that on questions of gender,
white women own the realm of theory. White male hegemony in the larger
society is replaced by white female hegemony in the feminist arena.2 Though
alternative versions of gender-related facts are not always suppressed, a hostile
climate is created for other female voices, leading a number of scholars to as-
sert that white female hegemony is a central issue in Western feminist theories
of liberation.3
In the academy, including the black academy, where white versions of facts
are disseminated in the literature used for research and in that assigned to stu-
dents, seemingly the areas of control collectively enjoyed by white males and
white females contribute to racial dominance. How racial hegemony was at-
tained and how it is maintained are questions that should be addressed. It is
also important to address the need for black women to deconstruct and over-
come the basic assumptions underlying white hegemony.
This chapter addresses the question of hegemony in the academy and ex-
plores the premise that racist/capitalist patriarchy forms the pillars of a global
paradigm of oppression. This paradigm operates in the academy to support and
protect the interests and concerns of rich white males, except on questions of

42 Shelby F. Lewis

gender, where white females constitute the dominant class. Three major issues
are examined: (1) the hegemonic paradigm that structures a hierarchy of ineq-
uity in the academy; (2) the historical development of white female hegemony
on questions of gender; and (3) ways that black women can break out of this
paradigm and create an alternative, emancipatory model.

The Hegemonic Paradigm
When the Handbook for Achieving Sex Equity Through Education was pub-
lished in 1985,4 it devoted a sixty-nine-page section entitled "Sex Equity Strate-
gies for Specific Populations" to the question of minority, handicapped, and
other nonmainstream women. I was asked to do the chapter "Achieving Sex
Equity for Minority Women," which I elected to do because I felt that alterna-
tive voices and perspectives were needed in the volume. So, through collabo-
rating with Native American, Hispanic, Asian, and African American women
from various disciplines and backgrounds, I completed a chapter that made a
number of interesting points about the role of educational systems in societies.
The major premise of the chapter is reflected in the following abstract:

Educational systems reflect the values and practices of the larger society.
If the larger society is sexist, racist, and based on economic, cultural, and
historical inequities, it is unrealistic to expect educational systems to be
devoid of these inequities. Educational systems, after all, are the formal,
institutionalized, systematized vehicles through which the larger society
socializes youth to the values held by the dominant or ruling group ...
defining the very narrow dimension of the formal educational system as
the arena within which a struggle for equity is concentrated raises strate-
gic as well as theoretical questions alternative theoretical constructs
must be developed for measuring, evaluating, and linking the causes, re-
lationships, and consequences of inequity in the various dimensions of
The basic assumption of this analysis is that black females in the acad-
emy are imprisoned in a dysfunctional paradigm because they are para-
lyzed by its logic, structures, and biased knowledge base. Just as the for-
midable illusions around the Wizard of Oz were powerful enough to
control and channel minds, the academy, as a consequence of such illu-
sion, is viewed through a glass darkly. The smoke and mirrors that make
the system work day in and day out are not easily perceived because only
the hegemonic versions of reality are reflected in the mirrors.
The instrumental values that shape the mirrored images are race, class,

Africana Feminism 43

and gender.6 Although rich white male images shine brightest, rich white
female images also shine, as do other sanctioned images of the model.
But the images of impoverished black females do not shine because the
mirrors are grounded to deflect their contributions.
What role does the academy play in creating and sustaining the global
hegemonic paradigm? A contaminated knowledge base is the fuel for the
establishment of hegemony in the academy. Data in the knowledge base
are generated, analyzed, vetted, stored, and valued on the basis of the
needs and goals of racist/capitalist patriarchy. Because of the purpose and
role of the contaminated academic knowledge base, one understands that
the academy is not a place where truth reigns supreme. The data are not
required to be objective, complete, or accurate; what is required is the
exoneration of the history, aspirations, views, contributions, and interests
of the hegemonic class and the diminution of the accomplishments of
marginalized groups, even if this means total distortion of history and
complete fabrication of material reality. An example is the falsification of
the relative differences in the sizes of the continents so that Africa would
not take its prominent place on the map of the world. The curriculum,
pedagogy, research methodologies, organizational structures, and orga-
nizing assumptions of American education are also integral to sustaining
the hegemonic paradigm. The illusion of objectivity, including biased
standards for measuring qualifications for entry and upward mobility,
very nearly insulates the academy from the critical thinking necessary to
expose the contrived reality. This process is most noticeable when the
standard biases of traditional disciplines are stringently applied to nontra-
ditional, primarily interdisciplinary approaches to the generation and dis-
semination of knowledge. The assessment and ratings for the work and
publications of those who represent nontraditional disciplines, such as
black studies and women's studies, are generally low;7 this is because schol-
ars in the academy are programmed to denigrate alternative versions of
facts and because the new disciplines have not yet been adequately pro-
grammed to reflect the preferred images of the hegemonic paradigm.
Scholars who attempt to raise basic questions and set norms may be
excluded from significant research" projects and funding; their method-
ologies, analyses, and findings may be carefully critiqued and denounced,
and their academic qualifications may be questioned. When subtle at-
tacks under the guise of "academic standards" and "legitimacy" are inef-
fective, character assassination may take place, and livelihoods may be
threatened. For example, through media attacks, political action, and

44 Shelby F. Lewis

academic pressure, Dr. Leonard Jeffries, former chair of black studies at
City College of New York, was victimized and made an example to all
who would question the established versions of historical fact.
Understanding the reason for the "established standards" enables sup-
pressed groups in the academy to reject academic imperialism and to
frame discourse that unveils the smoke and mirrors and undermines the
basis of global racist hegemony in the academy.

White Female Hegemony in the Academy

Two common feminist themes are oppression, or denial of power, and struggle,
or quest for power. These themes have always been present in American libera-
tion struggles. Native American women, Hispanic women, both free and en-
slaved African women, both indentured and free European women, and con-
temporary women of all shapes and sizes continuously focus on powerlessness
and empowerment. It is part of a primordial cry for liberation.
Because of the racial dichotomy in American history, there are two Ameri-
cas and two American feminisms, one revolutionary and the other reformist,
one focusing primarily on gender and one linking all forms of oppression, one
exclusive and the other inclusive.
This bifurcation is very real in the academy. White American feminist his-
tory has been, for the most part, reformist, and white feminists have been able
to use mainstream channels of communication to disseminate and legitimize
their versions of facts and establish dominance over the realm of theory and
questions of gender in the academy because of their relations, and sometimes
solidarity, with white male power holders in the state and in the academy.
Mainstream feminism roughly parallels the mainstream women's movement,
which can be divided into two waves. The first wave has its roots in the aboli-
tionist movement of the nineteenth century, and the second wave is rooted in
the civil rights movement of the twentieth century. The first wave split into two
groups in the 1860s. One group sought to combine the demand for black suf-
frage with women's suffrage by advocating universal adult suffrage.8 This group
saw a strong and direct relationship between black struggle and gender struggle.
The second group was made up of a strong contingent of white women who
opposed the ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments in the
name of women's rights. This group felt betrayed by what it saw as congres-
sional efforts to prioritize the needs of black men over those of white women.9
It is this branch of the women's movement that provides the defining tenets of
mainstream American feminism in the absence of an overarching framework
for revolutionary change and within the context of racial discord.

Africana Feminism 45

Analyses of this aspect of mainstream feminism have been fragmented, ten-
tative, and generally uncritical primarily because of the location of white women
in the hegemonic paradigm. They are essentially locked in a family struggle
against their fathers, husbands, brothers, and friends; ratherthan undermining
the power of the white family, they have sought a redistribution of that familial
Historically, racial affinity has been more fundamental than gender affinity
in American society. In the political arena, for example, racial hegemony has
been consistent. One example is the lack of support from mainstream feminists
for Shirley Chisholm's historic 1976 bid for a presidential nomination within
the Democratic Party, even though she was the first contemporary woman to
seek the post. Instead, support was given to the white males that Ms. Chisholm
opposed. In addition, there was no groundswell of support for Lenora Fulani's
1992 New Alliance Party bid for the presidency. She too was opposed by white
males. Nor did women's groups rally around Angela Davis during her bids
for the vice-presidency under the Communist Party banner. In 1988, however,
the National Organization for Women and other women's groups flocked to
Geraldine Ferraro's campaign and made the gender gap a major issue in her
bid for the vice-presidency on the Democratic ticket.'0 To suggest that "chances"
for winning determined the level of support for the respective female candi-
dates is actually an admission that feminist principles are conditional at best.
While white feminists overwhelmingly supported Anita Hill during the
Clarence Thomas hearings, it is important to remember that her confronta-
tion was with a black male, and the debate was framed as a gender-only issue.
White women also used that situation to voice their outrage at their absence
from the Senate. Subsequent to the hearings, white females focused on getting
women elected. The Year of the Woman was the outcome of the confronta-
Feminist scholarship growing out of the mainstream framework effectively
marginalizes black female contributions to American feminist theory and prac-
tice. Scholars who accord intellectual character to the contributions of "other"
women are seen as voices for a subgroup for special populations. Only "they"
speak for American women.1 In effect, white feminists universalize their theo-
ries of gender and liberation while particularizing and thereby minimizing the
theories of other women. However, a critical divergence exists between main-
stream and revolutionary feminism. The search for alternative approaches to
oppositional feminist struggle in American society is informed by the theoreti-
cal paralysis resulting from the ascendancy of mainstream feminism.
In response to white hegemony, black women have initiated a politics of
identity that calls attention to the differences among women, especially differ-

46 Shelby F. Lewis

ences in women's forms of oppression and access to or denial of privileges.
They attribute these differences to interlocking structures of domination, so-
cially defined and constructed down through history in terms of race, class,
and sexuality.12 Too few white feminists understand and acknowledge this dif-
ference or the racist and nonrevolutionary nature of their feminism.
Barbara Smith suggests that much of what white women call feminism is
actually female self-aggrandizement, because inherent in the definition of femi-
nism are a theory and practice to free all women. Anything less than this vision
of total freedom is not feminism.13
American revolutionary feminism grows out of the activities and experiences
of enslaved African women and creates alternative voices and strategies of
struggle. Angela Davis notes that one of the supreme ironies of slavery was that
the black woman had to be released from the chains of the myth of femininity
in order for the slave master to extract the greatest possible surplus from her
labor.14 She suggests that the revolutionary consciousness of the slave woman
was honed in the bestial realities of her daily experience and that her oppres-
sion necessarily incorporated open forms of counterinsurgency. Enslaved women
became part of overt and covert movements to overthrow oppression. They
wanted to destroy the system of slavery and the state that sanctioned it. Women
like Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman are well known, but countless oth-
ers provided support and fodder for revolts and radical forms of resistance to
various types of oppression. This larger question of human rights, the basis of
revolutionary feminism, was a part of their consciousness.
This revolutionary consciousness was also manifested during the civil rights
movement. Fannie Lou Hamer and other women like her, guided by the as-
sumption that she was discriminated against because of race, gender, and class,
concluded that the system of segregation and the state that supported it had to
be transformed." Because Ms. Hamer and other black women have experi-
enced multidimensional oppression, they have sought multidimensional and
radical strategies to end that oppression-strategies that go beyond the reform-
ist goals of the civil rights movement and the mainstream feminist movement.

