The Career Experiences of African American Women Faculty: Implications for Counselor Education Programs

Article excerpt

Despite three decades of affirmative action efforts, counseling programs continue to struggle with the challenge of recruiting and retaining African American women faculty. This article focuses on the occupational experiences and unique challenges that confront African American women professors. Strategies for supporting, mentoring and retaining African American women counseling faculty will also be presented.

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In this new millennium, despite three decades of anti-discrimination legislation and affirmative action, the voice of the African American woman counselor educator has remained relatively tenebrous. Although the counseling literature has recently begun to address the career experiences of White American women faculty (Fouad & Carter, 1992; Roland & Fontanesi-Seime, 1996; Skinner & Walker, 2001) and faculty of color (Atkinson, 1983; Atkinson, Morten, & Sur, 1989; Bradley & Holcomb-McCoy, 2004; Brinson, & Kottler, 1993, Lee & Arrendondo (2001), a dearth of information is available on the distinct career development paths and encounters of African American women faculty.

Several writers (Gregory, 1995; Smith, 1999; Turner, 2002) have attributed the absence of the African American female academician perspective in counseling disquisitions to her dual identity as a member of a racially oppressed group and as a woman. For example, although all women have benefited from affirmative action, White American women have been the major beneficiaries in the areas of employment, particularly in higher education institutions (Bell & Nkomo, 2001; Ladson-Billings, 2000). Consequently, attention to the "woman question" among counselor educators has primarily focused on salary, child care duties, and promotion and tenure differences between White female and male faculty, frequently leaving the viewpoints of African American female faculty out of the discourse (Fouad & Carter, 1992; Roland & Fontanesi-Seime 1996; Skinner & Walker, 2001). Similarly, when studies have focused on ethnic minority counseling faculty (Dinsmore & England, 1996; Young, Chamley & Withers, 1990) investigators have treated them as one monolithic group, highlighting the special issues ethnic minorities face in general, often ignoring gender and racial differences.

This is a critical time for African American faculty in general, and African American female faculty in particular. Recent literature has revealed that fewer tenured positions have been filled after retirement, and many have been eliminated (Aguirre, 2000; Gregory, 1997; Turner, 2002). Although women and ethnic minority faculty are overrepresented at the assistant professor level, Alfred (2001) and Singh, Robinson & Green (1995) found African American women faculty to be far more disadvantaged at universities than White women and other racial minority groups. Specifically, African American female faculty members are promoted and tenured at a lower rate than either African American men and White American women. Further, Alfred (2001) and Turner (2002) revealed that African American women faculty receive fewer opportunities for collaborative research than their female counterparts. Moreover, several studies (Benjamin, 1997; Smith, 1999) affirmed that the academic environment is often "chilly," hostile and indifferent toward African American women faculty and administrators.

The American Counseling Association is at the emergent stage in addressing this salient issue. Panel discussions and committees have been assembled to dialogue about the presence of ethnic minority counselor educators. However, the presence and career needs of African American female counselor educators continue to remain unnoticed. This suppression of the African American female faculty "voice" may leave senior faculty and promotion and tenure committees in counseling departments to draw their own conclusions regarding the career experiences and challenges of their African American women faculty. …