Conceptualizing Africana Feminism
Until feminist struggle is transparently linked with global struggles like the de-
velopment struggle and the struggle of peoples and states for self-determina-
tion, it is unlikely that the fundamental questions and issues in black female
liberation and the obstacles to it will be adequately understood and addressed.
Development theory, state theory, and feminist theory all touch on aspects of
women's lives, but only when the three converge is there clarity about where

Africana Feminism 47

women of African descent stand in the world order. To lay the foundation for
an alternative paradigm for women of African descent, it is necessary to exam-
ine and compare global movements and theories that attempt to address the
hegemonic model of racist/capitalist patriarchy.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, attention was focused on the role of women in
the development process within the nation-state, with emphasis on economic
development. Both scholars and policy makers approached the issue from a
utilitarian perspective; ethical issues and the rights of women were seldom ad-
dressed. The argument, essentially, was that women play critical roles in agri-
cultural and rural development and that failure to provide policies and
programs to increase and improve their productivity would be disastrous for
development programs.16 Greater participation by women in the development
process and their ultimate integration into the economies of given nation-states
were the popular recommendations of the 1960s and 1970s scholars.17 Only in
the 1980s did some of these scholars note that integration and more participa-
tion by women in the development of the patriarchal state could make them
participants in their own oppression.
It is fortunate that research and debate during the United Nations Decade
for Women focused on the question of equity for women in development, not
simply participation by women in the development process. For women of Af-
rican descent, this new focus helped solidify concerns about the relevance of
many aspects of Western feminism. Official government delegates to the U.N.
Decade Conference, who were interested in integration and participation of
women within the nation-state, did not enter into dialogue, which suggested
that subverting or undermining the patriarchal state was a legitimate goal of
female victims of the state. Nonofficial delegates, however, wanted to examine
all available options and to engage in discussions that would clarify their status
and roles in the state and would prepare them to discuss revolutionary ideas.
It is within this global context that the question of women within the hege-
monic framework was discussed and the role of the nation-state in defining and
maintaining cross-national oppression was addressed. The global feminist dia-
logue that resulted aided the development of Africana feminism.'8
In this climate, feminist scholars of African descent began to collaborate
and corroborate common themes and realities. They discovered that no matter
where they were placed on the global battlefield, they were engaged in the
same struggle and would likely benefit from combining their knowledge and
resources. Out of this dialogue and common journey, the basic tenets of Africana
feminism were formed.
Those African American women representatives to the conference who were

48 Shelby F. Lewis

from the academy were made aware by the dialogue that they should link
Africana theory building to black studies and women's studies programs. They
were conscious of the internal inconsistencies, contradictions, and biases of
these academic programs, and many felt that their interests were not well served
by either of them: black studies programs emphasized the needs and concerns
of black males, and women's studies programs focused on the needs and con-
cerns of white females. Rather than viewing black women as the common link
between them, both groups saw them as appendages. Thus, in response to the
failure of white women to confront their racism and the failure of black men to
confront their sexism, black women's studies was born. The title of a 1982 pub-
lication captures the essence of the struggle: All the Women Are White, All the
Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women's Studies.19 The emer-
gence of black women's studies did not end the concerns about the margin-
alization of African American women in the academy. A decidedly nationalis-
tic, middle-class bias characterized early black women's studies programs. In
fact, the failure of middle-class black women to confront their nationalist ori-
entation and class biases led to the comparative and global approaches found
in Africana women's studies. The research, teaching, and discourse in this arena,
along with African women's experiences in the economic and political crisis of
the 1980s, contributed significantly to Africana feminist theory building in
The International Cross-Cultural Black Women's Studies Summer Institute
was among the groups that evolved during this period. This group meets annu-
ally, in a different nation each year, to examine the state of black women and
discuss issues of primary importance to the host group while at the same time
doing research and organizing around issues of common concern to all op-
pressed people. Out of the research and discussion come resolutions that tran-
scend regional and national boundaries.
The women who participate in this work are formulating broad-based strate-
gies to confront the global impact of racist/capitalist patriarchy. They are also
suggesting that Africana feminism might be the concept under which a variety
of global ideas and strategies may be subsumed. First, Africana feminism seeks
to deconstruct the notion of separate and discrete struggles against racial op-
pression, class oppression, and gender. Second, in addition to eschewing the
one-dimensional approach of mainstream feminism, Africana feminism tran-
scends nationalistic, cultural, class, and geographical boundaries. Third, Africana
feminism recognizes that women of African descent are stratified and that build-
ing a movement that binds this stratified group together and addresses com-
mon needs is as difficult as it is important. Fourth, Africana feminism recog-

Africana Feminism 49

nizes the need to deconstruct and change the contaminated knowledge base
and distorted mirror image that support racist/capitalist patriarchy. Fifth, Africana
feminism is not antimale or antiwhite; nor is it opposed to honest and fair
accumulation of wealth. It is unconditionally opposed to sexism, racism, and
accumulation at the expense of others, especially women of African descent.
Finally, and in sum, Africana feminism opposes all of the false assumptions
undergirding the hegemonic paradigm.
Thus it should not be difficult to understand how and why Africana femi-
nism emerged and why it attempts to seek out, subvert, and destroy racist/capi-
talist patriarchy or why it is necessary to situate an analysis of black women in
the academy within the Africana feminist paradigm.

Africana Feminism in the Academy
Once black women in the academy situate themselves within the global struggle
against racist/capitalist patriarchy, they are positioned to build a bridge for youth
and others in the academy and are poised to serve as both catalysts and re-
source leaders for empowering the community of the oppressed.
How does one begin to deconstruct a self-perpetuating paradigm based on
the values, interests, and views of oppressive power holders? Any viable approach
to this phenomenon must focus first on deconstructing contrived history, de-
mystifying the false scientific basis of subjective knowledge, uncovering the
hypocrisy and special interests that undergird it, and presenting it clearly and
forcefully to those who are paralyzed by the controlling paradigm. We begin
the deconstruction by seeking an Afrocentric perspective.
By naming ourselves African American women, we acknowledge the Afri-
can link, and we sanction and reinforce the global connection. This perspec-
tive enables us to understand that we should not accept the minority status
offered us by the hegemonic paradigm. Using a global approach to facts, we are
a majority. The difference in conclusions is based on where one stands when
looking at objective reality. Topics chosen for study in the academy; the amount
of time, energy, and resources devoted to the research; the context used for
framing research questions; methods of analysis; selective emphasis on one set
of facts over others; interpretation of those facts, how they are designed, and
whose interest they are generated to serve-all depend on perspective within a
prevailing paradigm. Justice, logic, equity, and freedom are all defined by, ad-
ministered by, and sanctioned by the logic of the paradigm.
As African American women in the academy, we must question the place-
ment of the mirrors in the dominant paradigm. We must inform our youth that
the instrumental values of American Society are set by those who benefit most

50 Shelby F Lewis

from them, that the images emanating from those values reflect their strengths
while ignoring their weaknesses. In contrast, they reflect poorly on those who
are most unlike the self-serving images. We must convince our peers and youth
of the need to create our own images and eschew the ones reflected in the
mirror. We must take over the commanding heights of our struggle and deter-
mine our impact and our status in the world order.
Since the rich industrialized nations of the West are aligning with nonin-
dustrialized and poor European nations, and those nations of the former Soviet
Union with majority populations of color are excluded from the new accord, it
appears that the realignment taking place and the new world order are based
on racial dominance.
It seems obvious that an alternative paradigm is necessary to shape a libera-
tion struggle for those who are exploited by the prevailing framework. It seems
equally obvious that the path to that new model is knowledge. Since the acad-
emy is the vehicle through which contaminated knowledge is disseminated to
our youth and the place where the youth are socialized to perpetuate the para-
digm, it is a good place to initiate change, a good place to prepare for a viable
alternative to racist/capitalist patriarchy. It must be understood, however, that
the struggle within the academy is but part of the larger struggle for liberation,
and, while it might (and should) produce versions of facts to undergird the
struggle, it must always be guided by the tenets of the larger, global struggle.
As African American scholars, we can research, write, and publish works to
be used in deconstructing the prototype. We can teach concepts and approaches
that counter the negative thrust of history and liberate African peoples from
paradigm paralysis and from never ending, ever changing, and constantly esca-
lating exploitation within the paradigm. Too few of us are engaged in theoreti-
cal and/or empirical research that looks seriously at our place insociety and in
the academy. Without focusing more attention on decontamination of the
knowledge base and deconstruction of the hegemonic paradigm, we will never
break the mirror that reflects our marginalization. We will never burst loose
from the dominant model. We will never free ourselves from white hegemony.
But free ourselves we must. No one will, can, or should be expected to do it for
us. It is our challenge. African American women in the academy must meet
that challenge.
We must also begin to recognize and acknowledge the works and contribu-
tions of other women of African descent. Many of us fail to cite them in our
publications, place them on our reading lists, and recommend them to our
students and friends. This is one way to encourage, acknowledge, and support
alternative voices and scholarship. We must not fall into the trap of assuming

Africana Feminism 51

that only publications in refereed journals or those produced by "reputable"
publishing houses are worthy of citation. If we would but consider the hege-
monic norms of those publishing houses and the constraints on getting works
with alternative messages published, we would realize that much of the infor-
mation that we seek is excluded from the legitimate knowledge base, and there-
fore we must make a special effort to locate, critique, and disseminate the best
of the ideas that we find elsewhere. Unpublished papers, speeches, guides, fly-
ers, and other forms of expression contain messages that are important to the
struggle. We must begin to use them in the academy.
Perhaps the most valuable skill that we can develop and pass on to our youth
is critical thinking. Learning to raise questions about facts, relationships, and
conclusions is important, but questioning structures, frameworks, and underly-
ing assumptions and goals is basic to ending paradigm paralysis. Critical think-
ing is also a key element in the proper socialization of our youth.
At this point in history, more African American women than African Ameri-
can men enter the academy; however, too little attention is given to women's
socialization. Everyone recognizes that socialization is critical to development
and that people can be socialized for enslavement or liberation, but too few of
us have begun to create models based on versions of facts that focus on the
needs of young African American women.
By confronting and exposing the contaminated knowledge base and the
smoke and mirrors that fuel the global hegemonic model, we are empowered
to create an alternative, emancipatory paradigm. This is the promise of Africana
feminism. This is the challenge to African American women in the academy.
How we address the challenge facing us is not yet clear. But address it we must.
Not to address it at all is unthinkable.


1. Dale Spender, ed., Feminist Theorists: Three Centuries of Key Women Thinkers (New
York: Pantheon, 1983).
2. See Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider (New York: Crossing Press, 1984); and Shelby Lewis,
"A Liberationist Ideology," in Women's Rights, Feminism, and Politics in the United States,
edited by Mary Shanley (Washington, D.C.: American Political Science Association, 1988).
3. See Bell Hooks, Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (Boston: South End
Press, 1990); and Diane Fowlkes, White Political Women: Paths from Privilege to Empower-
ment (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992).
4. Susan S. Klein, ed., Handbook for Achieving Sex Equity Through Education (Balti-
more: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985).
5. Shelby Lewis et al., "Achieving Sex Equity for Minority Women," in Handbook for
Achieving Sex Equity, 365.

52 Shelby F. Lewis

6. Barbara Sizemore, "The Education Paradigm: Black Schools in America," speech
delivered at the annual meeting of the African Heritage Studies Association, New Orleans,
7. Shelby Lewis, "Africana Feminism: The Ties That Bind," paper delivered to the
"Conference on African and African American Women: The Ties That Bind," Baton Rouge,
1990. See also Filomina Steady, "The Black Woman Cross-Culturally: An Overview," in
The Black Woman Cross-Culturally, edited by Steady (Cambridge: Schenkman, 1981).
8. Mary Lyndon Shanley, Women's Rights, Feminism, and Politics in the United States
(Washington, D.C.: American Political Science Association, 1988), 7.
9. See Jo Freeman, The Politics of Women's Liberation (New York: Longman, 1975).
10. See the Atlanta Constitution and the New York Times, November 3, 1988, and
other major newspapers around the country.
11. See Mae King, "The Political Role of Stereotyped Images of the Black Women in
America," in Black Political Scientists and Black Survival, edited by Shelby Lewis Smith
(Detroit: Balamp, 1977); and Jewel Prestage, "Political Behavior of American Black
Women," in The Black Woman, edited by La Frances Rodgers-Rose (Beverly Hills: Sage,
12. Diane Fowlkes, White Political Women (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press,
13. Barbara Smith, "Racism and Women's Studies," in All the Women Are White, All
the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women's Studies, edited by Gloria T.
Hull, Patricia Bell-Scott, and Barbara Smith, (Old Westbury, N.Y.: Feminist Press, 1982).
14. Angela Davis, "Reflections on the Black Woman's Role in the Community of Slaves,"
Black Scholar 3, no. 4 (December 1971): 7.
15. Leslie McLemore, "Fannie Lou Hamer," speech presented at the annual meeting
of the National Conference of Black Political Scientists, Baton Rouge, 1989).
16. Ester Boserup, Woman's Role in Economic Development (New York: St. Martin's,
1970); Joycelin Massiah, "Indicators of Women in Development: A Preliminary Frame-
work for the Caribbean," in Women and Work and Development, research papers, Women
in the Caribbean Project (Cave Hill, Barbados: Institute for Social and Economic Re-
search, University of the West Indies, 1984); and Christine Obobo, African Women: Their
Struggle for Economic Independence (London: Zed, 1989).
17. Andre Nicola McLaughlin, Report of the International Network of Women of Afri-
can Descent (New York: International Resource Network of Women of African Descent,
1985); and Shelby Lewis, "African Women and National Development," in Comparative
Perspectives of Third World Women, edited by Beverly Lindsay (New York: Praeger, 1979).
18. Shelby Lewis, "African American Women in Their Own Struggle," African Com-
mentary (August 1990): 13-15.
19. Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell-Scott, and Barbara Smith, eds. All the Women Are
White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women's Studies (Old
Westbury, N.Y.: Feminist Press, 1982).

Chapter 4

The African American Female Ontology
Implications for Academe

Beverly M. John

The twenty-first century will create and require totally new configurations. In-
tellectually, politically, and socially, traditions that have guided and governed
will have to be adapted and relinquished as demographic shifts and political
upheaval rearrange and redefine power relationships. Social and political rear-
rangements will precede any paradigmatic shifts in academe much as techno-
logical changes precede ideological shifts. Those rearrangements that are dis-
cussed in paradigmatic/ideological terms will be carefully selected to insure
their reification of traditional models.
Hegemony notwithstanding, programs that illuminate the necessity for re-
defining human and environmental coexistence receive limited but increased
visibility. Recycling is an example of an idea that is more visible now than in
times past, but the urgency of its implementation is yet to be truly understood.
Western consciousness still does not really perceive human beings as part of
the ecosystem. Peaceful coexistence is not a priority; manipulation of natural
and constructed contexts is the major goal. The West will now have to learn
what the East has always known. Specifically, a holistic analysis is prerequisite
to clarity: spirit and matter are one.
Indeed, the philosophy, values, vision, and techniques of the white Western
male perspective will be insufficient to address twenty-first century conditions
and will be increasingly dependent on the very philosophies and populations
that this perspective has systematically marginalized. This exploration will at-
tempt to illuminate the juxtaposition of formal power and a systematically
marginalized population: namely, white males and their domination-oriented
ontology and African American females and their dominion-oriented ontology.
Domination assumes entitlement; dominion assumes responsibility.

54 Beverly M. John

This chapter will explore the African American female ontology and its in-
tellectual implications for the academy. The exploration must commence with
an examination of the nature and quality of academe. Having clarified the con-
text in which the African American female scholar is placed, the discussion
will move to the concept of ontology, its Western and African conceptualizations,
the obsolescence of the Western model, and an analysis of an African Ameri-
can female ontology in its own right and within the academy.

The Structure of Academe
The structure of academe, as constructed by a white Western male perspective,
includes both theoretical and bureaucratic components. The theoretical struc-
ture, rooted in Western philosophical tradition, is constituted of the ideas that
undergird the canon and curriculum advanced by this perspective; the bureau-
cratic structure, born of a commitment to rationalism, provides the framework
through which the ideas are operationalized. Both structural components have
a primary commitment to exclusivity. This value is manifested theoretically in
its ethnocentrism and bureaucratically in the demographics of the academy.
The bureaucratic structure of the academy defines higher education as the
major conduit. This conduit facilitates hegemony through the promotion of
canon vis-a-vis (1) the definition of certain ontological assumptions and episte-
mological techniques as prerequisites to consideration as scholarship; (2) the
reification of these assumptions and techniques in the scholarly debates/
conceptualizations that are accepted by major journals and promoted at na-
tional meetings; (3) the access provided to "gatekeepers" in their appointment
to policy-making bodies, think tanks, and commissions; and (4) the translation
of this gatekeeper critique into the implicit and explicit ideology of textbooks
and teacher training manuals.1
Hegemonic environments are necessarily stagnant, as their goal is not devel-
opment but self-perpetuation. Thus, within such contexts, mimicry and memo-
rization are valued over critical thought. Juxtapose this education with cultural
values such as "individualism" and "the end justifies the means," and then look
at youth behavior. Benjamin R. Barber says, "The illiteracy of the young turns
out to be our own reflected back to us with embarrassing force. We honor am-
bition, we reward greed, we celebrate materialism, we worship acquisitiveness,
we cherish success, we commercialize the classroom-and then we bark at the
young about the gentle arts of the spirit."2 American students have been taught
the ideal cultural values of inclusion and justice while observing the real cul-
tural values of exclusion and ethnocentrism. America's future is as paradoxical
as its past.

The African American Female Ontology 55

The Impact of Western Values on Intellectual Development

No entity, bureaucratic or theoretical, can develop a select few to lead many
and define that development in a vacuum. A commitment to exclusivity con-
structs a narrow and false reality known only to the select few. They will have
been trained and socialized to two social facts: first, a God-given entitlement to
their status, and second, the antithetical origin and entitlements of the many.3
Once anointed, the elite have never had to substantiate their position: it is theirs
because it is theirs.
The Western academic model has designed a curriculum for failure, and it
has been eminently successful. When a model feigning intellectual rigor is, in
fact, designed to create clones as opposed to critical thinkers, it may well achieve
its stated goals, but the achievement of those goals will insure its ultimate de-
mise; clones merely sanction status quo rhetoric, whereas critical thinkers seek
truth and generate new knowledge. The superficiality of race and culture dis-
course in a period when shifts in these areas abound is a testament to the pa-
rameters hegemony imposes on itself.
Case in point: In periods of constant and rapid social change, one would
expect to find a multiplicity of new concepts, paradigms, and methodologies. It
seems logical that new circumstances would yield new understandings, new
ways of viewing the world, new ways of ascertaining information. Yet this is not
always true. Certainly some historical and contemporary occurrences have
yielded some changes in the disciplines most closely related to the phenom-
enon. But in a review of the impact of social phenomena on academic dis-
course, what seems to remain fairly consistent is the relationship between the
trajectory of an event and its visibility in mainstream discourse. Specifically, it
seems that when social behavior is bottom-up in motivation, there is less of a
tendency for it to generate new sensibilities in the discourse. When motivation
is top-down, however, it is more likely to appear as an issue explored within the
various venues operative in the aforementioned academic parameters. For ex-
ample, social science textbooks, journals, conferences, and funding will reflect
the significance of the post-Soviet Union struggles. Undergraduate and gradu-
ate curricula already include elective and nonelective courses on the topic;
exchange programs are in place; white women's organizations have already cre-
ated support groups and training programs to facilitate female consciousness-
raising and inclusion from Uzbekistan to Bosnia and Herzegovina. This was a
top-down phenomenon, and it will be explored in finite and scientific fashion
within the context of mainstream discourse. It will be used for study in its own
context and used as a heuristic device to explain or explore the experiences of

56 Beverly M. John

other top-down phenomena. But what new paradigms, concepts, or method-
ologies were generated by the civil rights movement or the dismantling of apart-
heid? What new understandings about oppression and resistance, save an oc-
casional movement-specific tome or concept in the area of social movements,
were generated after the nation and the world experienced these major up-
heavals? These bottom-up phenomena had minimal impact on the study of
social change, oppression, or even race relations. The tendency to acknowl-
edge and discuss only those events wherein the will of the powerful obtains is
consistent with the behavior that enabled the rise of Western civilization. The
central issue is hegemony: the ability of those with power to define their inter-
ests as the national interest. This power is buttressed by class, race, and gender
designations that enable the human actor to impose his interests and perspec-
tives to the exclusion of all variations. The sterility of the emergent environ-
ment is a cultural vacuum.
The ability of the academy to define and control the issues that appear in
mainstream discourse, regardless of their national and international visibility
and implications, is an awesome power. Such control has simultaneously cir-
cumscribed the nature, quality, and scope of what is defined as knowledge and
who is capable of generating it. This has created an extremely comfortable
pseudointellectual niche for the anointed. The anointing was, for most ofAmeri-
can history, a race- and gender-specific ritual. Currently, the race variable re-
mains constant with some acquiescence to same-race females. Demographic
shifts in American society make this academic race niche a blatant contradic-
tion in terms. How will academicians, suckled on a top-down understanding of
social reality, deal with a social world populated overwhelmingly by people
with bottom-up experiences?


The basic predisposition of a group, characterized as its "assumptions or beliefs
about the nature of existence or the essence of being"4 or its "perception of
ultimate reality,"' is referred to as a group's ontology. Mbiti utilizes Tempels's
discussion of the Bantu to illuminate ontology when he says that it "will give a
special character and local colour to their beliefs and religious practices, to
their language, to their institutions and customs, to their psychological reac-
tions and, more generally, to their whole behaviour."6 Further, Mbiti's discus-
sion of the inextricable relationship between religion, the individual, and the
community in the traditional African context illustrates the translation of an
Eastern ontology into cultural behavior.7 Succinctly stated, "I am because we

The African American Female Ontology 57

are; we are, therefore, I am."8 McIntyre's work clarifies the ontological under-
pinnings of African and Native American peoples. She utilizes the concept of
spirit to distinguish between them with the statements "Everything has spirit"
and "Everything is spirit," indicative of the two respectively.9 Ontology defines
the most intimately significant values of the group as well as rules for interac-
tion with the material and nonmaterial dimension.
Myers isolates five ontological categories and clarifies and distinguishes
Eurocentric and Afrocentric manifestations within each as follows: (1) nature
of reality: Eurocentric -five senses; Afrocentric -spiritual and material; 2) ba-
sis of knowledge: Eurocentric external; Afrocentric self-knowledge; 3) epis-
temological tendency: Eurocentric--counting and measuring; Afrocentric-
symbolic imagery and rhythm; 4) nature of logic: Eurocentric-dichotomous;
Afrocentric-diunital; 5) techniques for goal attainment: Eurocentric-tech-
nological; Afrocentric-ntuology. Myers also says that self-worth is based on
external characteristics in the Eurocentric model and intrinsic characteristics
in the Afrocentric model.'0
Mbiti, McIntyre, and Myers reflect the ongoing work of African and African
American theorists to isolate and define the ontological foundations that in-
form philosophical tendencies and cultural behaviors throughout the African
Diaspora. These discussions are the foundations of Africa-centered discourse.
They have, in large measure, provided an introduction to the literature that
redresses the dominant pathological analysis of people of African descent. The
need for black theorists to define black reality demanded a return to the afore-
mentioned fundamentals. Other nondominant groups-Native Americans and
Latinos in particular-have also had to redress the dominant pathological dis-
course. Proponents of the pathological analysis of African people, however, have
also utilized their version of an ontological critique to make their case. They
have resorted to the age-old tendencies to characterize differences as deviations
from a defined norm and utilize a profile as opposed to a processed character-
ization of the group that identifies a list of static qualities totally contrary to the
human tendency to evolve.
Alternatively, the ontology of the dominant is rarely if ever addressed. This
failure implicitly promotes two erroneous ideas: first, that it is either unneces-
sary or impossible to isolate and critique the ontology of those in power; and
second, that the position of the elite is an organic one-that is, their power is a
birthright. Implicitly, both suggest that those who were not born with power
are not entitled to it. Failure to explore the values of domination and exploita-
tion, which afforded the empowerment of the elite, facilitates the organic ex-

58 Beverly M. John

The African American Female Ontology

History and objective condition converge in the creation of the constructed
reality called culture. Ontology, as indivisible from the individual as culture, is
a precondition of both. Black women throughout the African diaspora are not
identical; though our conditions are similar in type, we each have our own
peculiarities. But the same ontology informed the cultural matrix from which
we all derive. Thus the African past must be the point of departure for under-
standing an African American female ontology. The translation of the afore-
mentioned African ontology into an African American cultural matrix facili-
tated consistency in gender conventions. These conventions, however, are
disparate from the Western logic of mainstream feminism that finds it difficult
to process the simultaneity of egalitarianism and sex role stratification in
precolonial Africa. In her seminal work The Black Woman Cross-Culturally,
Filomina C. Steady identifies four major characteristics that differentiate the
worldview of black women throughout the diaspora from that of white femi-
nists. Since worldview derives from ontology, clarity on the African worldview
regarding the role and significance of women will illuminate some fundamen-
tal ontological assumptions about womanhood. Specifically: (1) autonomy and
cooperation are the appropriate framework for the examination of sex roles vs.
the Western feminist framework of competition and opposition; (2) the central
significance of the role of mother in African family and society is recognized;
(3) the importance of motherhood and the valuation of the childbearing ca-
pacity by African women is probably the most fundamental difference between
the African woman and her Western counterpart, and this life-giving quality
not only endows women with great prestige but also equates them with the life-
giving force itself; (4) in the African American female context, power is defined
as "control over one's existence and the existence of other" versus the Western
feminist conception of formal political power as the most important indicator
of power."
The African ontology was reinterpreted by black women in the North Ameri-
can chattel slave context. African ontological characteristics were antithetical
to the planter class's definition of womanhood but consistent with their need
for strong procreators and laborers. Thus, although in an oppressive fashion,
the North American chattel slave context reified the African ontology for black
women and facilitated the transition to an African American female ontology.
This inclusive, group-oriented interpretation of gender roles, even in an exclu-
sive race- and gender-stratified context, affirms Steady's definition of the Afri-
can woman's worldview. Female slaves in North America interpreted their power

The African American Female Ontology 59

in their unequivocal commitment to the survival of self and loved ones. Much
in line with Mbiti's analysis of the immutable relationship between religion
and community, black female existence was inextricably linked to family and
group survival. From infanticide to the establishment of maroon communities,
all their practices demonstrate a group and race commitment to survival and
family.12 Contrary to the white female dilemma, our men were not our en-
The analogy of academe and the plantation is not lost. Both structures reify,
in content and form, the ideology of the power elite; both stand as seemingly
self-sufficient entities yet are, in fact, totally dependent on the labor each ex-
ploits. So, as the black woman in the antebellum context facilitated the exist-
ence of the planter's family and the survival of her own, so the contemporary
black female academic and activist poised between the ideal culture of America's
rhetoric and the real culture of her double jeopardy has a pivotal role. Who has
an angle of vision that can view social reality from high and low places in the
Enter the marginal mind and its position-based proclivity for observing and
interpreting multiple realities. How uncanny that the very populations who
were consciously, consistently, and structurally alienated from academe will be
the same groups whose insight is prerequisite to its survival.

The Interface
If a volume on the experiences of black women in academe is to be of any
merit, then the issues and questions raised within it must not be bound by the
conventions that created our "peculiarity." We must be free to explore and ex-
plain our circumstance in ways that flow into and out of our collective memory.
For me, that flow is some strange combination of spirit and scholar, of theorist
and muse. But these combinations are strange only in the context of academe.
Indeed, in our past, the scientist was the healer, the medium, and the midwife.
And so, theoretically, we must reach beyond "canon." Methodically, we must
not be bound by positivist constraints or the idiocy that separates self and sub-
ject. In truth, there is no subject when self is alienated from it. Consistent with
its top-down philosophy, Western academe has relegated the experiences of
black women to the realm of exemplar. Indeed, there are no mainstream para-
digms or concepts born of black female experiences and assumed applicable to
the entire human experience. So admittedly, as we critique this conundrum,
we are often constrained by its limitations. But our consciousness of its narrow-
ness and flaws is an initial step toward our liberation from it. So we must, as
always, assume multiple, even contradictory, postures; we must simultaneously

60 Beverly M. John

be conversant with the dogma and deconstruct it in search of our own. But
what is so important and exceptionally difficult is that, as we move in these
arenas, acquire credentials, assume our positions of institutionalized marginal-
ity, and even interact amicably with those anointed to act in the interest of
antithetical spirits, we must remember that what will keep us sane is what keeps
us separate; that if we find it quaint, but less than scholarly, to juxtapose Fannie
Lou Hamer with Frantz Fanon and motherwit with Marx, we have devalued
ourselves. Our task is mammoth, the road is hard, and there is no prototype.
We must know, celebrate, and be affirmed by ancestrally sanctified, psycho-
logically safe places to which we can astrotravel while our bodies remain in the
boardroom, classroom, and executive suite. We must not compartmentalize
ourselves in a fashion so enamored with the contemporary that it is uncomfort-
able with the past.
Herein I want to ask and explore aloud our joust with this millennium's
oppression. Nothing new can present itself; we have seen it all. We have cri-
tiqued it five ways from Sunday, but have we generated a master plan? See, we
are so intent on survival that we just keep going. We develop spontaneous tech-
niques for survival-some good, some not-and they become part of who we
are without our conscious acknowledgement. So we experience trauma, pro-
cess it, and continue on. The trauma is both public and private-public as we
are perceived and responded to as a monolithic, publicly constructed phenom-
enon; private because our essence is so antithetical to the Western environ-
ment that many times our private selves are reconstructed to survive. This forced
reconstruction, this defensive response to systematic alienation, is what we must
forestall if we are to pass to our daughters the wonder and worth of our ances-
tors. Where do we begin in exploring ourselves? How do we reveal to our daugh-
ters and sons those dichotomies that we know better than the other side knows
itself? How do we make certain that we always, first of all, use the techniques
we learned along the way to insure our own survival-not individual but col-
We have known, used, and worked our duality since the beginning; now we
must formalize it. We have known that we had to pick and choose battles that
we have had to confront and defer and that none of these ploys defined our
essence. They were merely the crazy rules of an unfair game, and if we wanted
to play-that is, work and support our families-then we had to temporarily be
down with the madness.
Now, how do we translate our knowledge as the Queens of Multiple Juxta-
positions into the theory and bureaucracy of Western academe; or do we? How

The African American Female Ontology 61

do we insure that, as the inevitable reconfiguration occurs, our lives and the
lives of our ancestors become a model for the study of the human experience?
The ontology of African American females is a constellation of collective
memories, race experiences, and definitions of strength and integrity that stand
counter in imagery to the roles we currently hold. My maternal grandmother
was simultaneously the embodiment of femininity and strength; though she
neither attended college nor joined a support group, she prepared me for my
journey. The lessons she learned as one of seventeen children in a family in
rural North Carolina facilitated my survival more than half a century later in a
premier doctoral program. This spanning of universes, this ability to reduce
time and space to a few important understandings, is a blessing bestowed by
centuries of women who used the double jeopardy hand they were dealt to
guarantee the survival of the group.

What is the master plan? Will we create or find the eye of the storm? Our role
in the transformation of academe, or the world, must begin with a critique of
ourselves. And the transformation will proceed in two stages: first an analysis
and buttressing of ourselves, then a transformation of the intellectual and physi-
cal spaces we occupy.
Toward an analysis of ourselves, we must first know ourselves, love ourselves,
and define our boundaries and commitments. For sister scholars, we must un-
derstand what negative lessons about knowledge and development were part of
our miseducation in the ivy halls. What behaviors did we assume to survive in
those milieus that we did not relinquish when we completed our studies there
and left? Even for those of us who have studied the colonized mind, there is the
tendency to try to replicate "The Other." We must acknowledge the impact of
hostility and oppression on our psyche and spend our lifetime working to un-
learn it, even as we go about our other work. If we call ourselves race women,
then we must conduct ourselves as such in interaction and demeanor. If we
espouse the rhetoric of sisterhood, we must interact kindly with sisters. How
can a reputation be based on so-called feminist scholarship that adulates black
women and their wonderfulness and not treat black women with respect in
personal and professional encounters? We must make the rhetoric and the be-
havior consistent.
To transform the intellectual and physical spaces we occupy, we must bring
the best of our collective memory to the fore. The position we now hold, and
have always held, gives us an angle of norm that only double jeopardy could

62 Beverly M. John

create. Our commitment to survive hostility and oppression has taught us les-
sons that the oppressor, in academe and beyond, must now learn. The follow-
ing race/gender lessons are instructive for academe: to do the cakewalk is to
laugh at those who deny our validity and know that self-knowledge must come
first-academe must acknowledge the limitations of its ethnocentrism and lin-
earity; to nurse the child who will ultimately be defined as your superior is to
know all places in the human equation-academe must acknowledge the in-
evitability of essential change and relinquish its defensive posture; to feign
naivete when we are actually familiar with precipitating events and potential
outcomes is to know the balance between aplomb and humility-academe must
acknowledge that to be consistently devalued and ignored is to know invisibil-
ity-academe must acknowledge the inevitability of change; to endure circum-
stances too inhumane to recount is to believe in the unseen and know that
spirit governs all -academe must acknowledge that material reality is the least
significant component of a far greater scheme.
These are the values we bring to the academy. These are the implications of
an African American female ontology for academe. This is the wealth we bring
to this waning, lackluster goliath standing on the brink of distinction. And our
task, as we stand as testaments to our ancestral strength, is to envision the beauty
of human development and design an agenda that insures it. This new agenda
must celebrate the wonder of intellect and creativity, with no admonition for
uniqueness; it must acknowledge the origin and integrity of each entity and be
neither ruled nor defined by race or gender initiatives. This mammoth task
completed, we will have found the eye of the storm.

1. Beverly M. John, "Alternative Paradigms for the Twenty First Century: African Ameri-
can Women in the Academy," paper presented at Eastern Sociological Society Meeting,
April 1992.
2. Benjamin R. Barber, "America Skips School. Why We Talk So Much About Educa-
tion and Do So Little," Harper's Magazine, November 1993, 42.
3. John, "Alternative Paradigms," 5.
4. Wade W. Nobles, Africanity and the Black Family: The Development of a Theoretical
Model (Oakland, Calif.: Black Family Institute, 1985), 106.
5. George A. Theodorson and Achilles G. Theodorson, A Modem Dictionary of Sociol-
ogy (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1979), 283.
6. John S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books,
1970), 13-14.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.

The African American Female Ontology 63

9. Charshee C. McIntyre, "Three World Views: African, Native American and Euro-
pean," paper presented at the National Council for Black Studies Annual Meeting, Cornell
University, 1986.
10. Linda James Myers, "Expanding the Psychology of Knowledge Optimally: The
Importance of World View," in Black Psychology, edited by Reginald Jones (Berkeley, Ca-
lif.: Cobb and Henry, 1991), 19.
11. Filomina Steady, Black Woman Cross-Culturally (Cambridge: Schenkman, 1981),
12. Dorothy Sterling, ed. We Are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century
(New York: Norton, 1984).



Part Three

Black Women Faculty
Issues in Teaching and Research

The American Council on Education reported that the largest number of black
women faculty in higher education is employed in the disciplines of education
(19.5 percent), health-related fields (16.8 percent), and social sciences (13.9
percent). The other fields include English (9.3 percent), business (7.5 percent),
mathematics or statistics (7.2 percent), history or political science (3.8 percent),
biological sciences (2.1 percent), physical sciences (0.5 percent), engineering
(0.1 percent), agriculture or forestry (0.7), and other technical or nontechnical
fields (12.4 percent). Despite the discipline, the Euro-male-centered knowl-
edge base, which generates and disseminates information, discounts and deval-
ues black women's pedagogical styles and strategies and their research para-
Discounting and devaluing black women's perspectives and paradigms af-
fect, for example, the choice of research topic, the selection of research method,
the interpretation of data, and the choice of theoretical framework. Since race,
gender, and culture orientation impact black women's life chances, black
women scholars raise different kinds of questions and concerns. In "Giving
Name and Voice: Black Women Scholars, Research, and Knowledge Transfor-
mation," Rose M. Brewer notes that as a result of the demographic shift, larger
numbers of black women are entering white higher educational institutions,
and this pattern has contributed to the current intellectual critiques of Anglo-
male paradigms. Brewer argues that we enter this debate from the historical
realities of the need for inclusion of race, gender, class, and ethnicity in knowl-
edge transformation and the need to bring them to the center of the field. While
Brewer focuses on the discipline of sociology, her critiques and alternative per-
spectives are applicable to other disciplines as well.
Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis's "Black Women in Academe: Teaching/Adminis-
trating Inside the Sacred Grove" points out that black women have a long his-
tory of successes in the academy, under the most arduous circumstances, as

administrators and teachers. These successes and rich traditions are not, how-
ever, found in their written literature but in oral narratives. Who decides how
sociohistorical data are collected and preserved in the academy? Western tradi-
tions have valued written language while devaluing spoken language. Using
oral narratives of black women teachers' and administrators' lived experiences,
Etter-Lewis allows the reader to see how oral text can be a valuable paradigm to
include in collecting data and preserving the history of black women.
When natural scientists argue that their knowledge is objective, do they in-
clude race and gender? To produce objective knowledge of the social world, it
is essential to understand the social conditions under which science is pro-
duced. As Francine Essien's "Black Women in the Sciences: Challenges along
the Pipeline and in the Academy" tells us, the world of science is overwhelm-
ingly male, and it manifests gender and racial biases from elementary school to
the higher education academy. The social conditions in which science is pro-
duced are reflected in the lack of concern for issues affecting black men and
women. There are several good examples of this. According to the director of
the Office of Research on Women's Health, National Institutes of Health, black
males die earlier and at higher rates from hypertension and cardiovascular dis-
ease than white males do. Black women also die from stroke and related disor-
ders more frequently than white women. The incidence of death from compli-
cations of pregnancy and childbirth is higher among black women than among
white women. Black and Latino women account for 74 percent of all U.S.
women with AIDS. Some specific reasons for the current health care crisis
include the earlier and continuing lack of concern about health status of people
of color as a national priority; inadequate and poor health care; habitual exclu-
sion of black women and men, as well as other people of color, from clinical
studies and clinical trials, and the related failure to demonstrate that the effi-
cacy of interventions in one group holds for another; the lack of sensitivity to
and respect for cultural diversity on the part of investigators and health care
providers; and the failure of educational programs to include participants of
color. Essien argues for the inclusion of black women in science, whose per-
spectives would more likely embrace these issues.
What constitutes aesthetics in the academy? Donna M. Cox's "Eurocentric
Hegemony in the College Music Curriculum: The African American Woman
Professor Singing the Blues" explains how the Western hegemonic music cur-
riculum devalues and stereotypes some black music forms such as gospel and
how such devaluations and stereotypes pigeonhole black music professors as
well as how they interface with race and gender inside and outside the class-
room, creating a hostile climate.

Changing the academic pedagogy requires not only teaching skills but pro-
cess as well. Beverly Guy-Sheftall's "Transforming the Academy: A Black Femi-
nist Perspective" shows the reader how to change the academy, incorporating
race, class, and gender in the classroom. Using an "oppositional pedagogy," she
encourages her students to conduct field studies, for instance, as a way of inte-
grating the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral components of the learning
Transforming the academy would also mean the inclusion of African Ameri-
can women's cultural experiences that define the contours of their racial and
gendered lives. Linda Williamson Nelson's "Begging the Questions and Switch-
ing Codes: Insider and Outsider Discourse of African American Women" ex-
plores, through oral life narratives, ways in which black women academicians
have "foregrounded their cultural experiences by making those experiences
the subject of their critical inquiry." She uses black English vernacular to show
how codeswitching is a way of "expressing solidarity and clarifying the signifi-
cance of personal experience and liberatory struggles."
Finally, a resculptured academy would value the views of those on the mar-
gins of the margins. Amina Wadud-Muhsin's "Teaching Afrocentric Islam in
the White Christian South" is an experiential account of what life in the acad-
emy is like for an African American Muslim woman who teaches religious studies
from an Afrocentric perspective in a white university in the South. She calls for
a change in the academy that would include imbuing it with spirit and an
Afrocentric perspective.

Chapter 5

Giving Name and Voice
Black Women Scholars, Research, and Knowledge Transformation

Rose M. Brewer

By the mid-twentieth century, a full-scale struggle was on for social justice in
the United States: the civil rights movement. This movement was embedded
in the structural context of post-World War II America. Indeed, economic,
political, and social changes in the United States cannot be understood with-
out understanding racial injustice and African American resistance to it.' It is
in this historical conjuncture of structural shifts and the African American
struggle for social justice that I situate and begin my discussion of black women
intellectuals in the academy.
For the purposes of this chapter, I focus my lens on black women intellectu-
als in the contemporary centers of knowledge production in this country: white
colleges and universities. With an eye on the particular context of disciplines, I
focus on the field of sociology. Although black women have been present his-
torically in white and black colleges, it is their contemporary placement in
white-dominated institutions, disciplines, and faculties that I want to
problematize. African American women intellectuals increasingly find them-
selves in new spaces and places where they were formerly denied entry. In these
settings, they operate as scholars, researchers, and writers,2 and this entails a
number of contradictions and challenges that I will explore further in this chap-
Although the political impetus for black women's recent placement in white
academe grows out of the racial struggles of the civil rights movement, the
struggles for black studies and women's studies in higher education are crucial
to understanding African American women's intellectual positioning in the post-
civil rights era. The struggles for black studies and women's studies in higher
education are central to the critiques that figure strongly in African American

Giving Name and Voice 69

women's scholarly analyses. Today, especially in the conceptualizations of black
feminist intellectuals regarding the simultaneous issues of race and sex, we find
new centers of knowledge production and research by black women scholars.

Black Women Scholars Today
Black women, who are not normally represented as intellectuals,3 have been
entering white universities in relatively greater numbers. The growth in num-
bers, as well as a shifting self-consciousness around race and gender, positions
African American women scholars to challenge their historic erasure in knowl-
edge production and university research.4 Nonetheless, a poignant reality is
how relatively small the increases are; and the pool from which these scholars
are drawn-young black college graduates -is declining.
This decline in young black people enrolling in institutions of higher edu-
cation over the past few years is alarming. College attendance overall peaked
for black students in 1976. In that year, 33.5 percent of black high school gradu-
ates enrolled in colleges and universities; 33.0 percent of white high school
graduates enrolled. By the mid-1980s, the percentages had declined dramati-
cally for black high school graduates. Only 26.1 percent of black graduates
were attending college versus 34.4 percent of white high school graduates. Black
enrollment in graduate schools was down too; it fell from 6.2 percent of all
black college graduates in 1978 to 4.8 percent in 1987.5
Most educators agree that the cutbacks in educational funds are strategic to
the decline.6 Furthermore, the downturn in graduate enrollment is quite seri-
ous beyond the numbers issue. It foreshadows even fewer black faculty for the
1990s and beyond. Black faculty are already severely underrepresented on white
university and college campuses, so any fall in graduate enrollment signals even
more trouble ahead.
It is important to note that black women enter into current intellectual cri-
tiques in the context of these demographic realities and from a historical place
that is embedded in race and gender realities. Lewis makes the case for black
women's sex discrimination thus: "The black liberation movement began to
generate important structural changes in the relationship between blacks and
whites in American society. For black women, these changes served to heighten
their perception of sexism, since they experience deep-seated sex discrimina-
tion as they engage in increased participation in the public sphere."7
Simultaneously, black women's relationship to change, centered in race,
culture, and black studies, cannot be ignored. African- and feminist-centered
knowledge underpins a good deal of the current thinking in the field of black
studies as well as black women's studies. Asante and Asante point out that "all

70 Rose M. Brewer

of the African people who participated in the mechanized interaction with
Europe, and who colored the character of Europe while being shared them-
selves, share a commonality."8
This commonality is referred to in the analyses of Rodgers-Rose and Collins.9
The conceptual core of Afrocentricity is an African-centered worldview. In
matters of curricula, this means that African experience should be at the center
of knowledge in the university. Black studies scholars locate the centrality of
Africa in knowledge reconstruction.
Closely related to knowledge reconstruction emerging out of black studies is
that occurring in women's studies. Minnich points out that the disciplinary
canons in Western knowledge production systematically exclude women, who
should be at its center.'0 This parallels the argument in black studies, but both
fields have tended to erase black women's history." Black women intellectuals
draw from both fields,12 given the double occlusion of Africanness and female-

Black Women Intellectuals, Research, and Knowledge in Sociology
I would like to make the case for the transformation of knowledge and research
in the academy by black women intellectuals through looking more closely at
the field of sociology. I begin with two central issues: why has sociological training
been so problematic; and why are black women challenging this training?
There is a sociology of knowledge and sociology of science tradition, rooted
in the idea that theories about the world do not exist in a vacuum, that informs
critical thinking among African American women sociologists.13 Historical con-
text becomes the basis of what Perdue calls the shaping of "both 'truth' and
'truth maker.'""4 The key point is that knowledge is a social product.
Thus black women's training and critique of the field of sociology must be
understood (1) in the context of training in a dominant paradigm that has been
pervasive in nearly all sociology departments in American universities during
the last forty years;" (2) in the context of three powerful social forces in relation
and in interaction-race, class, and gender; (3) in the dialectical tension be-
tween mainstream training and a critique of this training; (4) in the positivist
imperative in the field; and (5) in the erasure of black women's experiences in
the discipline except as problem. In short, I believe that African American
women scholars are increasingly calling into question the sociological para-
digm central to contemporary knowledge and research in the field. These cri-
tiques can be viewed in the context of a broad-based questioning of the field
expressed in the work of Vaughan and others.16 For example, if we locate the
dominant paradigm of the past decades, at least through the 1950s, the ques-

Giving Name and Voice 71

tion of order and the idea of facts, measurable and separable from the researcher,
continue to hold sway. Thus I believe this positivist imprint is a basic constitu-
tive element of the field, opening it up to critique and transformation by black
women scholars.
Sjoberg and Vaughan go on to argue that the field embraces a natural sci-
ence model of social research. They point out that "the natural science model
is highly entrenched in such well-established specialties as criminology, de-
mography, rural sociology, the family, and social psychology."'7
Other key problematic in the field are related to the need for attaining sci-
entific legitimacy. Thus, for the gatekeepers of the discipline, those white men
who control high-ranking graduate programs and journals in the field, sociol-
ogy is earmarked by (1) grantspersonship; (2) heavy reliance on the variable
approach; (3) statistical and mathematical modeling; (4) techniques and meth-
odology; and (5) traditional graduate training with an emphasis on ethnocen-
tric, Eurocentric, and masculinist perspectives.
I believe that atthe center of black women's intellectual agenda in research
and knowledge production is the transformation of sociology as a discipline.
Even as its specialties include race relations, sex and gender, and social stratifi-
cation, the field is embedded in a masculinist, Eurocentric context in episte-
mological assumptions, research practice, and sociological training." Issues of
pedagogy, curriculum, and knowledge also enter into this discussion as black
women scholars rethink and attempt to transform knowledge and research in
the academy.
Yet sociology as a field is problematic because it does not treat African Ameri-
can women as subjects in the world. Black women are too often "the problem,"
the issue, the pathology.

A Closer Look at Black Women's Sociological Training
Any discussion of black women scholars' knowledge transformation also raises
the issue of the sociological training of African American women. Inherent in
such an undertaking is the critique given racism and sexism in the university
and disciplinary structure. The simultaneity of race and gender inequality for
African American women complicates the reality.19 I contend that sociological
training for African American women reflects (1) the larger economic, social,
and political forces; (2) the interlocking oppressions of race, gender, and class
in training and socialization; and (3) the interplay among biography, oppres-
sion, a particular sociohistorical juncture, and sociological training.
Sociological training too embodies knowledge production set in cultural
context. Often what is treated as objective embodies the ideologies of racism,

72 Rose M. Brewer

classism, and sexism. Stanfield refers to this as treating racial folk knowledge as
scientific.20 Thus theorizing in the field too often does not treat race, class,
gender, and ethnicity as deeply embedded social realities. Yet tremendous schol-
arly activity in the field goes on regarding these inequalities as variables.21 A
variable analysis simply is inadequate for explaining race, class, and gender as
central organizing principles of American society, which generates a number
of consequences for understanding social life. The current construction of the
disciplines, however, establishes a context for a field in crisis and a crisis in

A Field in Crisis
I contend that some of the key problematic of sociology today are as follows:
(1) Sociology in a gendered context. There is a growing emphasis on the sociol-
ogy of gender without consideration of race. The past twenty years of feminist
sociology in the field has engendered a partial transformation of the discipline.
The experiences of white Euro-American women are increasingly encoded
in the field as universal. Women and men of color remain largely invisible or
are misspecified in frameworks that embody the particular experiences of
white Euro-American, middle-class women and men. The persistence of an
essentialized sociology of gender must be questioned. (2) Sociology in a racial-
ist, ethnocentric, and Euro-American context. My major contention here is that
the field is rooted in ethnocentric, racialist, and white European prescriptives
of the social world. Every specialization, from family to criminology, is predi-
cated on white middle-class normative markers of social life. Racial and ethnic
people of color still too often appear as problems or as representatives of pa-
thology. Where is there subjectivity regarding people of color in the field of
sociology? How might we understand the complexity of multiethnic political,
economic, and societal structures? These social realities are yet to be specified
in the field. (3) The "missing" multicentered representation of social life. This
conceptual issue requires placing at the center of the field the simultaneous,
relational, and embedded realities of race, class, gender, and ethnicity. Indeed,
while there has been some pluralization of the field, especially regarding the
sociology of white middle-class women, any recognition of the intersection of
race, class, and gender as powerful social forces in interrelationship is largely
Indeed, graduate education has remained heavily defined in the traditional
mode. The recent research of Romero and Margolis supports this assertion and
confirms the scarcity of faculty of color in programs granting graduate degrees.

Giving Name and Voice 73

They find in a survey of ninety-two sociology departments that "only 29% of
the departments had only one African American faculty; 29% had one Asian
American faculty, and 17% had only one Mexican American. Race and ethnicity
were not central to course offerings in the discipline. One fifth (20%) of all
faculty in graduate programs were listed as conducting research or teaching in
the area. Less than a quarter (23%) of the departments had race in the required
theory courses. Twenty-six departments did not offer a single graduate course
on race, even though six of these departments claimed to offer a specialty in
the area."22
Kuhn argued in his critical appraisal of science that young social scientists
are socialized into the normal science of the day.23 Their duty is to "learn,"
internalize, and reproduce the accepted assumptions, theories, methodologies,
and working style of science. Once they are trained in this way, it is hard for
them to change to any other way of seeing the world. But what if this seamless
training web is disrupted or ruptured before it is completed? Kuhn makes his
observations in this context of science. I ask my questions in the context of the
sociological training of groups on the margin. Surely the multiple disjunctures
that black women bring to the academy are potentially challenging to main-
stream sociology.
Moreover, dominance in the field by the top few departments continues.
These departments are likely not to have either women's studies or ethnic stud-
ies in the curriculum or to include the new scholarship on race, ethnicity, class,
and gender in interaction. Even today, much of graduate training in sociology
is still heavily rooted in a positivist paradigm. Given this reality and the mul-
tiple realities of race, class, and gender in the lives of African American women,
it is likely that the training of black female sociologists will be marked by con-
flict or at least not occur in a seamless web of socialization, acceptance, and
reproduction of this framework. Of course, not all black women sociologists
contest positivism, but my point is that what is presumed to be unproblematic-
training into sociology-is touched by the confluence of race, class, and gen-
der in the academy and in black women scholars.

Black Women Intellectuals, Countertendencies,
and Knowledge Transformation in the Field of Sociology
Since the 1960s there have been several major efforts to redefine the field.
New Left perspectives reintroduced an open critique of capitalism into the field
in the late 1960s and the 1970s. This coincided with the struggle to generate a
black sociology relevant to the experiences of African Americans.24 A feminist

74 Rose M. Brewer

sociology followed in the wake of the New Left and black sociology critiques.
And most recently, a black feminist sociology, predicated on explicating the
intersection of race, class, and gender, is emerging.25
Although some efforts to reconceptualize the field are going on, the enter-
prise is fraught with difficulty and contradictions. Yet African American women
are raising deeply rooted issues. A long-standing tradition of oppositional cul-
tural representation is central to the resistance to historic and contemporary
stereotypes of African American women. Today, as historically, black women
are again being blamed for the demise of the black family. The culprits this
time are the adolescent mother and the female-led black family.26 This is not
too different from the matriarch ensconced in social science research thirty
years ago.27 Black women scholars are making a different intellectual case for
what is going on in African American communities.
It is not surprising that the knowledge claims of African American women
have been shaped by the modality of race. A number of the current generation
of scholars grew up in segregated America. Restrictions and discrimination were
largely played out through the color line. The making of the African American
community as a rich fabric of life and culture can also be remembered. This
transcends the pathology/problem paradigm that is so central to social science
investigations of African Americans. This is captured in Joyce Ladner's The
Death ofWhite Sociology and the thinking about Afrocentricity by Molefi Asante,
who states:

More damaging still has been the inability of European thinkers, particu-
larly of the neopositivist or empiricist traditions, to see that human ac-
tions cannot be understood apart from the emotions, attitudes, and cul-
tural definitions of a given context. The Afrocentric thinker understands
that the interrelationship of knowledge with cosmology, society, religion,
medicine, and traditions stands alongside the interactive metaphors of
discourse as principal means of achieving a measure of knowledge about
experience. The Afrocentrists insist on steering the minds of their readers
and listeners in the direction of intellectual wholeness.28

Black Feminist Intellectuals and the Reconstruction
of Sociological Knowledge and Research
Not all black women are feminists, but many are sensitive to gender and race as
interlocking realities, and a significant number of black feminist intellectuals
are changing the face of research, teaching, and knowledge production in the
academy. Although black women's activism and everyday lived experiences have

Giving Name and Voice 75

been the spawning ground of black feminist thought,29 what is notable today is
the more systematic incorporation of this knowledge into disciplines, largely
the articulation of black feminist framework by black women intellectuals. The
arts, history, the social sciences, black studies, and health, among other fields,
have been affected.
What is most central about recent black women's feminist thought in sociol-
ogy is the articulation of multiple realities and oppressions. Their intellectual
agenda challenges existing frameworks in sociology, women's studies, ethnic
studies, and a range of other disciplines. The ideas of black women scholars in
sociology are rooted in the everyday lives of African American women, cre-
atively drawing from a rich African tradition of polyrhythmics,3 from improvi-
sation, and from issues of institutionalized racism and sexism in the social struc-
ture, organization bureaucracies, and political economies. It is important to
understand that the analyses are embedded in a cultural dynamic nurtured by
African American traditions that spawn at least two possibilities: the transfor-
mation of knowledge and the decentering and restructuring of the educational

The Critique of the Critique in Sociology
There is a liberal feminist gender problematic in sociology that is troublesome.
Williams and Sjoberg point to a dominant wing in feminist sociology that is
sensitive neither to race nor to class.31 This change has not been inclusive of
the perspective of women of color or working-class women. Thus, as some en-
claves have opened up, including Gender and Society under the editorship of
Margaret Andersen and new writings by women of color, the field is still domi-
nated by a particular racial and ethnic perspective. Indeed, in core journals
such as the American Sociological Review, the American Journal of Sociology,
Social Forces, and-most telling-Social Problems, the standard conceptual-
izations are pervasive. Yet with the publication of Patricia Hill Collins's Black
Feminist Thought, theorizing race, class, and gender has been placed squarely
on the agenda. Whether or how much the discipline will shift in a conceptual
and curricular sense remains to be seen.
Crucial to both knowledge transformation and reconstruction is the fight for
a history of African American women's experiences and the remaking of edu-
cational curricula and teaching. Black women enter the academy in the con-
text of historic exclusion. For hundreds of years, African Americans were de-
nied the right to read and write. Since then, especially in recent years, their
challenge has emerged and crystallized into a formidable force to be contended
with. It has come on the wings of struggle. Even so, their work is often harshly

76 Rose M. Brewer

judged as inferior. Bell Hooks puts forth the notion that this absence of a hu-
mane critical response has had a tremendous impact on ... those writers from
oppressed, colonized groups who endeavor to speak.32 For black women schol-
ars, true speaking is an act of resistance, a political gesture that challenges the
politics of domination that would render us nameless and voiceless.
Collins, however, identifies the resistance emerging out of exclusion. She
notes that "a good deal of the Black female experience has been spent coping
with avoiding, subverting, and challenging the workings of this same white male
insiderism."33 In order for inclusiveness to occur, the entire knowledge produc-
tion process has to be critiqued and transformed. Black feminist intellectuals
are an important force behind the recent theorizing, scholarly production, and
social commentary about African American women.

Issues of Black Women's Representation and Challenges
to Traditional Sociological Knowledge Production
According to Collins, the epistemological assumption that defines the disci-
plinary liability of dichotomous oppositional thinking is rooted in the catego-
ries white over black, male over female, and all other hierarchies of oppres-
sion.34 An intellectual agenda that draws upon the cultural traditions of Africa
represents a healthy transformation of Eurocentric epistemologies. King astutely
points out that "the relative significance of race, sex, or class in determining the
conditions of black women's lives is neither fixed nor absolute but rather, is
dependent on the socio-historical context and the social phenomenon under
Although black women intellectuals generally have not been considered
intellectual change agents in the academy, the fact that black women's intel-
lectual energy is rendered invisible in the traditional academy is being chal-
lenged. Black women have been change agents in their communities and na-
tionally, and the academy is at the center of this process. They have always
linked themselves to the broader black struggle. Today, black women's change
energies are more squarely centered on intellectual change, and their explicit
intellectual agenda is explicating the complexities and realities of race, class,
and gender in multiple locations. Given this, transformation of the field needs
to be thought about in the context of faculty reconstruction, pedagogical change,
and the reconsidering of sociological research.

Transforming Sociology Faculty
Because the majority of the faculty of nearly all major sociology departments in
research universities in the United States is male and white, we need to under-

Giving Name and Voice 77

stand what changes faculty must undergo as we think carefully about disciplin-
ary transformation. Central to the endeavor is getting faculty to rethink what
they teach and how they teach. This begins with a self-placement process: how
have faculty themselves been socially constructed along race, gender, and class
lines? Indeed, a key element is faculty transformation. Faculty cannot do the
work of teaching a diverse student body without changing.
Faculty are products of this society. Sociologists must come to grips with the
fact that they are embedded in systems of inequality and have internalized rac-
ism, classism, homophobia, sexism, the "isms" that are pervasive and system-
atic in this society.

Different Ways of Knowing and Seeing
Faculty transformation involves an incisive approach based on knowing. Cen-
tral to this process is coming to grips with the essentialist assumption that white
Western male experience represents all that is worth knowing about the world.
Getting our professoriate to problematize and question the natural facts of their
being and their training is essential to faculty development. This viewpoint is
expressed in a recent volume by Andersen and Collins, who point out that

those who ask us to think more inclusively want to open up the way the
world is viewed, making the experience of previously excluded groups
more visible and central in the construction of knowledge. Inclusive think-
ing shifts our perspective from the white, male-centered forms of think-
ing that have characterized much of Western thought. Thinking inclu-
sively means putting the experiences of those who have been excluded at
the center of thought so that we can better understand the intersections
of race, class, and gender in the experiences of all groups, including those
with privilege and power.36

Furthermore, in order to pierce "natural attitudes," recentering knowledge
involves understanding the impact of disciplines on our ways of knowing and
looking critically and thoroughly at how they have come to know. Ultimately, it
entails a radical break and reconstitution of faculty knowledge.
This knowledge-problematizing involves transforming the base of what is
worth knowing by use of an amazing new and older scholarship by people of
color, which should be moved to the center of the sociology curriculum. Much
of this information is introduced through the new scholarship on women of
color generally and African American women scholars in particular.
Because a majority of the people in sociology are Euro-Americans, they do
not necessarily construct whiteness as a racial category. Whiteness carries privi-

78 Rose M. Brewer

leges, and it is through this phenomenon that internalized domination is acted
out. Thus getting sociologists to see whiteness as a racial construction is an
important consideration, though these are uncomfortable ideas for many white
faculty. Closely aligned with this reality is acquiring a natural attitude embed-
ded in accepting conventional ways of knowing disciplinary perspectives as the
norm. These are natural attitudes that need piercing and mystifications that
need unearthing.
Getting faculty to think historically and systemically is also key. The historic
negative contact and power relationships between Europeans and people of
color have been the source of a great deal of tension and conflict. Yet at the
same time people of color have not just been victims. There is a rich cultural
legacy of resistance and creativity that is not known, or at least not well known.
Our sociological work must involve examining resistance as well as oppression,
cultural creativity as well as exploitation.

Changing Classroom Process
Faculty also need to think and act on their teaching. Changing sociological
content without changing process does not get us very far. Considerations about
learning styles, student empowerment, and giving voice to historically silenced
and marginalized groups-people of color of both genders, white women, dis-
abled people, older students, gays, lesbians-are key issues to be addressed.
The old top-down model of professor as sole authority must be looked at care-
fully. Faculty should consider more active learning strategies, student respon-
sibility for learning, journals, simulations, and so on. The major idea is that as
we must rethink our content, we have to rethink our teaching. This must be an
ongoing consideration for sociology faculty. In a corollary fashion, black women
are also being challenged to become more than an authenticating presence in
the classroom.

The difficult assessments that must occur in the field of sociology in particular
and all disciplines generally must include reconceptualization of scholarship,
training, faculty transformation, and pedagogical change. African American
women scholars are increasingly taking on these intellectual challenges. It is
important to center our analyses in the multiple articulations of agency and
structure, gender, class, race, and culture. These changes are crucial to a deep-
level curriculum transformation in higher education in the United States.

Giving Name and Voice 79


1. Fred Powledge, Free at Last? The Civil Rights Movement and the People Who Made
It (Boston: Beacon, 1991).
2. For a full discussion of women, see Shirley Malcolm, Paula Hall, and Janet Brown,
The Double Bind: The Price of Being a Minority Woman in Science (Washington, D.C.:
American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1976); Margaret C. Simms and
Julianne M. Malveaux, Slipping Through the Cracks: The Status of Black Women (New
Brunswick: Transaction, 1986).
3. Bell Hooks, Yearning (Boston: South End Press, 1990).
4. Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell-Scott, and Barbara Smith, eds., All the Women Are White,
All the Men Are Black, But Some Of Us Are Brave (Old Westbury, N.Y.: Feminist Press,
5. Solomon Arbeiter, "Black Enrollments: The Case of the Missing Students," Change
(May/June 1987): 50-54.
6. Ibid., 50-54.
7. Diane Lewis, "A Response to Inequality: Black Women, Racism, and Sexism," Signs
3 (1977): 358.
8. Molefi Asante and Kariamu Asante, eds., African Culture: The Rhythms of Unity
(Trenton: Africa World, 1990), 6.
9. LaFrances Rodgers-Rose, The Black Woman (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1980); and Patricia
Hill Collins, "Learning from the Outsider Within: The Sociological Significance of Black
Feminist Thought," Social Problems 33, no. 6 (1986): 14-32.
10. Elizabeth Kamarck Minnich, Transforming Knowledge (Philadelphia: Temple Uni-
versity Press, 1990).
11. Hull, Bell-Scott, and Smith, All the Women Are White.
12. Collins, "Learning from the Outsider Within."
13. Bonnie Thornton Dill, "The Dialectics of Black Womanhood," Signs 4, no. 3 (1979):
553-55; Deborah K. King, "Multiple Jeopardy, Multiple Consciousness: The Context of a
Black Feminist Ideology," Signs 14, no. 1 (1988): 42-72; Collins, "Learning from the Out-
sider Within"; Collins, Black Feminist Thought (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990).
14. William D. Perdue, Sociological Theory (Palo Alto: Mayfield, 1986), 9.
15. Ted R. Vaughan, Gideon Sjoberg, and Larry T. Reynolds, eds., A Critique of Con-
temporary American Sociology (New York: General Hall, 1993).
16. Ibid.
17. Gideon Sjoberg and Ted R. Vaughan, "The Bureaucratization of Sociology: Its
Impact on Theory and Research," in A Critique of Contemporary American Sociology, 80.
18. Joyce Ladner, ed., The Death of White Sociology (New York: Random House, 1973).
19. Minnich, Transforming Knowledge.
20. John Stanfield, "Epistemological Considerations," in Research in Race and Ethnicity,
edited by John Stanfield and Routledge Dennis (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1993).
21. Judith Stacey and Barrie Thorne, "The Missing Feminist Revolution in Sociology,"
Social Problems 32 (1985): 301-16.

80 Rose M. Brewer

22. Mary Romero and Eric Margolis, "Race and Sociology," unpublished paper pre-
sented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Social Problems, Pittsburgh,
August 1992.
23. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2d ed. (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1970).
24. Ladner, The Death of White Sociology.
25. Collins, "Learning from the Outsider Within" and Black Feminist Thought.
26. Rose M. Brewer, "Theorizing Race, Class and Gender," in Theorizing Black Femi-
nism, edited by Stanlie James and Abena P. A. Busia (New York: Routledge, 1993), 13-30.
27. Daniel P. Moynihan, The Negro Family: Case For National Action (Washington,
D.C.: Government Publication Office, 1965).
28. Molefi Asante, The Afrocentric Idea (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987),
29. For a discussion of black women's intellectual tradition, see Collins, Black Feminist
30. King, "Multiple Jeopardy, Multiple Consciousness."
31. Norma Williams and Andree Sjoberg, "Ethnicity and Gender: The View from Above
vs. the View from Below," in A Critique of Contemporary Sociology, 160-202.
32. Hooks, Yearning.
33. Collins, "Learning from the Outsider Within," 27.
34. Collins, Black Feminist Thought, 4.
35. King, "Multiple Jeopardy, Multiple Consciousness," 49.
36. Margaret Andersen and Patricia Hill Collins, eds., Race, Class and Gender: An
Anthology (Belmont: Wadsworth, 1992).

Chapter 6

Black Women in Academe
Teaching/Administrating Inside the Sacred Grove

Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis

Black women have been longtime participants in higher education on all lev-
els, from the first black woman to graduate from an American college, Mary
Jane Patterson (Oberlin, 1862),1 to the first black women to earn Ph.D. degrees
in 1921 (Georgina Simpson, University of Chicago; Sadie Tanner Mossell,
University of Pennsylvania; Eva B. Dykes, Radcliffe).2 Despite these early suc-
cesses of outstanding teachers and scholars, the progress of black women in
higher ranks of university faculty has been painfully slow. Given these circum-
stances, as well as the double discrimination black women continually experi-
ence, there can be little doubt why we are the "fewest of the few."
In order to fully understand the problem and thereby resolve it, we must
examine the academic past from the personal viewpoints of the black women
who lived it. Thus this chapter focuses on selected aspects of the private and
professional lives of two retired university presidents who held various faculty
and administrative positions throughout their respective careers. Their lives, as
described in two oral narratives,3 are both parallel and divergent. Higher edu-
cation is the dominant thread that binds them together. As these narrative ac-
counts demonstrate (narrators were given fictional names at their request), Af-
rican American women's experiences in higher education are molded by external
factors (for example, a university's history of hiring and retaining faculty of color)
and internal factors (such as childhood experiences) specific to "traditional"
social roles within and outside of the university.

Crossing Barriers
For black women, earning a college degree was not an easy task, especially in
the earliest periods of higher learning. Solomon observed that in the first de-
cades of the twentieth century, "because most of their parents were too poor,
and because most schools did not want them, fewer black women gained any

82 Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis

higher education."4 She explained that most of the women who managed to
enter college were directed toward home economics and other "domestic" pro-
grams. Similarly, even with a college degree in hand, black women found few
occupations available to them. According to Noble, "They could teach, they
could become home demonstration agents, or they could end up as cooks or
cleaning white women's homes."'5 In spite of these dire conditions, black women
steadily pressed on and eventually pursued diverse fields of study and worked
both inside and outside of the university: "Black women have a history of striv-
ing for education beyond what their gender or their color seemed to prescribe."6
Although there have been substantial gains in undergraduate degrees over
the years, the paucity of black women faculty can be attributed partially to is-
sues related to graduate education (for example, financing, mentoring and sup-
port systems, racism and sexism) and to professional concerns within the uni-
versity (most notably tenure and promotion). While this discussion does not
treat these very important issues in depth, it is crucial to note that trends and
problems in black women's graduate education have a direct impact on the
number of black women available to assume faculty positions.7

Missing Pieces
Darlene Clark Hine has said that "the collective experiences, lives and contri-
butions of individual black women in America have been written in small print
on the back pages of our historical consciousness. Thousands of faceless
female builders and nurturers of black people need and deserve to have their
story told."8
Information about black women's lives generally has been limited by a vari-
ety of factors. Most conventional research tends to incorporate them into the
larger, undifferentiated categories of women and/or blacks. Other studies gen-
eralize findings, without modification, to all other populations (including black
women) regardless of ethnic background. Needless to say, both approaches fail
to consider black women as a unique group, and thus they severely restrict the
applicability of their findings.
Similarly, studies of black women in higher education tend to be few in
number, and aside from statistical reports, most focus on undergraduate educa-
tion.9 In those instances in which graduate education has been included, data
on black faculty women with terminal degrees are sparse. Again, the emphasis
is on black women as students rather than as professors.
A last but equally important factor to consider is the question of privilege in
the way we preserve and collect sociohistorical data. Written language, for ex-
ample, is privileged or valued while spoken language is not regarded as impor-

Black Women in Academe 83

tant beyond immediate aspects of personal communication. Consequently,
written texts about women's lives are valorized while women's oral texts are
frequently overlooked. This Western notion of writing as an exclusive means of
empowerment and validation implies that the oral traditions in most ethnic
cultures are neglected, unutilized, and unappreciated. Moreover, historical
sources that are embodied in the memories and voices of others (people of
color and women) are not cultivated because the written record is considered
infallible, incorruptible, and the only legitimate means of authenticating the

Telling It by Herself
"So once I got there and I had been there for a semester and was going good,
and then he saw me in live flesh that I was not perhaps an ignoramus or some
strange critter from a black college, he actually suggested that I become a teach-
ing fellow."'1
Narrative or oral history studies offer scholars and researchers alike an alter-
native to written texts that have been used as the exclusive means of document-
ing the past. This development is particularly important to black women whose
lives and words have been concealed and/or neglected. According to Gerda
Lerner, "It is difficult to find black women in primary sources.... The kinds of
sources collected depend to a large extent on the predilections, interests, preju-
dices, and values of the collectors and historians of an earlier day."" She re-
marked that these selections reflect a tendency to marginalize or totally ignore
women in general and black women in particular. Therefore, publication of
first-person accounts (oral and written) of life experiences and historical events
promises to expand the parameters of women's history and women's studies in
general. Oral narratives/histories provide a "means of enfranchising and em-
powering people whose lives have previously been shaped by 'colonized his-
tory' written from the standpoint of outsiders."'2 Oral narratives give us insiders'
views as well as culturally determined interpretations and values. No other re-
search methodology can furnish such intimate and unique perspectives.
The following excerpts were selected from oral narratives elicited from two
retired university presidents who had been among the first women to serve their
respective institutions in that capacity.13 Their experiences as students, faculty,
and administrators suggest that the politics of higher education and the process
of becoming an academician are informed by issues of race and gender on all
Mavis, born in 1916, former president of a historically black college, told
her story in reverse chronological order with emphasis on the most current

84 Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis

events in her life. As a narrator, she wanted the audience to know that she was
not bragging: "What I'm trying to say is ... not to just build myself up, but I
want you to get the feeling about how I feel about the university, and how I felt
about my job." Mavis regarded her job as the university's top administrator a
much-loved duty passed down in her family. Her father also had been the
university's president almost fifty years before. Having grown up in a campus
environment, she considered the university an extension of her community
and family rather than an external element unconnected to the personal de-
tails of her life.
Mavis first became aware of the politics of gender during her childhood.
She vividly recalled the challenge of being female. Her early years were filled
with constant reminders that a girl child was not as valuable as a boy:

So my father said, "Do you still want to be a boy?" And I said, "Yes, more
than ever." "Why?" I said, of course by now I knew I couldn't do it by
kissing my elbow. But I said, because everybody who comes to the house
says to you, "Dr. Brandt [pseudonym], what a shame, you don't have a
son." "Dr. Brandt, ooh, well this is all you want? Just one girl, no boy?"
"Oh, too bad that you don't have a boy to follow in your footsteps." I'd
hear that all the time.... And people fill their house up with girls just to
get a boy to satisfy that man's ego. So here, I'm hearing this, and I'm
thinking there's something bad about being a girl.14

The challenge did not go unanswered. Mavis eventually proved to herself and
to the community that a girl indeed could follow in her father's footsteps and
carry on the family tradition. Perhaps this was the driving force behind her long
association with the university. Each of her successes was a way of carrying out
some of the work that her father had left undone and simultaneously a defi-
ance of community expectations.
Later, as dean of students, Mavis found that her job responsibilities did not
end at the close of the day. Frequently she was called at odd hours. She re-
membered many sleepless nights: "I kept my jeans and a sweatshirt on my bi-
cycle in my bedroom, and in the middle of the night if a kid O.D.'d, and they
will do that, you know. Don't kid yourself. There's dope in all these colleges.
Some got sick in the middle of the night. I was in my jeans and over there. We
had a tragedy where several girls were severely injured in a car accident. I was
the first one there at the hospital.... They set up an office for me at the hospi-
tal so I could call the parents. And I had to call one and tell him his daughter
was dead." Unpleasant tasks did not diminish Mavis's commitment to her job.

Black Women in Academe 85

She used this as an example to explain the nature of her work as well as the
dedication she felt to the students and the university.
Mavis's retirement was less than ideal. After years of working in different
capacities at the university, she was dismissed without even a few kind words.
Feeling insulted and discarded, she recounted the shock of her first days at
home: "I think one of the low points in my life was when I retired. We had
come back from an important meeting. We had been successful in our pro-
posal, but they did not know then that the chairman was trying to get rid of me.
... So I came home from that meeting and the next morning when I woke up,
the only decision I had to make was when to get out of bed. And that was
In spite of difficulties, Mavis survived and was not content to sit by idly. She
began work on changing the rules so no one else would have to suffer as she
did: "I want a change in the rulings. And that will keep some of this stuff
down, because I've known many a college president who has been thrown out
just as I. ... So, that's a bit of that silence, and part of which I believe is a part
that is essential to almost every woman's life who has achieved something in a
man's world .... I am sure there are incidents, they were not all terminal as
mine was, but certainly, there were incidents that they [women] had to go
through. And the little strings that they had to pull, and the little insults, and
little hurts, little big hurts they had to deal with. Ah, as a result, it's not, it ain't
no crystal stair." Mavis observed that silence, the habit of not telling, was the
plight of all women in a man's world. She implied that incidents of conflict or
wrongdoing succeeded because they were kept private or secret. Furthermore,
"little big hurts" were painful even though they may have been part of the job.
Unlike many university faculty and administrators, Mavis came to her posi-
tion from a family history of university service. Part of her professional identity
therefore was shaped by this history that bound her to the university over time.
When this bond was broken, it was as if family ties had also been broken. Simi-
larly, the question of gender was intertwined in several major events of her life.
Just as her community had dismissed her because she was a girl, Mavis felt that
the university terminated her because "this man just felt women had no right
to be in positions of authority."16
Virginia, born in 1924, former president of a predominantly white univer-
sity, also had an unpleasant retirement experience. In this instance, it was not a
man but another woman who made the decision to let Virginia go: "I would
have liked to have stayed another year or two but the person in charge in our
system decided that people should retire at sixty-five and I was caught in her

86 Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis

decision. And then she lied about it and said that it was a board decision as well
as hers. And then the board found out after she had said this to me. And that
was the final straw that caused them to ask her to leave."" Virginia found no
consolation in the fact that two women then were out of jobs. She could not
determine whether the decision was based on underlying ageism, sexism, rac-
ism, or a combination of all three, but the effect was the same -forced retire-
Virginia grew up in an "academic" family similar to Mavis's. She took pride
in the fact that the family tradition of "doctor" had continued for several gen-
erations: "My grandfather was a pharmacist, my father was an M.D., I'm a Ph.D.,
and my son is an M.D. So, there are four generations of doctors in our family.
My father was a practicing physician and was quite inspirational and a
positive force in my life." It is evident that Virginia is the only female in the
family to follow the earlier examples set by males. She makes no mention of
this, however, and goes on to explain why she was not attracted to medicine as
a profession: "I thought occasionally of being a doctor but I found the
pathology very unpleasant and scary. I remember, my father was, as I men-
tioned, a dermatologist, and he had a book of photographs of skin diseases at
home. I made the mistake of looking at them, and I said, 'Never, nope, never,
never, never, will I ever do that.'" Even though she rejected medicine as a pos-
sible career, Virginia was indeed interested in the sciences. She unfolded the
details of her life through the plans that she had made while she was still very
young: "My sophomore year in high school, I had a teacher of biology and
that's when I decided I wanted to be a biologist. ... I had a year of biology,
actually had five years of science in high school, and then I took an extra se-
mester or two of botany and zoology. Yep, that was when I decided." Virginia
always knew that she would go on to college after high school, so it was simply
a matter of deciding on a major field of study. Again, she carefully planned her
life according to personal goals: "After I graduated from college ... my goal was
to get a master's in biology and ... teach in high school .... And I had a very
supportive graduate school experience .... I had five years as a teaching
fellow. Received my master's which was in original research and my Ph.D.
which was also in original research."
As a graduate student, Virginia excelled in her field but decided after the
student practicum that teaching on the high school level was not what she
wanted. Several years of teaching at the university level led Virginia to admin-
istration, in which she held various positions before becoming dean.
Virginia was not surprised to find herself continuously fighting for women's

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